Today, of course, is the last day of September. For a variety of reasons, it’s always been one of my favorite months, and it’s always bugged me slightly that September — having only 30 days — is one of the short-changed months. August around here is usually hot, muggy and buggy, so I’d be fine with Congress passing a law to give one of August’s days to September.
And pity poor February! Not only stuck with being the shortest month (a month frequently dark and very cold), but saddled with the responsibility of having to keep an eye on the calendar to even know how many days it has!
Perhaps Congress could also declare February to be National February Month!
In any event, as September slides colorfully into October, I’ve been looking back at my blogging the last couple of months. I’ve certainly been serving a different sort of meat than I intended when I began last year. And it’s hard not to notice that my patrons seem to have found it a more savory dish and that it’s a bit easier to cook up.
Being a bit on the lazy and self-indulgent side, that last fact is hard to ignore. (And being as vain as any human, the first fact is also compelling!) Top that off with how much of my energy the new work position is taking, and it very much looks like — at least for now — I’ll be changing the menu to favor more personal posts over the scientific ones.
So join me now for a blast from my distant past, a tale of my very first money-earning job. (That seems especially apropos now that I’m ramping into this new position at The Company.)
The qualification “money-earning” is important. As with all kids old enough to be trusted with tasks, there was no shortage of “jobs” around the house or around the church. (My dad was a Lutheran pastor, so I was brought up, not with just a religious background, but one that saw it from the inside as a day job. And, yes, that’s right: I’m the son of a preacher man! [cue the Dusty Springfield song])
I’d also gotten into high school theatre, which was a whole new level of working my ass off for free (and loving every minute of it). So I was no stranger to work and responsibility, but — given that pastors don’t earn much — wasn’t very familiar with the getting paid for it part. Money and I were near strangers!
In my high school, taking a language each year was a requirement. You could choose between Spanish, French, German or Latin.
Looking back, I wish I’d taken Spanish, but I chose German. At that point I was seeing a scientific career ahead, and many scientific papers were written by Germans (the aforementioned Mr. Einstein, for example).
Sadly, that was largely a waste of four years of German, since I learned it poorly and remember it hardly at all. Turns out I have no facility with human languages (yet am fluent in dozens of computer languages — go figure). Part of the problem might have been the German teacher’s teaching assistant during the first two years. I can’t recall her name now (also not good with names), but she was young and very beautiful. I spent most of the class covertly staring at her. (Or at least imagining I was covert.)
Our teacher was a former Yugoslavian tennis pro whose cafe muscles were so well-developed she couldn’t fully zip up the boots she usually wore. Mrs. Yukavich (I think). She was a very nice lady, probably a great teacher, but alas I was too busy with the TA’s T&A (sorry, couldn’t resist the alliteration; in reality I’ve always been a face and hair man).
[I know you’re wondering what the hell any of this has to do with “Bab’s Drive-In Dairy.” I’m getting there, but I have to set the table before I can serve the meal. (And, yes, I know I tend to meander.)]
At some point before I arrived on the scene, Mrs. Yukavich began the tradition of leading a summer expedition of German students on a vacation tour of Europe — mostly focusing on the Germanic countries. This exposed the students to some real German (and real Germans) and gave them a chance to practice the language.
Above I mentioned two years. Turns out that Mrs. Yukavich (and the TA) moved on between my sophomore and junior year. The new German teacher, Mr. Brown, was an American who’d been a Mormon missionary in Vienna for many years. Another change was that second year students shared the class with us third year students, and that made my progress with German all the more hopeless.
But Mr. Brown continued the tradition of the summer Europe tour, and my parents (despite being fairly protective of their first child) thought I could go. The problem was that it wasn’t free. The school helped, but the students had to pony up as well.
I mentioned we were poor, so I had to find a job appropriate for a high school student (who was in school; this was no summer job). I did finally find one, and it was only four blocks from home (so no dependence on parents driving me to work or having to take the bus).
The job I found was — as my life so often seems to be — quite unique (oh, dear, Mr. Wilson just spun in his grave again). The only normal thing about it was that it involved retail. It was sort of like working at a 7-11 or QuikStop or what have you. It did involve running a cash register and stocking shelves, but it also had its unusual aspects.
I was working at a little place called Bab’s Drive-In Dairy. As the name suggests, we sold milk. And ice cream and cheese and bread and chips and Hostess products. And beer! (It was at this job I discovered and began a life-long love affair with beer!)
You may be familiar with the old gags involving California having drive-in this and drive-in that. Those gags are based on a reality. Due to the year around nice weather, drive-in whatevers are common. Bab’s had a two-lane driveway that looped under a huge awning that was part of the building. The building side was lined with glass refrigerator doors (such as you see in any market), and in front of them we had two cash registers on wheels (so they could be wheeled inside at night when we closed).
The service mode was that someone would drive in and stop, one of the two on duty would walk to the car and take their order (we prided ourselves on not needing to write it down).
Then we’d fill it, bag it, ring it up and take it to their car. They’d pay us, and we’d take the money, possibly making one more trip to their car to return change. (We loved the ones that drove off leaving us a small tip.)
Those glass doors I mentioned (which we covered with plywood when we closed) fronted a huge walk-in refrigerator. A nice place to take a break on hot days. (Or to sneak a beer close to closing time.) We also sold ice cream from a small freezer out front, but which we stocked from a smaller walk-in freezer out back. That was handy for a quick cool down on particularly hot days.
But I haven’t even gotten to the really good parts!
The “dairy” part of the name was not just because we sold milk. Every Wednesday, in the late afternoon, a large tanker truck would pull into the driveway and unload a jillion gallons of raw milk into the big tank located inside the building.
And every Thursday morning, around 4 AM, Harry (our boss) and his crew began processing the milk. Milk that we sold, and which we distributed to other Bab’s Dairy locations that were just retail outlets. They made and bottled whole, 2%, skim and some chocolate (and eggnog in December).
I gotta tell ya, while I’m not a big fan of cow juice, coming to work on Thursday afternoon and enjoying a pint of really fresh ice-cold milk and a Hostess Honey Bun was one of my childhood delights!
A typical weekday shift for me was from 4 PM to closing at 10 PM (if memory serves). It was here I learned an interesting fact about myself. When the sun goes down, I get a second wind. That’s still true. At last Friday’s party, I was exhausted after the week, but once the sun set — bam — I was fine. My ex-wife used to say I was part vampire (I am adopted, and I do like necks, so she might be right).
I also learned an important life lesson. Two of my co-workers were college age and “into the ladies.” Which meant that sometimes, after the boss had gone home, we had visitors who came to hang out and keep us company. There was one pair of young ladies, one of whom was into one of my co-worker. That left the other with little to do but talk to the high school kid.
I mentioned I was into faces. My hearing defect has a bit to do with that, I’m sure. I have some informal lip-reading ability and faces communicate a lot. That helps me (sometimes) figure out what is said. The gal I mentioned did not have an attractive face, but as time wore on and I got to know her, that reading changed. She became attractive to me.
The lesson was beyond just not judging a book by its cover (I knew that already), but that as you come to know the contents of the book, the way you see the cover changes. I learned the truth behind the adage that ugly is as ugly does, and so, too, beauty is as beauty does. A good lesson to learn.
Speaking of hard of hearing, when Harry hired me, I thought he said the pay rate was 42 cents per hour. Yeah, that was low, even in 1971, but I was a shy high school kid, what did I know. (I will say this: not always knowing the details of what’s going on around me has made me a very “go with the flow” kinda guy, and it’s led to some interesting, oft amazing, times!)
When I got my first true paycheck, imagine my surprise and delight to realize I was making $1.42 hour! That was a happy day! Even better than the fresh milk and the Honey Bun.
I haven’t mentioned that Harry was Chinese. In a place as ethnic as Los Angeles, it doesn’t really stand out. But in his office he did have one adding machine and one abacus.
After closing, when we’d count our “bank” (reconcile the cash register tape with the actual cash), my co-worker got the adding machine and I used the abacus. We’d race. Frequently I’d win (by a hair).
Abacuses are cool! I still own a couple.
I loved that job, and it brings to mind how extremely lucky I have been in my work life. I’ve loved nearly every job I’ve had, and I’ve managed to be employed consistently since that first high school job. My personal life may not have worked out as planned, but I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed my life’s path.
Indeed… I’ve enjoyed the shit out of it!