Friday, September 09, 2005

the pizza of my dreams

Sometimes the simplest of decisions can influence you in ways you never thought, and they often can stick with you longer than you would expect.

My first job was as a (ahem) "Asphault Pigmentation Application Specialist"...which essentially means I worked for a company which painted lines on parking lots. It was hard, hot work...Florida summers on freshly laid asphault do not make for a comfortable work day. The boss was one of those "speedeat so we can get back to the jobsite" types...a nice guy, but he didn't exactly need his morning coffee to get going. So it was long hours in miserable conditions.

The pay was mighty nice, though. Apparently the boss got tired of people goofing off, so he made the snappy decision to pay his workers by the job rather than by the hour. After that, everybody worked like dogs on amphetamines, and I would pull in $300 for a weekend's work. This cash went largely to cars and guitars...that is, the cash that didn't go toward partying.

When the summer was over, the work dried up. So, after a little while of no income, I started looking for a job. The only problem was that I was a young heavy metal kid with long hair (this was the eighties, after all) and very few places would hire me...and I couldn't see chopping the hair for minimum wage. A friend worked at Little Caesar's Pizza, and they didn't make you chop your I got him to pick me up an application.

I ended up working at Little Caesars on and off for nine and a half years...throughout my community college days, through parts of my "one semester break" (which turned into a few years), and right through getting a BA and an MA. By the time I left, I could do the job in my sleep...and often did.

There were controversies. I got fired from one company after the manager's cousin got promoted...which would have been more bearable, but the boss lied to me (told me the "powers that be" ordered my termination), and it all went down after I was in a bad car accident. So, injured and jobless, I tried other jobs including loading trucks and a disasterous stint doing temp work (remind me to tell you about the one where they wanted me to kill rats with a broom handle with a nail on the end). All the other work sucked so badly that I got a job at the other Little Caesars franchise in town and worked there, on and off, for a long time.

While management, I yelled at a lot of teens. I hired and fired. I drank with my superiors. After a while, I became a little bit of a "problem solver" for the company...they would send me somewhere when a store needed "cleaned up." I would yell, cajole, and generally train the little buggers to do things right. Somehow, I was able to get crews to move from hating my guts to really liking me yet still doing their job better than ever. One store in particular, no one would talk to me for about two weeks. When I left a few months later, they baked me cookies.

By the end of my pizza run, I was down to just working a couple of morning shifts a week. I could get into work at 9:30 and have all of the day's prep work (sauce, dough, cheese, all done fresh) finished by the time I unlocked the doors. I would then take care of customers for the lunch rush, fix myself a pizza, and read for school.

I only left because I needed to come to Ohio for my Ph.D....otherwise, I have the striking suspicion that I might still be doing a few days there. It was actually really sad when I found out the chain has pretty much left Jacksonville...both franchises folded.

Anyway, my time at Little Caesars influenced me in more ways than I care to think. When I taught Intro to Sociology for Terra Community College, most of my examples of group hierarchy and behavior came from Little Caesars. Those kids learned almost as much about pizza as they did about Sociology, and they would audibly groan when I would try to slip in another example.

More elementally, my teaching style is very close to my management style...a nice mixture of scary and quirky. It seems to work. I still get to my jobs 15 minutes early, just like I did at Little Caesars. I also learned how to deal with others from a leadership position by interacting with my pizza makers. So in many ways, Little Caesars made me the man that I am.

I think about the place more often than I probably should. I even dream about it. This morning, my alarm went off in the middle of a dream about a Little Caesars workers reunion, and I spent my time in the shower wondering which of the 13+ stores at which I worked was my favorite...and I still can't figure it out. Casset was good, but Beach Blvd. got to be really family...and then there's my first Orange Park store.

I also wonder what happened to all the fun people I worked with. Where's Willie, the monsterously tall and very sweet black man who joked about tearing down the Statue of Liberty and putting up a statue of Shaka Zulu? Terry, the very funny and cocky Lee High School tight end, who I once got to sing along to the Misfits, thus thoroughly confusing our manager? What about Paul and Paula from Orange Park...are they still together? Jim and all the rest from Beach, who made me feel like a they still repeat my mantra "a clean station is a happy station"? The dramatically short and funny Wendy from OP? Gina, the short Carribean girl with the heavy accent? The hundreds of others whose names I unfortunately cannot remember?

In many ways, Little Caesars did a whole bunch to shape me into the person that I am. I wonder what would have happened if I would've chopped the hair and went to McDonalds. Would I still be where I am today?

Of course, now I have to jet out of office hours early and get some Crazy Bread. Damn you, memories...

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