Sunday, June 11, 2017

#PizzaBlog Looking at the first summer

The Facebook "memories" deal showed me something from five years ago that made me do a bit of a double take. Five years ago, June 10, 2012, was the last day of operation for the "old" Pizza Hut building in Princeton. The one between McDonalds and Hardees, and across the street from the high school, shut down on that day and opened shortly after at its current location down the street in the Kroger plaza. I wasn't there when that happened.

I marked the occasion by getting nostalgic with some friends via text message, telling them that the five-year mark of "our" Pizza Hut closing was that day. We shared memories and good times, and also a few bad times.

It got me thinking about old times and things that have changed. With that, let's take a look back at how I got hired at Pizza Hut in June 2005 and my immediate thoughts on my first summer.

* * *

I sat around for the first week or so of my summer break in 2005 not doing a whole lot. I made it a point to watch Maury Povich every day. If I got up early enough I would catch "The Price is Right," but it was a chore getting up to watch something at 11 a.m. so I often missed that. I was sitting on the couch with Jed, my cat, when my mom walked past and innocently asked, "Why don’t you go get a job?" Hmmmm. A job? I’d never thought of that. Still 18 and not really being able to function on my own, I asked my mom what to do. She explained how the process worked: you go inside the building and ask for an application. Sounded simple enough. I didn’t have a car but we lived down the street from Stafford Drive, where a majority of fast-food businesses were located.

The walk wasn't long, but it was hot outside. Not prepared for that, I got a sunburn on the part in the middle of my getting-long hair. I bought SPF-80 sunscreen at CVS the next day and wound up using it literally only one day that summer.

The first place I stopped at was Hardees. I got an application and continued making my way up the street. Pizza Hut was next in line. Then McDonalds. Big Lots. Roses. On and on the application gathering continued. To this day, I’m still not sure if I imagined the following: I am positive that I saw some sort of sex shop. I remember looking at a window and seeing a pair of thigh-high leather boots and handcuffs. I walked past it without going in. I was still timid about things of that nature. The reason I'm still figuring out if my mind played tricks on me is because I never saw that place again. Now there’s a bank standing where the alleged sex shop was, but I never once saw that place again. Granted, I didn’t really look for it, but still.

I walked back home feeling accomplished. I sat back down on the couch and went back to petting Jed and watching TV. I showed my mom all of the applications I picked up. "Why didn’t you fill them out?" she asked. She didn’t care for my answer: "I didn’t have a pen." She told me to fill them out and take them back. Begrudgingly, I started writing down my name, address, and not checking the box asking if I’ve been convicted of a felony. 

I thought I was done walking for the day but I wasn’t, so I grabbed my completed applications and trudged back down the street. I walk into Hardees and hand somebody the application. They ask if I want to speak with a manager. Sure, I say. The manager’s a little busy so they ask if I can wait for a minute. Not really understanding how finding a job works, I say, "That’s okay" and leave. 

I go next door to Pizza Hut. I walk in and hand my application to an attractive, yet older woman. Her name is Janice. She is the general manager. She asks me to sit in a booth with her and conducts an impromptu interview.

"Do you have a car?"

"No, but I live right down the street. I walked here."

"Do you get sick a lot?"

"No. I don’t remember the last time I got sick."

"You’ll have to take out that lip ring. Are you willing to shave your goatee and sideburns?"

"That’s not a problem."

"Do you have black pants and black shoes?"

"Yes I do."

"Okay. Come back here tomorrow at 8 o’clock."

I went outside and called my mom to tell her I had a job. And that’s how my journey into the working world began.

Having a job was such a culture shock. I had never thought of myself as being sheltered, but I really was. Having a job was the first time I was exposed to -- for lack of a better term -- different people. And I don’t mean race or religion or anything like that. I mean different in the sense that until then all I knew was that you go to school, graduate, go to college, then go on to your career. 

I had never met a high school dropout before. I had never interacted with an old man who had no other career options aside from minimum wage. If you’ve never met somebody who society deems a "loser" then you have a negative connotation of them. Service and food industry workers have a bad reputation of being slackers and criminals and, yes, losers. 

Working along side these people showed me that most of them were really good people who were just in the middle of a bad situation. I met a lot of nice, smart people that were just there because they didn’t graduate or they had a kid and couldn’t get past surviving day-to-day and paycheck-to-paycheck. They wanted to move up and beyond but you get stuck in a rut and then you’re there. I liked those people and felt bad for them. 

I told myself early on that I wasn’t going to wind up like them: working a minimum wage job past a certain age. At 18, I didn’t know when I was ready to move on, but I eventually pegged that age at 25. If I was still working at Pizza Hut at 25, then I’d be a loser by my standards. And that’s what wound up happening, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Two people I met early on stick out for important reasons. The first was a server named Debbie. She was one of the first people who warmed up to me and made me feel welcome there. We also had the same birthday -- August 18, although she was 10 years older than me. I thought it was really odd that she was 28-years-old and waiting tables for a living. At one point she was asked if she wanted to become a manager. She said no, her reason being that she made more money serving. Even at 18, with no experience in life, I thought that was a bad way to think. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to work her way up the ladder. Wasn’t that the point of working? To go higher and higher? I didn’t realize that there were people who just thought short-term and didn’t see the big picture. Yeah, she made more money as a 28-year-old pretty server, but wouldn’t there be more job security as a manager once those 28-year-old looks start to fade?

I don’t remember the name of the other guy who sticks out to me. He was a delivery driver. From a visual standpoint, he sticks out because he was the first man I ever saw in person who had sleeve tattoos. A New York Yankees logo that was purple stuck out on the inside of his forearm. He had worked in the past as a tattoo artist, which I thought was cool. 

He was the first guy I was around that I ever heard talk about drugs. At this point I still hadn’t seen any; we were still a few years off from that. But, he talked about when he lived in Florida and used to sell cocaine. One night he had acquired some methadone, the drug people use to wean themselves off of heroin. He was asking around if anybody wanted to do it with him. He gathered up a few volunteers. I assume they had a good time. 

On a more personal level for me, this guy was the first person I ever heard who had something negative to say about college. Until that point, my mindset was go to college, graduate, get a career. It shocked me when I heard him say, "I can’t believe I have a graphic arts degree and I’m delivering pizza." As I got older and more jaded I understood where he was coming from, but at the time it was total and utter shock to hear somebody speak that way about graduating from college.

I felt an odd sense of pride every time I put on my Pizza Hut uniform. I liked the way I looked in it and I liked the way I felt when I went to work. I knew I wasn’t making a major contribution to society, but I still felt like every little bit counts. People need pizza and it was my job to give it to them. 

I used to often wonder what kind of people were eating the pizza I made. While I was placing toppings on a slab of dough I would imagine office workers having a party or kids eating with parents or business workers working on their next big proposal. One day I spun an elaborate story in my head about a man holding a woman hostage at gunpoint and ordering a pizza while he figures out what to do next and how his life got to this point. I had a very active imagination.

At the time I was a part-time, seasonal worker. I worked during the summer, went to school, then came back each additional summer. The first summer I was still learning and getting used to everything. I recall the odd look on the manager’s face when I asked her to show me how to use the mop wringer. "You mean you don’t know how to mop?" "No, I know how to mop. I’ve just never used one of these bucket things."

The final pizza I made that summer was a personal pan with pepperoni and green peppers. I left and completed my second year of college. Coming back for my second summer at Pizza Hut was important. I met what would become the core group of friends I’d have for the next five years or so.

* * *

And there are some memories from my first summer of working at Pizza Hut. I may check back in with some more stories about the people I encountered, and some more anecdotes. And, I will may take a look at summer number two at some point.

Check out my past #PizzaBlog entries here:

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