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Make A Run For The Border

May 8, 2013

My first job was at Taco Bell as a dishwasher. It was 1990 and I was ten years old.

My maternal grandfather was a franchisee with three locations in Sacramento, CA. I honestly do not remember how he came to be in the Bell business because it was a story I may have heard once or twice and long before 1990. Grandpa owned Taco Bell since I could remember (when you’re young and your grandpa owns three Taco Bells you think he owns TACO BELL). Also since I could remember I wanted to be ten. At ten you joined the family business. At ten you got to go to work.

I am the oldest of my mother’s kids but she is the youngest amongst her siblings. My cousins were all various degrees older then me. The closest when I was ten, I believe, was 13. The oldest was graduating or close to graduating high school. There weren’t a lot of us but no one seemed to have kids at the same time in my mom’s family. As each of my cousins reached the magic age I watched them go off to Taco Bell to work as dishwashers. I don’t know about them but that really was all I did for the first few months. Before or after school. Weekends. Holidays. In Services. Once because my dad let me call in sick to school so I could wash dishes all day to reach my saving goal to buy some shit I couldn’t live without then and couldn’t remember if my life depended on it now.

After a few months you moved up to the drink station. Back before the idea of free refills (these were the dark ages where if you wanted a refill you had to pay for it) the drink station at fast food places was behind the counter. Almost always near the drive through window. It’s a slick location because you can pass drinks to the window or to inside customers as they picked up their orders. Also, it was double duty during down time (my new tongue twister) for the drive through person when things were slow. For us ten year old grandkids of the owner, it was a chance to be seen. When your an adult everyone has a job. You practically HAVE to have a job. Well, you just have to have money. Money is usually only obtained through an income of some sorts (unless you are Old Money) and I have not found a talent that I posses well enough to provide an income without having a job. But when you are ten, everyone has to go to school. So if you have a job you’re pretty cool. So being up front gave you a chance to be seen working by people you go to school with while not required to be at school. I don’t know at what age, exactly, the coolness factor of a work and school life wears off, but I think we can all agree it pretty much does at some point.

Eventually by about 12 or 13 you get to start cooking. Back then Taco Bell still cooked all of its food at the stores. Right before my grandma sold the stores back to Corporate (spoiler) PepsiCo/Taco Bell made the big switch to beef and nacho cheese in boil bags, dehydrated beans and shells, chips, cinnamon twists and the like being shipped like Doritos (which are now used to make tacos). I’m not talking crap about the food at Taco Bell though. We don’t eat out very often but I still enjoy going to Taco Bell. This was just a dramatic shift which affected the meat cooks, cheese shredders and fryers who were all at the store around 6 a.m. and this was before Taco Bell’s first attempt at breakfast and WAAAY before the 24 hours/fourth meal stuff. And I was a cook.

Each of my cousins was a manager or “shift leader” at about 16 years old. We couldn’t be called managers because each of the stores were run by my mom or one of her siblings and THEY were the managers. But at 16, when our contemporaries were looking for jobs for the first time in their lives, we already had 6 years of experience. Once we were legally old enough to work for Grandpa, he promoted us.

Sadly, my grandfather died before I was 16. I mean it was sad that he died, and it just happened to be before I was 16. My sadness had nothing to do with my age. My grandpa never saw me work in one of his stores. My younger brother was the last of the grandkids to be employed by the now-defunct Creel Corporation, franchisee’s of three Taco Bell locations, not the owners of Taco Bell. Our little sister never made it in. Not officially. But if grandpa owns it, mommy and daddy run it and both your siblings and all your cousins work there, it’s only a matter of the paperwork. Later, I managed to use my “experience” to pick up work through my teens and early twenties at Taco Bells owned by other franchisees.

My first job was really the same as a lot of people. I was a dishwasher. I moved up to be a cook and even had thoughts of being a shift leader one day. It was my age that made it different. It was my perspective. When I tell people about the places where I have worked as a cook, when they taste my cooking at home (I’m not great but I am really good) or when they hear me still hanging on to my dream of a restaurant all my own, they always look concerned when I tell them, proudly, I first learned to cook in a Taco Bell.

In My Ears: Blink-182 – Dammit
In My Heart: Fondness
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From → #BEDM

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