Growing up, I was always told that if I wanted anything in life I had to work for it. Coming from a poor family, that sentence mainly meant “to get through college, you have to get a job and work to the bone to help pay for it.” That also went along with “money is money” and as long as it was legal, I should do it. So when I turned 16, I went job hunting.
Like almost every other teenager looking for a job, I went to the mall first. Even then I knew that chances of getting a job at the mall weren’t in my favor, still, I tried. After applying to store after store, I decided maybe that wasn’t a good place to try. From there, I started going to random places, always trying to avoid fast food jobs. Unfortunately, fast food restaurants were the ones who mainly hired teenagers. When I explained my dilemma to my mother she shook her head and repeated the saying she has told me over and over again, “Money is money.”
At the time, my sister was working at El Pollo Loco but was set to leave due to her pregnancy. When she heard my mother and I talking about my job dilemma, she jumped at the chance to help. My sister explained how her job was hiring and she was close friends with the manager so getting me a job there would be no trouble. After filling out the application, the manager gave me a short interview before hiring me immediately, as they were short on cashiers. My sister was told to train me in two days, everything from drive-through to cashier to janitor.
My sister went on maternity leave and I replaced her. I worked there for four months and, although it wasn’t bad for a first job, it wasn’t great. Constantly getting yelled at by rude customers every day wasn’t fun. Every little thing that went wrong was blamed on the cashiers. Food wasn’t cooked right? Blame the cashiers. Line is too long? Blame the cashiers. Didn’t see where the straws were? It’s the cashier’s fault. A lady even yelled at me for 10 minutes because she got the wrong burrito. Instead of telling us right away, she ate it then complained and asked for the correct burrito she ordered. Then there’s the never ending string of idiotic questions (i.e. “Do you sell chicken?”)
Along with the questions were the racist comments. No one would guess that I am Mexican because of my white skin and green eyes, so of course the word “gringa” was thrown at me often along with other harsh names. “Gringa” is a derogatory term for people who are or look Caucasian. I found it ironic considering I am Mexican. When I would speak Spanish, it would be taken offensively (“You don’t think I can speak English because I’m Mexican?”) The one time I tried to explain to the customer that harsh attitudes were unnecessary because it was a mistake and I was only trying to help, I was scolded and almost fired. My manager then told me not to argue because “the customer is always right.” It was a never-ending battle, so I started to smile and take it.
If the abuse from customers wasn’t enough, the mentality there was “This job is your life.” I was working six days a week while being a junior in high school. When my grades started to slip, I asked to be scheduled only three days a week, which upset the managers. Eventually, they were so upset they started cutting my hours and days even more. I tried to stick it out, I needed to save up for college and any luxuries I wanted, and I hated to burden my parents for unnecessary wants. Eventually, I couldn’t take the pressure and customer behavior so I quit. My school and mental health were more important. In this case, money wasn’t money when it came down to my well-being.
Now, being an intern here at L.A. Times can only be compared to heaven. I’m not saying this to kiss up. It’s honestly a relief. I thought I was going to be getting people’s coffee and acting like a personal slave. I work most of the week, which isn’t bad because it’s summer vacation. I’m not getting verbally abused by anyone, I’m not cleaning up after people and I’m doing what I love. I’m actually getting real life experience for a career I want. I go out into the field to have interviews, meet interesting people, hang out with the other interns and have support from my editor.
My only complaint about this job is there’s coffee everywhere and it’s a constant temptation. This is bad because getting a sugar/caffeine high in a quiet office setting is a recipe for disaster. Overall, it’s an amazing job and experience. From meeting new people and learning new skills to going out with the other interns, I could not be happier with my job. I am happily and willingly becoming a workaholic. I know after these few weeks are over, I’ll need to find another job but having a taste of what this career would be like is enough to keep me sane through it all.