Early in my adult life, a mentor said to me…
“The best job you’ll ever have is the one you just left or the one you’re going to next. Never is it the one you’re in right now…“
I can’t overstate how many times that has been true for so many people I have known. For me though, the best job of my life will always be my first job — sandwich maker and deli clerk.
It was the first weekend after I turned 15 years old — the legal age to work in Colorado at the time. My father directed me to put on a nice shirt, a nice pair of pants, tuck in the shirt, and to ride my bike up to the Bagel Deli, roughly a 1-1/2 miles up the street. My bike, was actually hand-me-down from my brother — a green Columbia 5-speed touring bike.
Paul Weiner, the Bagel’s owner, would be waiting for me, My dad explained. My father, having dined there earlier that morning, had prearranged the meeting with Mr. Weiner after seeing a Help Wanted sign in the window. I would be applying for a part-time dishwasher position.
The Bagel was a regional institution — a place were Rocky Mountain Jews regularly met to eat good food, speak fractured Yiddish, and play the game of suburban oneupsmanship over lox and creamed herring on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
After completing my application and turning it in to Mr. Weiner, he gave me 5 minutes. During those 5 minutes he didn’t ask me a single question. I’m not sure I even spoke except to say things like, uh-huh. Mr. Weiner simply told me what he expected of me and as importantly, what he didn’t want to see from me. My first official offer of employment would be Mr. Weiner telling me I would be starting the following Tuesday at 3 PM.
Scared shitless, I got on my bike and rode home — this time, with my shirt untucked.
For the next 3 weeks I was the apprentice dishwasher. Paul referred to me as “apprentice” as often as he could, to employees and customers alike. He smirked every time he said the word apprentice in his thick Austrian accent. I must have done a fair job too, because after 3 weeks I was promoted to sandwich maker and counter clerk.
I got to use the meat slicers.
The other deli clerk‘s were much older than me. Rick Cornblatt, the deli manager, was in his mid-20s with a wife and a small child. Craig Walker was in his late 30s, and when he wasn’t slinging corned beef, he was a bassoon player for the Denver Symphony Orchestra.
I was just 15 years old, and I got to use a meat slicer and hang out with these guys. Not only that, but Mr. Weiner had a very liberal employee benefits program — we could eat as much as we wanted to during our shifts, so long as nothing went home with us at night. Having already discovered the weight room at age 15, all the protein I could eat for 5 hours a night would surely be the down payment for my ever-growing guns.
The Bagel Deli was built around its regulars. Of course strangers and first-timers came in every day, but within a month of working there, I knew who all the regulars were, and they paid the rent. The regulars were like a continually visiting Board of Directors, checking in on me and the others, and making sure we were doing a good job. If we weren’t doing a good job, they would tell us about it.
The most notable regular though, was legendary concert promoter Barry Fey. Fey, who I would go on to work for in a separate incarnation of my young adult life, rarely just walked in. He often called ahead requesting preferential treatment for the guests he’d bring. Fey often brought the managers of bands who were passing through town such as the Rolling Stones, the Jefferson Starship, and even Bob Dylan’s manager. On rare occasions Fey would bring musicians such as Ian McLagan, Craig Chacuico, and John Sebastian to name a few. I made sandwiches for all of them.
Another deli clerk and coworker was Paul Gordon, a washed-up talk radio host who was the first openly gay man I ever met. We called Paul Gordon “PG” so not to get confused with Paul the owner of the deli.
One evening, while working alongside PG and while slicing roast beef, I cut the tips off of the index and middle fingers of my right hand. I never felt a thing, but I quit slicing when I felt the blade grinding into the bones of those 2 fingers.
I hadn’t been using the finger guard.
PG packed my fingers in a cup of ice and drove me to the emergency room. Stopped at an intersection enroute to the hospital, and along side an older couple in a long Buick, I pulled my fingertips from the cup of ice and showed the couple in the Buick the flow of blood pouring pouring from my fingertips. I don’t think they were impressed. The emergency room doctor took a skin graft from the side of my hand, and the 2 fingertips were stitched and sealed closed. I returned to work within several days.
Working at the Bagel Deli was, hands-down, the best job of my life. There’s hardly been a day go by that I haven’t reflected on it with fond memories and wishes that I still worked there. Rick Cornblatt, who was my first boss, never left. It’s the only job he ever had. Craig Walker, the other full-time clerk and bassoon player, continued to work there until he was in his 60s.
I have no negative memories of that job, none.
Of my favorite memories at the Bagel, and the one I reflect on most, is of entering the walk-in refrigerator on hot summer days, cutting open 5-gallon buckets of dill pickles, and eating 3 or 4 of them at a time. As the customers would say, delish…!
Of course the job I have now is amazing. I work in bare feet, my commute involves stepping over my dog on the way into my studio each day, and I get to enjoy conversations with interesting people all day long. If a genie showed up tomorrow though, and gave me a chance to start over again at age 15 and make a career of working at the deli, I’m sure I’d think twice about it.
I worked at the Bagel on and off for nearly 3 years. In the 40 years since I clocked out for the final time, I’m not sure a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about that job and wished I was still there.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
This Week By The Numbers…
Bikes ridden: 6
15.4 mph avg
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there is this from Army Navy. Enjoy…