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A Tale of Two Sisters Blog

We support, celebrate, and teach writers.

Workplace Contest: I'll Take a 9 Percent Raise with a Side of Beef, Please!

By Catherine


From Onions to Beef!

I left Taco Bell for Arby’s. I was tired of smelling like onions, and I had a strong desire to smell like America’s Roast Beef – Yes, Sir!

Arby’s holds a special place in my heart. When we were little, our mother used to take us to McDonald’s on East Holland Road in Saginaw, where we’d get to-go hamburgers and French fries – this pre-dates the invention of the Happy Meal! – and then we’d stop at Arby’s a tenth of a mile away to pick up two roast beef sandwiches for our father.

He preferred the toasted buns loaded with sliced beef with a couple of packets of Horsey sauce, a sweetened, creamy white goo slightly resembling horseradish in flavor and having the world’s tiniest kick. (He also liked to eat horseradish straight out of the jar by the forkful – me, too!)

Years later when I worked at Arby’s, I was under 18 and therefore unable to work the beef slicer, which held a giant compressed hunk of roasted beef kept warm under a giant heat lamp. (God help the person who let that slippery sucker slide out of his/her hands when loading the slicer!)

My co-worker, Bonnie, an over-18, capable MSU student loaded and ran the slicer like the pro that she was.

Bonnie exuded sass with every word, gesture, and expression - working with her was always a blast. Plus, she had this super cool boyfriend who’d pull up in his diamond-in-the-back, sunroof-top, diggin’-the-scene-with-the-gangster-lean, excessively long Pontiac Bonneville – the kind with the hump in the back. Even his name was super cool: Jerome.

This Arby’s, which is no longer in existence, was family-owned, mostly run by the daughter, who was scattered and totally disinterested in the restaurant itself. She chose to spend all her time at a desk by the back door, where she stepped out constantly to take smoke breaks. 

Occasionally her brother would show up and whip things into shape. One day he pulled me aside and asked how much I was making. When I told him $3.35 an hour, he rewarded me on the spot with a 30-cent-an-hour raise (that’s nine percent!) because I kept the salad bar stocked and the floor mopped.

Months into my Arby’s tenure, my boyfriend came in during lunch rush to tell me about the Challenger. I can’t recollect that event without seeing myself in my mind’s eyes behind that orange, formica counter in that surreal moment.

The spaceship just blew up?

Teacher Christa McAuliffe had been on that mission. She was chosen over 10,000-plus applicants for NASA’s Teacher in Space Program. She could have been my teacher. It was one of those, can-something-like-this-really-happen? moments we all have when we’re 17.

Somehow I had to get my brain from trying to process that news back to serving French fries and jamocha shakes and handing out Beef’n’Cheddars to customers. 

All these years later, I have such vivid memories from Arby’s. I quit before I turned 18, so I never did get a chance to work the slicer. Some dreams just remain unfulfilled like that.

If I chose to write about Arby’s, names would most definitely need to be changed to protect the innocent. Except, of course, for Bonnie and Jerome.

What was your second job? Can you write 800-1,000 words in exchange for possibly winning $75 and getting your story published? Go ahead, write it!



WritingCatherine Greenspan