Archives For Labor Day

You’re hired!

September 3, 2016 — Leave a comment

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…

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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.

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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.)

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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!

September Rush

September 1, 2013 — 2 Comments

Tomorrow is the first day of September. And the day after that is Labor Day.

When I was a girl, school didn’t start until the Tuesday after Labor Day, and even now, it seems quite unnatural to see children walking to school or boarding buses in AugustThe Labor Day holiday was the second “bookend” of the season (Memorial Day being the first). It signified the official conclusion of summer and was the date after which such things as sundresses and white shoes were unequivocally retired and pushed to the back of the closet. It was time to rotate the corduroy and wool and jackets and sweaters to the front of the closet, and get out the…

School bags. Oh, how I loved getting out my school bag after the long summer! I loved filling it with new pencils, pristine erasers, Crayolas with sharp tips, and fresh, unrumpled filler paper. There was all the promise that accompanied a new school year, too: a new homeroom teacher, new subjects and textbooks, and usually several new classmates. I even loved that classic first-week-of-school ritual: the mandatory composition, “What I Did During Summer Vacation.” Not that I had actually done much of note during most of my summers — I simply enjoyed hearing what the other kids had been up to. And it meant we were getting back in the groove.

There was the shiny, fresh coat of varnish on the hardwood classroom floors, the colorful educational posters mounted on bulletin boards by the teachers, and the fashion show. How I loved seeing the pretty new dresses the girls wore on the first day of school! (Sorry, I didn’t tend to pay much attention to boys’ clothes…) And it would only be a few weeks and the leaves on the trees would begin turning colors and fall to the ground, and teachers would begin adorning the classroom with pumpkin themed decorations. I’ve never been able to sort out whether I liked the beginning of the school year because fall was my favorite season of the year, or whether I liked fall because that’s when school started.

Upon returning to school at the beginning of second grade, it quickly became evident to me that I didn’t get the memo about that year’s fad: rabbit’s foot key chains. Everyone but me seemed to have one hanging from a lunch box handle, a zipper tab, or the like. How could I have possibly missed a societal trend of this proportion? Call it herd instinct, peer pressure, or sheer covetousness, I was instantly fixated on having one of my own. On the way home from school that day, I probably scoured the neighborhood looking for discarded Coke bottles I could redeem for a penny apiece, so I could begin amassing much needed discretionary funds.

[It does seem rather incongruous that I was absolutely horrified by the beheading of a chicken destined to be a family’s nutritional sustenance, but perfectly comfortable accessorizing with dismembered rabbit parts.]

My recollection of what happened next is fuzzy. Whether I said something about wanting this season’s “must-have” to my classmate, Larry, or whether he simply observed my poverty in the trinket department is uncertain. Larry was the Rabbit’s Foot King of Mrs. Fisher’s second grade class. He sported a whole stringer of them in a rainbow of colors. You know, now that I think about it, the most likely scenario is that he noticed me drooling.

At some point — and this is where my memory gets clear again — Larry asked me if I’d like to have one. Are you kidding?!! Did I want one?!! I tried to appear cool and nonchalant, but since I hadn’t yet gathered enough change to buy one, inside I was squealing with delight. He said I could pick one out. I thanked him, then blissfully stroked the soft, furry present for the rest of the day. About a week later he offered me another one. And then again in about another week or so; his supply appeared to be endless. It wasn’t long before I had an enviable collection of my own.

I wish I could say that my conscience kicked in at some point, but it didn’t. I had fallen into a drunken-rabbit’s-foot-stupor that rendered me oblivious to his part of the whole equation. I never paused to ask myself whether he simply enjoyed sharing, or whether he was a little sweet on me. I suppose either way, he may have gotten the payoff he wanted.

I can tell you this: he’s the only boy in that class whose name I can remember to this day. Thanks again for the rabbit’s feet, Larry!

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