Technically, my first job was as a dishwasher in a very popular sports bar where famous hockey players, professional skaters, local celebrities and the like used to frequent.
I say technically because I had another job that summer as a shelf stocker at a Target-like chain store that was opening in the fall. I stocked shelves from 8:30am to 4:30pm, ran home to change and then went to the dishwasher job from 5:30-ish to closing. I was trying to make as much money as I could to cover my university tuition.
I didn’t balk at the hard dishwashing work but I kid you not, after that first night, I seriously thought about quitting but knew that I couldn’t.
That first night, I had left my work space spic and span but just as I was about to take off my apron, one of the managers appeared in the kitchen to leave a coffee mug on the counter.
My spic and span clean counter…
Being incapable of hiding my emotions, I must have given him such a nasty look that he was quick to say, “Oh…uh…just leave it, okay? I’ll wash it myself” and scurried away back into his office.
When I punched in the next day, he called me into his office.
I was 100% certain that he was going to fire me for giving him that nasty look the night before. But to my surprise, he told me that they had never had a “girl” working in the kitchen, that he didn’t like the idea of a “girl dishwasher” and asked if I wanted to be a cook helper instead.
This is where I’ll remind you that this was in the late 1980s so his language, though macho, wasn’t considered totally disrespectful. At the time, I was simply surprised that he hadn’t said “Black girl”. 🙂
He said it was the same minimum wage and that it would be easier work so I said yes. I was already “one of the boys” with the guys in the kitchen and within a week, I knew how to do everything a cook helper could do.
Two weeks later, the manager called me into his office again because he still didn’t like the idea of me being a “girl in the kitchen”. He said that he and the other managers had discussed offering me a job as hostess since they had been doing the job themselves for two years. It paid two dollars more than what I was getting (big money!) and so I accepted.
I knew that I wasn’t being hired as a “token” Black person. Back then, being a “token” wasn’t even a thought at that point, even in a trendy sports restaurant-bar like that. I was used to being the only Black person in very French and White environments so it didn’t faze me.
The only racist issues I encountered were with the bolder waitresses who purposely tried to spin me in circles before I learned the ropes. It didn’t take me long to get their nastiness under control. I told the “ringleader” that if she kept bothering me, I would limit the number of clients in her section so that she would get less tips and when she continued, I followed through on my promise.
When she complained to the managers sided with me and the others all fell into line quickly (on the surface).
I worked that job for almost 2 1/2 years full time during the summers and weekends during the school year. And whenever I look back to that job, I smile because it turned out to be a fun gig and a great learning experience.
What was your very first job?
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