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Can I Take Your Order?

By Shamus
on Monday Oct 5, 2009
Filed under:


Someone was cleaning out a closet at my parent’s place, and found this:


It’s in pretty good shape for a nametag created in 1992-ish. The name sticker hasn’t peeled off and it’s still easy to read.

I now present you with a seventeen year old rant about my time at Taco Bell, written today from the perspective of me in 1992.

They’ve got this computer system at work that handles the scheduling. It looks at the business you do on an hour-to-hour basis and uses that information to allot time for next week’s schedule. So, if we did a lot of business on Saturday night, it will tell you to have a lot of people on hand next Saturday. The other thing it does is examine your business at the end of the day and tells you how many hours of labor you should have used today. And at the end of every single day it tells us we used too many.

Obviously there are a lot of problems with making computer systems to tell the future and then punishing the manager when it fails to do so. The system doesn’t look at anything other than how much the store makes an hour. If you did $100 worth of business, then it concludes the place was dead and you only needed a couple of people. $100 works out to a customer every five minutes or so, so yeah. You don’t need a lot of people – assuming all customers are evenly spaced. But in the real world – which is where my store is located – customers come in blitzkrieg waves. Like, when Wal-Mart closes, twenty customers show up at once. With only two of us, we can’t hope to keep up. People will sit in the drive thru for fifteen minutes. We have a one lane drive-thru. Once you enter, you can’t get out. Do you have any idea how pissed off people are after being trapped for fifteen minutes? So we have twenty minutes of total destruction, angry customers, terrible service, refunds, and misery, and then forty minutes of no customers at all as we try to recover. And the computer will tell us we only needed two people, and then chide us for astronomical service times.

The system also doesn’t take into account the fact that you can’t make people work hours selectively. “Oh Bob. We need you to work on Friday night at six for an hour. Then at nine for an hour. Then come in again around two for the bar rush. Thanks.” If you need three people at nine and three people at two, then you need three people the whole time, no matter how slow it is at midnight.

The whole thing is just this really messed up way of asking us to do the impossible, because no human being would have the nerve to look at the work we’re doing an claim we’re lazing around all day. So instead we have this stupid computer system that does the same thing, but you can’t argue with a computer. They’ve been through three store managers since I got here, and they’re calling this a “problem store”. It’s not a problem store. It’s a store with chaotic business patterns that can’t be predicted by their computer. We’ve got the high school, the intermediate school, the farmshow grounds, the lake, the state park, a movie theater, and two different shopping plazas nearby. We’re sitting on the nexus of a couple of major roads. This isn’t a problem store, it’s a good location for a fast food joint. You just have to be able to deal with unpredictable surges. You can either keep enough people around to serve them when they show up, or you admit you don’t care how much our service sucks, how dirty the place is, or how slow our service times are.

How come we get one of these ties showing up every four months to stand over us and try to figure out why this is a problem store? I could tell you what’s wrong with this place without ever looking at the building: It’s run by an idiot computer.

I hate this place.

It’s interesting that the thing I hated most wasn’t the “demeaning” work, the low pay, the sore feet, or the fact that we were all dressed like the Special Olympics baseball team. At the end of it all, what I really hated was not being able to do a good job. I never hated the job more than when I’d hand some grim, silent family their tacos, bump the order (mark the order as complete) and see that they placed it fifteen minutes ago. They probably pulled in here in good spirits, looking for a quick bite to eat, and now they’ve been stuck in my drive-thru purgatory for a quarter hour. We just ruined their evening. We suck.

I like Taco Bell food*, but I don’t go there any more because of how angry I get over how unfair the system was. The store is still there. I wonder if they ever figured it out.

* Well, it’s not bad for fast food, anyway. I don’t confuse it with real Mexican food or anything.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. What was your first job?

Comments (108)

1 2

  1. Robert says:

    During the tech crash, I took a job as assistant manager at a pizza chain up in the mountains of Conifer. We were a “problem store” too – our unique geography and demographics meant that the cookie-cutter management decisions imposed by the corporate office were just stupid. The main thing that got corporate’s knickers in a twist was that our store was always over on labor costs. (We had supply cost problems too, but it turned out those were caused by one family of employees who stole. When they were sent packing, the supply cost problem went away.)

    As part of trying for the manager’s job, I pulled a dump of all our store data from the computer, took it home, built a spreadsheet, and found out that we were spending about 5% of our total labor cost – about the same as our overages – on the late night shift, generally from 10 to 12 on weeknights. During that same time period, we were bringing in practically no revenue. Surprise – with no bar scene and no nightlife, our small town store did little business after 10 pm. One house full of stoners, pretty much, who’d order more or less nightly, and the occasional random hungry guy at 11:59 PM – but that was it.

    Running the numbers – on my own time – I found that if we closed at 10, not only would our labor cost problem go away, but our store would move from being the largest money-loser in the division to being right around the middle – and actually profitable. Closing at 9 would be more or less a washout – we’d lose as much business as we saved in labor costs – but closing at 10 was a no-brainer because the revenue curve dropped off a cliff at about 9:30 every night.

    The response? “Corporate policy is that stores have to stay open until midnight. Oh, and don’t take our data home to work on it on your own time anymore.”

    I don’t work there any more. And the store is closed – hopefully to be replaced at some point by a restaurant owned by someone who understands why math should trump policy.

  2. Nick Pitino says:

    My first job was being an ‘Animal Surveyor’ for the city.

    Essentially we just went from door to door asking the residents if they had any unlicensed pets, giving them information on how to get their pets registered and telling them the benefits thereof.

    It wasn’t really a ‘bad’ job considering what it was, the minimum wage, part time summer job employing 17-18 year old’s. Even the city seemed to expect us to be little slow working deadbeats and would assign us WAAAYYY more time to get through each neighborhood than was really needed.

    The best part of it is, we WERE little deadbeat jerk-offs. See, at the start of the day we’d meet up with our boss who would tell us what areas to go through for the day, and after that he’d go back to the office and we’d be set loose for the next five hours to go do our thing. Thing is, after about 2 to 3 hours everybody would pretty much decide they’d had enough of it, and take off early. Considering most of us didn’t have cars and were dependent on our coworkers who DID for transportation we were more or less done by default when they were. (I seem to remember there we 6-7 of us, and 2 of them had cars.)

    I never said anything about it because frankly I needed the money and didn’t want to risk being fired, nor did I really want to see any of my coworkers fired because of me opening my mouth. Yeah…

    I only did this job for about two months, and I quit when my second (and worst) job hired me. Looking back on it, I have kind of mixed feelings about all of it. On one hand, I do feel bad for slacking off with the rest of them and never saying anything about it, dishonesty and all of that. On the other hand, even though we only worked about half of what we should have, we STILL blew through the areas designated to us about twice as fast as they were expecting us to.

    Oh well, chalk it up to youthful delinquency and live and learn. Or shiv and burn.

  3. Hal says:

    My first job? I was a little league soccer referee. Good lord, you want to talk about a thankless position . . . imagine a job where overly competitive, bitter parents living vicariously through their progeny will yell at you about perceived slights and unfairness about how you do your job while 20 preteens flail about frantically, all the while you try to keep them from hurting themselves and each other.

    *Shudder* There WAS a time that I liked soccer, too.

  4. Matt K says:

    First off, I love type of stories. I don’t know why but they tend to be pretty interesting.

    For me, my first job was as a camp counselor. It was a head counselor (a teacher), me (~15) and a co-conselor (~17) for a group of 20 or so boys going into 2nd grade. Things were decent for the first week (despite getting paid like $10 a day) but then the Head Conselor quit after getting phone calls from our Unit Head (a female) of a very explicit nature. So we were left taking care of a bunk with no expirience and little pay. Actaully we tried to get a pay bump since we were doing the Head Counselor’s job but were told to piss off. All in all not a horrible expirience but not too great either.

    My first “real” job as in when I finally got out of school was working as an intern for a law firm awaiting my bar scores so I could practice law. That job was actually mildly enjoyable except they had little work for me and were giving most of it to the other intern who started a few weeks before me. I probably should of seem the signs but was completely blindsided when I was asked into the Senior Partner’s Office, the hour before we were supposed to go to a Happy Hour with a client, and promptly fired. Of course before hand all I had been hearing was that I would be an associate once I passed the bar (and a few weeks later I found out I did) but supposedly they were having money problems and couldn’t afford to keep me (which was probably true). It really sucked though since I was unemployed for 1.5 years after words (although I did just finish my 8th month at the US Patent Office which I’m enjoying so not too bad a finish).

    So yeh, not that interesting but I’ve tended to have fairly good luck with jobs (like that time I worked for the River boat in Harrisburg).

  5. AboveUp says:

    Not hating the work itself, but hating that you can’t do it right feels like the situation I find myself at the moment. I’m working at a Japanese restaurant, and often we have customers getting angry at us for taking too long with the order as well.
    We have 2 cooks total and 1 guy in charge of serving the food to the customers, so sometimes when you get 5 different orders and a take out order at the same time, it can get hectic. We do our best to get all the orders done as quickly as possible – without rushing it, since we can’t allow the quality of the food to go down.
    I can understand people getting annoyed that it’s taking too long for their order to reach their table, and it upsets me there’s nothing I can do to make it go faster. It’s not that I’m not working hard enough, there’s a limit to how much things you can do with the available room on the stoves, grill and deep fryer.
    Whenever necessary, I do help serving the food to tables, since 1 guy really isn’t enough to do that job.

    Nice to see a rant from young 17 year old Shamus. Your writing style really has improved over time.

  6. rofltehcat says:

    What was your first job?
    It was a holiday job in the drink department of a pretty big (note: for european proportions) supermarket. My job was mainly to sort the crates of empty bottles that came back on a conveyor, and stack them on palettes, then store those palettes. I also had to get the wagons out of the PET-bottle-crushers, empty them and put them back in. And if there was nothing else to do then there was a table where all the bottles that were returned as single ones were pushed on by the machine and I had to sort them into crates. My job also contained a little being shouted at by choleric customers that were angry that their favorite drink was out or that the supermaket’s special deal of the week was sold out (things I absolutely had nothing to deal with) and sometimes people too stupid to put their bottles and crates into the machine the right way.

    And it was the hottest summer in the last 10 years (luckily it was pretty cool in the basement), so we had lots empty bottles coming back. And most of the time I was working there alone, although you needed 2 people minimum to keep the workflow up.

    So I stacked the crates, stored them and when I returned from the storage the conveyor was completely covered in crates again. So there was barely time to empty the wagons with the crushed PET bottles (they stink extremely when people collect them for too long before bringing them back) and no time at all to empty the table (if the whole table was covered then the machine would reject taking any more bottles, no matter if PET, crates or single bottles).

    Also, here some tips to annoy the poor guy in the back or basement of the supermarket:
    -Give back all bottles except one in each crate as single bottles, then give back 10 crates with 1 bottle in each while the table is flooding with bottles (he will have to fill those crates by hand)
    -give back all your bottles as single ones, then shout at that guy why the machine doesn’t accept your empty crate
    -mix brown and white glass bottles of the same form and size in your crates. Form funny patterns with them so he can’t take out more than 1 or 2 at once.
    -organise a flashmob to give give back 100 crates (possibly modified in the above manner) and 10000 single bottles at once.
    -keep your crates in the shabbiest, dirtiest and most hazardous environment possible. Nothing like having to stack crates that are covered in black dust mixed with mineral wool dust. I had that on my first day before only working with gloves (I even had to pay them myself).
    -always leave a small rest of beer in your beer bottles and then leave them in the sun for a few days. Nothing beats that smell.
    -always buy beer that has very special bottles that are accepted by only one brewery. If the machine doesn’t accept them then shout at the guy behind it. It the machine accepts them then they will have to throw them away because sending 17 bottles of extremely strange shape without a crate through whole germany is basically impossible for them. One day I had to destroy and throw away bottles for an hour (they have to be destroyed or else people will fish them out and turn them back in). A few months after I left the local newspaper had discovered the scandal of the supermarket destroying bottles (it is forbidden because glass bottles are used multiple times and thus are never really bough but only rented with the deposit as security so people return them).

  7. Greg says:

    For 4 months I had to sit at a desk and scan files into a computer for a company that was making digital copies of all their files. All I did, 8.5 hours a day was sort files, scan files and register files.

    Soul-destroyingly boring and the only reasons I didn’t go insane was the one other guy in the room doing the same job as me and the radio.

    Thankfully it was only a temporary position and once we’d scanned all that companies files, the job was over. Never thought I’d be so happy to not be making money.

  8. My first job was as a maid at a sleazy motel that was within walking distance of my high school.

    Even though I was maintaining a 4.0 GPA in school, my grandmother (who never got past the 8th grade) thought it was more important for me to get a job than to do well in school. So I got the easiest job I could find that wouldn’t interfere with my schoolwork.

    My 16 year old self was quite fascinated by all of the ‘interesting’ things that people left behind in their motel rooms.


  9. gorbashin says:

    1997. Auburn vs LSU, at Baton Rouge. McDonalds near the interstate. One hour after the game ended. Coincidentally, also 1 hour after the typical ‘rush’ ends and all non-closers are sent home. We have one manager on register and one manager in the drive-thru. I, along with two of my good friends, are covering grill and beginning the pre-close regimen. Two buses pull into our empty parking lot, with Auburn flags a’flying. Then the RV’s pull in. And the rest of the motorcade of vans and suv’s. We, on the grill, are unaware of these goings on until a panicked shout erupts from the front..”Drop Everything!”(drop meaning cook). Then the lobby slowly started filling with people until it was absolutely packed, with some still milling about outside. Some chose to walk next door to the burger king. Most did not.
    My friends and I started working at McHell at around the same time(our junior year in high school), and had almost a year of experience under our belt. We also worked mostly the same shifts, giving us a solid dynamic in the ‘who does what’ department. We immediately manned our stations and started cranking out food. The person in drive thru came up front to help take orders.

    In fifteen minutes we cranked out 100 orders. We were slinging food so fast that we actually had time to help front counter put together orders and hand them out. The handful of people that had wandered to the burger king and were still waiting to place orders walked BACK when they saw our counter was depleted of customers. There were no send-backs. No complaints. Just pure dominance, from both the grill and the front counter staff.

    After closing, we printed out the transaction report just to see what we had accomplished. We were all shocked at the sheer amount of McBadassery we slung. Those kinds of numbers are unheard of. What didn’t suprise us is that the store didn’t make labor for the entire day’s goal…but the evening shift did, by a whole .5%.

    I spent around 5 years in fast food, and I always dreamed of meeting the person who assigned our labor goals and sticking them in a dungeon where they are given absurd, logic defying goals to reach. Should they fail, they would be subjected to physical and mental punishment.

    Years later, thinking about it still makes my brain bleed a little.

  10. Aside from a paper route, my first job was in the library of my college. It was enjoyable work, and generally the people I was dealing with were good, and I didn’t have to deal with much BS. Most people know the rules of being in a library, and generally when they’re there, they’re there to get classwork done.

  11. sineWAVE says:

    My first job was this summer, at the small engineering firm my dad works for (nepotism FTW!). A fair bit of software testing, and all sorts of (usually not too dull) odd-jobs. Pretty good actually.

  12. katre says:

    MJy first job? I worked at the concession stand in a movie theater for one day when I was 16.

    I started at 11 am, when the theater opened, and was told that everyone worked until close, at 1 am. I would get half an hour for dinner “if we can schedule it”. And then it turned out “done at 1 am” really meant “the last movie finished at 1 am, so wait for everyone to leave and then clean the place”. And then I was told everyone worked this 13+ hour shift three days a week.

    The next day I showed up long enough to give them my apron and went back home. I’m still not sure why I didn’t hand in my apron the first five minutes.

  13. nilus says:

    My first job. Babbages #194, North Riverside IL. Worked there from when I was 16 till I was 22. Even climbed the ladder(started as a sales associate and ended up an assistant manager making a whole 10 dollars an hour, this was in 1999 I think).

    Working 6 years in retail is where I lost all faith in human intelligence…and literacy for that matter. I never heard more people misread, pronounce and say video game names. Final Fantastic VII(note they didn’t say 7, they thought that was a word at the end and pronounced it as such). Presidential Evil. Tom Raider.

    6 years pushing shitty key chains with 50 dollar games(because Multiple Sku transactions were pushed), hocking pre-orders and telling people they wont get the game the day it comes out(which was a lie 99% of the time). And in the end after they bought Funcoland and merged with Software ETC, having to buy and sell used games.

    Ah the shit we put up with when we are young.

  14. Pederson says:

    The summer between high school and college, I worked for Sears Teleservice. It was sort of like telemarketing in reverse: people called with a problem with their appliance, I read a handful of generic, possible solutions off a screen, and then scheduled a service guy to come out and look at it. Only two incidents really stand out.

    The most vivid was a call where I got screamed at for not knowing the details of a particular model of television that the Sears computer system claimed they didn’t sell (whether they did or not, I do not know). Apparently, it was not cable ready.

    The other was the time that, yes, the appliance was unplugged and that was the only thing wrong with it.

    We also had to sell laundry detergent. For the life of me, I do not understand why: the customer is most likely already angry about having a broken appliance. Depending on their experience, they might also conclude that the detergent would be somehow broken, too.

  15. Nick says:

    My experience is probably very similar to your, Shamus. I worked at a McDonald’s, one of the busiest in the city. I worked there for a few years, but never did the management chide us lowly employees for labor costs and such. The shift managers probably got chewed out, but never to us.

  16. Kdansky says:

    I worked in one of those call-centers which call people and ask them idiotic questions. The part about the questions wasn’t actually bad, but the questions were written by an imbecile (boring and a drudgery) and managed by a computer. And guess what happened: First, you ask the person picking up the phone if she/he wants to take the survey. After being very nice and funny, they agree. First question: “How many people live in your house, what age and gender are they?” That’s already problematic, as it is very personal. But assume they go with it. Now the stupid software concludes that it needs one more female for the survey and blatantly tells me: “Go and ask for the mother.” Guess how often that went well. And since the system was horrifuckingly stupid, it would ask for the father the next call, even though the mother actually picked up. And if they asked why they should switch, I was supposed to answer: “The computer decided it.” AAAAAARRRGGGHHH. Also my favourite: “How long is this going to take?” – What I was supposed to say: “5 Minutes.” The truth: “45 minutes”.

    But the worst? My job was to bother people and to lie to them. If I can help it in any way of form, I will not do that again. Having to do something which everyone hates you for is just atrocious.

  17. Factoid says:

    Nice rant. My first job was working at a movie theater. They had a similar “hours-to-income” calculator that they used for a while. We basically punched in at our registers with a code and the computer kept track of who was making how much money and how profitable each register was.

    The movie theater business was (and still is I”m sure) very surge driven. you have a rush as all the 7:30 to 8:15 showings get start, get slammed for about an hour and then you have a good hour of absolutely nothing to do except goof off and eat popcorn. It only took about 15 minutes to clean, restack the cups and pop some fresh popcorn.

    The computer always told us that we needed fewer people. Sometimes we did, but the managers always ignored the computer and went with their gut. Very rarely did someone leaving early cause any problems with labor shortages, and if it did it was because a bus from an old-folk’s home showed up unexpectedly on an otherwise slow day.

    Eventually they fixed the crap computer system by analyzing by shift instead of hour-by-hour. We basically had two shifts: 10:30-5:00 and 5:00 to 10ish. One of the assistant managers and one other person would have to stay until the last movie was out. That was mostly for safety but I bet the computer hated the fact that it was paying 2 people for 2 at least 2 hours of doing nothing but eating leftover popcorn and doing the occasional refill.

  18. Alleyoop says:

    “At the end of it all, what I really hated was not being able to do a good job.”

    That really resonates. My first job was described as waiting tables in a corner pizza place. I was fired because I couldn’t get the hang of cooking/washing up/memorizing the entire menu and prices/serving/tracking inventory/ringing up on the ancient cash register/busing tables/mopping out restrooms/putting up with a surly jerk of a boss all at the same time all on my lonesome. I never stopped moving, only got to eat on long shifts when the boss’ wife was in and made me sit for a few minutes to have something.

    I cried all night when I lost that job. That I had for all of a month. When I was 16.

    Because I felt I wasn’t ever given the chance do it properly.

  19. LintMan says:

    Aside from paper routes, my first job was at a Burger King. I think I was hired as a “back up” to another kid that was hired the same day, because he was immediately trained on all the stations and was given triple the work hours I was, while I only got trained on 1-2 stations and barely any hours. Then just 3 weeks later, the manager told me “sorry it just didn’t work out” and I was gone. I still have no idea what that about – as far as I know I wasn’t screwing anything up or doing anything wrong.

    Just as well. The scumbag manager had has own solution to the busy/slow staffing issue: When it was slow, he’d go around telling employees to “take a break”. And then you’d have to go and punch out for twenty minutes or half hour and sit around. This was in addition to the normal (unpaid) lunch break and might happen a couple of times a shift.

  20. I worked at a Rax on a fairly busy street for my first job, and I did all right. We were pretty low-tech so we didn’t have a moron computer (just a drive-through that beeped when someone sat on the plate for more than 30 seconds), so it wasn’t too bad. It was the other employees that were a problem for me. We had a bunch of pot-smoking morons who wouldn’t voluntarily do any work.

    I worked the salad bar and drive through (yes, both at once–you wouldn’t think that one person could do both of those jobs, but I did), and the most notable thing was the fact that I had to take hot potatoes out of the oven with my bare hands because someone was always stealing the mitts. You can do it without burning yourself, you just have to move fast.

  21. Gary says:

    My first job was a Toxic Hell too, Shamus. this was back in summer ’04, when I was 16. My mom was a shift manager at another store, so she got me this job. Began working for only a couple hours during lunch rush at the fryer. then got bumped up to Drive-Thru about the time school began and worked about 12-15 hours a week. Wasn’t bad, except that this wasn’t a very good part of town so working later shifts kind of made me nervous. Also, for the same reason our busiest days were always the first of the month, because that’s when welfare checks came in. (OSU football game days were also very busy.) No particular bad days stand out, except for customers that didn’t know what was on our menu (jalapeno poppers are a POP-EYES’ PRODUCT not a toxic hell product!) It was funny too, because the 4 largest fast food chains were at the four corners of this intersection (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Toxic Hell).
    The one thing that still sticks with me is that I refuse to eat food that was bought from there for at least another 14 months (5 years after I stopped working there). I may eat food that was gotten for free, though. Key word: MAY.

  22. UTAlan says:

    Ha! My first job was Taco Bell. :D I didn’t go there for years afterwards. It was only recently that I started going back. The smell of the place brings back memories, though.

  23. midget0nstilts says:

    Back when I was in high school, I got my first job at Subway. They just wanted me for a busy weekend, I think, because after that, they assigned me *one hour* for the whole week to work. In other words, enough money to drive there and back home. I said no way Jose, turned in my uniform, and a few weeks later I got an offer to work for the State as a sort of tech support/network engineer guy (we’re a fairly small operation), and I’ve worked there ever since. I can’t tell you how tempted I was to go back to my manager and throw it in her face that I was getting paid better than she was.

    So, I feel for you, seventeen-year-old Shamus! :P

  24. Gary says:

    @Lintman #19
    Is that practice what made the manager a scumbag? It seems like a decent idea, so long as you give them some free food while they take a break.

  25. Other Greg says:

    On the topic of poor corporate decisions, one of my lower thought of jobs had to be at Gamestop (both times) The first time I worked there was right after high school. I had graduated early and got the job during the holiday season. I really had high hopes for working for a game retailer, but I think I worked a total of 40 hours THE ENTIRE 2 MONTHS EMPLOYED THERE!

    The second time I worked for them was a different locations and as a second (third?) job, knowing that the hours were crap. Again, they were, sort of. The hiring manager really liked me and said I had management potential, which was great. He tried to find me a third key position to start with. Found one, but the manager of that store really wanted a stand-in manager available at the drop of a hat, but no guarantee of full-time position. Needless to say, with two other jobs, I couldn’t take the job. Later, I found out about some of their business practices:
    No one under 18 could make more than minimum wage
    How much profit they make off of used games
    The reason why I got crap hours was because corporate sets a number of ‘holiday help’ employees that had to be hired, and its a ridiculously high number. Thats why the ‘help’ only got about 5 hours every 2 weeks. But hey, their employee rental system* was almost worth it!

    *Yes, it is true that if you get a new game from them, there is a chance that it has been taken out of the case and played by an employee. That, and since they have an ’empty case’ policy, the box is gutted (opened and the disc is taken out and put in a sleeve) so if you steal the box, thats all you get.

  26. McNutcase says:

    My first job was as a trolley jockey (US: cart collector) at a supermarket. It was OK, aside from if it was raining, if it was sunny, or if the place was busy.

    So yeah, it blew chunks. We had a redonkulous policy of “you may only collect as many carts at one time as you can strap together with this strap”, and boy were the straps short. It wasn’t even worth using them for fewer than 6 carts, as below that you could wrangle them by hand, and they reached their limit at 10. This meant that we all wound up with 15-trolley stacks, because otherwise, thanks to the hugely dispersed corrals, you just couldn’t keep up.

    I kept that job for the thick end of a year, got insanely good at stupid tricks like whip-cracking the end of the stack into the right slot at the entrance, and never once dinged a car. I can’t imagine how US jockeys do it, though, because the US carts don’t have all four wheels free-castoring unless you’re at IKEA, and most of my fun tricks like “drifting” around the corners relied on the free-castoring wheels…

  27. RTBones says:

    First job? Delivering groceries from a commissary (grocery) on a military base to base housing overseas. Housing was essentially four story buildings with apartments and two stairwells of apartments per building. Went as follows:

    Shopper goes, buys groceries (bags were the brown paper variety). Groceries get bagged in-store by baggers, then one of two things happened — either the bagger took the groceries to the shoppers car, or they came and dropped them off with us. Bags were labeled and stacked. Within 20 minutes, they were loaded onto one of two vans (one of which was a beat-up 78 Dodge panel van with a three-on-the-tree that didnt like to start with the key all the time but you could pop the clutch and start it every time) and taken through the housing complex. When we got to a cluster of buildings, you put the bags on a board that had a strap that went around your neck, and carried them to their destination. You got paid by the number of bags you carried that day plus a small base, and tips. If you were the driver of the van, you got a little more.

    Three things always struck me — the first was that based on the way a bag was packed, you could tell who packed it. Some of the baggers liked to pack dense (sometimes just to make our lives more “fun” — we had gentle ‘rivalry’ with them, since they always made better tips but we could make more total money if we worked at it). Others like to pack so light (usually the girls) that we would end up RE-packing the bags just to save the customer (who paid by the number of bags to be delivered) some money.

    The second was just the sheer diversity of understanding/generosity in humanity. I suspect anybody that has delivered pizza for a living knows what I mean. There were times I can remember taking 20 or 30 HEAVY bags to a fourth floor apartment, and I would walk away with a $2 tip. I go back to the van, pick up my next delivery that was say, three light bags (no board required) to the first floor, and walk out with $10. It never made sense – especially as some of the best tips I made were from some of the lower ranking (least paid) service members and their families. Still doesnt.

    The third was the crew. There were about 10-12 of us that cycled through as home delivery folks (usually two or three on a van, depending on the anticipated shopping load that day.) If you got with the right group, you would clean up because there would be no complaining about “i have to take how many bags WHERE?” You just did it, and went back to the commissary to reload when the van was empty. Nobody tried to “sandbag” to pad their totals. If you got with the WRONG group, you forgot about making money because of the inevitable “dilly dally” factor, the ‘i need to stop and talk to my girlfriend’, people whining about not carrying enough, people whining about carrying all the ‘heavy’ loads, etc.

    The days that were the best (and worst) were what we called ‘bad check’ days. This was the day before payday. What would happen was that wives/spouses/whoever would shop for the week (sometimes for two weeks) the day before paychecks hit the bank. Since there was a two or three day turn to get checks processed at the commissary, you could essentially write a bad check, knowing that before it cleared, your pay would be in the bank. Used to make big money (for the time) on bad check days. It was all fun and games between the bagger and delivery groups (we all knew one another and went to school together) until the commissary got slammed, at which point you were working WITH one another so you could have a chance to breathe.

  28. Ergonomic Cat says:

    My current job is being the person you lament lacking.

    I do workforce management for a call center and figure out how to staff for those peaks and valleys, and explain to vps why you can’t just multiply calls by handle time and divide by 8 hrs to get staff.

    It’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

  29. Ergonomic Cat says:

    RTBones: In my experience, it tends to be lower paid people that tip better, barring extreme ends of the spectrum and accepting that exceptions apply.

    I’ve seen people who are scraping quarters up to buy food tip the people that carry their bags. Mostly 1. you don’t want people to think you’re so poor you can’t tip and 2. you know what it’s like.

    My first job was summer school office assistant at my mom’s summer school. It was cake.

    My second job was at McD’s. I was living in a tent at the park (I was there with my friend who was an archaeology student). I was shocked they hired me.

    I worked a total of 3.5 hours over two weeks. Everytime I went in my hair was too long. Each time I cut it to the new length, it needed to be shorter. Eventually I was leaving in 2 weeks, so I just quit.

  30. TehShrike says:

    I also served my time in food service.

    From 15 to 17, I worked at a local pizza place, owned by a couple of retired school teachers.

    Most shifts had 2-3 people in at a time, with the owners dropping in to help with lunch/supper rushes as necessary. Not a bad deal.

    I never had to deal with the unfeeling gaze of a bureaucratic office analyzing my performance, but the male boss had his own quirks – everything had to be done just right, with no money wasted!

    He got on the case of employees who would eat their lunch on a disposable plate (to save on dishes to wash later), because they cost a few pennies.

    If your carrot grating technique wasn’t optimal, he would take over and demonstrate how to do it CORRECTLY.

    More positively, his pickiness extended to following the franchise’s topping weights exactly – a single-topping beef pizza would come with a layer of 6.3 ounces of cheese, 7.0 ounces of beef, and another 6.3 ounce layer of cheese.

    At his command, every topping was weighed as it was put on the pizza (though by the time I left I could gauge 6.3 ounces of cheese by hand to within a tenth of an ounce).

    It had many of the common problems inherent to food service jobs (mostly involving customers, o’course) but it could have been much worse.

  31. Terran says:

    In ’87 I wound up working at a hobby shop that I was a frequent customer of. The owners were quite a bit of fun. All I had to do is straighten shelves, dust, and count change correctly. For me it was heaven. Models, and airplane parts, and WWII collectibles all around…

    The best part though was on slow days, Len would close shop, or leave Nancy running it, and take me flying. I did my first stall and spin etc. on a “workday”. Good times.

  32. TehShrike says:

    Unrelated: The responses to this post have been really enjoyable to read. Good stuff.

  33. ShockedMonkey says:

    @Hal: And let us not forget the volunteer-parent coaches who obviously know the rules better than the ref, because they wear fancy coach hats.

    My first job was loading and unloading trucks for a shipping company. We had some interesting freight come through (the Crypt Keeper, and the prop nuke from True Lies (which had no paperwork attached. Surprise!) come to mind). It was hard work, especially during summer. Lasted about a year and a half.

    Moved on to an Italian bread bakery my junior year of high school and mastered an old-fashioned trade over the span of about thirteen years.

  34. Tesh says:

    My first job was “external maintenance” at a McDonald’s. It was actually a pretty decent job. I swept the parking lot, washed windows, took out the trash, and cleaned the “customer floor” area. I only did bathrooms once or twice, and never the “production floor”. As such, I spent as much time outside as inside, and never ran into anything really annoying.

    Of course, the manager was a neighboorhood friend, the guy who taught me how to play volleyball. I owe a lot to him, and working for him turned out to be a good experience.

    No, the work problems I have are the ones in my “adult” life in the corporate production world. Let’s just say that Dilbert has a pretty good handle on it.

  35. Badger says:

    Another fast-food slave here. A&W, age 16. Crazy boss (literally- he was on some serious meds that messed up his perception of reality) who’d storm in at five to twelve and push the cook crew aside (he was huge guy, too) and start slinging patties. He’d fill the grill, and all the slots, before we even saw a single customer. Of course it meant people were pissed because their burgers were old. The stupid thing was, our restaurant was the kind where you placed your order and got a number which was called when your food was ready. this meant that everyone KNEW there’d be a five-minute wait for lunch, but it was cool, because your food was fresh and piping hot. Except when the boss showed up. Customers would give us quizzical looks as they could hear him in the kitchen swearing away as he threw burgers around. It was a bit stressful, but pretty amusing as well. Usually he’d cook three times as much food as we needed, so we’d have lots to take home at shift end!

    Worth thing was his wife, though- she would yell at use if we gave the customers more than one napkin each. And we were supposed to charge 5 cents for ketchup packets (WTF!!) and 25 for dipping sauces. None of us had the balls to try to charge for it though- we’d rather face her wrath than the looks of disgust from a customer.

    I’m pretty comfortable saying that shrinkage was fairly rampant there.

  36. Ethan says:

    Shamus: Thought you might be interested in these new FTC rules governing endorsements on the internet, including bloggers. It looks like it could have an effect on the type of payola schemes we’ve seen on some of the video game “review” sites.


  37. Yar Kramer says:

    My first job was as a part-time board operator at a semi-local radio station. My job consisted mostly of waiting. See, we were relaying the baseball games from the flagship station. I had to set up the relay before the games, and then set them down afterward. In between, I set off a ten-second station-tagline at the top of every hour, and a 1:30 commercial break between innings, and Gods knew which would happen more often.

    Things took a turn for the awesome when my manager said I could bring in my laptop, though …

  38. Rosseloh says:

    I started work the summer between my junior and senior years of high school at a non-chain pizza shop. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good pizza, and the smells coming from the oven were beautiful, but I was thrown right in with little training. I was the “baker” when I worked, which meant I had to get people’s pizzas out of the oven, cut them, and figure out whose pizza it was based on the order ticket. The problem wasn’t with the work itself (it was quite pleasant, actually, when there were only one or two pizzas in the oven), but with the rush periods. Friday and Saturday nights from 5-11 were the worst. Constant orders, with probably 4 pizzas needing to come out at the same time, all the time. Problem was, the orders wouldn’t stop, and the people putting the toppings on were much faster than I was when it was rush time.

    @nilus: I only worked 2 years of retail (Office Max) but I had similar experiences. I lost hope in human intelligence AND retail managerial staff… My boss was clueless.

  39. Jazmeister says:

    What my LinkedIn network don’t know is that I work at a gas station through the night. I’ve been there two years and they didn’t get me a nametag yet. I’m hoping to replace it with freelance work after the holidays – I’m scheduled to work xmas eve, day, and boxing day, and then new year’s eve/day, so I wouldn’t want to suddenly quit and ruin someone’s plans.

    Before that, I worked in the USA, where I met my wife. I worked at GNC, the vitamin shop. Before that was UK supermarket Asda – I have my name tag from there still. My first ever job, though, was in a factory. It was seasonal, and if you can stomach the uncertainty, I’d recommend a job that just naturally comes to an end like that. Feels wholesome.

  40. Cuthalion says:

    My first job was a drive-thru burger place. I, along with three of my four siblings and some random people I didn’t know yet, was on the very first crew when then opened a couple years back. I stayed until I left for school at the end of the summer, then came back when I couldn’t find any other job when I decided to stay home the next year.

    It sucked.

    The owners and managers were nice people, though they were still learning how to run a successful business. The slow times were nice, because honestly, I didn’t mind getting paid minimum wage to play dice games on our boss’s iPhone from 2-4 in the afternoon. But there were two reasons I wasn’t upset when they laid me off a few weeks after Christmas (despite the blow to my ego at being laid off from fast food):

    1. It was boring. Really, really boring. Doing the work was more boring than standing around spacing out. I’m not joking. When business was fast, the stress displaced the boredom, but I preferred staring at the wall during the dead hours over selling hamburgers at a moderate pace.

    2. It was hot. Despite talking about it pretty much every since they opened, they didn’t get air conditioning until they had already been open for two years (and six months after I’d been let go). And it probably would have taken longer if they hadn’t hired someone who was pregnant and needed sane temperatures. The weather in that area is temperate, but it still gets past 100F a couple times a year, and it’s by the ocean, so the humidity is usually mid to high. 104F + high humidity + 4 people and a large grill in a tiny space = “I’m glad we get free drinks.”

    Their burgers were awesome though.

  41. Gandaug says:

    McDonald’s. I worked there for four hours. That was my first day. I was supposed to work three four hour days in a row as training days. I never went back after my first day. I didn’t even bother picking up my four hour check. The store manager called me two weeks later wondering why I wasn’t showing up to work. They had kept scheduling me.

  42. 1d30 says:

    Well, you know how for a while during the dot-com climb everyone was hiring techies and there weren’t enough to go around? Well before that Taco Bell had just lost the contract to use their current computer system. Apparently they didn’t buy the programming, they just leased it, and the company that owned it wanted to charge way too much for the next lease period.

    So Taco Bell wanted to set up a new computer system. But they didn’t want anything changed, because that would require people be retrained. So they looked around to find people who would do it cheaply. They couldn’t find anyone at the price they wanted. So they decided to just hire people to get on a modem and pretend to be the machine.

    I worked as the computer at Taco Bell in 1992.

  43. McGUrker says:

    I work at the UPS store right now. I love it. I used to work as a gopher at some security software company, the boss was a jerk and I hated it. You win some, you lose some.

  44. DocTwisted says:

    My first job… oh gads. I was a tech assistant at my local community college’s computer lab. When I was hired, my training was a fifteen minute run-through of how to refill the paper and ink in the printers, how to clear paper jams, and how to clear the print queue. That’s it. At the end of the semester, when I sat down to receive my job evaluation, I found out there was a WHOLE SLEW of busywork I could’ve been doing, like grading tests and such, but never had done because… surprise surprise… I had never been made aware that such was a part of my job. So I was told I wouldn’t be re-hired next semester, because all I did during most my time on the job was play NetHack while waiting for a printer problem to arise.

  45. Matt K says:

    @1d30, that is hilarious.

    The only name tag I still have is when I worked for a place that built the NJ Transit rail cars (and by built I mean retrofitted). I was finishing my Sophmore year of college and was looking for an Engineering internship. While that;s what I thought I found, instead I ended up on the floor actually retro fitting these cars. I was ripping out the insides, putting together the brake circuits and running them through the cars.

    Now on my first day there one of the workers died. You see they were leasing part of the space to a minority run company which was retrofitting the DC metro cars and apparently they didn’t speak English so no one trained them on opperating the crane and well you get the picture.

    It was a fairly crappy job but still somewhat enjoyable (especially since it was just my summer job unlike most of the people there). Also there were a few other suckers I worked with who had thought this was an engineering internship position. Oddly enough they never asked for my badge back (it allowed me into the work areas and such) and in fact a few years later they sent me information about something (perhaps it was a buy out or 401K or something) as though I was still working there.

    I’ll tell you one thing, it did give me an appreciation on how to design blueprint so someone actually using them to build the thing can have meaningful measurements.

  46. MikeElkins says:

    My first paying job was in 1981 at a computer store. The interesting part was that it was a computer store run by a commune (1981 was still remarkably like the 70’s for you youngsters). Back then, we were the only store that carried most modem and printer cables in the D.C. area, and we did it by making them ourselves. That’s where I learned to solder, and to sweep floors, and that disorganized people only can survive in a world of very high markups…, but there they can thrive just fine.

  47. Terrible says:

    Paper Route, then I worked at an electric company as a summer job.

    Come to think of it, it wasn’t all that bad. I didn’t know anything about electrical work, so I had to be shown everything first, but on the apartment complexes the work was repetitive and I could be left alone for hours at a time. I enjoyed wearing heavy boots and cussing and being referred to as a “seatbelt guy”.

  48. kikito says:

    I moved aroung VHS tapes on one warehouse in London.

    The job consisted on taking tapes from a shelf, putting them on a pallet, in a certain organized way, write a code on the pallet. Rinse and repeat.

    It took 1 week to empty the warehouse.

    The only thing I didn’t like was that 90% of the tapes were Weenie the Poo’s.

  49. Heron says:

    My first job was at K-Mart while it was going through its bankruptcy with government oversight. My manager reported directly to a federal government employee, who acted as the store manager. Our store was one of the ones getting closed down so K-Mart could consolidate into a smaller number of its higher-performing stores. A few weird things about it:

    – Despite bankruptcy, and despite it being my first job at age 16, and despite my job requiring no real skills (I wasn’t even trained as a cashier), I was paid $1.35 more than minimum wage. Due to bankruptcy rules, they had to pay us in cash.
    – Despite “liquidation” sales, everything was still way too expensive; I would occasionally whisper that to a customer: “Foobar is in aisle seven, but it’s cheaper at Wal-Mart“.
    – We weren’t getting new inventory, so as our inventory became more and more sparse, the night shift would just consolidate our remaining inventory onto fewer and fewer shelves, roping off the empty sections of the store. The result was that a few days before closing, the store was little more than twelve shelves of crap nobody wanted to buy.
    – They shipped that crap nobody wanted to buy to a store in some other state after our location closed. I doubt that store sold it either.

  50. Sauron says:

    Dairy Queen here. Actually worked there a few times. The first couple of times wasn’t so bad, really. The first manager was a really cool guy, a real joy to work with /and/ for, the crew were all good and fun, and I enjoyed going to work. Then I left for college, came back for a month in the winter, and his daughter had taken over as manager, and a lot of the old crew had left. The new crew was alright, but not as good as the old. The thing that really grated on me was that they had installed cameras in the work area. Not too big of a deal, and I just ignored the cameras. Then I left and came back again. They had apparently begun cracking down on some old “wasteful” practices and, of course, most of the crew had been replaced again. I just ignored all of the new policies (the manager really loved me), but it was still unnerving.

    The really terrible stuff was when I came back again 2 years later. The old management was gone, there were only two people left I had ever worked with and, of those, only one from the original crew I knew and loved. Our old fun practice of taking for ourselves food that was being thrown out was now considered theft, punishable by immediate firing. The new management believed that yelling at people over minor mistakes was an appropriate way to deal with issues, and they ran far too few people per shift. They were willing to sacrifice good service in the lobby just to make a drive-through time 5 seconds faster and, in general, they didn’t know how to run the store. And, of course, the same issue with me telling them that we simply were losing money in the last hour of the store and would be better off closing earlier.


  51. Lazlo says:

    I am very happy (and even happier after reading things like this) that I have never worked in either food service or retail. Or a call center. I started working at 12 as an electrician’s apprentice (for the company my parents owned) and kept up with that weekends and summers until I was out of college. It was a very interesting company (and continues to be a very interesting family). My dad had dropped out of a doctoral program in psychology once he discovered that he hated teaching, and that was pretty much all he’d be able to do with a psych PhD. When I was in high school, the company consisted of my parents, me, a friend from high school (and I was definitely a nerd – my friend and I constituted the top .5% of the senior class), a retired manager from Ma Bell, and a guy doing it as a summer job while he finished up his physics degree at the local university. We were, without a doubt, the most erudite contractors on any job site we worked on. It was a fun job, and all of us took great pride in doing it very well. It was interesting for a while when the two main contractors we worked with were a high-end new home builder building quarter million dollar houses (which doesn’t seem like much these days, but at that time and place, that was a freaking mansion) and a different contractor who had the city’s contract to rehabilitate houses that weren’t quite in bad enough shape to be condemned. Kinda the opposite ends of the spectrum there. I’d say the only real weirdness other than that was my dad’s decision that there wasn’t any accounting software that did what he wanted, so he wrote his own… using nothing but WordPerfect macros. Which is pretty frightening on many levels.

    Now my first job out of college was as one of the techs (and, considering that the entire staff was 3 people, the job description was pretty amorphous) at a very small ISP.

    My first “real” career job was for a tech consulting company that formed as a branch of an accounting firm. This was interesting in that the guy who ran that part of the company had two primary skills: Finding really good people (I still work, in some way, with several of the people from that group, decades later after a handful of other jobs, and all of them continue to be awesome), and lying. Compulsively. About ridiculous things. I can understand lying about going to Harvard, or graduating college for that matter. Helps get you hired (and made a partner of an accounting firm), so long as no one checks. I can understand lying about money, especially when you’re, you know, embezzling it. But he lied about the new house he had built and moved into. Apparently he didn’t realize that one of the other guys lived in the same apartment complex as he did, and saw him leave for work most mornings.

    But, all of those experiences made me much better in their own way, so I’m pretty happy at how things turned out…

  52. Jeremiah says:

    My first summer job was a janitor the elementary and later the middle school (two separate summers) in my hometown. Not so bad as jobs go. Minimum wage, not terribly demanding and the bosses were pretty laid back as long as we didn’t slack to much.

    Once I got to college I did some web development for pretty decent pay (started at $10/hour, later up to $15/hour) considering I didn’t have a degree or a ton of experience.

    Also for a while I worked in a potpourri factory. That’s not the kind of job your nose will ever forgive you for. Wasn’t incredibly hard work, but being around all those concentrated smells for 8 hours a day was rough, to say the least. Especially those damn cinnamon pine cones. I’ll forever hate those things. FOREVER.

  53. Ravens Cry says:

    I was lucky, my first job was working in the kitchen at a facility for mentally and physically challenged people. I loved it! We made real food and I learned a lot about working in a kitchen. Dish-pit duty wasn’t exactly enjoyable, but two cups of coffee and I can scrub like a jackhammer. The other people I worked with were very friendly.

  54. james says:

    My first job was in a petrol station. It was very easy work, I mostly got paid to sit and read books for six or eight hours. The only time it got to me was when I was being looted by school children, or when I turned up with no book to read and no money.

    It’s surprising how long it can take to thoroughly clean a floor ;-)

    The most soul destroying job I had was working in a regular shop, doing regular hours. Only it was a shop that sold outdoor clothing, in a part of the country that only gets tourists at weekends.

    So you get assigned the “upper floor” to look after for the whole of the day. Nobody goes upstairs, it sells the expensive stuff. And because management decide it’s unprofessional to sit down, you have to stand there and wait for customers. Reading is also considered unprofessional, as is nipping out the back to do something else to pass the time.

    Only one day there weren’t any customers… at all… for the whole day. So I stood there, on the shop floor, totally alone… for SIX HOURS. I’d already spent an hour tidying the floor, another hour doing my fantastic time-wasting floor mopping trick, and dinner was some soggy sandwich in the kitchen.

    I decided to see how long I could stand still for. I can stand still for three hours. I know this because I had the clock on the shop floor phone to look at as it was the only interesting thing left to read having read all the promotional leaflets and tags on the clothing the previous day. In the end I had to cover up the phone’s clock as I’m sure it was going backwards at one point.

    I’d like to say that after three hours of standing still you enter a zen-like state of mind, where everything is clear and calm. However you don’t, you just get so bored that even thinking seems like too much effort.

    There were no customers the next day either, and when management decided there were too many staff on, I gallantly volunteered to go home.

    I now teach IT to school children, which is definitely not boring!

  55. Zetal says:

    Swap out McDonald’s for Taco Bell, and I could have written that rant, Shamus.

    I didn’t mind the job – sure, it was annoying, I hated getting up to be there for my 5:00 am to 1:00 pm shift, the uniforms were awful, and I had to pull my hair up, but it was a paycheck and the hours were flexible enough to work around my schooling during the school year.

    The managers sucked, for much the same reasons. “Labor’s too high, send people home.” “We’re all scrambling to get orders taken, cooked, and out.” “Labor’s too high.”

  56. B.J. says:

    My first job was fast food at Hardee’s and it was as horrible as you can imagine. Mostly my coworkers were a bunch of delinquent little shits who were much more interested in screwing around than doing any actual work. However I still remember one day this obnoxiously cheerful black guy comes in and asks me how I’m doing. I tell him I’m doing badly, obviously since I’m working at Hardee’s.

    He says, “Yeah but yo’ makin’ money, right?” I agree that yes indeed, I am making a very pitiful wage, but he interrupts and says that no matter how bad things get I can always remind myself that I’m making money.

    I’m still not sure that that is such a great mantra to take through life but I’ve never forgotten it, so here’s to you and Makin’ Money, Random Enthusiastic Hardee’s Guy.

    I only worked there for a few weeks before getting a job taking orders at the local Domino’s Pizza on the weekends. It was an easy job, the people were cool, and I made enough money to put gas in my car and take my girlfriend out every week, so I didn’t complain about it; not to mention all the free pizza. I had a friend who worked at a gas station who got us free soda and snacks, and another friend who worked at the video store so we got free movies. Those really were the days.

  57. Bryan says:

    My first job was for a company called Shugart Associates. For the younger and non- geeks out there, Shugart was the original American OEM of the 8″ and 5.25″ flexible (floppy) disk drives. My job as a pretester was to calibrate the assembled drives.

    At first it was a fun job with a fun group, but within a year the parts were not up to spec. I saw disturbing patterns emerging. No matter how bad the parts were, the next shipment would be worse. People were given raises and bonuses, not based on quality, but by how much they could get through their station, even if it was rejected later. After two years of this, we had a meeting with Xerox execs. The execs, in front of everyone, wanted to know why the workforce had not been told that the company was being liquidated.

    Years later, I learned the truth from a friend who worked in the returns department. His job whad been to tear apart defective devices and send the parts out on the line for reassembly. A part would only be marked as defective if it had been through this process 5 times already. This had been the source of our “shipments” and the reason our parts always got worse. The company had been forced to liquidate its faulty inventory while still making a profit.

    I was fired for not working overtime 6 months before they closed.

  58. First job?
    I assume paper route does not count, though if it did, I can tell you about delivering in snow up to my for 4 months out of the year and needing to be done before 7am.
    I did it all year, no days off, long walking route, and had my first car bought and paid for before I was even old enough for a learner’s permit.
    It was a 1961 Corvair, four door, power glide.
    Good car…

    First job that was not delivering newspapers, building maintenance at the new mall they had built at the edge of town.
    This job could be everything from rewiring/replacing an electrical outlet to mopping the food court bathrooms.
    Oh, and the hideous uniforms……
    When you are 16, you take what you can get, assuming you want spending money, I suppose.

  59. Randy Johnson says:

    My first job was working construction for my uncle. Hard Work. Long Hours. Bad pay (since I was a young teen and family). Then I worked at the Mall in a retail sports clothing store. Nothing special. We would toss a football when it was dead. Great Job. I was fired for leaving a post it note saying “Next time you change my schedule the day before, call me please”. My ‘Taco Bell’ job was at Wal-mart, where I recently quit. They have the worlds worst hand held system I have ever encountered. It has roughly a billion different functions. Everything from Price checks to yearly sales average of an item. Every single function required in the neighborhood of 5 minutes to access because you had to go out of 5 different menus to get to another function. And its running on Windows 95. Lets say your walking around scanning labels of items that need new price stickers and a customer walks up and asks for the price of an item. You have to spend five minutes waiting for the handheld to load each menu so you can navigate to the price check menu, instead of utilizing the 70 different buttons on the keypad to select a function.

  60. Blackbird71 says:

    *Just a forewarning that the following post might not be suitable for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.*

    While, not technically my first job, but my first “real” job out of high school was working for a mortuary. It was an on call position, a few nights a week and a couple weekends a month. AT 5PM, I’d pick up a vehicle from the mortuary and take it home, and I’d return it at 8AM (on weekends, it was 5PM Friday to 8Am Monday). In between that, I’d wait for a page or a phone call poetentially sending me out into the middle of nowhere (it was a very rural county) during all ungodly hours of the night, retrieve a body, and return it to the mortuary. Some nights, nothing happend at all, while others never stopped. On top of that, it was a rather small county, and there was no county morgue. We filled the needs of the local coroner’s office, and as such, I’d end up on the scene of homicides, suicides, vehicle accidents, etc.; in short, you name it, I’ve seen it. I worked that job for 5 years, long enough for me to finish college and then find a regular job that was actually related to my field of study, electronic engineering.

    I learned quite a few things working that job. Here’s a few for thought:

    1. People weighing in excess of 300lbs should not live in homes with staircases.
    2. There are many places where cell phones will not work at all, regardless of whatever the Verizon guy says.
    3. Always be prepared with a pair of rugged boots with good traction (we were required to wear shirts/ties/dress shoes, but some cases involved thick mud or other slick surfaces, which had the potential to make moving a loaded gurney awkward if not downright hazardous).
    4. It’s never anything like what you see on CSI (seriously, those shows get things so wrong that they look like comedies to me now).
    5. Suicide never does anyone any favors. From your next of kin to the guy who has to carry you out, it’s just a huge mess in so many ways. Trying to disappear into the woods or something before you die just compunds this tenfold, because then law enforcement has to organize volunteer search and rescue teams who spend hudnreds of man hours looking for you.
    6. Police officers are often pretty cool guys (and girls). The next time you get pulled over, try not to give them too hard of a time, they’re just trying to do their job like everyone else.
    7. Brain tissue is a lot more solid than you’d think by just looking at it.
    8. You’ll never truly understand the meaning of the term “dead weight” until you’ve tried to maneuver a lifeless body. The best I can expalin is like trying to lift a plastic garbage bag filled with water by putting your arms under it, but even that doesn’t do it justice.
    9. Some drivers will cut anyone off, even an emergency vehicle with flashing lights (that is, until you roll down the window and inform them that you’re with the coroner, they tend to get real sheepish and back down after that).
    10. There comes a time when you would be willing to pay someone $100 or more just for an hour of sleep.

  61. Adamantyr says:

    My first job was for a local television station. I’m not sure if the switch to digital has improved things, but I came away pretty much convinced that local TV is, by and large, run by crooks.

    I worked as a Master Controller, which is a fancy title for “guy who records the shows and plays them, and puts the commercials in”. I got the rudiments of the job pretty fast, with only a few black moments on the air (accompanied by a phone call from the angry boss… the transmitting station was in his backyard, mind you, in a trailer.)

    My first clue that this wasn’t a good job was the steady stream of employees I trained… and who quit after a single night or day. I think the longest lasted two months; most of the prep work was done by the boss’s son, and once by his visiting daughter. Again, my first job, so I wasn’t seeing the signs.

    Later, when it became clear I was the best he had, he proceeded to have me work INSANE work schedules… I would get up at 1:30am in the morning to get to the trailer at 3am, work until about 1-2 in the afternoon. I had no relief available; my lunch hour was basically finding a decent time in the morning with an hour show on both channels (yes, I had to run two channels at once) and that gave me an opening to eat something or run out to an early-opening fast food place or grocery store.

    We also aired baseball games. Even the boss wasn’t so dumb as to think one person could do the game AND the other channel; you had to key up commercial reels and manually start them when the 3rd out occurred. However, I did end up having to do games and channel management by myself a few times.

    I also started to get seriously disturbed by the lack of ethics my boss displayed. His hispanic channel had been the local distributor for Telemundo until he lost the license somehow… so he had me recording stuff off of satellite for re-airing. I’m pretty sure that was illegal. He also claimed to be broadcasting in a much larger area; all he had running in outlying districts was VCR’s playing Spanish music videos all day. He had one saleswoman quit on him when she discovered this; she was not happy that she’d been claiming coverage she didn’t actually have.

    Working graveyard is not fun. Some people can get used to it and even prefer it, but I hated living apart from everyone in my life. Even all the OT I was getting didn’t help much; I ended up owing money that year to the IRS because my boss hadn’t taken enough out per check. I eventually got so tired of the work I gave my notice even without a new job lined up.

    I wasn’t done yet, though. After a few months of job hunting, the ex-boss called and asked if I wanted to work at the office instead. He was very ingratiating with his praise for my work, and I hadn’t been having a lot of luck, so I figured, why not?

    It quickly became apparent, after a few months, that the work was no different at the office. In fact, things got skewed so I ended up doing most of the Master Control scut work, just on the “production” side instead of on site. So I gave my notice again.

    So, close to the end of my two weeks notice, I noticed the work schedule had me listed for the entire weekend, when my last day was Friday. I corrected the schedule myself and put it back.

    An hour later, the boss calls me into the office and proceeds to yell at me for several minutes about my disloyalty, laziness, and other perceived faults. He then threatened to sue me if I did not commit to working the weekend, and he offered me five minutes to think about it.

    I’m proud to say that I was not cringing… I felt cool and self-assured, and told him flatly that I did not need any time to decide anything, and that the answer was no. He made a big dramatic act of reaching for his phonebook to call his lawyer… like he wouldn’t have him in his rolodex or something?

    I should have just left the building right then and there, but I still felt some obligation to complete the day. When the boss came in with a massive pile of tapes to be edited “before you leave”, I just got up and left, leaving him promising to give bad references if he ever got a call. He also withheld my last paycheck, which I had to file a claim with L&I to get, after nearly a year. The agent told me I wasn’t the only one with outstanding claims on him.

    What’s truly disgusting about such small local businesses is they tend to stick around… rather like cockroaches. My sister-in-law, only a few years ago, noticed an ad for a job with almost no details but a phone number, but my brother thought he recognized it as the TV station number. A quick search engine check confirmed it and she didn’t bother to call.

    And the crowning irony? Several years later, I got a call from him out of the blue. Full of compliments and praise, and obviously fishing to see if I was still looking for work. Because, in the end, I had probably been the best employee he ever had.

  62. Anachronist says:

    My first job was being a summer lifeguard at the largest (Olympic-size) public swimming pool in Fort Worth, TX. That was the year (1980 I think) where we had a record 40+ days of 100°F days. And it was hotter sitting in the chairs above the deck. One of the lifeguards brought a glass-tube thermometer that went to 125° and took it out to his chair. We gathered around to watch it, saw it peg at 125, and then the internal pressure blew the top end off the thermometer. We never found out the actual temperature of our working environment.

    The odd part is, we avoided going into the water in the afternoon heat, and just got acclimated to the heat. This pool was frequented by the inner-city kids, with whole families. By the end of the day we had a scum of afro-sheen or whatnot covering the water surface, and as we swept the pool after closing time we’d find occasional bars of soap on the bottom! People came there to bathe. Fortunately, this million-gallon pool had some big leaks that lost a huge amount of water into the nearby creek, so the fill-valve was open all the time. By morning, what with the filters running all night and new water replacing the leaks, the pool water was clean and fresh. That is when we went swimming, and taught swim classes.

    The job alternated between utter boredom and panic, so we had to stay alert. Some emergency would happen almost every day: An unsupervised post-toddler would wander from the shallow “baby” end to the deeper end, and need to be rescued; a group of kids would decide to go to the diving pool, and one of them couldn’t swim but went and jumped off the board anyway due to peer pressure; a kid who could swim got far enough from the edge and panicked from being in the open; and so on. Whenever a lifeguard had to go after someone, the rest of us on duty had to empty the pool of customers.

    I did the public pool one summer, then I lifeguarded at country clubs in the following 3 summers. Nothing scary happened in those places. The kids there were generally skilled swimmers but spoiled brats who misbehaved and paid no attention to the lifeguards, as opposed to the public pool that had lots of kids who didn’t know how to swim but minded the lifeguards when we yelled at them.

  63. Galenor says:

    My very first ‘job’ was a newpaper boy at the local newsagents, but the way the guy handled it, it was as much of a ‘job’ as cutting the hedge for next door neighbour’s.

    My very first official job is one which I actually totally forgot about, because of how much I hated it.

    So before I came to University, I had the chance to do a gap year. I decided to take it, and try to get some money in, and some resumé flak. Now, if you realise that I’m about to begin my second year of Uni next Monday, then you can work out that this was two years ago – when news of the great economy crisis was hot news. As such, pretty much everywhere had shut their gates to any sort of additional employment – they were all worried enough trying to maintain their current ones to survive the storm.

    6 months pass, and December arrives. I still have no job. I must have sent ~50 resumés off now, and only 1 or 2 had got back to say “No”. I put my name down with a temp work agency, who had been silent for a long time. Today, the phone rang.

    “Hello,” said the cheerful lady, “We have a nice job for you. It’s a picker and packer for a Jewellery channel. People phone in with orders, people take them, process them, and you put the order in a parcel and stick the name on.”

    It sounded mundane as hell, but I had parents breathing down my neck, so I took it.

    Here is the conditions which I worked in:

    – 12 Hour shifts, 7 till 7.
    – Legally allowed three breaks – two 15 minute ones and an hour long one. Problem is, the supervisor only allowed the hour-long one, and needed convincing that the other two 15 minute ones existed.
    – No food or drink. So you had to get it all in during main break from expensive vending machines.
    – No talking.
    – If the supervisor is gone, her sweet precious sub-supervisor, someone who was around 15 years old and probably the supervisors son, watched over us, and snitched on anyone who broke a rule.
    – During this shift, only one radio station is allowed – one that plays cheezy 80s classics.
    – Only four people on shift at a time.

    This created a job that was mundane, boring, tiring, and, the worst of all, mentally destabilizing. I’m not joking!

    You packed goods in a bag. Your next break is in 6 hours. IT gets tiring. You get bored. You cannot ‘go into auto mode’ as each order has a specific amount of each jewellery, and once you finish that batch, you get more (the worst being the rings, earrings and necklaces, that need boxing). Due to no drinks and the heating, you start to dehydrate. I once pricked my finger on a stapler and the blood was a deep red, and acted more like honey. Your mind starts to slip from all this, plus the godawful music. People start laughing at nothing, or doing stupid things – including I. It was pretty much hell on earth. Then when you get home, you feel crap, chug a beer, spend 3 hours trying to forget anything happened, then go to bed for the next day.

    You met an array of people there. One was a temp worker calling in for someone else, who called it the worst job she had ever done. Another was a woman strapped for cash, and admitted she just got this done “For the fat paycheck, then I go and drink all weekend”. When she heard I had thoughts of quitting, she said “If you do, tell them. Tell the agency how they treat us like cattle. Get them to change”. It was like where people go when they’re underqualified for a supermarket job.

    On the third day of work, the strain of the job took a toll on my immune system, and I came down with a headache and a loss of voice (yes, i couldn’t actually talk). I called in sick the next day. Given how it was the last of the week, I got a call from the temp agency, who was very politely and calmly told, in formal methods, to cram their job up their backside.

    After that, I had developed a mild phobia of jobs. The experience left me ready and willing to just sit around till October, when the term started. However, the parents, as much as they sided with me against the jewellery channel, wanted me to go and see what a job that DOESN’T drive you insane is like. Of course, the mill was run again, but we settled on volunteering instead this time. I got a small-shift job at an Oxfam bookstore within a week of going volunteering, and met some awesome people there, and got a great taste of working retail. So at least it has a happy ending! :)

  64. MelTorefas says:

    @Randy Johnson: The Telzon or something, wasn’t it called? Can’t quite remember now, blessedly. I hated that thing sometimes. A lot of times. Especially when printing labels.

    My first (req: non-paper route) “job” was a student aid at the library in the small town I grew up in (Kodiak AK… small town, big island). It was mind-numbingly boring, since all they would let me do was book repair/prep. You know, laminating covers, inserting card holders and magnetic tape, that sort of thing. Three things stay with me from that job:

    1, the early warning signs of OCD. The only thing my supervisors ever got onto me about was how I would spend half an hour trying to get all the little bubbles out of the laminated covers.

    2, testing out the cassette tapes people returned to make sure they worked (usually) and were rewound (almost never). One of the tapes had been accidentally recorded over by someone listening to their radio, and eventually I heard a woman calling for someone in another part of the house. I recognized the woman’s voice as belonging to my best friend’s mother, calling to his older brother, and literally fell out of my chair laughing.

    3, I once covered books for 30 full minutes while completely unconscious, having blanked out in totality due to how boring the work was. I came to, looked around, couldn’t remember the last half hour, and saw a stack of covered books sitting next to me I didn’t remember covering.

    Despite the boring tasks, the women (it was all women except the head librarian) who worked there were super fun, and I’d listen to them talk about their children, substitute teaching, and playing Diablo II. Probably would have kept working there but I quit to go back to high school that fall and no one had bothered to tell me that once you quit they weren’t allowed to hire you again for the student aid program.

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