I currently work three different jobs on campus. With five classes, four leadership positions, spacing out time for relaxation, studying and seeing friends, one can imagine that my schedule is jam-packed to the point where scheduling shifts for each job is a hellscape.
Still, the stress of these three jobs combined is minuscule compared to the horrors and trauma I endured at my fast-food job as a Subway sandwich artist — yes, this was my official title — in high school.
Everyone always says not to work in fast food. However, when you’re a broke, desperate high school student looking for after-school jobs to pay for your manic concert addiction, hardcover book obsession or college application fees, suddenly Subway seems like a haven. It’s supposedly easy, it’s manageable — it’s basically “Papa’s Cheeseria.” You’d always loved playing imaginary cashier as a kid with a play cash register and kitchen so this should be no big deal.
Looking back on my two years at Subway, I cannot believe what I put up with. From racist customers to solo night shifts, one cannot imagine the never-ending nightmare that would ensue every single weekend when everyone else at your school was partying, cheering at football games or studying for the AP World History exam on Monday.
On June 1, 2021, I walked into my first day on the job with my best friend. We were confident, excited and ready for what we thought was going to be a simple, fun summer job. However, my dreams of working behind a register, crafting perfectly-made sandwiches and earning tips to fatten my wallet quickly shattered.
My new boss greeted me, handed me a hideous, neon green “trainee” shirt and simply threw me to the sharks. My friend and I looked at each other in confusion as he pointed rapidly at the different meats, cheeses and vegetables and said, “Go ahead and take that customer.” With barely so much as a walkthrough of what each sandwich was, I took a deep breath and stepped up to the first customer who was checking the clock impatiently.
“A Spicy Italian footlong, please.” I stared at the man’s grumpy face, my heart beating wildly as he looked back at me expectantly, not a hint of a smile on his face. What in the world was a “Spicy Italian” sandwich, and how would I go about making it? I stuttered, utterly confused, until he rolled his eyes and screamed “It’s just salami and pepperoni!” directly at my face.
I realized, shocked, that the “myths” I had heard through social media or friends who had also worked in fast food were true: people are mean. “Okay,” I said. I tried to smile, but already I could feel tears coming on.
I made the sandwich as best as I could. The gloves were too big for my hands and the plastic got in the way of everything as I tried in vain to peel apart each piece of salami or cheese. As I struggled to close the sub, overloaded with every vegetable and sauce imaginable (I mean, get your money’s worth!), his extra mayonnaise spilled over onto the parchment paper and counter, decorated with squashed tomatoes and wilted lettuce.
I tried to smile, but the customer was obviously angry and disgusted at my horrible-looking creation. To make matters worse, I didn’t have a login to use the register yet, so I had to walk to the back, call my boss over and listen to him mansplain how to give change as if I didn’t know how much a quarter was worth. This was just day one.
Years later, the smell of Subway still haunts me but I am proud to say I have definitely grown from the experience. Every week, I claimed I was going to quit, but through pure grit and determination, I somehow managed to keep going.
Customers act as if fast-food workers are simply robots, meant to obey their every small request, no matter how ridiculous (“Please cut this olive into fourths for me!”). However, I made new friends with the weekly customers, something I never thought could happen while working in fast food.
I’ve learned to smile through the screaming, the name-calling, the finger-pointing, the eye-rolls and no tips from customers I made multiple sandwiches for. Working in fast food taught me the importance of determination, a positive attitude and staying silent in the face of rude customers as my boss’s phantom voice constantly repeated the catchphrase: “The customer is always right!”
To this day, I am grateful for the life skills that working at Subway taught me. I no longer see crying or anger as my first resort when someone is rude to me at my current job. I know how to multitask and stay organized because of Subway. I know how to respond with a smile when people try to do my job for me or think they know better than me, the lowly Subway sandwich artist.