Karen’s First Job

When I put up my blog entry a couple of days ago, I meant to include Karen’s first job story at the same time. So here it is. In future I hope to upload hers at the same time I put up mine.

How did you get your first job?

In Iowa, most jobs for teens opened up when a person reached the age of sixteen. That was the age when all the kids in my family got their first job. At that time in my life my mom was working at Bishop’s Cafeteria in downtown Cedar Rapids. It was a very popular family restaurant and she was the assistant hostess. Her job was to supervise during each meal period and manage all of the workers who helped customers in the dining room. It was a natural place for me to apply for a job.

I’m sure my mom influenced the decision to hire me but I was a good kid and very conscientious so I may have been hired anyway. When I started out I worked several days after school during the dinner hour and at least one day on the weekends but often both Saturday and Sunday. I usually worked from about 4:00pm until about 7:30 or 8:00pm each night. On weekends we started at around 11:00am and worked until 1:30 or 2:00 pm. Then the place closed for two hours and we came back at 4:00 to work the evening meal. When I first started I was paid $.50 per hour and they deducted $.50 per shift for a meal whether we ate or not. Not too long after that we made $.80 per hour then $1.00

We had to wear extremely ugly uniforms made of stiff pale gray fabric. They had long sleeves and a high buttoned neck with a bright yellow collar, cuffs, and apron. These uniforms had no connection to the styles of the mid 60’s which called for short skirts among other things. We were allowed to hem our uniforms to knee length though we often tried to sneak them up an inch or so. When we got a uniform that fit we took it home to wash and iron it so we could be sure to keep the one that fit reasonably well. At about the same time I got hired, several of my friends also got jobs there. My best friend Judy (now my sister-in-law), Linda Stumpff and others worked there with me. That made our shifts a lot more fun.

Since it was a cafeteria, patrons proceeded along the food line collecting various dishes of food on their trays. At the end of the line a cashier totaled up all the items they’d selected and gave them a printed ticket for their bill. Most of the teen workers met the customer at that point and carried their tray to a table that fit the number of people in their group. We had a set way to place their meal dishes on the table with main dish, silverware, salad, sides and dessert just so. At the end of our shift we had various jobs for cleaning up the restaurant like changing tablecloths, filling salt and pepper shakers or vacuuming between the tables.

Bishop's Cafeteria
Bishop’s Cafeteria

Most of the customers were very nice and a lot of them were regulars. Bishop’s was right next door to the Allison Hotel which had long term residents as well as overnight guests. A lot of the cafeteria regulars lived there. Many were older people who, in hindsight, seemed lonely and poor. I remember one older lady who always dressed neatly and fixed her hair nicely though sometimes did not smell exactly fresh. She often came in and ordered a cup of tea and had hot water added several times. If someone left food on their table near her she would get up and take their plate, carefully cutting off the part they had touched, and eating the rest. The first time I saw her do this I was really grossed out and told my mom what I had seen. She told me she was probably hungry and could not afford to buy anything for herself. My mom seemed to feel sorry for her and looked the other way. She was always a very dignified person otherwise and it was quite an eye opener for me to see a person who had such a hard time. I always tried to be extra nice to her after that.

I worked at Bishop’s for several years working close to full time during the summers. Eventually, I moved up to working on the salad counter and later to working on the steam counter. Once when I was working on the salad counter I had a terrifying experience. It was during the Sunday rush which was always the busiest time of the whole week. I was starting to run out of several salads and no one was available to get more from the cooler for me. The cooler was in the basement and I had to run down myself to get what I needed. Since it was a very old place the walk-in cooler had no door handle on the inside. I was always afraid to go in by myself but since no one was around, I put a bucket of fruit salad near the door as a stop and went to the back to get a tray of jello salads. As I picked up the tray, the door swung closed and latched. The bucket had not been heavy enough to hold the door open and I was locked inside. I knew that no one would come down during rush and I panicked almost immediately. I began to scream for help and bang on the door. I had always been a bit claustrophobic and this was my worst nightmare. I lost track of time and had no idea how long I was locked inside. All at once the door opened and I practically fell out. One of the dishwashers was on his way back from the bathroom and heard me shouting. He thought the whole thing was funny and laughed at me for being scared. I had to get myself under control and go back up to finish the shift. When I got home I found that my hands and forearms were bruised from pounding so hard. I don’t think I told anyone what happened.

Overall I think my job there was a good experience. It taught me how to get along with a variety of people, how to be responsible and dependable, and at times was a lot of fun. Through this job I was able to earn and save enough money to pay for tuition, books, and room and board for my first year of college at the University of Iowa.

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3 Responses to Karen’s First Job

  1. John says:

    Ah, Bishops. Midwestern dining at its best. I’ll bet you guys with your hemmed uniforms were the spiciest things in the restaurant.
    Scary stuff, walk-in cooler story.
    I may have been in the CR Bishops once or twice before they closed but my folks used to take us as young kids to the DesMoines Downtown Bishops to teach us “fine dining” manners. I remember electric candles on the tables to turn on if you wanted more coffee, tea, or water. I remember too, I think, there was a “no tips” policy, (or maybe that was just my dad.)

  2. Daniel Chen says:

    Such a wonderful and fun writing that brings good memories of our visit to Bishop at Westdale Mall or Lindale if my memory still serve me well? I now realize that your food critics skill began really early. Ha-ha!

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