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My “senior summer”, my father decided, was to be the time that I got my first job so that I’d have some spending money for college.  I toyed with the idea of getting a newspaper route before I realized that the romanticized, leisurely tossing of newspapers was no more and that I would have to wake up at two in the morning, drive to the warehouse, and then drive my route.  It was late June before I made any real progress; most of the applications I sent in did not solicit responses from my potential employers, which was very discouraging.  But I finally received a call about an interview at Chipotle, and at that point in time I probably would have worked anywhere.

That interview was fairly terrifying: it was a group interview, and so I felt like every time I said something the people following me would try to one-up me and say whatever they could to make me look like the worse candidate.  So I just resorted to a sort of pained, consistent smile in the hopes that a positive attitude would go further than boasting.  I guess it did, because I got an email a couple days later with an excessive amount of electronic paperwork attached to it.  And then it was July and I was starting my first day of work, garbed in my black Chipotle t-shirt and hat (one of each) that were washed a less than desirable amount because I had to wear them every day that I worked.  I started off doing dishes, assumedly because that was a universally known sort of task (even though I struggled with it at first).  Soon, I moved on to pressing tortillas, loading up burritos and bowls, and wrapping and packaging tacos, burritos, and anything else that customers felt was necessary to consume.

There wasn’t much to complain about; my boss was an outwardly happy twenty-three year old with two kids who liked to sing show tunes but also wrestled and played football in high school, which made it very easy for all of us to relate to him in one way or another.  I loved opening the store – preparing the ingredients and stocking everything up while music blasted from the back and people talked about their nights and weekends and gossiped about coworkers who weren’t present.  I became a regular opener (starting at eight every morning that I worked), and got closer to the other openers.  There were two different basic types of people who were employed there: students and young people trying to support their families.  I don’t quite know how we got along so well, because there was definitely an unspoken gap between the privileged and those who were depending on their next paycheck to feed their children.  But it worked, and the dependency we all had to have on each other brought us closer together.  I worked the line, and so I had to communicate with the grill guy behind me about what we were going to need more of.  If I didn’t, we would accumulate a line of angry customers waiting for steak, and the grill guy would get mad at me because it looked like he wasn’t doing his job properly even though it was I who had messed up.  But as long as I made up for it, no relationships were ruined by those sorts of things.

I liked working, although some days eight hour shifts, or even nine, could be brutal.  There were inside jokes: when an attractive girl walked in, one of the guys in the front would yell, “Hard flour tacos!” (because no such thing existed) so the guys in the back would know and could come check her out.  And I’d make fun of them on occasion, when I thought they picked questionable girls or when they realized that someone wasn’t as pretty up close as they’d originally thought.  There were a lot of good days, but there were also days when people would come in with terrible stories about their lives; things happened that I couldn’t even fathom.  One day, my friend didn’t show up for work – my managers were very upset because we couldn’t open without him; he was the only grill guy for the day.  We ended up opening an hour late, and one of the managers had to drive to his house and pick him up.  Which, when I think back on it, showed how different this job was from others.  Most employers would never make the trip to someone’s house twenty minutes away so that they could make it to work, but this community was different.  Anyway, it turned out that my friend’s girlfriend had left him with his two kids while she went to the grocery store with the express purpose of preventing him from going to work.  So when the manager showed to pick him up, they both had to stay at the house until his girlfriend got back.  When they knew she was almost there, they left the kids in the house and came back to work (I wasn’t sure how I felt about that decision).  The phone rang almost immediately when my friend got to work; it was his girlfriend threatening to call CPS.  Then two more rings.  The police were trying to analyze the situation and find out whether my friend was to blame.

This was a world I’d never really been introduced to before; one with a completely different set of hardships then the sort I’d been exposed to all my life.  While I was trying to make a few hundred dollars to spend at college, others were trying to provide for their families, families they’d unintentionally started at young ages.  I think the most valuable thing I gained from working at Chipotle was an appreciation for the people who will spend their entire lives, for one reason or another, working somewhere that, while it was a positive environment, I could never have pictured as more than a summer job.

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