Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Taco Bell or The Job of a Lifetime

After dreading and despising school for 12 years it shocked no one more than me how very much I loved and even thrived in the college atmosphere.

I think it was due to the fact that I finally felt I was doing something worthwhile. I finally felt I had a purpose and it was my choice not my obligation. So when I completed the two year theater program at Suffolk County Community College I wanted to continue and transfer to a four-year school that would give me a Bachelor’s degree and further my acting skills. Unfortunately I was still plain awful at auditions and I was terrified to even apply to a school that had a program that made auditioning a requirement. I don’t regret going to Marymount College, but I do wish I’d had a little more gumption and chosen a more career-oriented school. If only, if only. Well, c’est la vie.

The big problem with furthering my education was, naturally, money. Not that my parents couldn’t afford to help me out, but getting my father to dip into the dough was like getting a vicious dog to drop a kitten appetizer. Not so easy.

So I had to take a year off from school to work. Again, it was my misfortune to be in an area where jobs were scarce. But I did manage to secure a dandy position at one of the many fast food places my home town was lousy with. Luckily for me it turned out to be one of the best jobs I had ever had: Taco Bell.

Now extolling the virtues of working at a Taco Bell may sound strange as fast food work has such a stigma of slave labor, but I suppose I hit it at just the right time. And more important ever than the job itself is the people with whom you work. The cast of characters at Taco Bell when I was there were really plain old NICE people. I cannot recall one of them who was mean or power hungry or cold. It was a very lucky break for me to have stumbled into that place just then.

I worked the morning prep shift and it was a gas. I loved prepping the lettuce, olives, and cheese. Olives and cheese, were never foods I loved, but they soon became my favorites. The first time I was set the task of prepping the onions I was crying my eyes out. Streaming rivers of painful tears were literally pouring down my face. It was horrible! Then one of the other workers there gave me two fabulous tips. One was to wear contact lenses if possible – it works! Try it! And the other was to run into the walk-in refrigerator for a few minutes, it stopped the sting, pardon the pun, cold. Plus, while alone in the walk-in you could snag a handful of shredded cheddar. Loved that. I thought of it as the reward for the torture of burning eyes.

I learned to cook at Taco Bell. I had learned a bit in a Home Ec class, but I learned about cooking quickly and precisely at Taco Bell. The fact that every item had to be perfect or be chucked appealed to me and my vague, and somewhat distorted, sense of perfectionism. Of course, the workers got to eat anything that was imperfect. When we were hungry an inordinate amount of taco shells seemed to crack. Hmmm. Not sure how THAT could have happened. Oddly enough I lost weight while working there despite the dozens of imperfect tacos and burritos. How could I not love that place?

After several months of Taco Bell mornings I got an application to Marymount and worked out that in addition to my savings and financial aid I would STILL need an additional $2,500. As I had exhausted all other sources this left only my father and his highly guarded bank account. Looking at that figure now I see how very little it was, of course at the time the mere thought of asking my father for that much cash was terrifying. I do not suffer humiliation fondly. Who does?

My mother, however, was determined that I would go and finish my degree. I found it strange that she was so in favor of me going away, but she really was. I saw it as possibly the most unselfish thing she had ever done. My leaving would leave her alone with my father, perhaps she thought it would be better with me gone, but I think she knew it wouldn’t be and she wanted me to go regardless. Later I would see that her plan to get me out of the house was less unselfish than I'd imagined. That however is another story.

When it came to that last $2,500 I wanted my mother to ask him for the money, but she refused. Perhaps she was right. It took me weeks to work up the courage but I finally did it.

As there was less than no communication in the house he actually had no idea that I planned to continue my education. When I explained to him that I wanted to go on for another two years his disgusted response was: “More college? I thought you were done with that?”

I explained that a B.A. degree required four years and I was only half-way through despite having gotten an A.S. from Suffolk.

“And what are you going to do after that?” He said. “You’ll only end up working at Taco Bell anyway.”

With encouragement like that it’s amazing I ever tried to make anything of myself at all.

The slightly amusing irony is that it seems my father had the last laugh any way.

When I checked my credit report some 20 years later, though my address was now listed in Manhattan and I had held many, many, waaay too many jobs in the interim, the report still had my occupation as working at Taco Bell in Centereach.


Gary said...

That last bit about working at Taco Bell 20 years after the fact still cracks me up. Imagine commuting to Centereach from Manhattan every day to cut onions.

Ak-Man said...

I still see past collegues in the McD's retaurant I used to work in.

Gotta get that money, but I wonder how long some people will stay there . . . 20yrs?

I liked my 23months stretch at Donald's so I understand why you loved Taco Bell.

I also never got sick of McD's . . . used to create my own burgers. Was called the Ak-Mac.