Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I Was a Professional Bun Warmer

Labor Day was yesterday. As I sat around on the holiday, doing a whole lot of nothing, I thought about work.

Work is a good thing. Unfortunately, not all jobs are a good thing. We've all had those jobs that we hated. And, hopefully, we've all had jobs that we loved. One thing I've always said about every job I've had is, "Hey, it pays better than sitting home watching tv."

The first job I ever had was working on the farm. To be accurate, though, it wasn't really a job, it was just life. My Dad was a farmer, and so, as a young boy I was expected to work on the farm. One of the first jobs I remember doing on the farm was "pulling rye." We would walk through the wheat fields looking for rye, which was taller than the wheat. If we found rye, we were to pull it up by the roots, stick it in a gunny sack, and take it away from the wheat field. (Apparently, if wild rye was left to its own devices, it would completely take over a wheat field, similar to how Urkel took over the show Family Matters.)

By the time I was 12 or 13, I was deemed old enough to drive tractor. That's when I really began working hard for the money. All summer long we would work about 12-hour days (from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM), six days a week. (Thankfully my Dad was a religious person and believed Sunday was a day of rest, church meetings, football, and 60 Minutes.)

I hear of fast food workers complaining today that they deserve to get paid $15 an hour. Well, back in those days I was working 12 hours a day, six days a week for a total of $20 a month. Not $20 an hour. Not $20 a day. Not $20 a week. No, it was $20 dollars a month! (At roughly 288 hours a month, that works out to $0.07 per hour!!!) (Yes, that's seven cents per hour!) Of course, it wasn't called a wage, it was called an allowance.

(To be fair I did have housing, food, clothing, car, and fuel provided, so I would usually blow the $20 on cassette tapes and comic books.)

My first actually paying job came my freshman year of college. Since I didn't have many friends and I wasn't spending as much time studying as I should, I had some free time and thought I could use a little spending cash. So, I got a job delivering pizza for a local pizza chain. It was not a good job.

The car I was driving to deliver those pizzas was a 1971 Dodge Coronet. I nicknamed it "The Hulk" because it was green, it was very large, and if it got mad it could crush you. (Here's a link to a picture from the brochure: Dodge Coronet.) Because the car was so large, and because it had a slow leak in the gas line, I was getting about 10 miles per gallon in it. So, most of my extra money from delivering pizzas was going directly into the fuel tank of "The Hulk."

Aside from the money-drain that was my car, the job was not fun. The winter I took the job happened to be one of the foggiest in memory. I remember, while trying to find delivery addresses, having to get out of my car and walk up to the street sign so that I could read what street I was at.

I only worked at the pizza place for two months, and in that time the job turnover was so high that I moved from being Driver #12 to Driver #3. (The local pizza chain went out of business just a few years later.)

My sophomore year of college I decided to give the workforce another try. I went to work for a national fast food chain. The restaurant was located on a busy street between BYU and Provo High School. During the lunch-hour rush my job was to warm all of the buns for the hamburgers. Yes, I was getting paid money to warm people's buns. I was a professional bun warmer!

Need your buns warmed? I know how to do that!

It wasn't too bad of a job. Besides the lunch-hour-rush bun warmings, I also worked a few graveyard shifts. (The place was open 24 hours a day.) Once again, though, I didn't stay too long. I ended up quitting shortly before Thanksgiving because the holiday break was more important to me than the extra cash.

Those first two years of college, my tuition and room and board were taken care of by family and scholarships, so I didn't really need the jobs. That changed my next year of college. It was now up to me to pay for my own tuition and rent, so that meant I couldn't be so cavalier about quitting.

I transferred from BYU to Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, and I got a job driving truck for Deseret Industries, which is kind of a Mormon version of the Salvation Army. I would drive the truck around to pick up the things people were donating to the store.

I spent the next four years working there, full-time in the summer and part-time in the school year, until I graduated. (Yes, it took me six years to get a four-year college degree. Yet one more reason they call me "Slow Joe.") And in those four years I drove around Pocatello picking up used couches, carpet, mattresses, freezers, leftover yard sales, and any other heavy thing that can come to mind. (I literally got a hernia.)

It was a decent job, but now that I finally had my college degree in mass communications, I thought it was time to leave and...get another truck driving job. Yes, that's right, after working my way to get my degree I found that I could make more money driving truck than in an entry level position as a newspaper writer. I chose the job that paid more money over the job that might have led to a career. (Oops.)

I moved to Salt Lake City and began driving truck for a local grocery store chain. It was a good, solid job. The last several years I was there I had a nice four-day work week, with Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday off. The Wednesday off in the middle of the week was great. I could use that day to get all my shopping/business done without fighting the weekend crowds, and it also meant I never had to work more than two days in a row.

I worked that job for nine years, and might still be working there if corporate maneuverings hadn't led to the closing of our warehouse.

For my next two jobs, I drove ice cream truck (but not that kind of ice cream truck), and I did pizza delivery (but not that kind of pizza delivery.)

I did not drive the kind of ice cream truck that lurks around neighborhoods playing annoying music to lure small children and their cash. (We tell the kids that those trucks only play their music when they are out of ice cream. It's okay to lie to kids, right?) Instead, what I did was drive a truck full of ice cream around to convenience stores to reload their ice cream freezers.

The job didn't pay well, and it got me hooked on Haagen Dazs, so after about a year I quit.

I then went back to delivering pizza, except this time I was not taking finished pizzas from house to house, I was driving a big truck and taking the ingredients to the stores. During this time I was lifting about 90,000 pounds of flour, sauce, cheese, and other things per week, putting them on my two-wheel cart, and rolling them down my ramp from my trailer to the store. It was exhausting. (I quit working out at home because I was constantly working out at work.)

I left that job less than two years later after a car decided to drive into my trailer as I was backing up to a store. (No one was hurt except for the guy's fender. It was a literal fender bender.)

After that I had two more jobs in the truck driving field, the first for four years delivering boxes to various places in Utah, and the second for eight years driving trucks around the parking lot of a large warehouse/manufacturing plant.

And then, this May, I quit to become a writer. It's quite strange to get up in the morning and not go punch a clock somewhere and report to a boss. Instead, I'm my own boss. I like that feeling.

Unfortunately, so far my new writing job pays about as well as sitting around watching tv. I'm hoping that will change once I get a book or two written. (Or three or four.)

And if I end up not being able to make a living as a writer? That's okay, because I'm not afraid to work. I can always go back to warming buns. (I was, after all, a professional.)

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