In the Beginning, There Was Shoney’s

08 Feb

Perhaps the most important section of any job application or résumé comes under the “Work History” header.  I have seen the confused expressions on the faces of potential employers when they view mine.  So here it is, annotated with the stories behind the titles.

For today’s installment, we shall journey back to the summer of 1988, for the tale of my first paying job.

Breakfast Bar Girl

During the summer before my junior year at Virginia Tech it became obvious that I would need to contribute to the family income.  I put in applications at all the usual suspects–restaurants, retail stores, and even the local bowling alley.  The first one to say “yes” was our nearest Shoney’s location.

I was to be their new breakfast bar girl.  My pay rate was $3.35/hour–a whole dime more than minimum wage at the time.  I was issued a uniform, which I had to pay to get hemmed right off the bat.  It was a short-sleeved, mid-calf-length dress of dark avocado green polyester.  The static electricity the thing generated was enough to power a small town.

With no training other than the advice offered by my co-worker, Pearl, out of the goodness of her heart, I showed up for my first shift at 3:00 in the morning.  The next three days were a dream-like blur with only a few clear images.  There was the endless parade of customers demanding fresh bacon (even when I was still holding the empty pan from which I had just filled the bacon).  The snide woman who thrust the “dirty” plate at me on which I could see not a single spot.  The loop tape that played over the loudspeakers that always seemed to be playing George Michael singing “You gotta have faith.”  And kale.  Kale.  I hate kale to this day.  Kale was used as decoration around the containers on the bar and it required frequent replacement from a bag into which one could easily fit two adults and several small children.

I snapped on the second day.

I was then and still am a very straightforward person.  Often, I don’t understand things like social hazing rituals.  I don’t understand when I’m being “messed with”, and so don’t realize that it’s all just a joke.  I don’t get angry, I just become confused–like someone who is not a native speaker trying to understand a comedy routine in another language.

So when, on the second day, I needed a large spoon to scoop whipped cream into a serving dish to place next to the strawberries, I simply went up to one of the cooks and asked where they were kept.  He pretended he couldn’t hear me.  So I asked the other cook.  He pulled the same routine.  To this day, I don’t know why this was supposed to be funny.  I was scared and confused and sleep-deprived and I just lost it.

I washed my hands thoroughly and dried them.  I picked up a serving dish and carried it into the walk-in cooler and set it next to the massive tub of whipped cream.  I then used both hands to scoop the whipped cream out into the serving dish.  I picked up the serving dish between my elbows and carried it back to the handwashing sink.  My hands were coated with whipped cream.  In fact, I was covered in whipped cream halfway up my forearms.  I silently rinsed off in the handwashing sink as the cooks stared at me.  Then I carried the serving dish out to the bar.

Halfway through the next day I went to the manager and told her I wouldn’t be able to continue.  She just nodded sympathetically and cut a check for me that very day, and I never went back.


When I tearfully told my mother that I had failed in my first job she gave me a strange look.  She then told me that our family has something of a “curse” regarding first jobs.  I had never known about this, so I asked her what she meant.  It turns out that nearly everyone on both sides of my family had lasted less than three days in their first jobs.  Story after story about family members either getting fired or quitting their first jobs came out that I had never heard before.  I felt like I had fulfilled a dire prophecy without ever having known that it had been foretold.

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Posted by on February 8, 2014 in Work History


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