Susan looks back at the varied jobs she worked during summers in high school and college.
The Training Table
2254 South 1300 East, Salt Lake City
My first job (other than babysitting for a couple of different families, which was weird because I had basically never held a baby before and had no idea how to take care of kids) was at The Training Table restaurant in Sugar House. It was the summer after my junior year in high school. The Training Table was kind of a strange concept: you sit down at a table, look over a menu, and then pick up a phone at your table to order. When your order is ready, the phone rings, and you go pick it up from the counter. My job was to stand behind the counter and answer the phone to take orders, which was not ideal for me because, one, I didn’t like talking to people and, two, I’m not much at memorizing numbers, which was how we wrote down the orders — a mushroom burger was number 13, or whatever. I always tried to answer the phone on the right, which had a menu taped next to it as a cheat sheet. I soon realized I would never again be able to smell a burger restaurant without cringing. Every night, I left with the smell of greasy food in my hair.
Hires Big H
425 South 700 East, Salt Lake City
The next year, after I graduated from high school, my family went to England, Scotland, and Wales for a couple of weeks. When we got back, I got a job making drinks at Hires Big H, which is a drive-in restaurant that also has a sit-down area inside. I made a ton of milkshakes and root-beer freezes (a blended float). Occasionally, someone would order a quadruple cheeseburger, which was just about the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Even wrapped in paper, it feels like a pound of grease. The people I worked with were an interesting bunch. There were two older women (well, older than you would think would be working in a fast-food restaurant) who told dirty jokes that I didn’t understand. There was another girl about my age who was studying dietetics at BYU and seemed remarkably naive. And there were a few Russian people who all seemed to be related and didn’t speak much English. Dmitri and Elena were youngish and, I’m pretty sure, married to each other. Dmitri told me once that fizzy water is healthy. Both of them were drink-makers like me. Then there was an older woman whose name I forget who pulled the orders together. And there was a crotchety old man who washed the dishes. It was a strange place to work, and once again, I always ended up smelling like grease when I left.
Foothill Village, 1400 South Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City
576 East 400 South, Salt Lake City
The next year was a bit of an improvement, smell-wise. I got two jobs: Papa Murphy’s Pizza in the morning, and Baskin Robbins at night. Papa Murphy’s is a “take-and-bake” place, so I made raw pizzas for people to take home and bake at their leisure. Well, since I worked in the mornings, I actually didn’t make many pizzas — I mostly made the dough in the giant mixer, which was fun, and then cut off slabs to weigh them. They sat in trays in the refrigerator until the next day, when we would put them through this dough-rolling machine that was kind of like an old clothes wringer, except much faster and electric. I also chopped vegetables. For chopping vegetables they had a really cool device, like a small table with razor blades in a checkerboard pattern, and a pounder with plastic that would push the tomatoes or onions right through the blades. And there was an attachment on the mixer so we could grate huge pieces of mozzarella. The store opened around the time that I usually left for the day, so before I left I usually made a few standard pizzas and/or lasagnas to stock up.
In the afternoons, I went to Baskin Robbins. It was in an old gas station, which meant there was hardly any room in the back, and it was a little weird. The owner, Tom, had loved Karen (who worked at his other store in Sugar House years earlier), so he was happy to hire me, but I actually hardly ever saw him. Mostly it was just me and some other kids around my age, usually three of us at a time. There was one high-school student whose name I forget who used to smoke pot in the walk-in freezer on occasion. There was a guy named Andrew who went to Judge and acted like a jerk most of the time but was actually kind of nice and just didn’t seem to want anyone to know. A guy named Doug whom I went to high school with also worked there. There was a girl who was kind of nerdy and funny, and who knew the song for the occasion when a lady came in and asked me to write on a cake, “Bill, I love you!” One night as we were about to close, some 12- to 14-year-old boys in shirts and ties got out of some cars, and someone, probably Andrew, was about to tell them we were closed, but I told him to let them in — they just got done doing baptisms at the temple. I have no idea how I knew that.
The next year, I suppose I decided I was done with food service jobs, so I went to a temp agency. At first, they sent me to a car dealership to fill in for the receptionist on the showroom floor. It was a terrible job for me because, while I knew how to answer a phone (“Hello?”), I did not know how to operate a phone with functions beyond “dial” and “hang up.” I had to figure out how to put people on hold, how to transfer them, and probably some other things. No one ever got mad at me, but I’m sure I messed it up more than once. I only stayed there for a few days, maybe a week, before it ended — I’m not sure if the time was up, or if I just told them I was done.
After that, I got a job doing data entry in some weird warehouse place. We got stacks and stacks of information request cards for Fannie Mae, and I typed in the addresses. That was when I first learned about Flushing, Queens. None of us really understood how to type that in, but there were a lot of people who had just written “Flushing, NY,” so we figured we could just leave out “Queens” and it would be all right. There was some kind of bonus if we typed a certain number of cards in a day, but I don’t think I ever got there. The girl who sat across from me, who was in secretarial school at Ricks, did it a few times.
In summer 1999, when I got back from Prague, I once again signed up with a temp agency. I went to work at some place — I don’t even know what it was, though it may have had something to do with insurance — near Rockville Pike in Montgomery County, Maryland. I have no idea what I did there. I was there for less than two weeks before I found out that our brother-in-law Bob’s company, Watson Wyatt in downtown Washington, D.C., needed an “intern” on their compensation team, and I started working there instead. On my last day at the temp job, they actually got me a cake, which is still so bizarre to me, because I was hardly there for any time at all and I can’t possibly have made much of an impression on them.
At Watson Wyatt, my supervisors (it wasn’t really clear who was my supervisor, actually) said that my main project for the summer was going to be organizing their library. They had about a hundred (maybe more) compensation surveys, which were basically job descriptions and average salaries in different fields, by a bunch of different consulting companies. So Mercer might have a survey of salaries in manufacturing trades, for example. I looked at all of these things and started sorting through them, because they were a mess, and after a day or two it was pretty much organized. That was when some of them asked, “so, do you have any ideas about how to organize the comp surveys?” And my answer was “Um … alphabetically?” They seemed to think that was revolutionary. I took my time to stretch out the task, but there really wasn’t any way to make it take longer than a week, even though they were starting to joke that I should slow down because they didn’t have anything else for me to do for the rest of the summer. Haha. After that, they asked me to try to figure out how to use some online scheduling system called CaLANdar, which did have a really ugly and mid-’90s looking interface but wasn’t actually that hard to figure out. Other than that, I spent the summer pulling surveys and sending them down to be copied into books for clients, which happened a few times a week, and filling the large gaps in my schedule with books (but trying to look busy, of course). It was super boring. I really never figured out why they had so many people working there or what they actually did all day. I mean, I’m sure there’s more to it, but if the surveys are all done already, it really seemed like the actual consultants weren’t that necessary.
Irving Middle School
1300 Delgado Street, San Antonio
My last summer job, during the summer before grad school, was working at Washington Irving Middle School in the San Antonio Independent School District. It was the most loveless environment I’ve ever worked in, and it was painful to see some of those kids every day. They were there for seat time, not for credit — some of them had failed English and science, but they were taking math, science, and social studies in summer school. After lunch, all they were allowed to do was stand outside against a fence. A large number of them were in gangs, which is obviously not a good thing, but I could see why they might want to join a gang, given the lack of care or connection at school. One kid, Jody, was really smart but flunked most of his classes because he was in a gang and that seemed like a better use of his time. He was almost 16, though, so they were about to pass him out of middle school. I liked him. There were some teachers who were fairly caring, like Ms. Seguro, who taught 6th-grade math, but there were some who were just so unpleasant to be around. One of them, another math teacher, was just kind of nasty. I was in her class one day — my assignment was to rotate to different teachers each day and help out however I could — and a student asked me why the teacher was so mean. I said I didn’t know.
So those are all my summer jobs. None of them were amazing. I really don’t remember ever looking forward to going to any of them, but I didn’t hate any of them. (I try not to hate things, of course.) I’m glad that I had the experience of working in jobs that I didn’t love so that I knew I could make it if I ever needed to do it again. And I do appreciate having met so many different kinds of people that I probably wouldn’t voluntarily spend so much time with.