By Louise Sukle
I had the best feeling of my life when I landed a job working at Howard Johnson’s. For a 15-year old girl chomping at the bit for independence, it was a big deal. Having to ask my parents for spending money was soooo annoying. How different I imagined life would be if I never had to ask them for anything. I was finally going to have my own cash.
I would be working at HoJo’s turnpike service plaza gift shop and I had visions of thoughtfully guiding travelers through the bounty of
hex sign serving trays and Amish trinkets in their search for the perfect souvenir. I was grateful not to be one of the aqua-clad waitresses dishing ice cream and serving fried clams for less than a buck an hour. They had to work too hard for their money.
Before my first day was over, as I stood obediently at my post behind the ancient cash register, I had an inkling my understanding of employment - and of the world - was about to change. Dramatically.
My defining moment arrived with a busload of New Yorkers. In a matter of minutes, the quiet lobby became a teaming mass of ruthless tourists and they were heading straight toward me. My first reaction was, Oh. My. God. I was totally unprepared. But that’s the great thing about being young. You don’t know you can’t do something, and besides, there was no place to hide.
The memory of what ensued still haunts me. It shouldn’t have been that hard, but my nerves got the better of me; I stuttered, I fumbled, and the unrelenting violation of my personal space combined with the demands of having to calculate columns of numbers in my head (no adding machine at the gift shop!) resulted in chaos.
But when the show must go on, it must go on. I stuck it out and punched my time card at the end of my shift. No doubt the bus ride home to New York was peppered with stories of the ditzy gift shop girl. But I made it through that day and many more like it.
Money buys freedom and it buys independence. But there’s no one to hold your hand through every adult situation. You have to face each challenge and surprise that comes your way. Only you are responsible for yourself out there in the big bad world.