Friday, June 20, 2008

Dunkin' Donuts

Looking back on your life, what was the “worst job” you ever had that ironically helped prepare you to one day become an educator?

Special thank you to Linda Bilak for tagging me for this meme. Of course, I did almost beg for it on Twitter!

The first real job I ever had was when I was 16 years old. I was the "porter" at a Dunkin' Donuts near my house. The best definition for porter is the person who is responsible for doing all of the things that no one else wants to do. I was lucky enough to have a car and a girlfriend at the same time, and I needed a job to support my interests.

Being a porter was the worst job I ever had, but I learned many things from this job that prepared me to be a educator, and a better person. For a young man inexperienced in the ways of the working world, lessons were everywhere. Thank goodness I was a quick learner.

Uncle Sam gets his cut.

This was the first time that taxes were deducted from my pay. Even though I was supposed to get that money back at the end of the year, each check had some small portion taken out. I worked a couple of hours a day after school and Saturdays for a few hours, and only made fifty dollars a week. Every bit that came out of my pay had a real impact on my teenage lifestyle.

Taxes- get used to it. It's what supports our country.

Nothing is all bad.

There were things that I hated about that job, but there were benefits. Chocolate éclairs were my favorite. You have to understand that about a third of all donuts were thrown away on every 8 hour shift. After the first time I was asked to dump a few dozen donuts into the garbage, I decided that liberating a few of the fresh ones off the rack would not be a problem. So I developed a method of walking by the rack, grabbing an éclair and shoving the whole thing in my mouth while continuing on my way. While this is technically stealing, the ownership and the other employees all participated in this practice. As long as you did not gorge yourself, no one said a word. The ones that were thrown away- you could eat as many you wanted, but there is a reason they replace them with fresh ones.

Try to look on the bright side of everything.

No matter what, there is a worse job waiting for you.

I was the guy who did all of the nasty, dirty, heavy and hard work. I swept, mopped and cleaned glass- that was easy stuff. I took out the garbage- there was a never ending mountain on most days. Still, this was easy.

I was also in charge of cleaning the bathrooms. Public bathrooms are especially rough in a 24 hour location. When people drink they get hungry late night for donuts, and do not use their best manners and hygiene. I hated Saturdays. It was like people couldn't find the toilet! I am not going to get into details, just use your imagination and then try to picture it even worse than that. You can clean an amazing number of things with a mop.

But bathroom duty still was not the worst. The worst part was the grease vat. This is the giant tub that holds and heats the grease that the donuts and other food items are cooked in. Thankfully, this particular device is not cleaned very often (from a workers perspective, not a patron's). Normally you just add more grease, which comes in large cinder block sized chunks, and it slowly melts into the vat with the old stuff. Eventually, the little bits of everything that is cooked in the vat falls to the bottom and stays there. At some point it must be removed.

Every 3 months or so, the manager would decide that the whole grease vat needed to be switched out. Grease in liquid form is hot, if you have been spattered with grease from cooking at home than you have an idea what it feels like. So you get burned, and there is also a vapor that rises from the hot grease and it sticks to everything. The secret is to drain out all of the grease in liquid form, but if there is no place to put it, you have to let it cool and become solid again. There was no place to put the grease, so I had to do it the hard way. Cool grease turns back into a white solid and clings to everything. The idea was that scoops of white gunk were easy to throw away.

By the end of the day I was covered in grease. A shower doesn't get that stuff off and the smell sticks for days. But like a toy in a cereal box the best part was all of the little pieces of food at the bottom of the vat. I stopped eating éclairs after seeing that congealed mass of food bits and grease.

You might have a bad job, but it could be much worse.

Have a mentor, or be a mentor.

It has been a long time since I was 16, so I don't remember my mentor's name, but he was the "Muffin Man." The muffin man was a full timer who made the muffins everyday. I think he got a kick out of watching me do things in a stupid way and then he would show me how to do it right. He wasn't my boss, and he had no reason to interact with me, but he did.

The muffin man would clue me into the mood of the owner and what I should look out for when dealing with the other workers. He showed me how he made muffins, and what all of the large kitchen machines did and how to be careful around them. He was very cool to me, and I have never forgotten how he helped me.

Help anyone who might benefit from your experience.

When someone pays you, they get to yell at you.

I think one day I did not sweep the parking lot fully. It was a minor thing, but the owner came and yelled at me like no one ever had before. He cussed at me, called me names, and questioned my manhood. I was furious, I literally saw red. I was 16, young and strong, and I wanted to kill that man. But thankfully, I didn't. The first step to adulthood is self control. To do the opposite of what burns inside of you is more difficult than anyone can describe, but it makes you a better person. Besides, the man was paying me and I had a girlfriend who liked what $50 a week could buy.
If you get yelled at by your boss, remember where your paycheck comes from. It is easier to take that way.

When you do anything, do it right the first time.

This kind of goes back to the previous lesson. I got yelled at because I didn't do my job right. I didn't think it was important and it showed in my work. I was wrong and really deserved what I got.

No matter what you do in life, do your best. If it is sweeping or cleaning toilets, do it right. Do your job like the fate of the universe depends on it. Maybe it does.

The reality is that time does not always allow us to do our very best work on everything, but you can still do your best with what you have. Someone else may do it better, or maybe worse, but you can only do your best. Don't compare yourself to what others do. When you have done your best, you know it and you can be at peace with yourself.

Do it right, or don't do it at all.

Take responsibility for yourself and what you do.

I learned to be on time, dress in the proper uniform, and remember my duties without being constantly reminded. I knew what my job was and I would do it without anyone asking me. I would also take on additional chores because they needed doing. I got paid to do something, so I stayed busy.

If you have a job, do it by the rules, don't sit around taking up space.

Seek opportunities for learning and growth.

Once, one of the donut people didn't come to work, but her job still needed to be done. So, that day I filled donuts. That was heaven compared to the normal things I had to do. I could have done what I always did and still got paid, but instead I learned something new, and helped out. The world is full of new things to learn and do.

Try something new everyday.

Treat everyone with respect.

Finally, one day I decided I had enough. A new owner had taken over the store and he and his family treated me like trash. By this time, I knew my job and did it well, but the new owner and his family acted like I wasn't even human. I decided it wasn't even about money anymore. Even if they had paid me more money, I wasn't going to work there one more day. The end of the shift came, and I gave my official zip up polyester blend Dunkin' Donuts shirt to the girl behind the counter, and announced I was not coming back to work.

All people are equal, never look down at anyone.

I have never forgotten what I did for that Dunkin' Donuts job. It has been a great measuring stick for every job since, and a reminder of what a bad job can really be like. I am truly thankful for the wonderful job that I have today, as well as my past experience doing less appealing things. Sometimes I hear coworkers complaining about their teaching job and I always try to catch myself before I fall into that trap of negativity. No matter what happens in my teaching job, it is way better than cleaning a public bathroom, or being elbow deep in semi-solid grease.


Linda said...

you changed my mind about hittin the drive-thru today....Nicely done-good spolid lessons for life.

Linda said...

I should not commemt before coffee. Forgive the typo.

Al said...

Thanks Linda! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Don't worry, I never take off for spelling.