My very first real job was for Taco Bell. I started as a regular hourly worker and was eventually ‘fired’ (link) while serving as the second youngest Store Manager in the country. I’ve already written a few Taco Bell related stories but there are so many additional memories from that time of my life. I’m not sure where this story will go but I wanted to see if I could jot the rest of them down and hope they fit together somehow.
People. They always make the difference. We are a social animal. We love each other, hate each other and like it or not, we need each other. For a great part of our lives, our jobs are a great portion of our identity. So it was with my Taco Bell years. That is why I wanted to begin this story with a reference to another that I wrote about a young man named Leonard. Here is his story (link). I hope you take the time to read this if you’re new to the site here.
People. I had the benefit of having a decent first role model as a manager – Sally was her name. She was a divorcee with a full grown adult daughter, (if memory serves me), who lived back in Indiana. She was first to teach me that flies are more attracted to honey than vinegar. I’ve never really tried to attract those pesky little varmints, but it made sense. This made me such a successful Assistant Manager that they offered me the store when Sally was offered a store back in Indianapolis. I was only 20. Sally was fun loving and not above allowing us to joke around at work. But when a customer walked through those glass doors, she was all smiles. Imagine your real estate lady hoping to cash in on your commission dollars – that was Sally trying to sell you a large sized Pepsi.
People. Rich P. Rich was Sally’s Assistant Manager before getting his own store (restaurants were called stores). Rich was maybe 7-10 years older than I, but younger in terms of certain attributes like self confidence and what we might call worldly experiences. He had shared that his parents were military and moved around quite a bit, never really allowing him to ever develop a real relationship with a girl. Enter, Sally who showed him the ways of the world, (Sally took mentoring seriously). Everyone knew of the ‘relationship’. They both were very open with what they were doing and no one really cared. The 70’s were clearly a different time – no one was tweeting back then and for the most part, most of us didn’t care what you did in your private time (at least, that’s my own personal recollection from that time). My strongest memories of Rich include his overly wrinkled clothing and the fact that he spoke Japanese. He sure didn’t speak Japanese the night Leonard and I filled the walk-in fridge with several inches of snow though.
People. Ann. Ann didn’t work a long time with me at The Bell but I mention her here because she was the first person I knew who confessed to being gay. The topic of being gay had never even been whispered to me before this one evening as I watched her French kiss one of the high school teachers. (and wow, could you imagine the news, the tweets, the Instagram pics today had this moment been captured). Leonard and I had accompanied her to this teacher’s apartment to pick up a kitten. They greeted at the door with a big lip lock. After we left, (and picked our jaws up off the floor), Anne said to us – I guess you figured out I like girls. Me – umm, I do too, so we have that in common. (not spoken – well that explains a few things). There is and always has been, always will be discrimination against people for (pick your reason). In my own experience, tolerance has improved over my lifetime for gays in America. We had a new store manager at Taco Bell who I guess you would say was “flaming”. Our supervisor Larry, (the guy who would later fire me), hated gays. Many people were afraid of them and I suppose they still are today. He later fired Brian, (not his real name). I guess he found a reason.
People, protégées. From this very early age, I enjoyed helping people achieve their full potential. I felt like I had been given an opportunity and wanted to help others. My supervisor liked my coaching style and as we were in a heavy growth period, he gave me a lot of space to hire and train. In addition to hiring outsiders for several of the area stores, he allowed me to promote a few of my own employees at the Hamilton store. My first protégé was Vicki. Hard working and well organized, I got her promoted to a store located closer to her home. Next there was Dave, our resident arm wrestling champ. Musically inclined and quite intelligent, he also was an easy sell to my supervisor. And then there was Rafael. Raf had gone to the same high school as I and was a decent person, just quite a bit shy. Probably this was because he was maybe the only one of a couple Philippine in school and felt out of place. When I met him as an employee, I worked to build his confidence and teach him the ropes at Taco Bell. He was a hard worker, never called in sick and always followed through with his tasks. I was pretty sure he could make a decent assistant manager with the right coaching and oversight. He got his opportunity….as I was sent on my way to find my next one.
People. At the young age of 20, I had hired and trained dozens of employees and maybe 7-10 managers via all the new stores we opened. 1978 was a hell of a year for learning for me. This was also my first exposure to firing an employee. I don’t remember her name but she was a couple years younger than I and was a straight A student. Registers kept coming up short every time she worked a shift, without fail. So one night I set her up by making certain she had her own register that I cleaned out immediately after her shift ended. Once again, she was short around $50, a lot of money back then. I called her into work the next morning for a talk. I decided to fire her. I told her that her registers constantly came up short and that it was unacceptable, I no longer had a job for her.
Later that same night, her dad came in asking for the manager. He was a little taken aback when he saw how young I was but I asked him to walk around back where we could talk in private. Surprisingly calm, he took a parental stance with me and asked me why I fired his daughter for “stealing”. So I told him the entire story. Very patiently, he didn’t interrupt, he just listened. When I was finished, he asked me if there was a chance I was making a big mistake. I was honest and said, “well, maybe….this is my first time ever doing something like this.” I didn’t appreciate his next words then like I do today. He just sort of summed up the situation and said to me – well, let’s suppose you are correct. If that’s the case then perhaps my daughter is getting an opportunity for a good lesson she might remember for a long time. And if you’re wrong, well there are lots of minimum wage jobs. You won’t give her a bad recommendation, will you? To which I told him that if I get a call, I’ll just tell the person I don’t give recommendations. I figured everyone deserves second chances.
I was very nervous both times; the firing and the discussion with her dad. After it was all over though, I remember feeling relieved and a little more ‘grown up’. That episode felt like the first big ‘adult’ act I ever carried out as a manager of others.
People. Office romances. There were several there between employees and also between a few of the managers. I don’t see the need to go into detail about any of the specifics, but it was the 70’s; a time when people seemed quite “loose”. During my short breakup with Kim, I myself dated a couple of girls who already have their own stories here. Everyone has his/her own special memories and mine are no different. One of my favorite from this time involved an old girlfriend, Betty (link). Betty didn’t work there long but after she left, she’d come into visit with her boyfriend (Bob) and/or other members of her family. I liked Bob. He had one of those faces that could smile with his eyes and he seemed to like me. I know they ended up like me and Kim – married at a young age. I hope they had a great life together.
People. So many people memories. Like, I remember how my future brother in law Ricky asked for a job there so he could earn enough money to buy a new baseball glove. Or how about the day we received a box of steaks instead of ground beef and the company told us we could keep them. Everyone got a steak to take home that day. Or how about the time we accidentally received several huge boxes of uniforms, enough to last us years and years. Anyone who’s ever had to wear a uniform at work knows what a royal pain in the rear it is to have to wash your uniform constantly so when I distributed second and third uniform tops to everyone there, we had a whole heck of a lot of smiling faces that week.
People. Or how about the differences between day and night crews? The day crew is efficient and serious. The day crew cooked the beans, fried the shells, cooked the meat, shredded the cheese and lettuce, hand cut the olives, tomatoes and onions. The night crew mopped the floors, cleaned the windows and tables, put the food back into the walk-in fridge, cleaned out the registers and made up the daily deposit receipts. The night crew also had the food fights and late night partying. Oh and they made the special ‘Burn ‘Em Sauce’. (link)
People. Theresa. Hands down, she was my best employee. She and I together could do the work of four people. We both knew all the tasks and anticipated each other’s moves. She was also my favorite to work with. A fantastic sense of humor, we would die laughing so often. It’s rare when you find someone with the same sense of humor as yourself, but Teresa was that person. Beyond work, we had very little in common. She was a year younger, a Catholic girl who went to the ‘rich Catholic high school’ across town. Her parents were still married to each other and the house she grew up in was much nicer than mine. So everything about her was different than my background and experiences. Years later after moving back from Louisiana, I ran into her at the local YMCA on the west side of Hamiltucky where she was watching her child during swim lessons. We hugged and did some quick catchup and that’s when I learned that Leonard had moved to California and subsequently died of AIDS. That still saddens me.
If you want to find out ‘what ever happened to’ someone you knew from long ago, simply look for an obituary of their parents. It took me only 10 minutes to do this online for Theresa to learn that she turned out exactly like I knew she would one day – very smart, successful and following her Catholic roots as she’s the Director of Religious Education at a school. Good for you Theresa – you look great and I hope you’re very happy! As several others have, maybe one day you will stumble upon my little blog and it will make you smile. If so, please reach out with a comment.
So when I began writing this story I didn’t really know where it would go. I just knew I needed to write this; call it gaining closure. I did a lot of growing up during those 33 months that began on my 18th birthday. Taco Bell is where I began my career in management, where I first learned how to treat employees and how to leverage their individuality. It’s where I once fell in love, once where I gained closure with my first real girlfriend and where I fell back in love one night with my girlfriend, now my wife. I left Prytania, got married and moved into our first apartment while working at Taco Bell in 1978.
For me and many others, Hamilton was a good place to grow up in and get out of and yeah……despite the need for a Zantac if I eat there, Taco Bell still holds a soft spot in my heart.