First Job – Stick ’em up!

People often reminisce about their first job, and the memories associated with it vary widely. Some cherish the experience, while others resent the time spent in that role. Many, however, find themselves in the middle, holding both positive and n

egative memories. Over time, it’s observed that the negative recollections tend to fade, while the positive ones become more pronounced. That is the basis for people saying “in the good old days.”

My initial “official” job was at Royal Fork Buffet restaurants, where I earned $1.15 per hour as a table busser at the age of 15 and a half. Receiving my first paycheck made me feel like a king, despite the hurdles of obtaining a Social Security card and a work permit. I still have the original Social Security card from 1975. Although the job was demanding, it provided some extra income, and I was eager to contribute my best efforts to the company. I continued working for them on and off for the next eight years, even contemplating managing a store for them and temporarily leaving college a semester before graduation.

Reflecting on the company now, I realize its moral shortcomings, and I consider myself fortunate to have distanced myself from them. However, during my teenage years, it was an enjoyable experience that allowed me to work with fun people and broaden my horizons beyond high school. My only regret is losing contact with some of those colleagues; we formed a fantastic group and had a great time together.



Around a month into the job, I aspired to move up the ranks and become a dishwasher. The company adhered to traditional roles, with boys progressing from busboy to dishwasher, meat carver, and potentially into the kitchen. Men exclusively held managerial positions, and the most women could achieve was being a head cook. I recall an incident when a girl filled in as a meat carver and excelled. She expressed interest in continuing, but the district manager opposed it vehemently. Meanwhile, my friend John and I both got promoted to the dish room simultaneously. Working there felt like Mardi Gras – we never fell behind and had the time of our lives. Singing, laughing, and creating inappropriate yet amusing songs, we dubbed ourselves the Linguine Brothers, Mario, and Luigi, long before the era of Donkey Kong. We even caused some disruptions on the job, but our efficiency saved us. Attempts to keep us from working Friday nights resulted in chaos, as the entire restaurant slowed down due to the dish room falling behind.

I will tell further stories later but I want to start with my first experience of being robbed. It was a late Friday night and we had closed and balanced the register. By this time I was a shift manager so I could help close. As we started to get ready to put the money in the floor safe behind the cash register I looked up to see someone coming to the front in a heavy coat and a bandana that I didn’t recognize. Suddenly, we saw the sawed-off shotgun he was pointing at Cathy and me. He demanded the money and we readily gave it up. Luckily he left and didn’t hurt anyone. He had come in through the back where the dishwashers had the back door open to take out the trash. 

We were terrified but our biggest fear was calling the store manager to tell him we had been robbed. By the time he got there, the police were taking our statements and finishing up with us. In my youth, it was always hard to talk to the police in Lakewood. They had some crazy idea that they were more connected to the community if they wore blazers instead of the typical police uniform. They looked like ticket takers at the theater rather than police officers. The manager stormed in and started to quiz us about leaving the doors open and grilling us on what we had done wrong that caused this. I should have left the company at that time but I needed the job. Finally, the officer told him that we had done nothing wrong and to get off of our backs. This was traumatizing for a couple of 16-year-olds and he did not help.

We learned valuable lessons from the robbery that would serve me again in later jobs. It did cause the company to require that on Friday nights the stores had to be closed by a manager or assistant manager. There are fun stories that I will share later in the blog so stay tuned for my years with the Royal Fork Buffet Restaurants.