On July 20, 1979, I started work at the Carl’s Jr. on Sherman Way in Reseda. We called it by the unit number it had at the time, Unit 58. (It has a different unit number now.) I’ve written about that Carl’s Jr. before, including the time when I was robbed at gunpoint.
I visited Unit 58 when I was recently in the Valley. A lot has changed.
Unit 58 now has a drive-thru and is open 24 hours — features I’m glad weren’t at the store when I worked there. I looked over the front line, and the deep fryers and the charbroiler are in the same general locations, although they seem to have been upgraded. As I sat in the dining room, I remembered the booths in the back where we hosted kids’ birthday parties and the spot on the tile where we had the salad bar.
I also had a chance to think about the lessons I learned from working there.
I was hired a month after I had graduated as a high school valedictorian. I had gone from being the top of my graduating class to sticking baskets of fries in the deep fryer. It was a humbling, but necessary experience.
At Carl’s Jr., I learned how to serve customers and make sure they were satisfied. I learned how to work with a team. I also learned that hard work can be rewarded as I climbed up the ranks from counter person, to lead, to assistant manager. Not all lessons were easy. I had to deal with rude, angry, and drunk customers and still be polite and professional. I had to work hard and stay focused, even in the most difficult days of my mom’s illness. I had to learn that every job was necessary, no matter how disgusting or humiliating it was. I cleaned up my fair share of vomit.
That’s why I think everybody should work in fast food at least once in their lives. It gives you a good appreciation of work, and that people aren’t too good to do any type of job. It also gives you an appreciation of the people who work behind the counters and bring the food to your table. Although we’ve all had frustrating times in getting service, we must remember that those behind the counter are people too. We shouldn’t think of people earning minimum wage or living off of tips as being less than us. It’s easy to forget, but important to remember. That’s what working in fast food reminds us.
I’m proud of the time I worked at Unit 58 and grateful for the lessons I learned there. It helped shape me to be the person I am today, and it provided for my family in a time of crisis. That’s why I continue to go to Carl’s whenever I’m in the mood for a burger.