Busboy lessons from Point Pleasant

Like a lot of kids from Point Pleasant, all of my early employment experiences were with jobs in the restaurant industry. Since we lived on the Jersey Shore, there were many summer jobs available on the floor as a server or in the kitchen doing food prep, dish washing or pot washing. If you were lucky enough to work in a restaurant that was busy all-year-round and you were on the service side of the business, you could make some decent money as a teenager. 

I got my first job at age fourteen working as a busboy in the restaurant and banquet facility at Kings Grant Inn on the corner of Route 70 and River Road in Point Pleasant. It was a physically tough job since you had to stay on your feet all afternoon and evening clearing tables, doing the setups and pouring glasses of water for the guests. I started the KGI job working part-time on the weekends in the spring of 1974 and then worked full-time hours that summer during the busy season.

I still remember the distinct odor of my clothes while working there. That’s something you can’t forget. It was an awful combination stench of grease, vegetables, cigarette butts and human BO that you wouldn’t ever want to smell like if you weren’t at work. We had to wear a sort-of uniform of black pants, black shoes and white collared, button-down short sleeve shirts. These clothes had to be washed after each shift and, no matter what, you couldn’t get rid of that stink. 

Anyway, one of the first things I had to learn was all about the different kinds of drinking glasses in the restaurant, most of which had to do with booze. As a fourteen-year-old I wasn’t permitted to serve drinks to the patrons. However, I was expected to know all the kinds of glasses because I often had to help stock up the bar or go find one or another glass for a waitress or bartender.

I learned the difference between a water goblet, a rock glass, a highball, a shot glass, a cosmo or margarita glass, a martini glass, a cognac snifter and the common beer glasses: pint and Pilsner. I also learned the different wine glasses—red, white, rose and port—as well as the champagne glass and the all-important Irish coffee mug. Fortunately for me, I was never a teenage drinker. I suppose I’d seen a lifetime’s share of drunks and inebriated stoops during those restaurant years and that helped steer me clear from alcohol until much later in life. 

There was one particular experience with excessive drinking that I remember vividly. It involved the decision by restaurant management to hire a man as Captain. The captain’s job was to work with the hostess at the front of the house to make sure that the customers were seated properly and all of their needs were being met.

Well, unfortunately, this young man—who was quite the handsome gent and started off doing really well with both the staff and customers—had a serious drinking problem. After about a week, we started noticing he was gathering all of the partially empty wine bottles and cocktail glasses in the back of the restaurant and was polishing them off one by one. By the end of the night, he was staggering around the place and babbling incoherently to anyone within earshot. I certainly didn’t see it as my responsibility to report the guy and I don’t think any of the other busboys did either. As a naive teenager, I thought it was kind of funny. After a few days, we heard that he’d been fired. 

Another thing that I learned was how to properly arrange a place setting and what the different plates and silverware were called. This is another thing that you never forget. Napkin in the center, forks on the left (dinner fork on the outside, salad fork on the inside), butter plate above the forks, knife and spoons to the right (knife first with blade facing toward the center, followed by the table spoon and the tea spoon). The water goblet is placed above the knife and spoons. If there is dessert ware, the fork (on top) and spoon go above the center in opposite directions, spoon facing left and fork facing right. 

Among the more physically challenging parts of the job was carrying trays full of dirty dishes and other table stuff that had to be returned to the kitchen. There was a knack to getting one of those fully-loaded oval aluminum trays up on your shoulder and balanced with one hand twisted back flat underneath it. You always had to have the other hand free so you could make your way through the restaurant floor and push the door open into the kitchen that swung both ways.

The best busboy never, ever dropped his tray. His skill was about getting that heavy tray up and completely balanced on his shoulder so that, even if things started to slide around on there, he did not lose it all to the floor in a huge crash. Unfortunately, this did happen to me on a couple of occasions because I had been hasty in loading up the tray or was moving too fast into the kitchen. 

Losing the contents of a busboy tray typically didn’t involve actually dropping the tray itself. It’s just that everything on the tray tips over to the floor and you are standing there stuck-on-stupid with the tray dangling vertically from one hand while everyone is looking at you before you dropped your head and walked swiftly toward the broom closet. Fortunately, when this happened, the other staff would always step in quickly to help you with the cleanup.

The experience of losing a busboy tray is similar to what happens in school when a kid drops the contents of his or her lunch tray. The crash of plates and glasses is followed by a half-second of dead silence from the otherwise noisy din of voice chatter and conversation. The one important difference between the restaurant and school lunchroom mishap, however, is that the restaurant crash isn’t followed by enthusiastic applause, cheers and laughter from the assembled diners. No, everyone in the restaurant just picks up where they left off on whatever they were talking about as though nothing ever happened. 

Pretty much throughout my restaurant working years—until I left Point Pleasant in 1979—I made something like $2.20 an hour in wages paid by the employer in a weekly paycheck. The rest of the money was approximately 15% of the tips that the waitresses collected from the customers during each shift.

We usually made more than $8 an hour with the tips we pulled in. One of the obligations of the newbs on the busboy staff was that you got your tip money in the smallest denominations from the nightly take. Of course, this was long before the widespread use of credit and debit cards, so the waitresses would turn over their 15% to the head busboy in cash and he would count it all up and divvy it out evenly to the number of busboys on duty.

The head busboy would always keep the biggest bills for himself and then on down the line in seniority until he got to me. If I was lucky, I got some singles and the rest in a bunch of loose change. More often than not, I went home with only coins. So, in that first year on the job, I would leave KGI after every shift with a big sack of change that filled both my front pants pockets. But I didn’t mind it at all. I just remember the feeling of accomplishment I had when I got off at 11 or 12 at night and got on my bike to make the 2 mile ride home.

It was so quiet riding down River Road toward Pearce Street at night in the dark. But you could hear me coming from a mile away with that load of coins jingling in my pockets. By the time I hit the top of Summit Drive, I could darn near coast all the way home coming down that hill with that heavy load of change in my pockets. 

Kings Grant Inn had a marina behind it on the Manasquan River. There were lots of people who loved yachting and boating and docked their watercraft there. Some of these folks were regulars at the restaurant and one of them, a shoulder-length blond-haired dude by the name of Clay, lived on his sailboat in the marina and worked at the restaurant as a busboy too. Clay was a late 20s-something beach bum with a fantastic golden tan. He had this sort of hippy way of talking that I had never heard before. I got to know him pretty well and he talked a lot about his sail boat and his girlfriend who lived on the boat with him. 

And speaking of being fourteen and girls, there was this young lady who was hired as the hostess during that summer that literally stands out for me. I remember hearing the other busboys talking about her and how she was, let’s say, front loaded. She would come to work with these tight tops on and I would find myself drifting over that way and standing there, staring at her without a word coming out of my mouth. 

Like on any job, there was certainly a pecking order among the busboys at KGI and, if you weren’t tough and ready to stand your ground, you might get hazed right off the job in your first week. The guys I worked with were all older than me, some by more than a couple of years. Some were local guys who I knew from school and others were some really worldly types that came down from north Jersey for the summer. There were definitely some pretty rough and lonely nights for me during my first few weeks there (I won’t go into the details).

I’ll just say that these guys were all really hard workers and they taught me how to do my job the right way. They were both testing me to see what I was made of and, most of all, they wanted me to know right out of the shoot that they weren’t going to put up with someone who wasn’t pulling their weight during those busy summer nights. It took me a little while, but I eventually made some really good friendships with my co-busboys at KGI and I learned many, many things from them both on and off the job. 

I also met some really great working people from the other departments at KGI. Since I was just a pimply-faced kid, there were many people—and some of them quite hardened by their experiences—who wanted to teach me all about the ways of the world. Back in those days, practically everyone was a smoker and you could smoke just about anywhere in the restaurant. I remember how some of the waitresses would light up a cigarette in the kitchen, put it down on an ash tray, run a customer order on a tray out to their table and then come back into the kitchen for another puff.

Anytime the staff had a break, they would light up and start talking to me in a very friendly manner while they blew smoke off to the side and made this face with one eye closed and their mouth only partially opened. The waitresses were some really tough ladies who went out of their way to keep me out of trouble. There were a few of them who took a liking to me and wanted to make sure I was on task and where I was supposed to be. They did not want me to have any run-ins with the KGI maitre d‘ named Fritz, who actually was the person who hired me. 

Fritz was an immigrant from Germany or Austria and he had a very thick accent. He would get explosively angry and give you an expletive-laden tongue lashing if you weren’t taking care of things. He was very tall, had a long hooked nose, slightly balding dark hair that was combed straight back, and a paunch that protruded from his cummerbund. Fritz was a task master and rightly so to keep the dining experience up to par for the customers.

He would swear at you in broken English with the F-word if you didn’t do precisely what he told you to do, even if you did not understand a word of what he asked you to do in the first place. There were a couple of busboys who could do a dead-nuts impersonation of Fritz that would make you laugh so hard you couldn’t stand up straight. 

Anyway, the others on the restaurant staff who were great people were the dishwashers, pot washers, the maintenance people and, of course, the chefs and other cooks in the kitchen. These folks all worked very hard all the time to keep things moving along for the customers even though it was always super hot in the kitchen.

Despite the fact that everyone who worked in there was completely drenched in perspiration, they had the most pleasant way of talking to a young kid like me. They would always ask me if I needed anything or if I was hungry. Because of them, I probably ate some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life during those few years at KGI like steak, lobster and, of course, chocolate mousse.

When we got a few minutes to talk about things other than work, especially on smoke breaks, the kitchen staff would always ask me about school and if I planned on going to college after high school graduation. They wanted more than anything to pass along the message that a life working in the restaurant business was very hard and that I needed to try and make something of myself.

I finished my career at KGI after two years and I have to say I was ready to move on to some other summer restaurant jobs at the Steak Shanty on Routes 35 and 88 in Point Beach and as a short order cook in the snack bar and later, again as a busboy, in the restaurant at the Bay Head Yacht Club. I even worked my senior year of high school at McDonald’s on Route 88 in Point. 

I truly believe that my first summer working experience at KGI taught me many important lessons: do your job and work hard and people will respect you, count your money and make sure you get your fair share, don’t smoke and don’t drink to excess, stay in school and go to college if you are able to and, for God’s sake, wash your clothes after every shift and never stare at anyone with your mouth open. 

Bicycle lessons from the Jersey Shore

I remember every bicycle I ever had as a kid growing up in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Not that I had that many. My parents were frugal and, with four children, they didn’t often spend money on things like bicycles. When they did, it was usually for something special like a birthday or Christmas gift. So, from my childhood to my early teen years, I had a total of three bikes.

The first one was a hand-me-down from my older brother. It was a very plain, red boys bike with chrome fenders, white wall tires and a coaster break. As with most people, the day I learned to ride that two-wheeler stands out in my memory. With the help of my dad and some neighborhood kids, I peddled away miraculously on my own in front of our house at 1526 Treeneedle Road. It was the summer of 1967.

Having your own bicycle—especially one you were proud of—was one of the first things in life that got a kid going on being independent from their parents. Initially, maybe you were allowed to ride to the end of the block and back. Later maybe you were allowed to stay out past dark on your bike with the other kids from the neighborhood.

Then, once all of the rules had been explained, you were allowed to ride your bike all the way around the block. Back then, the rules did not involve wearing a helmet, elbow and knee pads, using hand signals to make turns or stops or even riding with the car traffic on the right side of the road. If those things even existed, we didn’t know about them.

No, the main thing was this: you were to only ride around the block and go nowhere else; you were to do this once and the next time you wanted to do it, you needed to ask again. Permission to ride around the block was a one-time arrangement.

For me, my first time around the block was a big deal. I road south on Treeneedle, east on Little Hill, north on Northstream, west on Apple Place and back south onto Treeneedle. I saw some kids I did not know; I saw other kids that I had heard about but never met before; I saw some kids I knew from school who lived in the next neighborhood over.

The feeling I had that day was like I was on top of the world. Even though the ride was just a half-mile and took around five minutes, it seemed to me to be a long trip. I was so proud that my parents trusted me enough to let me do what I really wanted to do. In that moment, as a seven-year-old, it seemed like all things were possible.

A short time thereafter, one of the older neighborhood boys showed me how to ride my bike with no hands. This was a skill that many boys (and some girls, too) learned and showed off. Normally, when riding a two-wheeler, your upper body is hunched over while holding on to the handlebars. When you ride with no hands, your body is upright and you can see everything quite nicely; there is no need to worry about anything. Also, when you rode in this position, the other kids could see you coming and knew immediately that you were peddling with no-hands.

Then one day, after ignoring repeated warnings that I was in for disaster, I took a major spill on Little Hill Road. I struck a driveway curb and toppled head-over-heels and landed square on my face. Worse than running home crying with my bike in tow, was the nasty scrape down the center of my forehead, nose, lips and chin. I looked in the mirror and thought to myself, “you really did it now.” That scrape took weeks to heal and was a constant reminder of the risks involved in dangerous bike behavior.

Anyway, by the time I got my first brand new bike as a Christmas gift, the style everyone wanted was inspired by the Schwinn Sting-Ray. These bikes had a banana seat, “ape hanger” handlebars and the all-important sissy bar. By the late 1960s, the Schwinn Sting-Ray was everywhere and all the other bicycle manufacturers were trying copy the low-rider, wheelie style. So, the kids who had a Sting-Ray with a high-loop sissy bar were the envy of the entire neighborhood.

My parents were concerned about the behaviors they feared would come along with these bikes. Being that they looked like motorcycles, they thought that Sting-Rays would bring a kind of “biker” culture to the neighborhood. Secondly, my parents knew that we were completely fearless and would try various dangerous tricks on these bikes like popping wheelies, brake skidding, ramp jumping and other stunts.

In the end, my Christmas bike was a three-speed, Sting-Ray knock-off with front and rear hand breaks. I’m not sure, but I think it may have come from K-Mart. Although I was disappointed, I was glad to have a brand new bike that had good colors and chrome and looked pretty cool.

One of the unique features of this bike was the way the handle bars were constructed. Instead of a continuous bar that slid through a clamp on the stem, the two bars were welded to a flat piece of metal that was bolted to the stem. While this design gave my bike a very distinctive look, it also created a problem.

As mentioned, one of the things we preteens did was build ramps out of scraps of wood and cinder blocks for jumping. This was around 1970 before BMX stunt riding and free-styling existed. I guess the kind of thing we were doing back then (along with other kids around country) eventually led to the creation of off-road sport bicycling and competition.

Well, a group of us put together a ramp made of a sheet of plywood laid on an angle to a stack of cinder blocks. We put the entrance to the ramp on the edge of our driveway and the lift-off point—which was about a foot and a half above ground—was in the front lawn. Since we knew there would be wipeouts, these would happen in the grass and not the pavement.

The object was to get your bike up to full speed and hit the ramp just right. At lift off, you’d yank the front end of your bike up just enough so that, when you came down, the rear tire touched first followed by the front wheel. We had a great time doing these jumps even though there were quite a few crashes.

After multiple jumps with my new bike, I started to notice a crack in the handle bar welding. I couldn’t imagine anything bad happening so I kept at it. On one jump, the bars snapped clean off the clamp and I went flying akimbo through the air onto the grass. You would have thought that my friends would have rushed to my aid or been concerned for the condition of my new bike. But no; we all burst out into uncontrollable laughter. This proved to be one of the funniest things that ever happened to me.

By the time I was in middle school, my parents began letting me ride my bike just about anywhere in Point Pleasant. For my thirteenth birthday, they bought me a black, 5-speed Raleigh Chopper Mark 2. This was a bike that I wanted more than anything. I remember the day my dad took me to pick it out at Point Pleasant Bicycle Shop on Arnold Avenue just this side of the border with Point Beach.

That Chopper was the envy of every kid because, even though it was not a fast bike, it was a wheelie bike that had a chunky, low-rider look: high-rise handle bars, a ribbed banana seat with sissy-bar, a T-bar gear shifter and redline sidewall tires. It was the signature smaller 16” diameter front wheel that really made the Chopper look different. I loved that bicycle more than anything I ever had in my life up to that point.

When I road it around town I was proud and told everyone that my parents bought it for me. I really took good care of it, too. We had a shed in the backyard where I kept it. I also had a bike lock to make sure it didn’t get stolen when I rode to school or other places around town.

I rode my Chopper everywhere: to the waterfront at Dorset Dock, over the Beaver Dam bridge onto the Princeton Avenue waterfront. There were many trips to the Manasquan River: out to the marina at Kings Grant Inn at Route 70 and to the beaches at Maxson and River Avenue. Clark’s Landing off of Arnold Avenue was also a regular meet up point.

Sometimes I would ride the full length of Bridge Avenue, from the end of the four lane extension all the way over the Lovelandtown Bridge and down through Bay Head to the ocean. I also made many trips in both directions across the old bascule lift bridge on Route 88. All the kids on bikes would line up at the stop barrier and wait for the gate to open after the bridge closed. We would get a running start and be more than halfway across before the cars could pass us.

And, since I had friends all over town, those Chopper wheels probably covered just about every road and street in Point Boro. Aside from the highways, I knew all of the main roads like Dorset Dock, Beaver Dam, Herbertsville, River Road and River Avenue, Bay Avenue and Arnold Avenue like the back of my hand.

Those were indeed some fantastic days in the summer of 1973. It seemed at the time like it would go on forever. But that kind of carefree biking would soon come to an end. I outgrew my Chopper when I started working summer jobs at age 14 and needed a more practical mode of transportation. By the mid 1970s, the Schwinn Continental 10-speed with ram’s horn handlebars, auxiliary break levers and two sets of derailleurs had become a popular bike among teens.

Nevertheless, the things I learned about biking during those early years will always remain with me: Be thankful to have a bike at all and be proud to ride it; Take care of your bike and don’t take dangerous risks when riding it; Get out and explore the world around you—you never know who you might meet or run into on your first ride around the block.

On Benjamin Franklin’s 313th birthday: The continuing public importance of printed books

The following introductory remarks were delivered to the 36th Annual Michigan Printing Week Association Ben Franklin Awards Dinner on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin at his study in London in 1767

Good Evening,

On behalf of the Printing Industries of Michigan and the Michigan Printing Week Committee, I would like to welcome you to the Annual Ben Franklin Awards Dinner.

My name is Kevin Donley and it is once again my privilege to serve as your Master of Ceremonies this evening.

We are meeting tonight for the 36th year to acknowledge the contributions of our industry colleagues and to raise money for the education of a new generation of printing professionals.

Tonight, we will be recognizing Admore as Company of the Year and William Kessler as Individual of the Year recipients of the Ben Franklin Award. We will also be recognizing two graphic arts students who are deserving recipients of the Ben Franklin college scholarships.

This year we mark Benjamin Franklin’s 313thbirthday. As always, it is appropriate to take a few moments to look back on Franklin’s life for the benefit of both inspiration and, by connecting our own time to his, for insight.

As many of you know, one of Ben Franklin’s enduring contributions was the establishment of the first public library. At the age of just twenty-five, Franklin and a group of his tradesmen friends—who were members of a debating club called the Junto—established what would become The Library Company of Philadelphia, an institution that exists to this day.

Among other things, Franklin believed that the only way to settle debates during the Friday night Junto meetings was to consult authoritative printed texts. In this way, the Junto library became something of a colonial version of what we know today as fact checking.

Franklin drafted the Articles of Association for the The Library Company of Philadelphia and they were signed by 40 subscribers and dated July 1, 1731

However, at that time, standard English reference works were very expensive and hard to find in colonial America. At Franklin’s suggestion the group decided to pool their resources and signed up fifty subscribers who invested 40 shillings and then agreed to pay ten shillings per year for fifty years thereafter. They bought books and rented the facilities needed to establish and maintain the first American lending library.

If you were a subscriber, you could borrow the books in the library. If you were a member of the public, you were able to come into the library and read the books available in the collection.

For Ben Franklin, who never took credit for the idea, there was much more to the library than settling matters of opinion and debate. From the time he was a teenager and throughout his entire life, Franklin was in pursuit of his own intellectual development and education. He also consistently shared and encouraged the same among his fellow citizens.

As Franklin wrote in his autobiography, “these libraries have improved the general conversation of Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies.”

In other words, writing these lines toward the end of his life, Franklin saw a connection between the public lending of books to the average citizens, the level of discourse within the colonies and the movement for American independence.

Books. Ben Franklin was talking about the importance of books. We always have to remember that—even though many of us are involved in marketing and promotional printing today—our industry is connected with this history; that our industry is rooted in great traditions associated with literacy and public awareness and the sharing and spreading of great ideas.

Here in Michigan, we know something about books. Despite some challenges we have faced recently in our local book manufacturing capacity, we remain a major producer of printed books for publishers across the country and around the world.

Now, after more than a decade of speculation about the imminent death of print brought on by electronic technologies, trade book sales have increased for five years in a row. Meanwhile, the number of independent book stores has grown by 40% over the past ten years.

What’s more, while the number of printed books has been growing again, sales of eBooks—and especially children’s eBooks—have been declining by double digits every year since 2015.

What does this mean? Are we going back to the days prior to the personal computer and the Internet when going to the library or the encyclopedia was the only way to consult authoritative texts? Of course not. It should be pointed out, for example, that the growth of printed book sales can be traced entirely to one retail company: Amazon.

In any case, there is an ongoing public thirst for printed books. Part of this attraction is reading for entertainment and reading as part of a social experience. It has been reported, for instance, that Instagram is partially responsible for the growth of indie bookstores. Using the hashtag #bookstagram, 25 million photos of bookstores have been shared on Instagram. People are being drawn to these boutique bookshops to find the perfect match for their reading style and subject interests.

Another part of this loyalty to printed books is that people are increasingly today—as in Ben Franklin’s time—looking to settle arguments and answer the big questions of our time.

As for the preference for printed books over eBooks, it turns out that we all have something called “spatial orientation memory” that is hard-wired into our brains. This particular type of memory is the part of human psychophysiology that helps us locate where we are in the broader immediate context.

When we read a book, we are subconsciously relying on the tactile experience of our location on a page and within the chapters of a book. This is one of the key aspects of how we remember what we have read; spatial orientation memory is an enabler of reading comprehension and retention.

What all of this shows is that ink-on-paper print still holds tremendous authority and value with the public. While people are excited about the latest gadgetry, they are also understanding more and more clearly that learning and education, especially the teaching of children, depends upon a full sensory engagement with books. This is an experience that cannot today be, as of yet, duplicated by electronic devices and digital displays.

This dependent relationship of the public upon print also extends into the realm of information, marketing and communications. After a decade of enthusiasm and hype about the benefits of digital and social media, the ongoing problems associated with the credibility of these formats is driving renewed interest in print.

Study after study has proven that response rates for direct mail are magnitudes greater than email and social advertising. The public, including old-timers like me as well as millennials, go to the mail box each day with anticipation. We remember what we see there because we engage physically with it, even if it goes within seconds from our hands to the wastebasket.

So, it is on this note of optimism about our great printing industry that we will begin our award presentations this evening. Thank you very much for allowing me to introduce the 2019 Ben Franklin Awards Dinner!