This post was going to be about fast food workers who want to be paid fifteen dollars an hour for their work. Another day soon I will try to write that post, but I wrote this one instead.
I was a fast food worker when I was in college. I did not work during the school year, but the weeks of summer were spent preparing sandwiches or frying potatoes, onion rings, and breaded meat. Many days I worked only the rush hours of lunch and dinner, but as I became more experienced I was given more hours. One summer I was the main frier for lunch and supper and the afternoon hours between them. At other times I was on “boards,” putting together sandwiches as they were ordered. Only rarely did I interact directly with the customers. If the computer that ran the cash register failed, I was put up front, because I was one of the few workers who could figure change correctly without the help of the computer. Most of the time, though, the front counter and drive-through window were staffed by the cuter girls on the staff.
I was older than most of my co-workers—even some of those who were entering management positions. One of my friends from the store graduated high school, rose in management in the company, switched companies a few times, and finally retired. Every year he earned more money than I did, even with my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. A lot of the fast food workers were high school students, working their first job, and ambitious to move on to better-paying work in the near future.
Most of my earnings paid for my college textbooks. I was able to set aside a little money to build a music collection. This is when music came in LPs and 45s. (If you don’t recognize those terms, ask your parents… or your grandparents. Or Google. Or Siri.) My LP collection traveled to college and back again in a box that had held frozen meat in the store before I claimed it and took it home.
Minimum wages were lower than they are today, but of course prices were lower too. (Yes, I did walk to school, and it was uphill, and some days I walked there in the snow.) Aside from management, no one was supporting a family on their fast-food earnings. Getting free food or half-price food (depending upon the manager) was a benefit. I don’t think any of us would have considered picketing for higher wages.
I learned some important lessons those summers. I learned how to stock shelves, with the new food behind the older food so the older food gets used before it spoils. I learned not to mix food from different packages, or even to risk cross-contamination by using the same utensil in different packages. I learned about the rules fast food restaurants make to ensure food quality. I learned how employees and managers sometimes get around those rules to save time or save money. I learned how to place an order at a fast food restaurant to guarantee that your sandwich is fresh.
At this point in my life, I would not care to return to that job. At the same time, I’m glad to have experienced that job in the past. High school jobs and college jobs shape our adult lives in ways we did not anticipate. And most of those ways are good. J.