I started working at fifteen, in the most accessible work sector available: fast food. Technically, I was working a few years before then, but they were jobs that anybody would enjoy. Scratch that: a paper route in Montana wasn’t exactly ideal. Mom and Dad ended up helping me a lot. Long before a Polar Vortex, there was something called really fucking cold weather. This was something that happened frequently in Montana. The fast food jobs in my teenage years were the first tightly-structured jobs I held, but I worked a shit ton of jobs all the way through college. General retail, summer amphitheater shifts, ice cream shops, clothing retail, and more food. I stopped counting how many different jobs I worked.
When I finally took a degree (achieved shortly after walking into my advisor’s office and saying, “I’ve got something like 160 credits; in what can I get a piece of paper?”), I retired from Academia for a few years and worked my “business” job in a casino. I was a complete fuck-up, but the money was nice. Actually, the money was great. Not too many of us worried about anything. We just kept working, earning, and spending. A few years later, what remained of my conscience whispered in its death rattle, “Do more.” I had seen enough of that particular type of business to last me for a while, if not permanently. Sadly, I didn’t have the kind of degree that promoted a direct transition into a structured career pathway. Which meant, of course, that I had to go back to school. So I did. The estranged folks I met on this second undergrad experience were phenomenal people (No worries; I’ll revisit them later), and we stammered through the ether darkly, to arrive at additional academic ends at which points we waded into Academia.
It didn’t take long to realize a well-known truth: Academia generally doesn’t pay. Not at all. After that first year, I started working odd jobs again. What I thought might be “just for the summer” became more of a “just because I need to make an actual living” necessity. Enter the Second Job Era. At some point, I wandered back into food, but not just any kind of food.
It’s simple, really. I sling cheese steaks. To the uninitiated, it’s the Food Industry. Au contraire, my friends. You will get no corporately-induced pandering. This is no jackoff restaurant conglomerate. If we’re wearing flair, it’s ’cause we’re weird. Okay, we have matching t-shirts. That’s about it.
There’s four of us on deck, and when I’m on the grill, I’m making music and film references as often as possible. We laugh. A lot. Oh, we’ll acknowledge you when you come in. We’ll say Hi. We’ll chit-chat with you. We’re not robots. We don’t hate life. Fuck, man. We are happy to see you, because without your cash, we’re not doing much. I’ll give you the Bro nod. However, the love affair ends shortly after that.This is still business, kid.
The menu’s easy to read.
You don’t have to squint, dipshit.
The font is fine.
And your options are consistent. You know what we have; don’t act like it’s a mystery.
First time here? Cool. Make eye contact with whichever one of us looks likely to be friendly that day. We’ll be honest with you.
Want egg? Yeah, I’ll put it on there, but I’ll mock you for it. Christ, look at your belly anyway. C’mon, man.
Bacon? Yeah, I love it too, but now all the grease from those strips is spreading over the rest of my real estate, and the wannabe vegetarian hipster who ordered right before you is nervous that his or her newfound food religion and life outlook will be murdered by their love of hurtful, vile beef and pork. Lookit that grill, pricks: you came to the wrong goddamn place for green eating. This here’s Thunderdome. See my spatulas? They bathe in blood all day, son. Hear that “shing, shing”? That’s how I clean my katanas. I don’t sheathe them. They’re always ready.
And don’t talk to us about fucking Philadelphia. Philly is a cool city to visit for a few days, but Philly is full of assholes who think Philly sports matter. Most of Philly’s city proper smells like a dumpster full of dead kids. Take your opinion about Philly cheesesteaks and cheese whiz and get the fuck out of here. This is Pittsburgh.
Now, if you’re cool? You’ll dig the fact that this is my second job. That’s right, sir or ma’am: I’m so industrious I want to work as many jobs as possible, just so I can be like you when you stumble into eateries like this one.
Look, you’re there anyway–we might as well be honest: job #1 probably sucked for both of us. Yours is worse than mine, though, which is why I’m on this side of the counter smiling while you stare slack-jawed at the menu–No, you don’t order by talking to me. What do you think this is, New York? Too many deli scenes from your sitcoms and bullshit shows, dude. Go to the register, where the rest of the folks are ordering. Honestly…you gotta be observant, B. Now, sit where you want. We’ll call your number, and if you’re not close by, we’ll walk it to you.
Dig that sandwich. Dig it. Forget your day job. Join in on our inane conversations. Offer your witticisms. Don’t be fooled, though–we’re not stupid. We just work another job.
Hell, we like it here. And while I won’t be here forever–as soon as my extra degrees offer some semblance of normal Americana, I’m most likely ghosting here in order to pursue my true passions–in the meantime? Let that food provide a little escape. That’s all we really want, anyway.
That, and two jobs.