Summer vacation from school is one long party with you and all your friends jumping from adventure to adventure in the lake house you rented together. At least that’s how it works in the movies. In real life, you get a summer job that barely covers the gas to go back and forth to work.
You take abuse from strangers, you get paid the lowest you’ll ever be paid in your life and most likely you’re still not old enough to drink. Years later, you can look back on those old days and laugh (or shudder), and it’s a story you can share with anyone close to your rocking chair.
In honor of every bored teenager wearing a clip-on tie right now, some of the best DFW stand-up comedians share their best and worst day job stories.
Why Won’t You Lettuce Help You?
I was a shift manager at a Freebirds World Burrito. Shortly (as in days) after I was promoted, our general manager went on vacation. This was my first ever managerial position at any job, so even though I was highly underpaid, I still wanted to do a good job as to have this beef up my resume. So with our GM out and the store being run by two hourly paid shift managers, I was nervous as hell for every second I was clocked in. A few days in, a call came in. A belligerent gentlemen, whom I can only picture with a mustache and a photo of Nixon framed on his wall (for some reason), called to complain about his pickup order.
Now he did not pick up this order. Someone else did. It was not sent online, so it could conveniently not be traced. His "daughter" came in to get two burrito bowls. Apparently, his bowl had lettuce in it, which he did not want. I found this all very odd because Freebirds has an extremely simple setup, one that even a workforce of 22-year-old burnouts can operate. So if somebody leaves with an incorrect order, very simple steps had been overlooked. But even my coworkers weren't this incompetent. You tell us what to put on your food. We don't create extra steps for ourselves. If we got something wrong, maybe it was an online order that printed out and we messed that up — but rarely with a person ordering from us face to face.
The gentleman on the phone insisted through his verbal berating that this be fixed. I asked if he had a receipt. This just made him angrier.
He was not willing to come to the store. He was also not willing to tell me how his "daughter" paid, be it cash or card. This asshole just wanted to yell at me over lettuce. He wanted restitution to magically gift itself upon him. He wouldn't give me his name or any contact information. His voice increased in volume as the minutes dragged. I'm becoming more and more flustered over the phone in our tiny manager's office. I had survived two Black Fridays working customer service at Best Buy with ease. But I couldn't handle this anymore.
I hung up the phone and cried like a little bitch. Nerves shattered. It took about another week before I had a solid shit.
I took a job as a canvasser for the Dallas Democratic Party one summer before a Texas governor's race. I was a high school weirdo who was trying to figure out his outfit. Was I the class clown? Nerd with strong opinions about politics? Insufferable teen? My history teacher referred me to the manager of the party’s canvassing team, and he hired me on the spot. Red flag. The job was easy enough: go door to door, ask people if they were registered to vote, show them how to if not and give them a sign for the yard. The only downsides were the Texas sun and occasional dog that was off its leash.
One day, I was canvassing in a particularly awful part of the DFW — let’s call it “Nesquite" to protect its identity. I walked up to a house with my normal pitch.
“Hi! My name is Paulos, and I’m with the Dallas Democratic Party. I was just wondering if you were registered to vote?”
The response I got was one I’ll never forget.
“Democrat? Buddy, I’m gonna go get my gun, and you probably shouldn’t be here when I get back,” he said as he walked deep into his house, leaving his door wide open.
I nervously giggled as I backed away and to my car. I worked the phone bank for the rest of that summer. I bought some pretty dope boots, so, like, the summer wasn’t a complete wash is what I’m saying.
Keep This on the QT
I worked at QuikTrip for five years starting in high school and during the summers in college. It was a great high school job even though I was usually the only girl working and everyone I told was immediately scared for my safety. I ended up working most often with veterans, bodybuilders and other generally tough dudes, and I still stay in touch with most of them.
One morning, after I worked for an hour, a customer informed us that a man was passed out on the floor in the men’s bathroom. He had apparently been there for seven hours after his wife kicked him out, and he decided the bathroom floor was a good second choice.
I saw car fires under the gas canopy and cars flip into our parking lot from accidents. Taking out the trash was a bit of an ordeal, mostly because as a 5-foot-1-inch female I was about the same size as the trash can.
Sometimes when shoving the trash into the dumpster, the bag would burst open and cover me in a mixture of coffee, soda and cigarette ashes. It was always my smell of the summer. It was unpleasant declining sales because people had obviously fake IDs, and telling anyone we had run out of their brand of obscure cigarettes was always a nightmare. My mom, dad and brother would come visit all the time and get ice cream and buy candy to say hello, so I could never lie and say I was going to work and sneak off to see a boyfriend. My brother worked there after I did because I loved it so much, and to this day I’d rather push my dead car to a QT than go to any other gas station.
Slice of Life
When I was 19, the first job I ever got was working at a bar/pizza place. I bused tables, bartended, waited tables, was a dishwasher and a cook. I kind of got a crash course in the service industry while getting paid minimum wage. The place had a sort of biker bar vibe in that it was dark and kind of gross, but then there was the fact that our bartender was obsessed with Lana Del Rey. So there would be all these tatted up dudes drinking and listening to crooning love songs for 13-year-old girls. It was a weird place.
Anyway, I started with this one dude name Ricky. Ricky was a year younger than me; he was a friendly guy, and we both worked in the kitchen together. But after about six or seven months, he started taking these really long lunch breaks. Like he would go out for a smoke and come back two hours later. I didn’t think anything of it because our kitchen manager would also disappear for hours, so that was kind of par for the course, but I always wondered where he went.
One day we were slow, so I decided to make some pizza dough. I went to the back room where we made dough, and in the room there was this cabinet that was about the size of an icebox; it usually had all the flour and whatnot to make the stuff. But when I went back there, I noticed that everything in the cabinet was on the floor. That kind of weirded me out, so I went to check it out, and when I opened the cabinet, I found Ricky nodding off with a needle in his arm. And I realized, “Oh that’s what he’s been doing for lunch.” I was 19 at the time, so I don’t know what to do, so I just closed the cabinet and went back to the kitchen.
I never snitched on Ricky because he was a cool guy and it seem like he was already dealing with a lot, so I never brought it up. I hated that job, but I still stuck around there for like another six months. A bunch of other crazy stuff happened, including fistfights and getting flashed by multiple old women, but none of that made me quit until our checks started bouncing, and that’s when I got out of there.
I’ve been on this planet for 49.5 years, and during that time I have had only eight jobs. Most have been multiple-year adventures, but one job I only had for five months. It was by far the worst work environment I have ever experienced. It was at a digitizing business, and I was in charge of shipping and receiving. The owner was a diminutive douchebag, and that alone could have been enough to claim the top spot on my list, but it was what went on in the back room that pushed me over the edge.
On my first day, I noticed there was a sketchy old guy working on metals in the back. He worked the night shift, so he would leave when I showed up each morning. In addition, the back room smelled overwhelmingly like sulphur. Every time I asked my boss what was going on — because it surely had nothing to do with digitizing — he would tell me it was none of my business and that it would one day change the world.
I decided to ask a coworker, when the boss wasn’t around, what was going on. He said the old guy was hired to turn lead into gold. There was a fucking alchemy lab in the back of my job. The final straw was when the wizard alchemist stopped working the night shift and started showing up in the daytime. There was only one restroom, and I quickly found out he came from a small village in Mexico where they don’t flush their toilet paper. So he would wipe his ass, put the toilet paper in the waste basket next to the toilet, and there it would stay until I took out the trash.
*Spoiler alert*: He never managed to create any gold.
Sometimes It’s OK to Yell Fire in a Theater
Your typical movie theater, on a normal evening, is a delightfully dark and exciting place void of any chaos, calamity or flaming trash cans. Moviegoers of all ages pile into theaters bright-eyed and beaming with excitement to see the latest summer blockbusters, such as Minority Report, The Bourne Identity and Juwanna Man.
However, this particular night in the summer of 2002 was different. Hallways were chock-full of excited patrons who would soon have their worlds turned upside down (or at least be a little inconvenienced for a brief moment).
A brief moment was all the time I needed to wheel the 55-gallon Brute trashcan down a hallway full of patrons to the industrial sized trash compactor behind the theater. There is a small twist here — the trashcan was very much on fire.
My friend and I were the ushers for this movie theater on that night. As an usher, your marching orders are simple — clean theaters after they “drop.” Summer nights were boring, and we sought refuge from the cold glares of our 17-year-old manager in the usher’s closet on these humdrum nights.
In our boredom, we thought it would be an honorable endeavor to deodorize trashcans using every chemical we could reach in the ushers' closet. We were like unsupervised children.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Finally, once the moment had passed, and we were satisfied with our work (the cans did smell much better with a three-inch pool of air freshener in them), I rested my weary bones on a nearby stool. My friend, in an effort to entertain himself, pulled a small Bic lighter out of his pocket. Before I could get the words out of my mouth, he, standing in close proximity to the now weaponized trashcan, flicked his Bic, and that’s when things went from bad to worse. I grabbed the can by the handle and bolted out to the trash compactor where, fortunately, I was alone with my thoughts and a now melting trash can.
It took more than 10 cycles to extinguish the flame, and when I returned to the closet sweaty, panting and now somehow more of a man, my friend looked to me with troubled eyes.
“It’s done,” I said. “Let’s go steal some Sour Punch now. … I am beat.”
And no one ever found out.