Originally published May 27, 2014 over at the fabulous TueNight.
I have worked as long as I can remember. As a young girl, I used to pull dandelions for my mom at a penny a piece (I only realized as an adult that my parents were paying us to stay out of the house), and I swept the floors and stamped coin envelopes at my family’s magnet factory. It was awesome growing up around all those magnets, but the highlight was the huge piles of flattened packing boxes my brother, sister and I used to climb onto and lounge on. So, maybe we played a little more than we worked.
My first real job was in fast food. I worked at Gino’s and for those of you outside the mid-Atlantic region, Gino’s was a regional chain co-owned and named for Gino Marchetti of Baltimore Colts fame. They had the Kentucky Fried Chicken rights around here so (close your eyes and imagine this), KFC and burgers in one place. I know. Dreamy.
At 17 years old, when I retired from my Gino’s career, I had already acquired some important life lessons that prepared me for the future:
Do not define people by their outward appearance
I had an elegant brown polyester uniform. The good news was that it never actually looked dirty. From this, I learned that clothes do not define us. Because seriously — I was not the brown man-made fabric type. Did I mention the hairnet?
Just because it’s free (or cheap) doesn’t mean it’s a good decision
We had a meal allowance (see pay stub!) and I ordered a Gino Giant on every shift that cost just a couple cents. Gino Giant’s were just like Big Macs, but the special sauce was just a little more special. While I never tired of these yumtastic sandwiches, I came to realize that the elastic waist of those beautiful brown pants only stretched so far.
Choose the right shoes
Adding to the caché of our uniforms were the requisite white shoes. It was the ‘70s, after all. I had a pair of platform nursing shoes. In the world of nursing shoes, I thought they were the least awful. But with no tread, I was constantly sliding across the KFC oil-coated floor. This lesson has served me well while hiking (no flip flops), and shoveling snow (no sneakers).
Don’t tolerate bullies
One of the girls I worked with was the worst kind of mean. I was able to ignore her — until the day I saw her spit into a customer’s soda. I marched into the manager’s office and turned her in. She threatened to beat me up and actually waited by my car when I got off shift. Luckily, she only hissed at me. But, she never again spit in another person’s soda at Gino’s.
Trusting is good; gullible is not so good
Truth is, I haven’t found the perfect balance here. And when I first started this job and they sent me out to water the fake plants and then sent me outside to turn the light off on the huge bucket-of-chicken sign and laughed when I struggled to find the non-existent switch, I complied. You’d think the humiliation would have taught me to be more suspicious, but in fact, I’m still pretty darn trusting.
Respect your fellow workers and suck it up
When we were on duty, we were on duty until our relief showed up. Sometimes they were late and we couldn’t leave. Not cool. Respect your co-workers and do what you say you’re going to do. People count on you. And someone has to do the crap work. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s not. I’ve learned to do what it takes to get the job done – both the glamorous and the not so glamorous.
Most importantly, I learned how to be professional and courteous when faced with extreme rudeness. Can you be cordial when a grown man throws a crispy chicken thigh at you? I can. How valuable a skill is that?