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Wharton: Remembering my first real job

Published June 24, 2013 10:12 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dad didn't believe in allowances. So, starting at a young age, I worked.

I started out cutting and trimming lawns for two single ladies in our neighborhood. The experiences taught me the value of money and gave me the satisfaction of having enough of a bank account that I paid cash for my first car, an $800 green 1961 green Volkswagen bug.

My first "real" job complete with a paycheck came when I turned 16. Cousins Pat and Donna were working at the Iceberg Drive-In, a place within walking distance of my home. They put in a good word for me, and Lamar Sorenson hired me.

Lamar gave a lot of us Granite High students our first paychecks. In 1967, when I started, the pay was $1.15 an hour and all you could eat. I put on 45 pounds between my sophomore and junior years.

Sorenson kept experimenting with weird concoctions such as a pickle Coke — a drink with a big dill pickle in it — or a chocolate Coke, a traditional fountain drink flavored with a couple of squirts of chocolate sauce.

We learned to bread onion rings, something one of the modern Iceberg's managers, Eric Higgins, said must be done to this day. I described the recipe to him from memory, and he told me it hadn't changed. Cooks also breaded fresh halibut and made taco meat, tartar sauce, slush and taco sauce.

I loved that job, especially when it was busy. Having orders for two dozen hamburgers, a few footlongs, 10 orders of fries and four orders of onion rings taught me to stay calm under pressure and to concentrate — skills that would come in handy later in life when I became a sportswriter required to work on deadline.

Some of Granite's coolest and smartest students worked with me. They would go on to be surgeons, cancer specialists, musicians and nurses. In his own quiet way, Lamar taught us responsibility. He expected us to be on time, to put in a fair day's work and to treat customers with respect.

In the winter, we were expected to pull one five-hour weeknight shift and one or two eight-hour weekend shifts, an ideal situation for those of us with busy school schedules.

My senior year, I bugged Dick Rosetta, then the high-school sports editor for The Tribune, for a chance to help cover the state basketball tournament. He let me, a thrill for an aspiring journalist. I didn't expect to cover the consolation championship game at Brigham Young University the final night, a place I had never visited, but Rosey called me that morning telling me he would pick me up.

There was one problem. I was scheduled to work. So I called Lamar, asking if he knew of anybody who needed an extra shift. In his soft voice, he told me he suspected covering the game was more important to my future than flipping burgers, and he kindly volunteered to sub for me.

I thought about those things a few weeks ago as I sat down in the Iceberg eating my favorite chocolate-chip malt. The place really has changed little since the '60s. A few menu items and some signs have been added. I suspect somewhere Lamar, who died in 2011, is smiling at what was the shake of the month, an awful-sounding caramel-and-bacon concoction.

The grill remains in the same place and, save for a few cement tables, the order windows and outside haven't changed. Neither have the signature red, white and blue shake cups with the words "thick thick thick shakes" written in the white stripes.

What pleased me the most, though, was a sign that said "now hiring" that hung in the window. Few things are more valuable to a teen starting out in life than a job that will teach hard work, the value of a paycheck and the need to be dependable. I am seeing a few more of those signs around fast-food places these days, and it's a good thing.

I learned to work hard at the Iceberg. But I also discovered that a job could be fun, that co-workers often became friends and that learning to deal with the public and pressure are good skills to possess. And I still make a pretty mean taco!

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton