First Day of Work

Tomas is now gainfully employed. He started work today as a swim instructor at the community center in town. It’s part time, and he’s a backup to the regular instructors, but it’s still honest work for someone he’s not related to. (That’s a key part of an actual job, in my book. Especially early on. You learn a lot by being answerable to someone who really just wants a task done for a price, and doesn’t have to care about your emotional well being outside of work. Not that I’m all for slave drivers, but there’s a far cry between working around the house for money, and going to an actual job.)

Of course, the experience has made me think back on my first day of work. I was sixteen, as I remember, and I worked for McDonald’s as a cashier. (Eventually branching out into the drive thru, and the fry station, but never venturing back to work the grills.) I remember a few of the things that surprised me the most. One was the fact that I got paid to get trained. I remember watching a bunch of training videos in the basement, marveling that I was earning $4.25/hour to watch TV. True, it was boring TV, but it was still TV. Another was my frustration with the fact that I always had to be doing something while I was at work. If the manager saw us chatting at the register too much, he’d send one of us out onto the floor with a rag to go wipe down tables.

I learned a ton at that first job, though. For one thing, how it didn’t really matter if I thought my manager was wrong or not. I still had to do what he told me to do. (Or quit. That’s always an option, though I never took it. I saw some people use it, however.) How to deal with the public and still maintain your sanity. (A skill I continue to use as a librarian today.) The importance of standing up for your employees in the face of an irritable public. (I had managers go to bat for me against angry customers, and I’ve never forgotten how grateful I was for them doing that. I’ve tried to do the same as a boss myself.) How you can have fun while you work, even in conditions a lot of people think are horrendous. I’m not in contact with any of my McDonald’s friends anymore, but I still remember them and the antics we would get up to.

A few examples:

  • The speakers in the drive thru were terrible, so as long as you said something that sounded remotely like “May I take your order,” that’s what people heard. “My a date your daughter?” was a popular alternative.
  • We would cook up chicken mcnuggets by the batch, fifty or so at a time, and then store them in a warming drawer. We were allowed to eat a meal every time we worked, and somehow in my teenaged mind, that entitled me to a mcnugget whenever I had the hankering. I’ve often thought a chicken nugget drawer would be very handy in my office . . .
  • We would have soda chugging contests to see who could down a supersize Sprite the fastest. I was quite good at it, though the carbonation gets to you if you drink too much too fast.
  • McDonald’s food tastes excellent when you take care to prepare it properly. It just often ends up like junk because you’ve got hurried teenagers who don’t care slapping the burgers together. But I loved being able to go back to the burger station and have all the condiments I could think of to make a burger just how I wanted it. At the time, I was a fan of a triple quarter pounder with cheese and Big Mac sauce, a soda, a super size fry, and then a sundae in a small cup for dessert. (I mean a small soda cup, not a sundae cup. With strawberries, chocolate sauce, caramel, and nuts in the bottom and on the top.) I gained 10 pounds in my first two weeks working at McDonald’s, but I didn’t gain anything after my body got used to the extra calories.
  • Customers had trouble pronouncing the menu items sometimes. Once, an elderly gentleman came up to me and said, “I want a vagina.” At least, that’s what I heard. I blinked, frowned, and then told him, “We don’t sell those here, sir.” I know the customer is always right, but there are limits, after all. He scowled at me and said, “Yes you do! They’re right there on the menu!” I turned to look at the menu, stunned. And then I realized he’d said his “v” more like a “f”, and his “n” more like a “t.” He’s asked for a fajita. He’d just pronounced it terribly.
  • You’ve got a headset when you’re working the drive thru windows so you can communicate with the team easily, but they have spares, and I’d try to wear one whenever I could. There are two channels on them. One for speaking to your co-workers, and one for speaking to the outside. You could make snarky comments about customers. You just had to be sure to be on the right channel.

Actually, it’s amazing how many things I still remember about that job. Yes, it had its crummy aspects (cleaning toilets and tables where people had made huge messes was my least favorite part, and I had to wear a neon pink shirt and hat . . .), but overall I enjoyed my two years there, and best of all, it helped me start understanding the value of money and work. So I’m very happy Tomas has the chance to start doing the same thing. I look forward to hearing how his day went when I get home today.

Good luck, Tomas!


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