Moppin' Floors and Tippin' Cows

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June 27th 2013
Published: June 29th 2013
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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 work here?” 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 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.”

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.

She nods yes.

“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.


29th June 2013

I love you....
29th June 2013

Another wonderful story about setting priorities...
Your daughter is very intelligent...a jet ski is "just a thing. A thing that may not last long." By the way, the passion for travel is in the genes. My three kids got it from me.
29th June 2013

"A jet ski is fun...but seeing Paris was awesome!"
How satisfying it must have been to hear that. I think the desire and appreciation of travel is probably learnt - none of my family, nor extended family has that pursuit of travel. That desire comes from other characteristics, such as a desire to learn and explore.
29th June 2013

The only menial work is work not done well, or done with a poor attitude. All work, done well and to the best of one\'s ability, is important and is rewarding in and of itself, regardless of the material compensation. The fact that you parlayed your seemingly menial job/s into an experience so much more rewarding than a \"thing\" shows an uncanny sense of self, delayed gratification, and maturity, especially for your then young years. Hooray for you....and yours. They are lucky to have you in their lives. All the best.
29th June 2013

'To travel is to live, learn and love'. David!
A delightful thought and one which I fully endorse. 'Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.' Ralph Waldo Emerson. We have liitle use for 'things' in our lives, but travel lifts our souls. David and Janice
29th June 2013

Dreams and goals
As I started reading your story I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. Acquaintances can be so mean. I won't refer to Jeff as a friend. Your passion for travel has made your life rich and rewarding. Glad to hear your daughter understands at age ten what a joy it is to stand in front of the Eiffel Tower!
29th June 2013

Thank you.
I wrote it with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat.
29th June 2013

clever child
Great blog!... you daughter sounds amazing... I hope mine chooses Paris over a jet ski as well when the time comes... she's only 5 months so it'll still take a while, but I guess it's up to us to teach her well in that respect
29th June 2013

sweet story
When I was a student I met lots of people who had been to exotic places. I couldn't imagine how they paid for their travels, but I was so envious of them. I didn't start my traveling career in earnest until I was 40 and had a fat grant. Better late than never, I suppose.
30th June 2013

Moppin Floors and Tippin Cows
I loved your story. I just returned from Paris a couple of weeks ago and still am having withdrawals. Glad to hear that your are teaching your Daughter about the wonders of travel. Thank you for sharing your heartwarming memories of your passion for travel.
1st July 2013

Love This
I have been looking forward to a blog speaking to your first trip. What a great way to tell the story and not only incorporate the past but how it is enriching your daughter's life. If I may say that I was shocked that you could have been considered feisty, lol. Thank you for sharing this with us. I have a feeling it resonates with many of us in the TB community.
1st July 2013

beautiful photo
...and a beautiful story. pretty touching and i agree with a lot of things that you said. nothing beats the experience of doing something for the first time, that one thing you've always dreamed of (and worked hard for). it's the lasting memories that make it all worth it. thanks for sharing. x
1st July 2013

Another poignant blog
Beautifully resonate. It's often hard to explain to someone who doesn't travel the rationale behind day-to-day "sacrifice" making that allows for an immense wealth of experience to take place intermittently. "Things" just weigh you down, and vivid memories are worth more than all the forgotten little daily expenditures combined.
3rd July 2013

Another good one
Another good one- I always enjoy reading your blogs.
14th July 2014

Where are you now?
When are you getting back on the road? I literally have spent like 3 hours reading your blogs lol! Awesome job! Looking forward to a new entry soon... Following now! Thanks -Greg
17th July 2014

Such wisdom at such a young age!
You are blessed with such a daughter. I hope that I can install such passion for traveling in my children (whenever they might come).
27th February 2016

Your article
Hi, I read your story and I like your style. By adding conversations inside a story-telling, it cuts down the monotony. I follow similar style. I am new here, but bumped into one of your front page photograph and checked your profile and read your stories. They have rhythm. Don't stop writing, they are lovely - Tab

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