So … I’m standing underneath the building’s overhang holding a metal tray loaded with food (mostly sandwiches) and heavy tankards of chilled root beer.
I stare at the cash register receipt, then at the tray, and finally all around. I’m surrounded by vehicles — cars, pickups, station wagons — bunches of them. I have no idea which vehicle ordered my tray’s contents.
Unfortunately, I recognize that feeling — the one in your gut when you find yourself surrounded by a herd of bulls on the prod. They fight with each other awhile, then when one decides he’s whipped and it’s time to leave there — in a hurry — you’d better get outta the way. He’s not looking where he’s going, and you’ll get trampled if you don’t move.
Then I look again. These are not bulls. They’re motor vehicles. They’ve all got people sitting in them. I think they’re all looking at me, and probably laughing at my ignorance. I think this is worse than bulls. Some of them are honking their horns, others are blinking their headlights. Maybe I should run away.
I have to get rid of this food and root beer somehow, so I begin at one side and go to each vehicle. I show the tray and ask, “Is this yours?” They all say no, and I feel myself blushing as they laugh. At long last, two old folks in a Ford Fairlane say, “Yes. That’s ours.”
I didn’t want this stupid job in the first place. At high school graduation I’d received a nice college scholarship. I would be the first in my family to attend college. We all knew the scholarship wouldn’t quite cover everything, so my mom and my aunt (who lived in a big town) decided I would work as a car hop at a city drive-in for the month before school began. I don’t remember having a voice in that decision.
Getting the carhop job was easy. Evidently turnover was high, because they said they most always needed help.
My carhop uniform was awful, and they said wearing it was required. The short-sleeved shirt wasn’t too bad, but the pants were black with a white stripe down the outside of each leg. Also, they apparently only came in one length, too short for my long legs. I hate high-water britches. I want my pants — preferably Levi’s or Wranglers — plenty long. If they drag the ground that’s perfect. The topper, a dinky little cap was especially ugly.
I admit my about-to-be-a-college-freshman persona was a bit vain, but that uniform did me in.
I learned something that first night, though. If you’re really awful at that job people feel sorry for you, and give you a large tip.
I did get better at it, and managed to work there three weeks, which gave me enough money to live through the first month of school and buy some of my books.
To this day when I stop at a drive-in for food or drink I always, without fail, give the server a generous tip.