Woohoo! The 3-day weekend has arrived, bringing with it the official end of summer, family barbeques and picnics, and perhaps a parade. And it might be your last chance to go camping. It’s the last bash of the season.
But, you ask, exactly how does all of this honor the American worker? By giving all of us an extra vacation day! Since Americans work more hours than any other industrialized country, I think we’ve earned it.
This post is dedicated to the American worker – the common laborer who contributes to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. More precisely, to this American worker and her very first foray into the world of work.
Before I was 16, I earned a little spending money by making and selling Barbie clothes. I also did babysitting occasionally, but those weren’t real jobs, where you go to a workplace and have a boss and coworkers. I’m talking about that kind of work. (My brief stint as a sewer of pockets doesn’t count.)
I had applied to college and realized should I actually got accepted, I’d need some moolah. So I got on a city bus after school one day in search of gainful employment. I headed south on Grand Avenue to this place…
Those of you who know St. Louis, know that this establishment is iconic in the Gateway City. But I knew it as a place where a gal could pull down some serious tips as a carhop. The owner happened to be there and conducted an interview with me right on the spot. I was hired.
Mrs. Drewes knew that maintaining a stellar reputation in frozen custard world is serious business, and her tone said as much. She gruffly detailed the rules, handed me a few uniforms and aprons, and told me when to show up for my first shift. I didn’t react much until I got on the bus to head home. I was elated.
I had landed my very first job.
I was at that stand five nights a week through the rest of the summer, from about 6 p.m. to midnight. Because it was a very popular family destination, the parking lot was packed with wood paneled station wagons between suppertime and about 10:00 p.m. Cars would even circle the lot waiting for spots to open. Folks were also serious about frozen custard.
I served too many cones to count. And sundaes and shakes and malts and floats and… banana splits! Everybody was always happy to see me headed to the driver’s window with a tray laden with frosty deliciousness. And happy dads passing out treats to happy kids meant happy tips for my apron pockets. Which was a very good thing because…
Mrs. Drewes didn’t actually pay carhops. The deal was you could work for tips. And we high schoolers were more than happy for the opportunity to beat the asphalt for six hours at a stretch to score those tips. Bona fide American workers contributing to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of South St. Louis.
When the family began clearing out, the same parking spaces were occupied by a steady stream of young people cruising around town. Young people are pretty serious about frozen custard, but not quite as serious about tipping. But the sheer volume would make up for it.
The Ted Drewes recipe consisted of four ingredients: cream, eggs, honey, and vanilla. No chocolate, no swirls. Just vanilla. But it was as delicious as it could be. And the Drewes operation produced a texture that was sheer perfection. Tips weren’t the only perk of the job.
Somewhere between 11:00 and 12:00 it would begin to slow down a bit and some of the gals might take a moment to sit on a guard rail and rest her Keds. Usually I just kept on moving, because once I stopped, I’d notice how much my feet throbbed. (Alas, no Air Jordans just yet.)
Our uniforms were a lot like this, only white trimmed with blue.
Three memorable events occurred during the three months I worked there:
- One of the inside workers – they were paid an hourly wage – introduced me to a new concoction. He put a squirt of strawberry topping in a drink cup, then filled it with lemonade and ice. Who knew the combination would be so yummy?
- This dude drove off with one of my trays one night. At the end of my shift I had to pay Mrs. Drewes $1 to replace it. She had explained that particular rule at the very beginning, so it wasn’t a surprise. But I was still burned. $1 was a good-sized chunk of what I could earn in a night.
- Service got very slow at about 10:00 p.m. on July 20th. There was a TV mounted on the wall inside the stand and we carhops lingered at the window for as long as possible. Our eyes were glued to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. And for a moment, that was more serious than out-of-this-world frozen custard.
City buses weren’t running any longer by the time my shift ended, so my dad would always come pick me up. Then every night I would sit on my bed (with my feet up), count my loot, and roll coins. At the end of the summer I had amassed enough earnings to buy all my clothes and shoes for college, pay for a plane ticket to L. A., and had $300 to spare.
And I had become a slightly seasoned member of the American work force.
Happy Labor Day, everybody!