My first job outside of summer camp was working fast food with my dad. He had been in the business for several years at that point, managing fried chicken and Tex-Mex restaurants, opening franchises, relocating whenever they needed him. My earliest memories are of him coming home smelling like “work” – so much so that to this day the smell of frying grease triggers flashbacks.
Since he had custody on the weekends and I, being a teenager, needed money, it was decided that I’d work a few hours at his place each Saturday and Sunday (minimum wage for the record – “What. You don’t have much previous experience.”).
He was a good and capable boss, always knowing how to juggle schedules and keep things running smoothly – something I would take for granted until I worked for other bosses later. Sometimes, however, he’d be so focused on the “business” that your feelings would simply be in the way. It’s a tough lesson at 15, but it’s a tough lesson at any age.
It wasn’t easy work and it wasn’t glamorous. The days were long (especially if I’d been out the whole Friday night before). He had me work every station, from drive-thru to cashier to line-prep. I worked the fryer just that one time – don’t ask.
I did a LOT of mopping and scrubbing.
I tried my best to avoid mistakes. He wouldn’t yell; he’d be too busy to yell. It was embarrassing being the kid who fucked things up, especially when his father made everything look so easy.
Some mornings when I was dragging ass and tearing up from the new contact lenses and the early sun shining in the windshield, he’d still make me drive us to the restaurant so I could get the practice behind the wheel. We’d get there HOURS before the place would open, an hour before the rest of the morning crew would arrive.
It would be quiet, well before the craziness of the day. And although I would rather have been sleeping in those mornings, I enjoyed the quiet with him. Among other things, he showed me how to chop vegetables, how to proof and bake rolls, and how to prepare the bread pudding and coleslaw.
In retrospect, they were Miyagi-like lessons in mindfulness and taking pride in one’s work (timing and attentiveness matter and your results are going to be obvious to others and yourself). Not that it was my “dream job” or even mildly important in life’s bigger picture, for the those few minutes in the morning I was going to be the world’s best coleslaw maker making the world’s best coleslaw. It’s how I saw him handle his tasks, and it’s a work ethic I think that has followed me from job to job.
“I hate stocking shoes, but while I’m here I may as well earn the paycheck.”
I may not be the world’s best waiter/graphic designer/comedian/whatever, but I know what my best is. I won’t produce or try to pass off “shit work.”
Do it well. Do it quietly.
There are no menial jobs. My dad taught me that. Don’t ask anyone to do something that you yourself aren’t willing to do. He taught me that.
The world deserves my best. I also deserve my best. My dad taught me that too.