We all did it as teenagers, and I first did it at the Home of the Big Biscuit. My friends and I worked when we were teenagers. Our parents didn't tell us we had to get jobs. We just did.
We were fortunate to grow up in a town fueled by summer tourism. A wealth of hotels and restaurants catered to guests of the amusement park in my hometown, and my friends and I worked in them every summer and more. Damon's, Cinnfully Cinnamon, Baskin Robbins, Red Lobster, TGIFriday's. Our clothes, shoes, and hair reeked of the food served in our respective franchises.
I babysat for friends and neighbors from a young age, but my first "real" job was as a waitress at Bosco's - Home of the Big Biscuit. Bosco's was a scuzzy Shoney's-esque breakfast-served-all-day place, and I was fifteen or sixteen when I joined the waitstaff with a friend. It was the beginning of a food service career that would last through high school and college and provide a crucial part of my education.
My food service jobs taught me a great deal about people, service, and responsibility. I learned to smile and engage people. I learned to hustle. I learned that the world is full of interesting people and a fair number of assholes, and a job requires you to learn to deal with them both politely.
My coworkers provided the most important lessons. Most of them were adults who cooked or waited tables to support themselves. They didn't work for spending money, and they didn't work only when it fit their schedule. They worked to make a living. Their lives were different than mine, and they taught me about life outside my own experience.
In my senior year of college, I waited tables at a local Ruby Tuesday's. When I started my car to go to work one afternoon, smoke began wafting out of the steering column. I turned off the car, asked around for a ride to work, and when I couldn't find one, called in and said I wouldn't be coming in. I believed I'd made a good faith effort but couldn't get to work.
During my next shift, I got an earful from my supervisor that I have never forgotten. Among other things, he asked why I didn't just take the bus and implied that I, a student at the local private university, thought I was too good for the bus. I didn't think I was too good for the bus; I didn't even know there was a bus. I had left a small town to shuttle between classes on campus buses and venture off campus only to eat, drink, or shop in my own car. I just didn't know, and I didn't think.
That conversation made me feel small and inconsiderate, and twenty years later I still remember it and what I learned from it. Everyone does not live the life I live.
With every step away from high school, I have been exposed to less academic and socio-economic diversity. I live in another small town now, and almost everyone here is white. Almost everyone makes a good living. All my friends have college degrees, and many have advanced degrees. We might pursue different careers and have different beliefs, but we represent the same demographic. Had I grown up this way and not worked those waitressing jobs, I'd have a poorer understanding of life outside that demographic.
I hope my children will follow in my food service footsteps. They are growing up in this homogenous, largely successful demographic we inhabit. Although they attend a private school that prides itself on its diversity, that diversity is judged only on certain metrics. Kids come from multi-racial families and may have two moms, but most come from families with similar educational backgrounds and economic status.
My kids know many families that don't look like us, but they don't know many that aren't like us. Working for an hourly wage could change that. I want them to earn money before they build a resume. I want them to earn a wage before they pursue a profession. I want them to learn something outside their experiences at home and at school.
I want them to know to take the bus.