Sep 1, 2006

My First Job

Burger King
N. Broad St. - West Hazleton, PA
The first job I ever had was at the same Burger King restaurant that my grandfather and I used to walk to on Saturday mornings to have breakfast when I was a kid.  To this day, it's one of my favorite job experiences that I've ever had.  It was a group comprised of mostly high school students with a few adults mixed in, and everybody was extremely friendly to me at a time in my life when I really needed it the most.

I started working here in the Fall of 1995.  It was the end of a very unstable period of time in my life.  In the first half of the 90's, I lived with four different sets of relatives in six different houses across two states and had spent time at a juvenile detention center twice.  I had just moved back to Pennsylvania to live with my paternal grandparents that Spring, and life was just beginning to settle down a bit.

My friend Jen and I were hanging out one evening when we walked to Burger King to grab something to eat.  We noticed a pile of job applications sitting on the counter when we ordered, so we each took one to fill out.  Neither of us really expected to get the job because we were both 15 years old, but we figured no harm could come from applying.

They must have been pretty short staffed because the manager came over to our booth while we were eating.  We hadn't even finished filling out the application and she was telling us about the job and asking what hours we could be available to work after school.  Then came the moment of truth.  She asked Jen how old she was, and when she answered, the manager said in a disappointed tone that the minimum age to get hired was 16.  The manager then turned to me and said "you're 16, right?", to which I quickly agreed.  Thankfully, I hadn't gotten very far in the application yet, so when I got to the birthdate section, I wrote in a year that would have made me 16.

Look at that handsome son of a bitch.  That dude looks sixteen, especially with that suave mustache, right?  Well, the manager of Burger King bought it.  My grandfather took this photo before my first day of work, and I can't begin to express the embarrassment I feel when I look at it.  Dear god, no wonder I got picked on as much as I did.

Fifteen is too young to have even had a learner's permit in Pennsylvania at the time, so I didn't have a photo ID.  Burger King accepted my Social Security Card to fill out my paperwork.  If they needed any other documents, they either overlooked it or I had something that was good enough.  The one thing I do remember is that I had to promise that I would have the school district fill out and sign my working papers as soon as possible.  From that moment, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I got caught.  I had seen school district working papers and they clearly list the kid's age and the restrictions for work (which are very different for a 15 year old compared to a 16 or 17 year old), but I figured that I'd ride it out for as long as I could and make a few bucks.  I thought if I was lucky, I could fly under the radar and work there long enough to make a few hundred bucks.  

What I didn't expect is that I would be able to keep this going for six months.  Every so often when the manager thought of it, she'd ask me if I had my working papers yet, and gosh darn, wouldn't you know that I forgot 'em.  Since I didn't work every shift with that particular manager, and since she didn't always remember to ask me, I kept this going through the rest of the year and a few months into 1996.  I think it was around March when the manager finally got wise and called the house.  My grandfather knew I had fibbed about my age to get the job.  I think he kind of got a kick out of the fact that I wanted to work that badly, but while he wasn't going to run down to the restaurant and rat me out, he wasn't the type of person who would lie to cover for me either.  He answered the phone that day, and when the manager asked, he told her that I was only 15.  She was pretty pissed off at me, but not so mad that she didn't offer to hire me back the day that I turned 16.  I showed up to work on time, did what I was told, and didn't cause trouble... except for putting her at risk for hiring an underage kid.

I remember that later that year, my class took a trip to the high school to take a tour of the place.  I was in 9th grade, which was still considered Junior High School in our district at the time.  Some of the older kids who I worked with at Burger King and got along with really well bumped into me and busted my balls a bit.  If I had managed to hang in there for just a few more months, I would have actually turned 16 and it would have been a moot point.  As it turned out, I never did go back.  Before my 16th birthday, I had found a job as a busboy at an Italian restaurant.  The hours and the pay were a little bit better, the food was good, and best of all, they didn't care one bit that I was 15.

So, that's the story of my first job.  Burger King is the Home Of The Whopper whose motto was "Have It Your Way", so I told them a whopper and did just that.