In the great state of South Carolina, the lawmakers decided that it was a good idea to allow kids to get their driver’s license at fifteen years old. At the time that I was waiting to get my license, this seemed perfectly reasonable. In hindsight, it terrifies me. What business did I have driving a car that young??? But when I turned fifteen, I became a licensed driver.
My parents bought me a car. Now before you go thinking I was a spoiled daddy’s girl, hear me out… I don’t know where they found it, but Dad came home with a 1980 orange Ford Fiesta. This was 1990. They spent $250 on it because it had a cracked head gasket. Dad found a functional head gasket at the junk yard and I had a car.
The thing with owning a car is that you have to have money to buy car insurance and gas. Dad was willing to pay for repairs, but the other two were up to me. And as embarrassing as that car was, it ran and it gave me my freedom, so I drove it. I was the only one of my friends with a car, so they rode in it too.
On my fifteenth birthday, Dad took me to the locally owned steak house in town. The owners went to our church, so when their pastor walked in with me and asked them to hire me, what choice did they have? I started that weekend on the salad bar. I made minimum wage, which at that time was $3.85/hour.
I learned a lot of things at that job – how to make southern macaroni and cheese and green beans; that black-eyed peas are supposed to have black spots in them and you shouldn’t throw them out because you think they’re rotten; that popping a piece of pineapple in your mouth before sniffing it is never a good idea because spoiled pineapple is one of the worst of all flavors; and how to avoid creepy old cooks that think they have a chance with fifteen year old girls.
I also learned how to handle it when people are mean and hard to get along with. The restaurant was owned by a married couple who could be alternately wonderful and cruel, depending on what they thought of you that month. I worked there for two and a half years, so I got to experience the full gamut of their emotions and moods. I was often on their bad list. I would go home crying, telling Dad I was going to quit and never go back. He refused to let me quit, teaching me that there will always be difficult people in my life and learning to deal with them was a necessary life skill. That lesson has come in very handy over the years!
After two and a half years the restaurant closed down. I had risen in the ranks and could do every job in the place except cut meat and was making the unheard of salary of $5.25/hour.
I’m not sure how I feel about teenagers working now. At the time I did it, I didn’t think I had a choice. I ended up quitting basketball because it interfered with my work schedule and they gave me crap at work about it. I didn’t do the high school musical because the rehearsals were during work hours. I often missed football games and outings with friends because I was working. I learned responsibility and a good work ethic, but I regret the things I missed as well.
There was definitely a pay off to working all those hours though… I made some wonderful friends at that restaurant. I also had awesome clothes because the second I got paid I headed to the mall and spent every dime of my paycheck that didn’t go to tithe, gas, or insurance on clothes! Man, I miss those days!