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First jobs teach a lot about the real world

April 10, 2010|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

I think working in the food industry or retail should be a requirement for high school graduation.

These customer-service oriented jobs are more than just a paycheck or learning to toss a pizza. It's the best business class in the world.

When I was a teenager growing up in Clear Spring, I worked at the Country Deli on Fairview Mountain.

Shortly after I turned 15 years and 9 months old, I was excited to get my first job at McDonald's in Williamsport (Clear Spring didn't have one yet). I was so giddy when I was told I would be making a whopping $3.35 an hour.

But when my best friend at the time told me that the deli's owner, Frank Rosenberry, would be paying 15 cents more, I had to take it.

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It was only a few weeks after I started that my best friend quit the deli, and by unwritten BFF rules, I probably should have quit, too.

But my parents had taught me that if you commit to things, you should at least see them through. And though I knew I was giving up evenings and weekends, I also knew that hours at the deli also meant I could save up for a car and pay for the 89 cents a gallon of gas.

What I loved about working there was that Frank was firm, but fair. If I screwed up, I was told what I did wrong and always given another chance. But Frank also didn't like it when you lied when you made a mistake. He taught me that it's better to fess up than cover up the mistake.

Burned the pizza? He expected you to tell the customer that you ruined it and they'll have to wait for another one. If they yelled, you had to deal with it.

You forgot to turn off the coffee maker and left empty coffeepots to burn? I learned the hard way that I should have told Frank immediately instead of waiting until closing.

Need to miss work because you want to go on a band trip? I had to see if someone could help me out and I never even thought of calling in sick.

Even though I burned myself more than once on the pizza oven and I reeked of fried chicken and grease, I had fun working there.

And it wasn't until I became an adult that I realized how much Frank and the deli prepared me for the real world. Because in between serving people and doing my French homework, I was introduced to multitasking before it became corporate jargon.

At the deli, we took the customer's order at the counter, went back and prepared it, served it, rang it up and then cleaned up. I rarely had to work on one order at a time because we also took phone orders. That meant on a hopping Friday night, it was nothing to have up to 10 orders going at once.

I had to know exactly who was seated in the back, what pizzas I had in the oven, which subs had special orders and it had to be done right.

By the time I was 17, Frank had entrusted me with checking in the deliveries. I helped train new people. He taught me the right way to deal with unhappy customers. Most importantly, he showed me that you also could have fun at what you do and care about your employees.

After high school, I worked for two more years at the deli, balancing classes and work. I had to quit when I transferred to college out of state.

In 1998, Frank Rosenberry passed away.

And today, I still think about him, especially on those days when I'm juggling 10 things at once hoping that I don't burn the pizza.

Crystal Schelle is interim Lifestyle editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at 301-791-7136 or by e-mail at crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com">crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com.

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