I have worked some interesting jobs in my life. My first was at Foster Freeze in Downtown Torrance. I had the job only for the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year in high school.
The ice cream shop then and now was a cultural landmark. Often, customers would ask us when the shop was first built. A date etched in the sidewalk nearby said 1947. The other question that people asked, and they usually called to find out, was “When do you guys close?” The boss and I got so used to that question that before answering the phone, we would shout: “Ten O’clock! Every night!” Then again, the boss sometimes yelled at me because I tried to close up everything just before ten. It was summer, and oftentimes there was a line of customers still waiting for their shakes ten to fifteen minutes after closing time. We never closed until everyone got served their soft-serve.
The most fun products, and often the messiest for me to make, were the chocolate dipped cones. If I wasn’t careful, the ice cream would fall in the tin vat and all that chocolate would jump out and stain the windows. I never had to scoop ice cream, but I had to swirl the ice cream while it oozed out of the machine. The biggest laugh was in the store room, where I spilled a tray of peanuts on the ground. The shape of the peanuts reminded my co-worker of the “Star Trek” insignia. “Live long and prosper!” he told me as we closed up for the day. Another evening, my parents were late picking me up, so I ended up staying in the shop for about half an hour. The other guy who worked with me stayed with me the whole time, even when his own father showed up to take him home.
For my next job, I worked at Mesa Dining Commons at UC Irvine. At first the managers were reluctant to hire me, since I was one of the freshmen living at the dorms. I told that I did not mind serving food to my peers. Besides, for the first few months, I worked in the dish room. Instead of beaming faces and serving students, I was assigned to a conveyor belt where the students put their dirty trays when they were done. It reminded me of my favorite episode from “I Love Lucy”, the one where the two ladies had to wrap up chocolates. Instead of preparing food, though, I was throwing any of the leftovers and sending the dirty plates along to the dishwasher.
My second year, I worked at Middle Earth Housing, the rival dorm on the other side of campus. I took the job because I wanted to make sure that I could live on campus, since the off-campus apartments in Irvine were really expensive. Besides, I liked having other people serve me my meals. I worked with an interesting crowd. My supervisor was a former Resident Advisor at Middle Earth. Another staff member was Armenian, and a major Lakers fan. The two lead Office Assistants were Chinese acrobats who performed locally. Then there were the engineer and biology majors always panicking about finals.
If I wasn’t working at the front desk, I sorted mail in the mailroom. Sometimes the residents would reach in and try to grab mail in the bottom slots. Other times, they would throw us fruit through their mailboxes.
From scooping ice cream to running a front desk in a Housing Office, my early working days gave me much food for thought.