My First “Real” Job

The other day, I stopped at a Subway sandwich shop to grab a bite to eat.  There were two young girls working there, and, as they prepared my sandwich,  somehow I got to talking about my first real job at one of the original McDonald’s restaurants in Northern New Jersey. (Those of you who know me will, no doubt, find it hard to believe that I just started reminiscing right out of the blue, but I did.)

The year was 1962, and the minimum wages was $1.15 per hour, which, when adjusted for inflation, would be about $8.89 in today’s dollars.  In very short order, I was promoted to assistant manager, and my hourly pay skyrocketed to the astronomical figure of $1.45 per hour.  Back then, we used old-fashioned, NCR cash registers, which were mechanical, and not at all like the ones in use today, which all but put the money in the till themselves.  We actually had to enter numbers manually, which required knowing the price of each item on the menu (no pushing 1 for hamburger, 2 for cheeseburger, etc.).  Luckily, the menu was quite limited: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, soda, coffee, milk shakes.  No frappés, sundaes, or any of that other crap offered today.

There were no credit cards in use then, either.  It was cash only.  Making change was done without the aid of a computer—using a process I called reverse addition.   If the customer’s total was $3.18, and the amount tendered was $10.00, we would simply make change as follows: Add two pennies to the $2.18, making it $2.20; then a nickel to make it $2.25; then three quarters, making it $3.00; add two, one-dollar bills, bringing the total to five dollars; and finally a five-dollar bill to total the original amount tendered.  Simple, right? It was all done in a matter of seconds—honest!

blank-templateSeveral times a week, we received shipments of supplies: frozen hamburger patties, rolls, pickles, cheese, onions, ketchup, etc.  The potatoes for those fantastic McDonald French fries came in 50-pound bags—and they were fresh, not frozen.  It was our responsibility to peel them.  How did we do that?  Simple.  We dumped them into a device that resembled a washing machine, whose tub had a rough, metal, sandpaper-like surface that scoured the skin from the spuds as they tumbled around inside it.  Then they were washed, blanched, and finally fried—in lard.

The hamburgers were fried on a large, stainless steel grill, along with the chopped onions. We had a carousel set-up, on which we placed about a dozen open hamburger rolls at a time that we garnished with pickle chips and ketchup, before adding the hot-off-the-grill hamburgers.   A dozen plain, a dozen with cheese, each one wrapped in paper and tossed into a stainless steel bin to be sold.

I can’t remember the specifics, but I do know that the milkshake mix came in big cardboard cartons, lined with plastic.  Three flavors: vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate.  We also sold the usual array of soft drinks: Coke, root beer, and orange.  When it was my turn to eat, I added some orange syrup to my vanilla milkshake, creating the equivalent of a Creamcicle™ in a cup.  Yum!

Service was through open glass windows, with customers queued up in two lines outside the restaurant.  One hears the expression “fast food” today, but in those days, that’s exactly what it was.  I doubt that anyone waited longer than two minutes (probably less) to receive their food.  We had a crew of about five people, who worked furiously to keep up with demand.  It wasn’t like today, where your average McDonald’s has a staff that numbers a dozen or more.  No drive-through either.  You parked your car in the lot, walked up to the window, and got your food. We began serving lunch around eleven o’clock in the morning, and were mobbed continuously until around two.  Then, there was a lull in business until the dinner rush began at around four thirty.  Evenings were more subdued.

The one thing that always makes me smile when I recall it is the method by which we cleaned the grill.  We used steel wool to scrub it with a mixture made up of the acidic juice from the Heinz pickles and Ajax cleanser.  No lie.  Then we’d rinse the grill down with water. I imagine today that process would be prohibited by the EPA, NRA, ASPCA, or whichever federal agency is in charge of such matters.

Anyway, the job lasted about six months, which was long as anyone with a brain could stand it.  It was a great job with terrific fringe benefits—all the food you could eat on your shift—and I can remember it like it was yesterday, which it definitely was not!

What was your first job?  We’d love to hear about it.

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About AuthorJoePerroneJr

I am a former professional fly-fishing guide, and I write the Matt Davis Mystery Series, which presently consists of five books: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day, Twice Bitten, Broken Promises and Deadly Ransom. The series is set in the real town of Roscoe, NY, in the Catskill Mountains, where I guided for ten years. I love fly fishing, movies, cooking (and eating), and music. To learn more about me and my writing, please visit my website at:
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15 Responses to My First “Real” Job

  1. Allie P. says:

    Oh I love this! My first job outside of babysitting was at a local bagel shop. The job itself was fine but the people running it… let’s just say they made me very determined to get my diploma.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. balroop2013 says:

    My first job was a lecturer in a private college at the age of 22. I didn’t have any fixed hours of reporting for work and could go according to the lectures allotted to me.
    We were very lucky as we didn’t have to work before finishing our studies and till I graduated with Masters, I didn’t earn a penny but we hardly had any pocket money! My brother was luckier than me as he got a lot of money as well as pocket money…he cashed on his medical studies!!
    There is another reason why we don’t work before finishing our studies…no parent however poor he may be feels his responsibility of giving the best education to his children and tells them to work hard and get into higher education. There is no such culture of working and youngsters like to blow away the money of their parents if they happen to be rich.
    Yes, child labor is a very serious problem in India but only in the lowest strata of the society, those who can’t eat three meals a day push their children into work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bill Ramsey says:

    At age six I swept the floor at a small mom and pop grocery store (Whisler’s on Richwood Avenue in Morgantown,WV). The store was just a few steps from the front door of our home (actually my family lived with my grandmother). I was paid 5 cents a day Monday through Friday and 25 cents on Saturday when I had to sweep the small warehouse, too. INever stopped working after.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I used to shine shoes at Walden Sons & Mott, which I think was a brokerage house on Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, NJ, when I was about 12. Twenty-five cents was the going rate for a shine in those days (50s). 🙂


  4. Wow, does this bring back memories, Joe. My first job summers and weekends at age 15 (told them I was 16, but had my fingers crossed) was at Joe’s Luncheonette in upstate New York. The pay was 75 cents an hour and all the food a teenager dreams about eating. The luncheonette was what folks called a Soda Fountain. We made all of the sodas by mixing syrups (Coke, Orange Crush, 7-UP, Vanilla, Egg Cream) with unflavored soda water. We cooked/prepared and served everything you could imagine–from ice cream cones and sundaes to salads, burgers, sandwiches and even fried shrimp. The job entailed, cooking, cleaning everything (including the grill and floors), waiting on customers at counter and booths, writing up the tabs and giving the correct change to customers. Besides the hourly wage, I made plenty of tips. It was a great job and one that I stayed with until high school graduation. The lessons I learned about business, people and life in general were invaluable. Thanks for jogging up many fond memories. Those were the days! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting! We had a Rexall Drug Store about two doors down from our house, and it had a marble-topped soda fountain with stools that rotated on metal posts. I still remember the chocolate chip ice cream sundaes with marshmallow sauce and whipped cream. I always wanted to work there, but you actually did it! You had the dream job. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmmmm….that reminds me of my brief career as an assistant tree surgeon, working 75 feet in the air, suspended by a rope, with a chain saw in my hands. Oh, those were the days . . . 🙂


  6. Bruce says:

    I remember that McDonalds well. It was in North Hackensack, and my memories are more from the other side of the counter. I recall a big scandal when a manager run off with the weekend’s revenue. I paid for my burgers and fries, as well as the gas to get there from my first job at Grandway on Route 17. That was my summer job before college. I worked in the receiving dept. and unloaded trucks and stocked shelves for 1.00 an hour. I spent most of my weekly earnings on clothing for college: Shirts and chinos. I could not have sustained the “pressure” of hard work with no respect for more than the two months I put in there. How ironic that my job as an engineer would eventually become just that: Hard work, with no respect. My first engineering job out of Stevens was at Worthington Pump in Harrison, N.J. My pay was incredible compared to Grandway. Even though I got laid off after only two years, I was treated with respect and felt like part of a family. And so it went. Each new job was a step up in my career, and I was treated as a valued worker. Gradually that all changed. Mercenary leadership took the reins from the decent community minded professionals that had built those firms. Profits came above all else, and as the rest of our corporations saw the potential for increased profits, they all fell in line with this new paradigm: Work the people literally to death, toss out the ones who complain, including the ones who see problems with product quality, and reap the profits. The evil of computers and cell phones took us all over. We were required to be on call at all hours, and to take the work home that could not possibly be completed in a normal day. When quality issues could no longer be suppressed, it was “time to spread or assign the blame”. My last lay off (they called it retirement, to make it seem “voluntary” ) was not a surprise, I hope I do not come off as bitter, as I am not. Every job I had was challenging and rewarding, and in every one, there was some person who supported me when I needed help, and kept me from failing. The most interesting part of my job search over the past few years, is prejudice, up front and personal. That I could empathize with victims of race or gender hiring prejudice, did not prepare my for the full effects of those labels. As an older worker offering a full skill set and great experience, I was defeated before the interview process, and never got a chance to make my case. “What can they lose?” I argued to myself. No new hire is expected to work there for more than a few years, anyway.” Maybe McDonalds will take me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As we age, we become painfully aware of job discrimination. Both Becky and I have encountered it, and it’s not pretty. But you’ve come very far from that first job, and for that I congratulate you.


  7. Jane Raffo Nocella says:

    My first job besides babysitting was at Bloomingdales in 1963. Because i was 17, I couldn’t work as a salesperson. I was a wrapper. I wrapped the packages which were sent to customers, either because they were gifts or the customers were too lazy to carry them home. I also learned to gift wrap and make beautiful bows. My salary was $1.25 per hour. That was 25 cents more an hour than I made babysitting. With taxes taken out, it was probably the same. I worked two nights, Monday and Thursday, and all day Saturday. During school vacations, I was able to work full time. I bought my own clothes and saved as much as possible. It was a job I kept for 2 years of high school and throughout my 4 years of computing to Newark State College (Kean University). It paid for gas and school expenses that weren’t covered by a state scholarship. I met my husband of 48 years during our years of working at Bloomies to pay for college. After graduation in 1968, we married and Bloomingdales offered me the assistant credit manager’s position. He went to work as a mechanical engineer at the Bendix Corporation (now Honeywell) in Teterboro. In 1996, I retired as the credit manager when the department was eliminated. My second and last job was at Oritani Bank. My daughter thinks I should open a gift wrapping service because i do it so well. The name she suggests…”It’s a Wrap.” my arthritic fingers don’t think it’s a good idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Gerald Simpkins says:

    Detassling hybrig corn in central Illinois when I was 14. (THey actually forced me to get a SS # and took SS out, but no withholding. I’d have to have filed a return to get the few dollars back I “contributed”. 😀 Also foliage-sprayer truck driver and tree trimmer for Davey Tree co as I worked my way thru trade school, DeVry Tech. Also janitor at local grade school during same tech school stint. Hey, those last two paid my tuition and Dad and Mom let me stay rent free at home as long as I was working my way thru trade school. I even got to use mom’s car for the commute. I was blessed and lucky beyond belief.

    Liked by 1 person

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