Late this summer, an opportunity presented to work at a concession stand at our local minor league baseball stadium. This would be a one-night gig as a volunteer; me and several adults along with the church youth group would “man the stands” at the ballpark earning a small percentage of sales plus tips for the kids and the church. My decision to “change my life” had been percolating for a few weeks when the impossibly energetic youth group leaders (a husband-wife team that could not be better suited to a role) stopped me in the hallway at church one Sunday and asked,
“Would you like to work the ballpark concessions with the youth group?”
As I had just made this decision to change my life, including trying out different experiences; how could I say no?
I’ve never had to work a fryer, but I have before been the lifeline between the hungry public and the hands that brave the splashing oil. Not quite 20 years ago, one of my summer jobs was spent working the counter at a local hamburger joint with my back to the fryer and grill for about 6 hours at a time, 3 times a week. I was paid in cash produced from a paper bag kept in a locked desk drawer at the rate of about $3.50 an hour, unlimited soft drinks and food from the grill. There is nothing like standing a few feet from a fryer for any period of time to inspire value in your expensive education, not to mention the often tragic results for one’s hair and complexion.
So why would I willingly do it again, even for one night? Just as the passage of time matures a palette to appreciate dryer wines, darker chocolate and music not featured on MTV, time can also re-set how we define work that feels tolerable in one’s heart and soul. Maybe I would like it!
On the appointed Friday evening, I pulled on the neon t-shirt of the youth group, plunked a ball cap on my head, and got into position behind the ‘Batter Up’ counter where fish fry was the evening’s special. Fish pre-battering went on as we arrived and the fryers were HOT. We trained on the register, which took about 15 seconds as there are buttons for every single item sold in the stand and it also tallies the order to a tidy sum that would always end conveniently at a quarter, half or even dollar. All I had to do was shout out the order, a runner would deliver the items and the customer was on their way to the stadium.
For 4 and a half hours this was my world: skating along on a slick floor beside the sizzle of a fryer for a steady stream of happy and surprisingly patient people looking forward to balancing a cardboard tray of French fries on their knees and hoping for a fly ball to come their way.
There is not much time for politics or personalities to cloud the process, so the manager is just as likely to whip up a twist cone as the lowly volunteer. I’ve heard a lot of talk about ‘teams’ at a lot of different jobs, but the trueness of the word was never more clear than with three register lines four deep of people all wanting a fish fry and a Bud, and the National Anthem is about to play. Business was steady and by the seventh-inning stretch we were out of fish and running low on chicken fingers. The food supply petered out at about the same rate luckily as the flow of customers. Cleaning time!
Have you ever spent time cleaning up your stove after frying bacon?
Imagine frying bacon atop every burner on your stove, over and over for four hours. Clean up is so much more than a wipe-down. Fortunately, my cleaning genes are strong. Together with the greased elbows of the other volunteers, I would venture a guess that the Batter Up had extra sparkle that night as we closed up shop.
Peeling off the neon youth group t-shirt and the rest of my fryer-infused outfit, I headed straight for the shower. Even the soles of my feet felt tired, but I felt oddly peaceful. An evening of honest work, alongside a great group of people and for a fairly tolerable general public is good tonic. (Okay, it was a Friday night in late summer at a baseball game, who would be grumpy?)
I suppose if I had to do this job to support myself I would feel less serene about it, but I think that I could do it without self-loathing. The transaction at a food concession stand is simple: Hungry person orders food. Money is tendered for purchase. Food is prepared and handed to hungry person. Hungry person is happy and walks away. Repeat. Everyone has a clear purpose and knows their role. The results are immediately measurable. A + B = C. That is so appealing to me, and time flies in a simple equation.
But maybe I would prefer something less greasy, like sandwiches.