My First Job

It must be a product of aging, or perhaps it is just something that I alone experience.

But as I age (I am already in my 60s) memories from my past become clearer and clearer.  Things that I saw and experienced many years ago, come back clear as a sunny summer’s day, and I can see things now that back then I could only guess at.  One of these things was my first job which was at Taco Bell.

My first job.

This Taco Bell no longer exists.

Of course the corporation still exists, having penetrated and dominated every food market in the world, but this Taco Bell, my Taco Bell, is gone forever.

It was located on the corner of 11th Ave. and Camelback Rd. in Phoenix, Arizona.  They tore it down years ago.  But in 1975, it was first job I ever had as a 16 year-old sophomore in High School.  It was quite an experience.

The owner of this Taco Bell was Mrs. Combs: a woman who had never owned a business or even worked at a regular job a day in her life.  She was rich, and so was her “boyfriend.”  (Yes, she was married to another rich guy, and was having an adulterous affair with her boyfriend.)  Her wealthy boyfriend, as a “romantic gesture” bought her this Taco Bell as a birthday present.  (Imagine being in your 40s, having never held a job, or owned a business due to the wealth of your husband and family, and your rich boyfriend buys you a Taco Bell restaurant in Phoenix?  Yes, that is what un-earned wealth and privilege is like.)

At the age of 16, this was my first introduction to the huge gap between the “haves” (those who buy Taco Bells as birthday presents) and the “have-nots” (those of us who must work at Taco Bells for $2.10 an hour.)

Yes, minimum wage in Arizona in 1975 was $2.10 an hour.  Look it up.

That Taco Bell I worked at in 1975 is very, very different from the Taco Bells in 2020 that dot the American landscape.  Believe it or not, ALL of the food made back then was made from scratch. 

I have vivid memories of soaking huge bags of pinto beans in huge vats of water and then, after soaking them overnight, the next day we cooked them.  And after cooking them, we “refried” them and mashed them: all by hand, all from scratch.  Even the meat was made from scratch.  Every morning, we got deliveries of raw, fresh hamburger from the butcher shop, and we then cooked and seasoned the meat there in our store.  Nothing was ever frozen or microwaved.  (Microwaves were just beginning to show up in the market place.  I think my Grandmother bought her first microwave in 1978.)

Even the red and green sauces were made from scratch.

When we opened at 11:00 AM everything we offered was fresh and made from scratch.  There was no drive through and limited indoor seating.  But people came in droves because it was fresh, wholesome and cheap.

I remember those days like yesterday.

I learned the value of hard work at $2.10 an hour.

And I learned that the rich in this country have no moral difficulties exploiting your poverty for their profit and employing you with no benefits at $2.10 an hour.

 

When the Citrus Blooms

I guess I began this blog as a way to explore and revive my childhood in Glendale Arizona in the 1960s.  Some may say that I prefer to live in the past, and that may, or may not be true.  But without my past, I have no present or future.

My childhood in Glendale, Arizona in the 1960s was unlike many other people’s childhoods, especially those of people who grew up east of the Mississippi river, or north of the Southwest deserts.  (I was 12 before I ever saw snow.)  I grew up with dust storms, monsoon rains, cactus, scorpions, ocotillo plants, purple mountains, and citrus trees.

My Grandmother’s house in Glendale, Arizona was a special place.

Yes, there was horror and tragedy, pain and abuse, but there was also joy and wonder, especially around late February into early March.

One of those sources of joy and wonder were the many citrus trees in my Grandmother’s back yard and all throughout the neighborhood.

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My Grandmother bought that house in 1952, about 4 blocks from downtown Glendale.  The area, running from 59th ave to the east, to 65th ave to the west, and from Glendale ave to the north, to Maryland ave to the south, was one large citrus orchard in the 1930s and 1940s.  When they built my grandmother’s house in 1952, they kept the orange, grapefruit, and lemon trees that filled her backyard, side yard, and all along her front yard.

Late February and early March is the time I remember most.

The days were warm and sunny and all the citrus trees came into beautiful bloom scenting the air the sweet, intoxicating smell of citrus flowers in bloom.  Yes, “intoxicating” is the appropriate word.  I thought my childhood would never end.  I thought my Grandmother and her house would always be there.

I remember it seemed like I was living in a beautiful, sunny perfumed garden.  Sometimes I felt dizzy and “high” from the thick, sweet sent of citrus blossoms that filled the air as I played outside.  Oranges, Lemons, and Grapefruit all bloomed in concert, providing the citizens of Glendale with a perfumed garden to live in.  Everything was green and lush in my Grandmother’s neighborhood thanks to irrigation water that was brought down from mountain lakes to water the thirsty valley of the Sun below.  (My Grandmother had 5 Grapefruit trees and 3 orange trees thanks to irrigation.)

As a child, unaware of how other people in other climates in the US lived, I assumed that everyone in America got to experience what I experienced as a kid.

How wrong I was.

12 Unknown to me, a little boy exploring my Grandmother’s backyard: a magical, sweetly scented, sunny paradise, the rest of America was shivering in the damp cold gray of late winter and digging out from the latest snowstorm.  As a child in 1964, playing in my Grandmother’s backyard, I imagined this was what Heaven must be like: lush green grapefruit trees perfuming the air as I played “superman” or “batman.”

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Strange, but that time was over 50 years ago. 

Yes, half a century has passed since I played in my Grandmother’s backyard when the citrus trees were in bloom.  She is gone now.  My Grandmother died in 2015 at the age of 91.  She had sold the house long ago.  The house, the citrus trees, the lush neighborhood, and Glendale, Arizona as I knew it, have all crumbled into dust.  All that is left of my Grandmother and her house lives with me.  Once I am gone, it will have vanished forever.

But while I live, I will always go back to that house in Glendale, Arizona in 1964, alive in my memories, and play in my Grandmother’s backyard, inhaling the sweet, intoxicating scent of citrus blossoms.

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