THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I HOPE TO RELEASE LATER THIS YEAR.
At age sixteen, I began working part time in nearby Lombard at White Castle, home of the greasy bite sized ‘sliders.’ Most of my friends had similar jobs and they were not hard to find. Back then, it wasn’t IF you were going to work, it was WHERE. My pals Bobbo Ciciora and Todd Beja ended up working with me at the castle for a time. Pay started at $3.30 an hour. Considering the minimum wage at the time was $2.30 an hour, it was a decent job. This was 1977 when a movie ticket would cost no more than $2.50 and gasoline was around sixty cents a gallon. White Castle took good care of their employees with even part timers getting a week’s paid vacation after working there a year. Working on holidays like Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day and Easter we earned double pay.
One weekday afternoon a wedding reception took place in the White Castle dining room. About thirty people bounced in, the bride in her gown, groom in his suit and everyone else dressed like they just came from church. They even brought in a wedding cake and champagne. I recall the bride telling her new husband in a half-joking manner, “I’ll never marry you again.” We burger makers posed in some of the photos the wedding party took. I sometimes wonder if that couple is still married today, probably not.
Working the occasional weekend late hours of 11pm til 7am I got a glimpse of what adult party life was like. White Castle was open 24/7 and the bars would stop serving booze by 2:00 a.m. so we’d have lines out the door til about 5 a.m. I mean just ask Harold & Kumar about the joys of late night sliders when you’re all high or liquored up. Working those graveyard shifts exposed me to a heavy stream of drinkers and stoners. Customers’ slurred words and laughing loud at just about anything said were the norm for those hours. Cleaning the men’s room on that shift was the worst. Drunks pissed in the sink, on the floor, walls, toilet paper roll and every once in while they managed to squirt a little in the toilet bowl.
I can’t count how many times on the graveyard shift I went to take garbage to the parking lot dumpsters and found drunken Castle patrons passed out in their idling cars. Often they had a door open and their bagged food still sitting on the hood or roof. Usually I would reach in, turn off the ignitions and let the pooped partiers sleep it off. I could’ve always dumped out the drunks’ food but that would have meant that at some point they’d wake up and come in and want more. Some of the partiers were pretty funny and we used to take quiet notice of who came through our doors with the worst case of bloodshot eyes.
In the summer of 1979 I was planning to quit White Castle in August because full time college classes were coming but was shown the door a few weeks early. On a slow overnight shift, a man was giving me his order a bit quick and I told him to slow down so I could get things right. He raised his voice to me and was in as crabby a mood as I was. I looked the guy in the eye and said “If you ever yell at me like that again, I’ll knock you on your ass.” Well he screamed for my supervisor to come out and deal with this hassle. The night manager was given the story of what went down, I admitted to my part and was sent home for the night. Two days later I was summoned to meet with my head supervisor to be let go.
Three years later a similar customer/fast food employee confrontation played out on the big screen in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Judge Reinhold played the role of me as he told his irritated patron, “Mr., if you don’t shut up I’m gonna kick 100 percent of your ass!” Cameron Crowe wrote the ‘Fast Times’ book and screenplay and it was almost as if he was in White Castle that late July night.