This continues my posts about pizza and my life. I apologize for the self-indulgence, but part of the purpose of this blog is to leave a record for my kids, and stories about my past are part of that.
I left Village Inn Pizza Parlor at age 16 and then worked nearly a year at the First Edition Restaurant and Steak House, and then a summer at a drive in movie theater before returning to the world of pizza. Each of those experiences were important, and convince me that high school kids do need to work, you learn things on the job that you can’t get in school.
At the First Edition my duties were to bus tables, sometimes run the dish washing machine, and keep the salad bar stocked. Memories include eating steak off plates that were brought back to be washed (when you’re 16 you chow down anything), sneaking into the walk in cooler to sample some of the ice cream prepared for the bar (which had ice cream drinks), and a grill chef throwing a steak on to the ground before putting it on the grill. “Well done!? They want a filet well done? They may as well go to McDonalds!” Seeing the shocked expression of a 16 year old bus boy, the chef smiled, “Don’t worry kid, the grill will burn off any gunk from the floor.” Needless to say, I order my steaks medium rare.
We had the cleanest kitchen in Sioux Falls according to the health inspector, and I recall cleaning grease above the grill, scrubbing down every inch, and coming in on Sunday mornings for intensive cleaning (windows, polishing brass, etc.) To be sure, not everything was clean. One day a waiter came back with what looked like clean silver ware. “They say this has been sitting on the table too long and they want ones freshly cleaned.” He then licked them. “There, this should satisfy them.” I watched as he brought out the “clean” silver ware and the customers thanked him (and likely tipped him well). Another note to self: don’t send back the silverware for replacement unless it’s clear they are dirty!
I also would grab sugar packets and chug sugar during my shift. The packets are small, but I thought I didn’t need the extra calories so I decided to try Sweet N’ Lo. Note to self: NEVER chug sweet and low! The restaurant was also a bar, and at closing time if we did a really good job the manager would often let us have a beer. That was illegal of course, but hey, this was the 70s. The trouble was, at that point in my life I did not yet like beer. But I couldn’t admit it (what would the other busboys think?!) — so I’d secretly pour it down the drain and pretend like I drank it.
I was very observant and learned a lot about the restaurant business and its demands. I appreciate what waitstaff go through and still observe restaurants for how they operate. Yet I grew sour on the job — there was no real chance to move forward. I couldn’t become a waiter because I wasn’t 21, and thus not able to serve drinks. I decided to try something else, so I took a job at the drive in movie theater, East Park Drive In.
That was my slackest job. The place no longer stands — it’s now a K-Mart — but it was fun and I was able to rack up hours, even though the pay was low. I did a couple dusk to dawns, having to wake up people who fell asleep during the night (usually it was a series of five films). One time I knocked on a van window and saw a naked man and woman wake up. “It’s morning, time to go,” I said. “Thanks man,” was the reply as they covered themselves. We’d joke and flirt with the concession girls. They had a machine that you poured the syrup for the soda into the top, and it would mix it with the carbon water. I started making strong sodas, my favorite being orange soda syrup, and then mix it with 7-Up. I also recall the manager being amazed at the summer phenomenon at the indoor theaters. A film called Star Wars was in town all summer, breaking all sorts of records.
I also remember beers after close (by this point I indulged, albeit not as much as my co-workers). Perhaps the low point was when I loaned my Oldsmobile — a Delmont 88 — to some drunk girls (co-workers). They took off and my manager said, “Scott, what the hell are you thinking?” They returned, thankfully, vehicle in tact. Otherwise we had a running battle with kids trying to watch the movie from the lot beside us, chasing them off and/or flirting with the girls. Of course, I had one of those flashlights with the orange bit at the top. At the beginning we’d take tickets, and then every once in awhile I’d see trunks open a couple people pop out. One co-worker, Orville, would yell at them and make them pay. I’d usually just smile and look the other way.
My favorite movie of the summer was the original Freaky Friday. I also recall learning the lines to A Star is Born with Streisand and Kristofferson almost by heart. That movie played two weeks since one of the weeks was fair week and business that week was always bad so they didn’t bother with a new film. I also volunteered to work every night so my co-workers could enjoy the fair. I can’t remember many of the other films we had; I know we showed Stephan King’s Carrie. But it was a fun summer…a few cars drove away with the speakers, but in all it was a more laid back job.
Alas, drive in movies are seasonal, and I needed to get a job in the fall. At first I went back to The First Edition, but the job wasn’t as fun or interesting — always the same routine. I quit to focus on debate for awhile, and then in February decided to head back to Village Inn Pizza. A friend had gotten a job there and said they were hiring lots of new people. So I re-applied. The manager grilled me on why I left a year earlier, and I was honest — I said I thought the pay was better at the other place. Then the manager, a guy named Warren Andy, looked at me intently.
“You know something, if you want to work, this is the place for you. $2.35 to $2.45 an hour? That differences is crap. It’s shit. You don’t leave a job for a dime an hour. You know what — everything is in play here. The old management has been fired, I’ve been brought in to clean up. You work hard, you’ll go places, I’m even looking for supervisors, maybe three or four to run shifts. I’m not going to choose them from the old staff, they’ve been spoiled, I’m going to fill those positions with my people. I can’t promise anything, but if you really are willing to work, this is the place to be.”
“Yes, I want to work here, and I will work hard,” I replied. Warren smiled. “You start Saturday night, tomorrow, five to close. Is that a problem?” It was — I had plans. “No, no problem, I’ll be here!” He gave me my uniform — a white and red checkered shirt and a bow tie and paper work to fill out. Little did I know I was about to start not just another job, but a job that I still look back on with pride and fondness. I did become a supervisor in less than a month, and it was a grand experience. More to come in future posts…