the gateway to nowhere

The Alpha Gateway (which sounds, yes, like a pulp space opera) is owned by a company called “Alpha Elites” (which, yes, sounds like a game about space marines) and seems to consist of my bosses, their Emerald print shop, their Alpha health & beauty joint which never seems to be open, and the Gateway itself, a service station attached to a defunct cafe. The Gateway is a funny old place: the behind-the-scenes part of it where we keep supplies used to be a hardware shop, and there are old fan-belts, bicycle tyres and miscellaneous dusty packets of Hardware hanging from the pegboard walls and ceiling beams. This is about a third of the building; another third is occupied by the semi-abandoned “Bean West” cafe, a slightly spooky place where the boss and a lovely old sheila (they actually say that here!) called Wendy make up the sandwiches and muffins. The last third comprises the shop itself, with its shelves and fridges stocked with cold drinks, hot drinks, snacks, confectionary, pies, ice cream, ice, auto supplies, groceries, clothes, slingshots, cigarettes, fishing gear, cow hides, mobile phones and ammunition. All except the clothes (and possibly the cigarettes, I’m not sure) are grotesquely marked up from supermarket prices, on the basis that the nearest supermarket is at least a hundred miles away. A battered, cobwebbed hog’s head and lopsided stag trophy hang above the till, and look like they’ve been there for a very long time. Outside, we have a set of antique-looking fuel bowsers, pumping diesel, unleaded, and a fancy high-octane unleaded called “Vortex”.

Work consists of manning the counter and maintaining the store, several hundred small menial jobs flying in close formation. The work cycle is nine days: three morning shifts, three evening shifts, and three days off. The morning shift runs from about 5:40am to about 1:50pm (although he only pays us from 6-1:30) and the afternoon one from 1:20-9:45 (although, again, we only get seven and a half hours of just-above-minimum wages). Morning shifts are a bleary-eyed panic to get everything working – unlocking the fuel pumps, heating the pies, readying the drinks and so on – followed by a long slow drag towards noon, while the evening shift is that in reverse, starting slowly but increasing to nonstop activity from 7:30pm onwards, as most of the critical jobs need to be done towards the end to reduce the number of pesky customers coming in and messing up your nicely cleaned toilets and neatly arranged drink fridges. It’s mundane, but not numbingly boring, and while there’s always something to do none of the work is particularly hard or disgusting (although trying to read the diesel dipstick in the weak morning light is a special kind of frustration). The only real problem with morale is the attitude of my boss, who always needs to let you know he’s in charge, is never happy with anything, and treats us all like mouth-breathing idiots for being desperate enough to work for him. Since he’s also paying us less than the minimum he can legally get away with, the temptation to give him what he’s paying for is high.

Our clientele is divided about equally between locals, tourists, and truckers/railway workers; all of them want copious drinks, smokes, pies and petrochemicals. The top seller by far is some form of (apparently highly addictive) cold coffee called “Ice Break”, which gets two shelves to itself in one of the large drink fridges, and the pies/bacon muffins/nasty frozen chicken wings we heat up and keep in a cabinet. The turnover is absurd – we clock ten to fifteen thousand dollars most days – though I have no idea what the margins are like. So far, I haven’t had any really bad customers; about the worst was the woman who spent ten minutes insistently telling me what a good idea it would be to have an ATM put in, with a queue behind her, as if that would magically give me cash to sell her. Aussies, especially out here, seem fairly chilled out, and many’s the time when I’ve ended up having a happy five-minute chat with a random truckie which ends in me wishing them a good day and actually meaning it.

Since most of my entertaining work experiences and anecdotes get posted as-and-when to Facebook, I think I’ll just c&p them here rather than mess around trying to rewrite things:

4 Oct
Today at work I saw a spider hanging on gossamer thread, in the early stages of building a web. I reached out to clear the web and move the spider outside, before remembering that this is Oz and arachnids here are absolutely not to be fucked with. I withdrew my hand and found something else to do.

6 Oct
My phone decided this morning to adjust itself to daylight savings, losing an hour. However, Queensland doesn’t actually operate on daylight savings, meaning I got up at 4:30 and spent an hour doing nothing wondering where all the customers were. The only redeeming feature of this was the bonding experience of commiserating with various bleary-eyed truckers and railway workers who’d had the same thing happen to them.

7 Oct
Work today was mental. A woman accidentally put petrol in her diesel-engined car, an elderly couple drove off without paying (they returned after about fifteen minutes of me absolutely shitting myself), and ravenous truckers devoured our entire tactical pie stocks, so I had to break into the deep-freeze and extract strategic reserves. They were eating them faster than I could heat them up. Also, a woman solicited me to visit her pony show in Longreach (not a euphemism… I think).

9 Oct
On reflection, “no, we haven’t had them back home since the nineties, we use computers” may have been a bit too condescending. But to be fair, his “do you not know how to work a fax machine?” was a bit too incredulous.

11 Oct
Boss made me a sandwich! Gratitude immediately tempered by him telling me it was an insurance policy against me nicking pies. Twat.

15 Oct
This shift has been utterly insane. Card readers were down across all of Queensland because of some bank system fuckup, the milk order hasn’t come because the truck broke down in the middle of the desert, a bloke just bought four thousand litres of diesel, and the head fell off my mop.
Diesel comes out at about a litre a second, so he’s been pumping for almost an hour and still isn’t done.
…having pumped $6476 of diesel, he found that his card had expired. Christ on His cross.
I’m actually really enjoying this job. The money is shit by local standards but very good by home standards, rent is cheap and food isn’t unreasonable. Work is neither too demanding nor too boring, and I’m accumulating “this one time, this bloke-” stories at an impressive rate.

16 October
The thing I like best about Ozbucks is how the people on the notes seem to get gradually smugger as the denomination increases. $10: Mary Gilmore and Banjo Paterson looking earnest as fuck. $20: John Flynn and Mary Reibey looking stiff-necked and slightly self-satisfied. $50: Edith Cowan and David Unaipon both smirking like the cat that got the cream.
The $5 just has Queenie looking regal, and it sort of breaks down when it reaches the $100 note because both Monash and Melba look less “smug” than “like hard-eyed, haughty demigods”. But nobody seems to use hundreds anyway.

17 October
My coworker left the front door of the shop wide open. I know this because one of our nice regular truckers saw it and decided to come banging on our house at 3am, rather than doing the sensible thing and ripping us off for the $800 in cash, $2000 in cigarettes and $1000 in iced coffee we don’t lock up each night.
This same coworker has a habit of waking at about 4:30 and banging around, and if she does it this morning i will fucking disembowel her.

18 October
Working as a backpacker – I don’t really like the term “backpacker”, but since “migrant worker” is poncy as hell and the magnificent “swagman” is eighty years out of date, it has to do – seems to get you treated like a combination of about equal parts slacker, petty thief and retard. Hum.


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