We’ve all had those jobs. At least I hope you have. They are the dirty first jobs. The “kid” jobs. The ones that find you cleaning foulness and/or serving idiotic, drunk or just generally ignorant customers. The most disgusting and menial first jobs can also be the most memorable, fun and actually educational. So often these are fast food jobs and my first job was at McDonald’s Restaurant on Highland Road in Kitchener, Ontario. Now, I did have two previous “jobs” that I really don’t count. I must’ve been about 11 or 12 when my folks had a small office cleaning business. Our one and only client was Avon Sportswear, a place that made jackets and hats for local sports teams and small businesses. One of my jobs was to clean the ashtrays at all the worker’s desks. I made $10 for a Saturday morning’s work but also received a lot of hats from Avon and some great fresh bagels every Saturday after work from an authentic Jewish bakery.
When I was 12 and my family moved to a small town, I got a job at Bak’s Fruit Market where my job was to make skids of baskets of fruit and vegetables. If the potatoes were too rotten, we threw them against the walls of the barn we were working in. The older Italian guys that worked there would drive in on their fork trucks and yell “this ain’t no fun and games!!”. I remember I made $2.65 an hour. You could get an advance on your “salary” from the girls at the tills and go for lunch.
Then we moved to Kitchener in Southern Ontario the summer I was fourteen and the plan was for me to fill out some applications at the local fast food places in anticipation of my fifteenth birthday in the fall, 15 being the age at which you could get hired at such places. I really don’t remember applying anywhere other than McDonald’s but I do remember my first application I filled out there. I still have a copy, actually. I said I wasn’t available to work Tuesday nights. Why? Because Moonlighting was on Tuesday nights. When I didn’t hear back, I filled out another application and, reluctantly, this time I said I could work Tuesdays – I figured I wouldn’t always be asked to work that night. I got hired and at the orientation I was told I would have to get my hair cut as at that time it ‘covered my collar’ which was a no go. My three-hour orientation was my only ‘work’ for that pay period so I got a paycheck with just those 3 hours on it. At $3.70 an hour, my first real paycheck was $11.10. I still have the stub.
The uniforms went through many changes during my stay at McDonald’s and when I started it was a green and white pinstripe shirt with a green clip-on tie and green ball cap. The belt was one of those fabric ones that the buckle clipped on to so that you could cut the belt to fit. Eventually, my friends and I all had a ‘thing’ where we would leave the belt a bit long so, after it was fastened, it hung down a bit. Of course this lead to a few times one of us would get a brand new belt that hadn’t been cut at all yet and we’d leave it hang a couple of feet down our leg. Later, they came up with pants that had an elastic waistband. We thought these were dumb and called them “idiot pants”. I was proud of my uniform and put it on at home. At this point in my life, I was a real Alex P. Keaton/Family Ties and David Addison/Moonlighting type; I wanted a desk job with suit and tie. My mom saw me and my McDonald’s clip-on and said “there – you’ve got a job where you wear a tie!”.
It’s the spring of 1988. I’m 15 years old, working my first job. The time comes for my first shift. Couple hours over supper making fries? No. Sunday afternoon ‘lobby’ shift? Take the broom and sweep up? No. It was a Saturday night. Kitchen. Closing. 8pm-12:30am. Now, it may not sound like much but here’s the thing: Saturday nights are busy. Also, you’re ‘closing’ the store which means there’s cleaning up and putting away to do and there’s a way to do it – normally experienced people get this shift. On top of everything else I won’t be getting home until 1:00. With church the next morning! My folks are none too pleased but in I go. There’s always two guys in the back area (kitchen) on a ‘close’. The guy working with me is a teenager that’s been working there awhile name of Darren Rushmere. Quick word on Darren: in the months to come, when talking about my first shift, I would throw Darren props and say “he taught me a lot”. This would always bring winks and snickers and “I’ll bet”‘s. Apparently Darren had a sketchy rep. And I never knew his last name until much later. Once I needed to get rid of a shift and was told Darren Rushmore always picked up shifts so I asked him and I referred to him as Darren Rushmore – he corrected me by saying “mere“. So, after that, I called him Darren Mere. Anyways, we work hard that night, I learn, we kill it and it does eventually benefit me having been thrown in the deep end like that. Throughout my tenure at McDonald’s I brag on the fact that they could obviously see it in me so the put me on Saturday night close first thing and blah blah.
That night I get home at 1am. My dad sees me and asks how it was. Great, I say, and I’m not all that tired. But I think I’ll go to bed, anyways. Yes, you will, he says. The first shift of my legendary 9-year run – a Saturday close, no less – is in the books.
A personal aside: that night laying in bed, I tuned in to an overnight oldies radio station. I was absolutely fascinated. I got a cassette out and pressed ‘record’. This started my lifelong love affair with the songs I heard that night, with oldies radio and with the whole concept of broadcasting in the middle of the night.
Next Up: A Motley Crew…