What Americans Lose When We Refuse Crap Jobs

The best job I’ve ever had was cleaning deep fryers at McDonald’s at 4:30 in the morning. By “best,” I don’t mean most pleasant. Each morning, I would take a filtration device (basically a heavy bucket with a filter, on wheels) up to each deep fryer, empty the fryer’s oil into it and, while it churned away, I would scrub the sides and bottom of the fryer. After the filter was done working, I would pump the filtered oil back into the fryer and turn on the heating element to prepare it for that day’s cooking.

By the end of this process, which took about an hour, I smelled like a combination of old French fries and fish filets, and I had at least one new burn per week. After finishing this job, I was expected to start up the grills and prep for breakfast service.

It was greasy, hot, and deeply unpleasant work, but in a very important way it was the best job I’ve ever had because those mornings are what I thought about in future jobs when things seemed bad. Scrubbing deep fryers will always remind me to keep a healthy perspective about work. Now, as a stay-at-home dad, even my worst day is better than cleaning those fryers, because that job was terrible.

via What Americans Lose When We Refuse Crap Jobs.

I think I was about 10 when my folks started sending me out to mow the neighbor’s yards.* I was about 12 when I got my paper route, and maybe 14 the first time I started working on a farm, be it picking strawberries, or bucking hay, or worst of all, cleaning out silage.

And of course, the entry level job of 11B isn’t exactly all skittles and beer.

What was your worst job, and what did you learn from it?

21 thoughts on “What Americans Lose When We Refuse Crap Jobs”

  1. working construction right out of HS. hardest work ever, learned that I didn’t want to work out doors. still remember my foreman’s name 45 years later

  2. Mowing lawns was the best thing that could happen when I was 14. $20 a lawn, $10 for weed whacking, $10 for edging. My dad provided the equipment, provided I did his for free, I bought the gas. Tiny suburban lawns + lazy homeowners = Profit!

    1. I think I forgot to footnote that my folks also insisted that I mow the lawns of some elderly friends gratis, as a kindness to the less fortunate.

  3. I was a bus “boy” at an all-you-can eat family style seafood restaurant.
    I learned that some people are determined to be jerks and not tip their waitresses (I would leave my own money on the servers’ tables when that happened. I will never die rich.)
    I learned that busing tables is great exercise — lost my Freshman Fifteen that summer.
    But most importantly, I learned that you cannot get crab shells out of carpet using a “carpet sweeper!”

  4. Shoveling and mixing tons of cow effluvia and intestines in the 95-115 degree Georgia summer heat. The 30 foot piles heated up to 130-150 degrees. I am immune to heat, hard work, stench, and minimum wage.

    1. Wow that sounds like a nice smelling job. I’m not good at the heat – too much northeastern blood. The humidity always finds me and even with enough water I get evil migraines. I’m in jersey now but lived in dc and Miami and man that was humid. Been to a Georgia once in the summer and crazy humid there too.

      Of course I got lucky and did my entire tour on Oahu and never went to the field except for day trips to range or training.

  5. Worst job ever was part of the job then and is part of the job now. I first “went fencin'” the summer I was 10. The main push is in summer after calving. Long days, dawn to dusk, weeks on end. Hot, sweaty, stinging insects, sunburn, stickers, barbwire scratches, raging thirst, rattlesnakes, cactus, digging post holes, driving posts, nailing and clipping wire, endless walking back and forth (6-12 miles per mile of fence repaired or built. You never finish the job or get completely caught up. Worst job of all time, and paradoxically, best job of all time. Lots of valuable lessons learned. Do it right. Figure it out. improvise. Adapt to changes. Find the joy in the misery. Overcome the fatigue and the pain. Make it better. Screw up. Fix your mistakes. Accept the challenge and persevere. Chase your limits. Enjoy your accomplishments. Know and love the real world. Yada-yada-yada.

  6. Worst crap job for me was babysitting. My favorite crappy job story is Mr. RFH’s. He’s worked in a NJ toy store and at a stable, and he said shoveling horse manure was far more preferable to the retail experience.

  7. Dishwasher at Friendly’s during the summer while is was in delayed entry. But the staff was nice and at the end during the fall I was a cook and actually those were good times looking back.

  8. I’ve done a few of the “jobs Americans won’t do”. Outdoor construction in Hew Hampshire in winter, installing ductwork in Fla. in summer, etc. The job I hated most was supermarket cashier. Boringly slow and screwups caused by bad management. It got so I was in a bad mood all the time. One day when I got to work I just made a decision on the spot and walked up to the supervisor and gave my notice. Amazing how much better I felt.

    One thing I have noticed over the last 20 years or so. Kids don’t have paper routes, shovel snow, or mow lawns anymore. If you want any of that stuff done you have to find an adult.

  9. The worst I had? The exciting field of door to door encyclopedia sales. And the only time I ever work handcuffs was for LEGALLY selling the damned books by a cop who payed his way through cop college by selling the same damn books. It was a loud and ugly ride back to the cop shop as the officer got to hear many bad words regarding his character and lineage.

  10. Worked in a foundry a couple of summers. Ten hour days for the princely sum of $4.65 an hour, ten cents over minimum wage. Hot work, shoveling oil sand back into the mixer after breaking it out of casting boxes. And running the castings from the cooling deck out onto the back dock to knock them out of the boxes with a maul. Had to be careful not to damage the box, or heaven forfend, the casting. The castings were oil baffles, and in the box with the sand weighed about 400 pounds. Lotsa of non-OSHA approved stories, gut-busting work, and the pride for a 16 year old of a paycheck well earned. Lessons? Among many was the dignity in hard work, and that it was possible to get a suntan under my chin (from the still 500+ degree castings).

    1. Wait, Jesus, how old are you? Minimum wage was $4.55? I thought you were older than me, but my first job was when minimum wage was $4.10?

  11. That was the summer of 1980, and minimum wage for an adult position was $4.55.

    1. Huh. Different rules in different places, I guess. I was getting $4.10 minimum wage in, what, 1992 or something?

  12. cleaning outhouses using a honey truck.

    Paid REALLY well….$12.70 an hour in 1985.

    Couldn’t stomach it. The stench carried with you. I lost weight cause it killed my appetite.

    Gave notice. Dude offered me $14/hr. Thought about it, said no.

    Great pay, but he couldn’t keep people. The work was disgusting.

    I did good work when I was there though….

  13. Harvesting tobacco as a kid in Wisconsin, hours bent over chopping, piling, spearing and hanging. I thought it really sucked, then when I was at Ft Campbell in the mid 90’s did it on the weekends for extra money and appreciated the fact that in Wisconsin we cultivated the rows and hoed weeds between the plants to keep the field clean. In Kentucky they didnt do that and it was copperhead and water moccasin heaven. That really sucked!

  14. I didn’t have it too bad compared to most here. I just worked the express checkout at suburban grocery store. Minimum wage, trainee made incorrect change on my drawer which came out of my check, entitled snotty suburbanites. It was enough to convince me that I needed to finish college with a viable career.

  15. Summer of ’73 at an auto graveyard in Botkinburg, Arkansas. Removing wheels and cutting gas tanks off of cars prior to them going into the crusher. Lots of dirt, rust, and the occasional gas tank falling on your head. When not doing that I had to walk the yard and pick up scrap off the trails so the forklift didn’t get a flat. If it did, guess who fixed it. I also had to chain down the loads of crushed cars on the trucks when they came in to load up. Lots of fun for $2.50 an hour. For you math wizards out there, that came to $20 a day and $100 a week. I once just got missed by a car falling off the forklift, I still remember the tunnel vision as I ran from that one. I kept going for about 150 yards before my brain told me I was not squished.

  16. Working as a sawyer in a sawmill. Now, it was the highest hourly work there, fairly comfortable as the sawyers box was heated and air-conditioned and could listen to the radio all shift. But it was sitting in one spot doing roughly the same thing, levers, foot-pedals, switches and knobs over and over all shift every shift. The only change in the view was a different log ever few minutes. Gahhhh.

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