My little tale takes place in 1994, at a BP gas station in Fair Lawn, NJ, just off Rte 208, across from the Nabisco Factory (I wonder if it’s even still there, the BP station, not Nabisco… anyone?)
I was fresh out of high school and the part time gas jockey job the owner, Tom*, hired me for was my first taste of the real world and my own hard-earned paycheck. I took great pride in being chosen to close the station everynight; being responsible for balancing out the cash drawer, turning out all the signs and lights, turning off the pumps, measuring the remaining fuel in the underground tanks, and locking the place up and setting the alarm.
One particularly slow, autumn night, just as it was beginning to get dark, a gentleman of about 30 rode up on his motorcycle and pulled up to the pump closest to the office I read my sci-fi novels in on slow nights. I threw on my jacket and went out to greet him. In my experience, most motorcyclists prefer to pump their own gas rather than let some 17 year old kid spill gas all over their bike, which I was keen to let them do in spite of the law.
While he’s pumping his middle grade gas, the gentleman inquires if “the boss” is around. “Tom?” I unnecessarily ask. “Yeah, Tom. Is he around?”
“No. He’s not ar…”
“Oh.” He laments. “He said he’d be here about 7 because we was going to loan me some money. I’m a friend of his you see.”
Now. I may have been 17 at the time, but I wasn’t completely stupid. Something about this whole situation raised a red flag, but I was too naive to know how to proceed. Unfortunately, the shark smelled the blood.
Apparently, this gentleman felt he was entitled to $65 (more than half a week’s pay for me) of Tom’s money, based on the word of Tom. My skepticism was met by his increased agitation and the suggestion that I call Tom at home so he could speak with him.
Thinking it a good idea, I did just that. Just as I got Tom on phone, another customer with impeccable timing pulled into the station. Telling my boss that someone needed to speak with him, I handed the phone to Mr. Motorcycle and rushed out to take care of the new customer. A moment later, the man with the motorcycle and the newly filled tank of gas returned to the fuel islands and stated that Tom said everything was cool, but that he should leave his driver’s license number for my peace of mind.
Handling the new customer and wanting this guy gone, I watched as he wrote down his license number, from memory, on a credit card slip. Still feeling uneasy but not knowing any way around it, I gave the guy the $65 and watched him ride off before realizing that he didn’t pay for his gas.
The second customer was pulling out at this point, having finished our transaction, and I returned to the office to a ringing phone. If a phone could ring angrily, this one was.
It was my boss, Tom, and he wanted to know who the hell that guy was and why I’d put him on the phone. It seems that all he’d had to say before hanging up was that he was about to rob him. Feeling smaller than I ever have before or since, I pulled the credit card slip with his DL# and what little hopes I had of catching the guy sank when I saw that all he’d written was “Haha123456” (the rest fading off into a squiggly line).
The $65, and the cost of his gas, came out of that week’s paycheck.
Though the OP asked for stories of being ripped off badly, and some might argue that ~$70 isn’t a lot (especially compared to some of the previous stories), it certainly was for me at the time. But, more important than the cash and gas the guy made off with, he also rode away with my trust in the nature of people. He pocketed my youthful naivete and left blind cynicism that would take years to even begin to circumvent. He stole my self-confidence, and made me hate myself for being so naive.
I replayed the whole conversation over and over in my mind, and with typical 20/20 hindsight, saw at least a dozen things I’d done or said wrong, or should have picked up on.
Considering how trivial it was/is in the grand scheme of my life, it really shouldn’t mean anything, but even now some 11 years later, the mere act of retelling it angers me.
*Name changed to protect the dubious