Back in high school, I took a summer job pumping gas at a full-service station. This meant the driver would simply sit in the car as the attendant pumped the gas, checked the engine’s oil level, tire pressure and cleaned the windshield. I only worked Sundays. As this was the slowest day of the week, an hour could pass with no customer. I was brought up that getting paid meant you work—and not paid to just sit.

I pulled weeds during the slow time. My co-worker laughed and even made fun of me. My father was a subcontractor and taught me the value of a dollar, being honest and not to steal. Even if the boss was wealthy and you were paid minimum wage, you have no right to steal. That included time. My co-worker again laughed at my explanation of work ethics.

The owner of the station was Mr. Bahu. He owned a few stations and would show up on occasion. He was not my favorite person but that still did not give me the right to steal from him or not do my best at my job.

One Sunday he came in to the station. He appeared suddenly from around the corner in a hurried pace and was noticeably upset. He wanted to know what happened to the bathrooms. What had happened was I cleaned them. They were disgusting and I believe it was the first cleaning they had seen in several years. I was taken a bit back by how upset he was at clean bathrooms. It turned out there was more to his concern than just clean restrooms.

Apparently, a few months earlier, Mr. Bahu thought making money on bathroom use was a good idea. He installed coin operated locks on the doors. His station was part of a major oil company and they did not like his locks. They had them removed and made some serious threat to him. The threat apparently made him nervous about any noticeable changes to the bathrooms. He probably felt corporate cleaned them and might send an invoice or worse. He soon calmed down after he learned I cleaned them with no pressure or knowledge of any corporate duress.

The summer flew by and I soon said goodbye to Mr. Bahu. He said if I ever needed a job or reference just let him know. I will never forget the heavy accent and him telling me I was a good kid.

Hot-head Revisited

Several years passed and I found myself running a scaffold company. I got a call from a general contractor that there was a problem on a custom home my crew was setting scaffold on. The issue was our trucks seemed to be parked just on the neighbor’s property line and he was furious. I showed up on site and found out from the crews this guy was a terror. He had a pattern of yelling at workers, then calling the police or any city official who would still listen. Within minutes this short balding man came out of his house and starting ranting and raving at me. I quickly recognized him, even though he did not recognize me. It was him in all his glory, Mr. Bahu.

I kept replying, “Calm down Mr. Bahu, I am sure we can work this out.” It took him a few minutes and few times of me repeating his name before it dawned on him. He finally stopped in mid-sentence: “How do you know my name?”

I explained how I had worked at the station and his attitude went 180 degrees the other direction. Apparently, I left a lasting impression back in 1975. He recounted that after I left, the island filled back up with weeds, the bathrooms were never clean anymore and most important to him was his customers were upset I was gone. This was an equal surprise to me. I practiced remembering their names and greeted them as they drove in and they responded to that. His customers apparently loved that little extra touch of being recognized. I couldn’t help but look over and see the project superintendent’s face as Mr. Bahu put his arm around me. You are a good boy, he said in his still heavy accent.

My scaffold trucks were allowed to park wherever they wanted, even on his property. I know my good work ethic and honesty took some time to pay off, but it did. In fact, young people should hear stories like this. I have always tried to be honest and fair. It can be hard at times but honesty always pays off in the long run. I suggest young people to remember that your reputation is what you will really leave behind, not money or trinkets. Doing the right thing always works out—it may just take a little longer than you think.