My first job was at the Western Steer Steakhouse. I was a freshman in college. Even back then I managed to avoid work! But really, I think my mom never pushed me to get a job in high school because she knew I was too immature for many of them. I hadn’t learned how to talk to people yet. Plus, I didn’t want new/expensive clothes, I didn’t care about eating fancy food, I wasn’t worried about an expensive haircut – I was a pretty low maintenance kid. A dollar for the arcade could keep me busy for an hour or two – there were a couple of pinball games that I was pretty decent at. And then I would happily watch other people play, and learn from them for hours – as long as I didn’t have to talk.
So it was my freshman year in college, and my roommate (the ever patient Tammy) was teaching me how to talk, dress, and basically adult in general. She convinced me that I would enjoy the extra money, to buy some new clothes with. And contacts – I could afford contacts! Since I, of course, would have had no idea how one goes about getting a job, she took care of that for me – she worked at the Steer, and knew they could use more help. She convinced the manager to give me a try, in the salad room where it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t talk to anyone.
So I started working, and I did like having a bit of money. I got some fun outfits that made me look more like a girl, and yes, I got contacts. I worked filling up that salad bar for about a year, slowly learning that I would not die if I said “excuse me” to a customer – and in fact said customer would usually, politely, get out of my way so I could refill the cheese.
After a year I was talking enough that they decided to move to the front line, where you filled drinks and took orders. It didn’t take long to get used to talking to people, especially when all you had to say was “what would you like to drink?” Tammy and I had moved to an apartment, and I continued to learn more about what is means to be an adult. (Unfortunately, we decided we didn’t have enough money to stay in the apartment, so we eventually moved home. Boo.)
The third year at the Steer, I worked some on the line, but I also got to work as the cashier, taking folk’s money after they ate. It was exciting, because I got to wear real clothes instead of a polyester uniform. I also did a little bit of waitress work, but I was not good at it. I didn’t have the strength in my arms to carry much food, so I always had to make multiple trips for everything. And I think the people could tell that I really hated having to “wait on them hand and foot” even though that’s kinda in the job title. So I did it when they needed me too, and I did enjoy the tips (because back then tips absolutely came out to more than our $3.65 minimum wage), but for the most part I stuck with being a cashier.
Our manager was Gurney, and his son Ronnie was the assistant manager. Those two were amazing – they knew how to keep that place running perfectly, even though they were dealing with a bunch of college student employees and high turnover. But Gurney had a heart attack, and decided it was time to retire, and after a while longer, Ronnie decided management wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, and he quit as well. I mention them, because Ronnie opened a landscaping business, and I actually saw him pretty frequently in my current position. He died about 2 weeks ago, and the world is a little less wonderful without him. He was a truly kind soul.
Anyway, after Ronnie and Gurney left, we got a new manager. I don’t remember his name, because I just called him Jabba the Hutt. He was fat, and rude, and after a week or two I was the closing cashier and had to go to his office to count out the drawer. He didn’t make a pass at me, or anything like that – he was just mean and rude, and I was trapped in there with him. So when I walked out of the building that night, I thought “I can’t do this again” and looking around in dismay I saw the big Kmart sign across the street. I knew someone who worked there, and thought, there’s no reason I can’t do that. And the next day I applied at Kmart.