By Anna Sorokina, arts & entertainment columnist
Every Saturday and Sunday, I work seven-hour shifts as a cashier at a pizzeria. Since I’m there until midnight, I get to see a lot of hammered college students and hungry football fans. In fact, there are so many of them ordering cheese and pepperoni slices at 11 p.m. that sometimes the line starts outside the restaurant. I learned that when people are hungry for cheap, oily carbs, they are willing to wait in the cold.
The great thing about working a mundane food service job is learning to appreciate the little things. After I say “What would you like?” and “I can ring up whoever is next” about 30 times in five minutes, I find great satisfaction in watching the line shorten until it’s gone. When I know I just served several crowds of people who are now happily devouring fries and calzones, I unwillingly smile to myself as I wipe the counter.
I try to search for magic in everything I can find. Sometimes I’m mesmerized by the way the tomato sauce is getting spread on dough before it goes into the oven and imagine it as a painting. Other times, I listen carefully for melodies in the sounds of sizzling oil. I take note of the way my boots squeak on the floor. I notice how my fingers push the same numbers on the register practically at the speed of sound, without my brain consciously giving them a signal.
As I sit on the train on my way home, I think about people who work mundane food service jobs 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. I realize they probably don’t see the magic in the little things the way I do because it’s difficult to appreciate a minimum wage job when it’s your only source of income. I think about my wage in terms of McDonald’s burgers and Starbucks lattes, electricity bills and college prices.
All of a sudden, my privilege becomes crystal clear, speaking for all those who move to the U.S. to work menial jobs and all those who can’t afford an education. My weekend job is a sneak-peak into millions of lives, just like sleeping outside and dumpster diving were part of my week-long hitchhiking trip last spring. Voluntary poverty is an adventure only when it’s just that – voluntary.
While my wage might be enough to pay rent, it doesn’t take into account a million other expenses. And the truth is, sizzling oil can’t sound like a melody when you stand next to it every day.