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Your first job is often one of significance. It symbolizes freedom, independence, and responsibility. It can give you a new sense of confidence that you never had before. It may not be the most important job in your lifetime but it can be a huge milestone in any person’s life. My first job started December 9, 2011 on a Friday night. It wasn’t the best night to start, since naturally working at a restaurant, Friday was the busiest. There was a constant flow of order tickets and the cling and clatter of pot pans never seemed to cease. Lucky for me, I simply spent the night training. Of course, when no one was around I picked up the phone to stutter the words, “Hello, this is Ruffolo’s, please hold.” As soon as someone could get back to the phone they would take the order while I watched.
Ruffolo’s III, Special Pizza, is an Italian, family-owned restaurant that resides in a little town in Wisconsin, within walking distance from Illinois. My family moved to Wisconsin when I turned five and it didn’t take long to find this delicious, yet inexpensive place. Because the restaurant was so small, almost everyone was a regular, but my family more than most. We easily became friends with the owner, waitresses, and cooks. By the time I was nine, maybe it was eight, I was asking the owner, Rich, when I could start working. Ever since he told me he started hiring at 14, I anxiously waited for that day. It was about three months from my fourteenth birthday when I approached him to ask him if there were any openings. At the time there were none. But weeks before I would officially be old enough to work there, the position for phone girl opened up.
I was ecstatic, yet extremely nervous all at once. I wasn’t exactly great with phones. Most of the time I had a hard time hearing people at first and I just enjoyed talking in person much more. But I sucked it up and tried to get started as soon as possible. My interview was short and more informative for me than Rich since I was already promised the job. But still as my mom sat at the bar ten feet away, I nervously resisted the urge to file down my nails with my teeth. I was constantly worrying if I was ready.
Then Rich breached my anxious thoughts, “What electives do you take?” It took me a second to digest this and right before I was about to answer, Rich began to speak again. “I mean, like, do you take cooking? It won’t affect whether you get the job or not, I’m just curious.” Of course he was. But I answered honestly.
“No, in fact, I couldn’t cook to save my life. I’ve ruined mac n’cheese multiple times.” I smiled politely and slowly he began to chuckle.
“That’s okay,” he said with an assuring tone, “but you may also be in charge of making salads.”
“Oh yeah, I can do that.”
“Oh so you never did answer my question; what electives do you take?” He readied his pen and paper to take notes on my every word. Making sure it wasn’t noticeable, I adjusted in my seat. Come on, I told myself, the job’s yours. I smiled politely once more, but this time the one I give adults when I’m trying to convince them I’m the biggest sweetheart they’ll ever meet. Of course, he had known me for years so the effect might not be perfect.
“Well, I take choir, but I guess that doesn’t really matter.” I noticed I had been slightly tugging at my hair and let go. “I also took a little bit of Spanish last quarter but I wasn’t very good.” As I shrank back in my seat slightly, he started to laugh again.
“That’s okay, I was never good at Spanish either.” He smiled like only someone in authority could, yet with the utmost respect reflected in his eyes. By the end of the “interview” he had explained most of what I would be doing and handed me a work permit slip to take to a permit place called the something-League. I asked my mom to immediately drive me there and to my dismay it was closed. Fortunately, we were able to pick it up the next day.
After turning my slip in to Rich, I didn’t get any word from him for a week or so, but finally the day came. He asked me if I wanted to work Friday, December 9. I responded with a calm yes, but on the inside I was enthusiastic and over-joyed. All week I was talking about it to my friends and time flew as Friday snuck up on me. Giddy, I hopped into my mom’s car at precisely 4:54 p.m., prepared to work at five. As usual I went in the front door and one of the regular workers there looked at me. The man was probably early- to mid-twenties and I had known him for years.
“Wrong side of the counter,” he said smiling at me. Embarrassed, I realized I hadn’t come in the employee door. I took a second to laugh at myself before I realized my mom was waiting outside for me to tell her what time to pick me up. Rich told me eight and after relaying the message to her, I went in the employee door.
I took off my sweatshirt and placed it on a hook before Rich came over and introduced me to the other phone girl, a 20-year old named Caitlin. After handing me my employee uniform (a dark blue shirt that had Ruffolo’s II & III Special Pizza printed on the back) she showed me how to clock in. We proceeded to walk over to the phones where she showed me how to abbreviate orders, ask the person’s name and number, and repeat the order back. Then I was shown the different ways to work the cash register and credit card machine. The salads were easy along with the soup, but it looked like it was a struggle to keep up on the orders and phone calls. After all the chaos had died down a bit, Caitlin took me to the bar for a soda and we walked back where I watched her take more calls.
Sunday night was when I really began. I was instantly put on phones with long-time employees watching me at first to make sure I did everything right, then leaving me alone. I had a hard time understanding names and my first time I forgot to repeat back the order. Once I forgot to take one of the order slips to the back of the kitchen so a lady had to wait five minutes for her fries. I realized I hated it when the customers got aggravated when I couldn’t understand them on the phone but I learned to always stay polite. The irony is a costumer even corrected me once when I was entering numbers into the cash register. I knew instantly I had messed up, I just didn’t know how, but it was still embarrassing to have a customer explain it to me.
The downside of working at a restaurant that’s also a bar is the drunk gamblers walking in and out. One of the regulars was Bob, who could barely even spell his name. B-o-b. Yeah, he was REALLY drunk. At one point I was leaning against the counter and he grabbed me by the shoulders and laughed the most perverted laugh I’ve heard. It took me a second to escape his grasp and he was still smiling when I turned around. Later he came by and, with me standing a healthy two feet from the counter, he barely managed the words, “Y-yeah, I-I’ma a lil’a derunk rit now...” His eyes were a little glazed over and I wondered if he had been smoking weed again. To my delight, at that moment Rich came over so he could cash in his gambling money.
He tried to talk to me again but Rich interrupted by handing him the last twenty dollar bill and saying, “You should really put this away, Bob.”
“Eh, I-I kneow. Look,” he held the twenty up and flashed a creepy, toothless grin, “Ima save tis otay?”
I was exhausted by the end of the night and was ready to go home. I said good night to everyone but before I left, Rich handed me some papers. “You need to fill these out okay? Just the parts I highlighted.” (I didn’t even notice I forgot to clock out until the next day.)
“Got it,” I grabbed the papers and slipped on my sweatshirt, walking out the employee door, proud of my first real night of work. When I got in the car, I told my mom about my day at work and told her about the papers.
“You know what those are for?” she asked, “They’re forms for your paycheck.” I smiled and realized I finally felt free, independent, responsible. But most of all, I felt confident.