The strangest job I ever had - and lessons learned

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jethro's picture

image kaiteri beach tourist 1HighCalling Blogs is hosting a meme about odd jobs and what you've learned from them. I opted out because I didn't think I've had any unusual emloyments. Sure, I've worked in fast food, factories and office administration, but those jobs hardly qualify as unusual. It's not like standing around for hours in the name of science or doing anything that requires a gas mask. I've never been paid to sift through garbage or sniff flatulence. So, I decided to skip this group writing activity.

But then I read a few of the stories and Tanya Dennis' story (from where I lifted the first paragraph as it exactly applies) struck me and I realised maybe I did learn something worth sharing from one job. (I am not saying I didn't learn lots of things from other jobs!)

Here are the rules:
1. Write a post about some strange job you’ve had and what you learned from it.
2. Link to other “Lessons from Odd Jobs” posts around the network, or quote them in your post with proper attribution. This isn’t a requirement, but it’s a fun way to get people moving around the network and reading each other.
3. Tag your post “lessons from odd jobs”—if you use technorati tags or another form of meta-tags.
4. Tag other bloggers by linking to them in your post and inviting them to participate in the meme. Tag as many people as you like—we’re not limiting this just to people in the network!
5. Link back to Lessons from Odd Jobs in your post and email this month’s host at “Marcus AT highcallingblogs DOT com”.


So here's a story from when I was about 22 or 23.

kaiteri beach Picture a sleepy seaside caravan park behind a crescent of golden sand nestled in thick New Zealand bush. There is only one road there; it winds its way around the steep cliffs and hill leading down to a rocky shoreline. The summer heat causes a heat haze to lift of the tarmac, made sticky by the never ending stream of caravans, boats and cars packed with pasty faced southerners heading for the sun. As a child of 12 I had lived further back on that road and in the week leading up to Christmas would play a game of counting cars, boats and caravans with my siblings.

From a normal population of 100 people this little beach swells to over 2000 in summer. All crammed into a caravan park, all eager to show off their new toys - the latest car, boat, ski paraphernalia or caravan gadget. Teenage hormones rage through the camp as throngs of kids get away from their drunken parents socialising and start their own foray into adulthood often also fuelled by alcohol.

During the day this place is a bustling hive of activity, parents of younger kids slathering them in sun cream and watching over them on the packed beach, the older ones being proud to be allowed to back the new expensive boat up to the fuel pumps and fill the cans while Dads stand around and have "my boat is bigger / faster/ cooler than yours" conversations.

At night time the boats have all been washed and put away, the gas lights and lanterns come on and parties, some planned some impromptu are everywhere. There were not many nights the cops were not called to sort out scuffles etc. My dad as a doctor for the nearby town was often called to accidents, some fatal, usually all fuelled by alcohol.

So where did I fit in to all this?

kaiteri beach ice cream kid As a summer holiday job I cooked fish and chips at the the little store. This store had a mini grocery section for the campers, a convenience store section, a tea rooms, fuel pumps, boat, fishing and skiing equipment, and a fish and chip section. Working 2 shifts a day we were open from 7 am until 10PM. There were several cooks on at a time, always one serving, one cooking burgers and another chips, fish, hot dogs and anything else that could be dropped into hot fat and eaten. The rest of the staff would be making snow cones, serving ice creams, lollies and managing stock.

The first year I worked there the head cook was a bossy britches girl with a chip on her shoulder. She was brutally efficient and nothing I did was right. (That may have just been me - we clearly didn't like each other.) I survived and came back the next year. This year I was upgraded to burger chef on my shifts. What that meant was I got to cook burgers to order on a hot plate while standing beside the serving window. This allowed me to have a conversation with my customers that was often hilarious. One day a group of mellow young lads wandered up and the first announced in no uncertain terms that he wanted bourbon poured on his burger. He handed me a can and I proceeded to pour some dubiously over the meat on the hot plate as it lay there scorching. The alcohol instantly evaporated leaving a satisfactory big cloud of steam. The young bucks delight was immense and the backslapping and joy amongst his mates elevated his social status immediately. He had a bourbon burger wrapped and handed to him, the contribution to its culinary efficacy was minimal, but the raise to his ego was huge. The next bloke standing in line thrust forward his can of bourbon and asked for the same thing. Quite happy to waste other peoples alcohol for them I complied to the joy of this young fellow, and soon a new social order arose in the camp, those who had had bourbon burgers and those who hadn't.

Unfortunately the head chef  in a pique of jealousy (read bossy and unable to attract a man) was very put out by this and instantly banned the practice of pouring anything on the BBQ plate. This did not go down well with the punters. However I arranged my shifts to be on when she wasn't, and took the late shift. No one liked the late shift because you had to clean down a fish and chip shop after the frying was finished for the night. You rarely finished before midnight and anybody who has cleaned a fish and chip shop knows how hard it is. Bourbon was back on the grill!

kaiteri beach tourist 2 In time the bourbon burgers became the most popular item on the menu. I was the king of burger land, and the following year was promoted to head chef.

What are the lessons I learnt here. The obvious one was the customer is always right. My boss recognised this and allowed me to treat the customers right, where the previous head chef was just concerned with "following the rules". I have taken this lesson into my business, and in everything we do we try and give the customer what they want.

However there is another lesson I learnt here as well though maybe not so obvious. I certainly didn't realise it until much later in life. That is listening is more important than talking. That is how we know someone. Find out their needs, cares, desires, hurts. By accident I discovered this one time that these burger consumers wanted something that I could give them, ego, social standing and a bourbon burger. I didn't learn the lesson of listening at this time because I wasn't ready to hear it then.

And that is yet another lesson. Perhaps the most important one. Sometimes we do not hear the lesson even though it is said in plain English (or Chinese or German or whatever your native tongue is). We only learn the lesson when we are ready to. Gordon says the same thing in his story about his first job. He points to the words of Jesus saying "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." This last paragraph may well go straight over your head, and that is fine, read the rest and get the lessons from that. Get this lesson when you are ready.

PS the photos in this story were taken during of customers at the shop. The beach photo was taken early one morning before it was filled up with people.


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Anonymous's picture

Bourbon in a can?!? WTF

Bourbon in a can?!? WTF

jethro's picture

yup all jim beam white label

yup all jim beam white label and black label is sold in cans in New Zealand and Australia