I woke up this morning dreaming of pouring sweet, brown root beer from a large barrel and serving it cold and frothy to customers outside my sunshiny window sill. I was dreaming about flowing root beer because last week, being a pastor’s wife randomly afforded me the opportunity to sell root beer at the Minnesota State Fair. I have a long story to tell about my experience at the fair but I can’t do it in just one blog post. So here is Part 1 of “A Fair to Remember.”
I worked my way through college as a student manager in the Commons cafeteria, a sandwich maker in Johnny’s Cafe, and a cleaning lady for one home and one office supply warehouse.
My first job was in the dishroom of the Commons cafeteria. The dishroom is the absolute worst shift on campus. It’s usually the international students who get stuck with the job, which is why most of my coworkers thought I was Canadian for the first two years of college (eh).
My job was to dump out excess beverages and then scrape off any leftover food into the flowing wastewaters of the trough below. Then, as quick as I could, I was to deposit the dirty dishes onto another conveyor belt of dish racks moving in the opposite direction, heading toward the massive dishwasher.
Worst job ever. Especially when I couldn’t keep up with the conveyor belt and the wet, mulchy leftover food from the largest garbage disposer you’ve ever seen overflows all over the floor and my black converse shoes are soaked and students are throwing knives at me through the window because they think my job isn’t bad enough.
One particular Sunday evening, as I was surrounded by stainless steel, the sound of box fans and machines humming, the offensive smells coming from the garbage disposer, and the constant fear of being hit by flying flatware, something new made it’s way into the hot dishroom.
From around the corner, came a tray with an uneaten slice of lemon meringue pie. In the center of the pie was a straw sticking up with a folded napkin taped to the top, like a little white flag. As it slowly made its way over to me, I noticed someone had written on the napkin. It said, “We give up. We surrender. The food is horrible.” I had to smile. I absolutely agreed, but I was raising my white flag for very different reasons.
If I’ve learned one thing from those years of service, it’s treat people with respect – no matter which side of the counter you find yourself on.
It’s been 17 years since I graced the space behind the counters – that place categorized under the heading “entry-level service industry job.” Until two weeks ago, when I found myself back behind the counter, serving up root beer at the Minnesota State Fair.
The Minnesota State Fair, hailed as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” is the best and largest state fair in the country. Since 1859, the state fair has featured every deep-fried food imaginable, livestock barns and shows, the crowned Princess Kay of the Milky Way, all sorts of exhibits, 4-H events, vendors, gadgets and gizmos to buy, entertainers, music, an amusement park called the Midway, and of course, root beer.
For 50 of those 157 years, the Sunderlands (members of our church) have been selling their root beer, called Challenge root beer, at the state fair. And this year, I had the pleasure of working for them, along with all the other teenagers they had hired.
A few weeks before the fair, I was walking out of the library with the kids, when I met one of the Sunderland clan, Sarah. I knew she was in charge of staffing for the family’s three locations, so I asked how interviews were going. She said she just needed one more adult for the evening shifts, because younger employees were not legally allowed to work past 9pm.
I don’t know if it was the heat of the summer or the exasperation of running errands with four bored kids, but I said, “I’ll do it.” Shocked and slightly amused, she asked if I was sure. I told her, “Sure. It’ll be fun. And besides, I will do almost anything for a story.” She had me signed up for 6 evening shifts within the hour – 4pm to close, the majority of the nights in the Midway at the booth called Galaxy of Drinks.
The next few times I saw Sarah, she was laughing and chanting, “I got the pastor’s wife, I got the pastor’s wife!” I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision. Then, I saw Sarah’s mom, Mrs. Sunderland, at church the Sunday before the fair. She came up to me and said, almost apologetically, “I hear Sarah’s got you working the fair.” Then she patted my shoulder and added, “I am so sorry.” That’s when I started to have second thoughts. What does she mean? How bad could it be? Was this a bad decision?
It didn’t help that my law-enforcement relatives’ responses to my fair job ranged from: “Are you crazy?” to laughter to something about preferring to be in full, protective gear when on my end of the fairgrounds. Great. What have I gotten myself into? Should I invest in a bulletproof vest? Am I going to die?
Stay tuned next week and find out if I die in Adventures of Mrs. Pastor: Episode 2: Part 2 – A Fair to Remember