Working in college

My Story Worth Question – Did you work in college?

I cannot say I worked my way through college, but I did work all the way through college. I put it this way working was necessary but not sufficient to pay for college. My father (when I was undergrad) and student loans (in graduate school) topped off tuition, but beyond tuition, I had to work to support myself. I think it is nearly impossible to work enough during college to pay tuition, but it is important to work enough to pay everything else.

In summers I worked at Medusa Cement, as I have written elsewhere. Let me concentrate on the in-semester work. Much of it was in the fast-food industry. I worked at Burger Chef, Burger King, the university cafeteria, an Italian restaurant in Madison & McDonalds.

Working at McDonalds

McDonalds was my last fast-food experience. I got that job in fall of 1977, when I started grad school at UW and kept it for six months. McDonalds was good for me because I worked the lunch rush and got a free meal. I was low budget in those days and that was my big meal of the day. McDonalds is a very hectic environment. I worked the front counter. In those pre-computer days, you had to take the order, remember the order, do the math as you filled the order and then ring up the total when you got back to the front. I learned that hamburgers always go in before fries. If they order a shake, you grab the hamburgers, start the shake, pick up the fries, pick up the now full shake and deliver it to the customer. I enjoyed the motion. It is like the Tao of movement. Don’t waste the motion. We also had to put the bills into the register with all heads facing up. It was a little thing, but good discipline. They don’t do this at McDonalds anymore and probably didn’t do it most other places then. Our McDonalds on Lake Street in Madison was one of the busiest in the world and all the workers were college kids or college graduates. College kids may not be able to maintain cars, but we could figure out how to deliver food. It helped that we tended to work only 3-4 hours at a time. We were not there long enough to get very tired.

Why did I leave that wonderful environment? Of course, it was not so wonderful, but I had other reasons. I got a job at the History Department delivering mail and doing odd jobs. I worked at that job about three hours a day. When added to three hours at McDonalds, I there was not much time to study. That was my theory. More on that below.

What does it mean to make fun of French fries?

But the proximate cause of my leaving McDonalds was a wage dispute. We got a 5 cent raise every couple of months. I was very fast at the counter and always cheerful. We used to have races, i.e. how much revenue you would have in the two-hour lunch rush. I was first or second most of the time. Time came for my first raise, and I got my nickel. The manager praised my speed. Time came for my next raise and they said no. I complained that I was doing a good job and deserved the raise. I asked what I did wrong. The response was that I had a bad attitude. When I asked for specifics, the manager said that was not serious enough. He mentioned an incident when he heard me making fun of the fries. What the heck does that even mean? Evidently, I joked that the large fries were not that large. I also never tried “up sell” products. He was correct about that.

Quitting over a nickel

Anyway, he denied me my raise and told me I could quit if I didn’t like it. So, I quit. He was surprised. It was just before the lunch rush and he asked me to finish. I asked about that nickel. He said he would not be pushed. I said neither would I and I left right then. I felt very empowered.

Quitting was not as a precipitous or brave move as it might seem, however I had been thinking about leaving because I figured that I could study more if I had only one job. I was wrong about that. I found that with all that extra time on my hands, I just procrastinated more. My study productivity declined, and my study output stayed about the same despite having an additional fifteen hours a week. Sometimes you can do less with more.

I had better jobs after that. As a research assistant, my job was to read Greek texts of Polybius and mark every time he used the work history. It was kind of a sinecure. Some of the motivation was to create work for me where I could better learn Greek. It was not as much fun as it would seem, and I do not think I did a great job. These days, a computer would make short work of it, and do it right. I was a teaching assistant during my MBA. Neither of these jobs was as nasty as McDonalds. They paid better and had higher status. My longest college time work was at Pick-A-Book in Madison. That is a whole different story.

My first picture shows where my McDonalds was on Lake Street. Next is the Capitol from UW.

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