Friday, June 7, 2024

Insight: Welcome to the working world

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

My wife and I recently had a conversation with a young woman who was in the middle of her first shift as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes. That discussion produced a flood of memories for me more than 55 years in the past when I worked as a busboy at a popular restaurant in Henrietta, New York.

The Cartwright Inn Restaurant in Henrietta,
New York was the site of an old stagecoach
and carriage stop and where Ed Pierce
worked as a busboy at the age of 15.
The restaurant is now closed but this
old carriage was in the parking lot there
Starting my sophomore year of high school, my father suggested that it was time that I got a “real job” and give up my newspaper delivery route, which I had been doing since we moved to a new neighborhood when I was starting out in eighth grade. I loved being a paperboy and reading the latest news hot off the press, but reluctantly I agreed to find another job that could possibly pay me more than the $24 a month I was earning at that time.

I applied for a clerk position at Hadlock’s House of Paints, scooping ice cream at Meisenzahl Dairy, and pumping gasoline at Eddie’s Sunoco Station. Because of a lack of experience, being a few months shy of my 15th birthday and not having a driver’s license, I felt I was doomed no matter what employer I wanted to hire me.

Eventually a restaurant called The Cartwright Inn offered me a busboy job for $1.60 per hour. My schedule would be on Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings, and for the lunch shift after church let out on Sundays. I was thrilled someone wanted to hire me, and my father said he was happy to drive me back and forth to my new job and pick me up when my shifts were over.

I got to wear a uniform consisting of a white shirt, black clip-on bowtie, black pants, red jacket, and black dress shoes and I couldn’t wait for the training for my new job to start. My duties included removing used dishes and glasses from a table, placing them in a rubber tray and carrying them back to the kitchen for dishwashing. When asked, I would assist the dining room manager in setting up tables for a large party or retrieving a glass of milk from the kitchen for a customer that the waitress forgot.

After working a few shifts there though, the luster wore off for me. I didn’t like having to stand during my entire shift. The uniform was hot and the stress of having to do everything so fast was mind-numbing. I found some of the waitresses and customers to be rude and the restaurant’s management to have little patience or regard for how they treated staff members.

The best part of the job was always interacting with the other busboys, the cooks and the dishwashers, a few of whom I knew from school. One of those other busboys, Nick Vecchioli was my classmate, and a lifelong friend. Each time I would bring a tray of dirty dishes to the dishwasher in the kitchen, one of them would spray me with the hose used to clean the dishes with. It was always a welcome cooling blast, and it made me laugh each time he did that. In hindsight, that would take my mind off the hectic serving and table-cleaning chaos going on out in the dining room.

The restaurant also had a lobster tank and sometimes when things were slow on late Sunday mornings before the lunch crowd arrived, the busboys would extract a few lobsters from the tank and making sure no managers were around, we would stage makeshift lobster races.

After working there for a good chunk of the spring and into the summer, I was on duty on a Saturday afternoon when I learned that Randall Cartwright, the chair of the school board and owner of The Cartwright Inn, would be dining at the restaurant after his thoroughbred horse raced at the Finger Lakes Racetrack. Sure enough, Mr. Cartwright showed up all decked out in a white suit and string bowtie, resembling the outfit worn by Colonel Sanders.

After his meal, he walked back into the kitchen to have a cup of coffee. Paper coffee cups were contained in a Dixie-Cup type of dispenser and on occasion, some cook or dishwasher prankster would puncture the bottom of the cups with a knife. That was the case this day and I happened to be standing there in the kitchen when Randall Cartwright pulled down a cup, poured hot black coffee into it and proceeded to take a sip. Hot coffee dribbled all over his pristine white suit and I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud.

He summoned me over and told me that I was fired and to leave the premises immediately. I tried to explain that I wasn’t the prankster, but he was embarrassed and did not relent. I had no change in my pocket to use the pay phone to call my father and had to sit on a parking curb waiting outside for more than three hours until he arrived to take me home.

My advice to teens seeking summer work is simple. Take each job seriously and it will be a launchpad for future success.

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