Biggest Change In Fast Food Isn’t What’s Served, It’s Who’s Serving

I was amused reading about fast food workers wanting to go on strike for higher wages. Not amused by the plight of a group of people who work hard for very little, but because it took me back to my days in the fast food industry, when it was still in its infancy.

Back then, if I had gone to my boss and asked to have my wages doubled, he would have said something like, “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.” Not to get too political, but the fast food industry has always relied on an unskilled workforce willing to work part time for minimum wage. The difference is that when I was young, the workers were mostly teen-age kids in high school who weren’t depending on those jobs to make a living.

Like so many others, my start in the “business” world was as a News-Pilot paperboy. My first “real” job came at the McDonald’s in Lomita on Western and Pacific Coast Highway, which is still there, albeit in a newer, bigger version (they introduced the newfangled Big Mac while I was there, and with every order we had to say, “Would you like a hot apple turnover with that?”). It was my senior year in high school, October 1968, when I started at the then-minimum wage of $1.25 an hour (and the Big Mac was 49 cents). I worked 26.5 hours those first two weeks, after school and weekends, and brought home $27.29. I’d never had so much money. I was rich!

I didn’t have a car, however, so I jumped at the opportunity when San Pedro got a brand-new Jack in the Box on Western Ave., the one that’s still there, in January 1969. It also meant a huge raise to $1.40 an hour. I now had a car and had graduated so I could work longer hours. The cash was pouring in.

My fast food experience ended just a few months later, when I began my journalism career as a sports stringer for the News-Pilot (30 cents a column inch could add up real fast), but I’ll never forget flipping burgers during the lunch or dinner rush and cleaning the grill and mopping floors at cleanup.

My colleagues at that time were fellow teens. At McDonald’s, I worked alongside my friend John Hiigel, who was San Pedro High’s student body president. He went on to become a pastor and then a professor at a Midwest college.

I was the “old man” at Jack’s. Most of my co-workers were juniors or sophomores. One was friend Ted Petrich, now a retired teacher living in Hemet. Another was Chris Traughber, a champion swimmer at SPHS and today Dr. Chris Traughber of the Palos Verdes Family and Immediate Medical Care Center. In a recent conversation with Chris, we agreed that we learned a great deal about life during our fast food days, but what we learned most was that it wasn’t what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. Even at $8 an hour.

Of course, as I write this, the Big Mac is $3.89, and California is planning to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. Maybe I should rethink this and start practicing: “Would you like to make that a combo?”

Let’s Go Surfing

There are a couple of entertaining videos on YouTube that should interest San Pedrans. Linda (Barnes) Krammes (San Pedro High Winter `62) alerted me to the first (http://youtu.be/paLt3HLS3YQ) called San Pedro Memories.

Posted by Van Barbre (Winter `64), Memories is a series of snapshots, many of which appear to have come right from his family album, mingled with postcards of San Pedro and Long Beach in the `50s and `60s. I particularly liked the shots of the Pike, the Fishermen’s Fiesta in the heyday of the fishing industry, hundreds of white-uniformed cannery workers, the old Gaffey Street Pool, Marineland and San Pedro High in the early `60s.

For an entirely different look at San Pedro High, check out “Pirate Pride” (http://youtu.be/P21OZ7X55CQ). Judy Kiesel sent me the link to this video, which has been out since last fall. The brainchild of Joanne Cherry Booth, the dance teacher at San Pedro High, it’s a “Gangnam Style” parody that takes you on a tour of both campuses, and by the time it’s over has shown hundreds of choreographed students and a good part of the faculty and staff. All in good fun, it’s well-done, and if you don’t know what “Gangnam Style” is, well, you’ll just have to look to find out.

Kudos to Booth, a Venice, Calif., native who’s been at Pedro for 30 years, and camerman Victor Prudeux, an SPHS grad. Prudeux was on the stage crew as a student and, according to Booth, comes back and assists with performing arts events and technical needs.

I can’t help but wonder, however, what the Pirates’ API score would have been had they shown the same enthusiasm in the classroom. Just sayin’. spt