I got my first job at 16 as the most important man at Gino's Hamburgers in Collingdale.
That title isn't simply a matter of opinion. Just a week before I started, Gino's had begun an ad campaign stressing their cleanliness, proclaiming (something like):
“Meet David, the most important man at Gino's. He sweeps and clears the tables to make Gino's spotless for you!” There was a shot of a goofy teenage boy sweeping up, as the other employees shouted “Yay, David!!”
I can't tell you how many “Yay, David”s I heard in just my first week as the local goofy teenage boy. I do remember that it felt like great praise from the 6- and 7-year-olds eating with their families, and it felt like I was never going to get a date again from my 16-year-old peer group.
Gino's was a place filled with secrets. First there was the “secret sauce,” to be applied liberally to the Gino's Giant which, if you're not too fussy about copyrights was a lot like a Big Mac. And, since we also sold Kentucky Fried Chicken at Gino's, there was the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices that the Colonel had turned into a poultry (but certainly not paltry) fortune. There was also a secret about our assistant manager and the night shift fry girl, but that's a story for another time.
I was in on none of these secrets.
It was no secret that the Gino in Gino's was retired Baltimore Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti. What was probably less known that it was his old teammate Alan Ameche who actually ran the business. Having my paycheck signed (I thought personally at the time) by the man who scored the most famous touchdown in NFL history was an honor I tried to work into every conversation I could.
“Baseball practice starts right after school and then I have to go to work for Alan Ameche.”
“Yes, Mr. Sigda, I think I know the cosine of that triangle. Did you know that Alan Ameche co-signs my paychecks?”
Today the $1.25/hour I made at Gino's doesn't seem like any money at all. It's true that even then it wasn't very much. But I learned a lot about the value of work and about being a part of an organization that interacts with a not-always-very-polite public.
Also, at closing time we got to take home all the food that wasn't sold. My mother would make the leftover KFC into chicken salad that lasted for days.
She still thinks it's the best job I ever had.