It’s not cross-dressing if it’s Halloween, or, Almost everything I know about work I learned at a Ponderosa

Are you thinking about your Halloween costume? Let me help you out! Have you thought of dressing up as your boss?  My favorite ever Halloween costume was also my first “man” suit, I dressed as my boss, at the Pondersosa. I impersonated the manager, Mr. Bill, by wearing a white shirt, dark pants and a tie, and a painted-on mustache. The crowning touch was the name-tag, which I made with the label-maker that I brazenly borrowed from the office.

While his fist reaction was not kind, the customers loved it, he allowed me to stay dressed this way and ignore all my other duties for that shift. I enjoyed my first transvestite experience, but more than that I enjoyed being the ‘manager.’  It would be 30 years before anyone ever called me that again!

If you’ve never eaten at a Ponderosa, you are missing a treat! Economical and efficient, the serving method is especially attractive to families whose children are not quite old enough to come and ruin my meal at Outback.

Half restaurant, half cafeteria, the meal starts out with a self-serve tray.  The tray is placed on metal bars that have been cleaned by alcohol. [Not as much fun as it sounds, “doing the alcohol trail” involved a rag full of Isoprophyl  alcohol that the hostess would theoretically use to wipe down every surface from the front doorknob to the water fountain at the exit. This was explained to me the first time the health inspector was looking closely at our fountain.]  The lesson here? Even if you don’t know it’s your job, it’s your job, especially if it can cause staph.

Put dessert on your tray first! This, so that you would take s delicious pudding or slice (one seventh) of pie) it before you realized how full you were going to be when you got the rest of your food.  OK. I am making this up.  It is highly likely that the hot food was closest to the end of the line and the cold food was set out at the beginning.  Even at twenty I was jaded enough to believe both of these ideas were true.

Further down the line hot buns were readied and stored in a hot drawer , slathered with a 2” paint brush full of butter. Real butter, possibly the only thing real besides the cows.

I preferred to be the salad bar girl. The hours suited me, I loved leaving t he house just after dawn, riding my little red Pugh moped to the restaurant, and working independently on the vegetables. I loved that the salad bar was my total responsibility. I was 20 and I learned about forecasting, food cost, health inspections, some things about true love (though not mine). I promise, lots more about this later!

At the end of each day we would put the telephone into a special cradle and transmit the days’ sales to the corporate office, then in Dayton Ohio.  Once this was done, you couldn’t use the phone anymore that night, or in the morning, until the phone was taken off the modem.

In order to be a supervisor, employees had to take The Reade Survey, a pencil-in-the-dots sort of thing that purportedly illustrated how truthful the test-taker was by asking what types of things he or she would or would not do under various circumstances. Buried deep inside question 26: “Would you steal a pencil from your employer?”  The correct answer was YES. Server after server took the test, and failed.  Admitting you would steal a pencil was the key to becoming a supervisor.  I passed the test, but I didn’t become a super. I didn’t want to trade the early shift for “flexible” (for them) hours and the admission that this was now my job. I had a vague grasp of the Peter Principle and I didn’t want Peter to bite me in the ass.

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One day a knock came at the back door that would change the lives of several others and send me on a pathway to yet another job. It was the guy from the neighboring restaurant The Oyster Bar, a place with fresh-frozen inexpensive seafood and a liquor license. He wanted to borrow a case of potatoes until produce would be delivered to both restaurants the following day.  I went to get my manager to make sure that we had enough potatoes to lend. I saw a spark fly when the two of them had a look at each other, which I passed off as my Walt Disney-sized imagination, since the boss was a recent widow with a 2 year old and it was widely known that the guy next door was married to his job.

The dessert girl came in early with me to put the toppings on the frozen cream pies and slice them. It gave the impression that the pies were made there. The cook, the dessert girl and I were the only three people in the unit one early morning when a kid was killed on a bicycle in front of our store.  The cook (who later became the un-cook because he reeked of cannabis all the time) ran out of the store to witness the tragedy. The dessert gal took off after them. There I was, alone in the place, afraid to touch the phone which was still attached to the primitive polling system. No matter, the cops arrived and pronounced the cyclist dead. Dessert girl left for the day. The bosses arrived, we opened on time, and everyone had salad.

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