I spent a week eating my memories.
A sub bun sliced horizontally, two slices of old-fashioned loaf, three or four slices of salami, provolone (should be mozzarella, but I didn’t want to open a new package), pickles, lettuce and pizza sauce. Bun, meat and cheese toasted in the oven. A combination sub, the lunchtime champion of the Elmview Pizza Chef.
My first job.
The pay was about $3 an hour to sling pizzas and subs, prep supplies, stock coolers and clean the place as needed. I was hired as the little brother of an existing pizza boy, and was treated accordingly by fellow pizza boys. The adults liked me because I worked hard and did what I was told.
The Pizza Chef was at the corner of Breese and Shawnee roads. I was a fairly sheltered kid, and the experiences working in a pizza/carryout were lessons in real life, especially the Friday and Saturday shifts from 4-midnight.
The afternoon summer sun blazed through the glass wall of the kitchen, the narrow front office of a former gas station. The temperature was easily over 100 degrees some days, with just a large exhaust fan high above and 400-degree gas ovens a few feet behind us while we worked. I’m not up on the child labor laws of the time, but apparently, roasting kids wasn’t a violation.
On a busy night there would be three or four of us (sometimes even a pizza girl, a rarity) lined up along the counter, a production line of dough, sauce, toppings and cheese.
Regular customers would flow in for their pizzas and beer, maybe buy a pack of cigarettes from the wall behind the register. We’d be slammed from 4:30 to 8 most weekend nights, the sound of metal pizza plates scraping in and out of the stone-floored ovens. Swearing as a forearm or elbow touched the oven door. Knuckle hair burned off during training.
A lull to catch our breath by 8:30, and then another burst of baking until about 10, when we started cleaning up.
The combo sub brought it back. Remembering Nikki, the owner’s daughter and manager, and her husband, Mike. They were a young couple and related well to the teenage staff, remembering what it was like to be young and allowing a little physical and verbal horseplay but reeling it in before someone got hurt.
Fellow pizza boys Dave, Dave, Dave and Dave – brother, classmate, neighbor and Mike’s little brother, who became a good work friend. There were many more, but I only ate a week’s worth of memories at lunchtime (sub buns come in a six pack), not enough to recall their names. Two of the Daves have died, my brother is hanging in there and I lost track of Dave No. 4 because I suck at keeping in touch with people.
The Pizza Chef later became my fifth job the summer following my first year at Ohio State, after the steak house, department store holiday gig and college office gofer. I was out front now, selling the pizza, subs, beer and cigarettes and keeping the pizza boys in line. At the end of the night I’d drive the money to Mike and Nikki’s house and hang out while Nikki counted it, watching TV with them and sometimes sharing some frog legs Mike had gigged earlier in the evening. My gig was better than the frog’s.
As I ate a sub for lunch each day I savored the meat, cheese and memories. It wasn’t a special job or a cool job or an important job. Just a first job where I made money, I made friends, I learned work skills and habits and took my first flights from the nest.
For both lunch and memories, it hit the spot.
Gary Presley is the regional director for AIM Client Services and still makes pizzas and subs. You can reach him at [email protected]