Monday, February 28, 2011

My Short Life as a Hot Dog Vender

After the routine of going to school ended for me in 1998, I was hit with the realization that it was time to get a job. That prospect scared the shit out of me, but I went ahead and started putting in applications. I only remember a few places that I applied to at the time, but to give you an idea as to what was going through my head, one of them was Del Taco, another was one of those video stores that they used to have in various supermarkets (not a small wall of movies and a counter, but a full-on video store within the store, only slightly smaller than a stand-alone), and another was Hollywood Video. The last place I remember applying to was Wienerschnitzel. Unlike most people I know, I love eating at this place and have never once considered it anything other than delicious. The location I applied to was fairly close to my house, but was in a rather shady area. It was located next to the Home Depot and the Spearmint Rhino strip joint. Across the street were another couple of strip joints, one proudly proclaiming that it was an “Adult Book Store” (a girl in a creative writing fiction class that I took the next year worked at this strip joint, and I was shocked at how unexaggerated she looked). I was interviewed by the owner, who was a fat, gray-haired man that owned classic cars. Much to my surprised, I got a call shortly after the interview and was offered the job. I would be starting on a Sunday and then work various nights throughout the week. I was thrilled.

Before starting on this grand adventure I was given a purple t-shirt, a visor, and a videotape that was supposed to train me on the basics. The video was filled with “humor” and had an actor playing an asshole and the other actor playing a dimwit. I’m assuming this was done to make the training part simplified to such an extent that even an idiot could understand it. It was actually pretty charming in its own condescending way. When I started my first shift I was greeted by a woman who was going to start training me. She appeared to be in her late 20’s/early 30’s and constantly talked about certain things “selling like hotcakes.” She showed me how to wash the pots and pans in the back, where things were located in the gigantic freezer, and how to make the chili.

To make the chili, you grab a giant pot and unload a can of “chili sauce” into it. You then grab the frozen unsold hamburger patties from the previous night and start cutting them up with a large flat blade. Dump the old meat into the pot, add some water, and then stir the living shit out of it. Once everything is mixed together you place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top and drag it into the freezer. Surprisingly, this did not kill my appetite for their chili.

The scariest thing that I had to do, and I believe I only did it two times, was dumping out the hot fry oil. We had to carry the container over to the dumpster outside and tip it over to start pouring the oil into the dumpster, without getting burned by either the bottom of the container or by any of the oil potentially splashing on you. This was the only aspect of the job that terrified me, because I’m a pussy when it comes to getting burned by hot oil.

On my first day I got hit with the afternoon rush, and had to make over twenty chili dogs for a single customer. Since I was just learning how to do this shit, it was a pain in the ass. During the rush I remember dropping the tongs and not having the time to wash them due to the rush. The chili dogs were easy to make, and it took a short amount of time to learn the ropes of caramelizing buns, cooking burger patties, and preparing the chili. In those brief moments when it wasn’t busy I was told to make a few extra chili dogs and leave them wrapped and sitting under a heat lamp. Also, there was an area above the grill which was filled with steam to keep the hotdogs and hamburger patties hot. This steam burned my hand almost everytime I had to reach into it. At the end of my shift, because of how hectic the pace got, I accidentally spilled chili on my thumb and scalded the shit out of it. It was shockingly painful and I had to spend the next several hours at home with my thumb soaking in a cup of cold milk. So went my first day at my new job.

The next few days at work were less frantic but still unappealing. There was another manager who came in and was incredibly rude to me. She had a Deliverance face and breasts so large that it looked like she stuffed two footballs under her shirt. In fact, one skeezy guy called me over when this woman went to the back and said “she’s got big tits, huh?” That encounter was my first interaction with a patron, and 13 years later I have to say that very little has changed. That night ended with me seeing a mouse hauling ass between the seats, and I finally decided that I didn’t want to be there anymore. I asked the rude woman if it were at all possible to change my shift to mornings or afternoons, and her response was something along the line of, “you were hired to work nights, and if you don’t want to work nights, then tough.”

The cherry on top of it all was on another day when I bent down to grab a tray of buns and the back of my pants just ripped open in front of two female coworkers, one of them being the nice woman who trained me and the other being a classless girl with a face riddled with zits. Prior to this happening the zitty girl was doing a happy dance because she had the weekend off and her boyfriend was coming over to bang her. I was told to just go home for the rest of my shift and come in the next day. After three short weeks at this place, I decided that the world of fast food wasn’t for me. Maybe it was because I was a lightweight, but the job just defeated me. I called in and told the manager that I was quitting. After the expected “why are you leaving us?” conversation I was told to come in a couple days later to pick up my check from the owner and drop off my shirt and visor.

When I went in the owner went about everything like it was your average, everyday occurrence, which it was. He barely said a word to me and just wrote out my check, which turned out to be a pain in the ass to cash because it was a personal check and I had to go to some random Asian bank to get it cashed. The zitty girl who was so excited about getting boned gave me one of the meanest looks I’ve ever seen and let me know that because of me quitting she now had to work my weekend shift. I left Wienerschnitzel feeling a little relieved but at the same time disappointed that it took under a month to break me. It would be another month or so before I got a much better but also short-lived job at the post office, sorting packages by zipcode. It was seasonal work, so I didn’t feel like such a failure when that job ended.

I don’t know what happened to anyone who worked at this place after I left, but it’s gone now. A few years ago it was converted into a Starbucks, which for some reason seems out of place in this location. I looked up the owner online a bit ago, and found absolutely nothing. I’m guessing he’s no longer in the hotdog business and is content driving his classic cars and cheating on his wife. I, on the other hand, have not worked in fast food ever since, but I still eat at Wienerschnitzel on occasion and love it, despite knowing better.


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