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Published: June 29th 2013
I threw the heavy watermelon rind into the trash only to see it rip through the bottom of the bag and spew the red juice all over the inside of the trash can. Irritated that I had just made more work for myself, I dumped the rind outside and drug the wastebasket to the bathtub to clean. After spraying it down, putting some soap on a sponge, I stuck my head inside the trash can and started scrubbing.
Then it all came back to me. I remembered a pivotal moment in my life where I also had my head in a trash can.
I took my first solo trip to Europe a month before my 17th
birthday. My parents told me I could go but I'd have to pay for it myself. The travel agent said a ticket to London would be about $800.
The one nice restaurant in town wouldn't hire me. Pizza Hut wouldn't hire me. The nursing home wouldn't even hire me. I interviewed at a cranky old lawyer's office but he told me, “I can't hire you. You're just too....feisty.” Running out of options and anxious to start saving, I had to just do
it: take a job at McDonald's.
My first day of work, I donned the signature uniform and thought,“Oh lighten up Andrea, this won't be so bad. Surely you'll get to do something glamorous like work the drive-thru and say things like 'Welcome to McDonald's! Can I take your order?' or 'Would you like fries with that?!'”
But it was not to be. The manager instead handed me a bucket of soapy water with a sponge and said, “I really need the inside of these trash cans cleaned.” So that's what I did. I could fit my tiny 16 year old body inside the big black rubber bins and clean them to perfection.
“You did a great job Andrea,” my boss told me. “I bet you're good at mopping too,” she said enthusiastically.
It was a late Saturday night and that wet mop must of weighed as much as I did.
I knelt down to scrape some gum off the floor and that's when every teenager's worst nightmare happened. In walked my friends.
“Andrea? Is that you? You
” Jeff said.
Jeff stood there with his beautiful buxom girlfriend smacking her gum and
giggling. “Wow, so like, how much do they pay you?”
I was so embarrassed. “I make a whole $4.16 per hour, ok Jeff?”
“No way! You can't be serious! I make that in fifteen minutes at my job,” he rubbed in.
I wish I would of stood up for myself at that moment, but I didn't. I just tried to keep from crying and further humiliating myself.
“I don't get you,” Jeff went on. “Why would you work like this just to say 'I saw the Eiffel Tower' or 'I went to Africa and saw a bunch of elephants' when you could do something else with the money, something cool....like buy a jet ski.”
“That's a good point,” I said. “I'll have to think about it.” But in my head I thought, “Next summer while you're cow tipping, drinking yourself into a stupor and jet skiing, I'll be in Europe. I will finally
See Europe I did! And it was worth any amount of hard work to earn the money.
The next summer I had myself strapped into a roofing harness with a shovel in my hands prying melted shingles off
a hot roof. Later I had the idea of having fliers made advertising a house cleaning business, put on my smartest skirt and went door to door in the town's nicest neighborhoods offering my impeccable sanitation services.
I continued serving fries, cleaning trash cans, roofing and dusting nick-knacks but after having my first taste of travel, it was worth
it. I didn't feel embarrassed to say what I did. My work did not define me. My passion for travel was my signature.
I took my daughter on her first trip to Europe recently. She's only ten and she didn't have to mop any floors to pay for it. But I want her to appreciate that traveling is a privilege, an enriching experience
that can't be duplicated by a material possession.
Recently I had my daughter at the McDonald's I used to work at when I was sixteen. We were enjoying our cheeseburgers in the very room where Jeff had taunted me all those years ago.
“Did you have fun in Paris, India?” I asked her.
“Oh yeah! Paris is awesome!” She replied.
“A jet ski is fun though too, right?” I asked.
“So,” I begin a little nervously, “if you had to choose between a jet ski or a trip to Europe, what would you pick?” I asked hoping to goodness she gives me the answer I'm looking for.
She pauses for a moment. “Well, a jet ski is
fun, mom,” she starts. “But....but....its just like a thing
. A thing that may not last long. But seeing Paris was awesome! I mean, the food was delicious and the Eiffel Tower was so big...” and I see my daughter's eyes glisten as she draws upon the memories of her trip.
I don't think an appreciation for travel is a genetic trait, but it can certainly be a learned one.
I hope I teach it well. I hope my daughter comes to appreciate that reaching goals involves hard work and sacrifice. Maybe you'll be made fun of. Maybe you'll spend your Saturday night inside a trash can. But it just makes the reward so much sweeter.
I just hope she always picks the experience.
Not the jet ski.
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