The Sociology of 24 hr Gas Stations

While a gas station and convenience store are private property, they are treated as PUBLIC property.

Passers by and customers seem to drop many social boundaries while on this property.

Since the station next door has been open I have witnessed:

  • a woman filling up her car while talking on her cel phone, loudly sobbing the entire time
  • some guy pulled up by the parking lot and was getting ready to urinate by the dumpster until I yelled at him that there were BATHROOMS IN THE STATION. He sheepishly went inside.
  • the bright lights on the fence have been very helpful for dudes doing a drug deal behind the dumpster
  • a family parks beside the tire compressor and the mother is loudly and abusively berating her young child
  • a camping chair was abandoned by the tire compressor. No one claimed it for a couple of days. Then one morning I walked out my front door and there was a very sketchy guy sitting in this chair in my driveway, getting ready to smoke some crack. I told him in no uncertain terms that he had to leave, RIGHT NOW. The dude argued with me as though my driveway was an acceptable place for him to be. As he gathered up his crud, dropping miscellaneous bits of aluminum foil, a variety of small hand tools began dropping out of the pockets of his parka that he was wearing in June.
  • an SUV quickly pulls into the parking lot. 5 or 6 very angry looking people get out and start walking/running across the street to the iffy drug houses. I overhear one of them talking about the guy they are looking for, who is accused of raping his sister.
  • On the other side of the fence I can hear people fumbling with the tire compressor. Many people have problems with the debit card reader. A man begins to loudly verbally abuse the woman he is with. I can hear she is in tears. His verbal aggression is so hostile I am afraid for her safety. I walk by the dumpster and I can see he is about 2″ away from her face, screaming in her face, drill sargeant style. I call the police. When I go outside again I can see the woman by herself, quietly weeping while sitting on the curb by the compressor. It is about 4:00 in the afternoon
  • some guy in his late 50’s has filled up his car, leaving it at the pumps, then decided that the best place to urinate was by the short fence overlooking my yard. I am filled with rage and go outside in my backyard and yell at him, asking him why he thinks this is an appropriate place to piss ? He acts like he can’t hear me – no reaction whatsoever – and walks back to his car and drives away.
  • the narrow strip by this short fence becomes a dumping ground for things like used buckets, broken vacuum cleaners, metal registers, and the advertising debris the station discards – yet DOES NOT THROW AWAY. In turn, this attracts mentally ill and/or addicted scavengers. Sometimes this small area is also used as a place to drop off items, probably stolen, for another party to discretely pick up later. This is out of the sightlines of the gas station windows and security cameras
  • a car with a flat tire flapping pulls up to the tire compressor. There is trouble again with the card reader. The middle aged male passenger begins to scream at the elderly woman driver because he doesn’t know how to make the compressor work. He rages and tantrums then goes inside the store. I hear everything as I am watering plants on my side of the fence, and can peek through the gaps between the boards. Again, I am seriously concerned about this woman’s safety. I stand on the sidewalk by the dumpster, and I can see she is sitting in the car, visibly shaking and rocking back and forth. She looks to be in her late 70’s. I see her looking at me and I shake my head sadly. She shakes her head back at me, the same way, to acknowledge what has just happened. The asshole comes back. All I can do is stand on the sidewalk where he can see me watching him. There is no more abuse with a witness. Eventually I call the police, who do not come. This was at noon on a Saturday.
  • the bright lights and dumpster location out of staff sightlines are very useful for the guy who came with a pick up truck load of household trash. He happily emptied this into the dumpster and drove away within about 5 minutes then came back the next night to repeat this !
  • on garbage night a particular guy comes and drags neighbour’s garbage across the street to the dumpster area. He slashes the bags open to rifle through the contents, assisted by the very bright lighting. Then he opens the dumpster and starts pulling garbage bags from the dumpster and slashing them open. Then he leaves this mess, strewn around the dumpster and across the sidewalk. This is out of the sightlines of the station so the mess is left for between 5 – 10 days. Once a neighbour shovels it up in a rage. Another time they pay the “handyman” who built the fence atrocity to shovel it up. Someone composes this note taped to the dumpster:

Of course the garbage slasher returns again and again until the dumpster is locked.

  • there seems to be a drug dealer with a very loud modified truck who comes by the gas station around 1:00 a.m. before paying a visit to the drug house across the street
  • drug customers like to sit in their cars, listening to very loud music, while the passenger buyers quickly scurry across the street to make a deal. Usually the discos on wheels enjoy their music between 1:00 – 4:00 a.m.
  • I have observed at least one lonely GrindR user looking for his hookup, patiently waiting, obviously, awkwardly in a no parking spot
  • I looked out my window and saw a robbery at night. A guy ran zigzagging across the parking lot towards the street with the staff man in flip flops chasing him and yelling, then the police arrived and roared off down the street

If the gas station had been a new build, a buffer zone with plantings would have been required. There are no provincial standards for gas station design – only municipal ones. A city planner involved in an attempt to “revitalize” this area proposed a 1 m (39″) buffer zone be added for properties like this that were grandfathered in. Meanwhile some municipalities, like Grimsby (near Hamilton) require a 10M buffer zone, with plantings, for any gas station which abuts a residential property.

After dark and through the night, the customers are almost exclusively male. There are times where it seems like there are only one or two customers per hour. Why is there no criteria for 24 hour businesses ? Is this the owner’s tax write off ?

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