First Job is Most Important Job

Hello, all! Day 11 of the #AKwritingChallenge asks about my first job – aside from mowing lawns and babysitting.

This is a nice break after yesterday’s suggested topic, which was a wee bit sad. First Death Experience. Every time I talk about my first job I start smiling!

When I was a freshman at age 12 (13 that October) it was legal for me to get a job and work a select number of hours after school and on weekends. This is good, as I needed money for school clothes and any non-essentials.

I grew up in a small town so there weren’t many jobs for teenagers. We didn’t have any fast food joints and one small grocery store.

A lot of my friends’ first jobs consisted of shucking corn. No thanks, I’m good. We had some apple pickers, and other farm assistance jobs. Again, no thanks, I’m good. I was a tiny thing, weak physically, and a whiner. I think I’ve acknowledged that before.

The best jobs were the ones in the local restaurants/bars. If you were a certain age, you could work in the kitchens of bars, otherwise it was the diner or pizza places. I went for the pizza places.

The dream job was at Sajo’s. Every high schooler wanted that one. They had the best pizza, awesome breadsticks (which were basically a pizza deconstructed), bland ass Mexican food, and the coolest boss known to man. He had a pierced ear, y’all! The waitresses (we weren’t servers back then, heck no) made decent money and, shit, the employees at least got discounted meals. Everyone knew the delivery drivers made bank, they were constantly on the move.

I went in the week of my 13th birthday and asked for a job. I don’t remember filling out an actual paper application, but I’m sure there’s one floating around somewhere. Teens used to drop off apps all the time (because yes, children, once upon a time “app” meant job application).

I had a new high school friend that already worked there – Tonya – and she put in a good word for me. Later I found out that that the owner, Joe, played softball with my mom way back when they were kids and my grandfather was their coach so I was pretty much in no matter what. Joe always had a soft spot for my mom.

He asked when I could start and I proudly said Friday, if he wanted, even though that was my birthday. Back then I was quite the people pleaser. Joe told me he would never make me start on my birthday and instead I went to work on Saturday. Joe is the entire reason I have done my best to never, ever, work on my birthday unless it was my choice. Like when I was serving tables and wanted to have some spare cash that night or something. It’s something special to do for yourself. I don’t remember him working on any of his, but that could be selective memory.

I was small for my age and they didn’t have a t-shirt that fit me so I basically worked in a dress with a giant apron wrapped around me twice as a belt.

I started on the sub table and I didn’t leave that spot for years. And years. This is because I worked for Joe until well after I graduated. Even when I had an adult job, making very adult money third shift, I still went in to his place in the mornings to help accept deliveries, or I would go to the other store in Delton and help out with whatever they needed.

Joe inspired loyalty in his troops.

I’ve worked in so many restaurants and most of them have the same problem. They immediately assume everyone is stealing from them. Also that employees are slacking off. From my experience, none of this is true, though if you treat your employees like shit and have their paychecks bounce, don’t be surprised at what happens to you …

Joe was first in, last out. He did every disgusting job known to man without flinching, because that’s what you do when you take a job. You do it.

You don’t call in because you don’t feel like going in but you can talk to your boss and work on your schedule to make it work better for you. When I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at the sub table, he always stopped what he was working on and walked me through it step by step, with patience and no attitude.

When I came in SUPER stoned one night, he didn’t fire me. He knows teens make stupid decisions. He made me work through that nightmare and I learned a valuable lesson. When I started coming down he pulled me aside, told me I was useless, and sent me outside for a cigarette so I also learned how to regulate myself while high. Thanks, Joe!

Most of the people I made into my family (and consider family to this day) worked with me at Sajo’s. We worked and played together for years. A pair of them got married and have three beautiful boys now. Some high school romances do work out!

I met my first serious boyfriend through those friends, and had my heart broken. And Joe was there with an uplifting word and asking me why I was doing that to myself. Thank you, Joe! *Tips cap*

He helped push me through school but stepped back when he knew I wouldn’t listen.

Joe wasn’t just a boss. He was a mentor in the truest sense of the word. I remember feeling jealous of some of the new hires who would find that out for themselves. It was such an amazing feeling to realize someone had your back and would give you a paycheck!

Every bit of my work ethic, I learned from Joe. And all of my employers thank him for it. First in, last out, always ready to volunteer, and always cleaning something. Yes, I’ve been taken advantage of but it hasn’t hurt me in the end.

When I left the state, my first visits back were always to Sajo’s. I’d check in with Joe, have some breadsticks (with spaghetti sauce instead of the pizza, thank you very much) and a large Coke and realize I was home again.

I don’t do that anymore. When I go to Michigan, it isn’t back to Richland. I’m usually in Grand Rapids and that can be a hell drive. Besides which, Joe gave up the Sajo’s in Richland. He sold it many years ago. They had created that store for a reason and, in a tragic story, that reason fell through. I won’t share it here, it makes me cry.

Funny to me side story – the guy that bought it desperately wanted the recipe for the pizza sauce, it was the main reason he bought the store. Joe kept it. The idiot forgot to put it in the sales contract. Ha! Joe never allowed any of us to know the recipe. He mixed the spices in the morning before anyone else came in.

When I do go through Richland and drive by Sajo’s I always salute.






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