Life as a carhop in (way) Upstate New York
Time: 10:38 a.m., destination: work. I had calculated in my head time and time again that it takes exactly seven minutes for me to get to work on time, that is if I don’t forget my shoes (which I almost always do). I drive toward the “doghouse.” This is no literal dog house, instead it is a grease shack filled with hot dogs, hamburgers and various other fried things.
I work at McSweeney’s Red Hots in Plattsburgh, New York. The restaurant was founded by two local brothers looking to make “michigans.” If you aren’t from way way Upstate New York, then you’ve probably never heard of such a delightful treat. A michigan is a steamed bun topped with a steamed hot dog and meat sauce. The michigan can come either with or without onions, or as us North Country folk call them “wit.” Many shake their heads when they hear of this high calorie entree, but I find them heavenly.
A carhop’s life consists of cleaning bathrooms, mopping, sweeping, bussing tables, refilling ketchup bottles and even running out to cars. No, we don’t get to wear roller blades like the people at Sonic. We brave all sorts of weather from snow to hail to sassy old ladies. You know, kind of like Betty White. But the sassy ladies aren’t the worst, the biker gangs from Montreal have them beat. They never neglect to ask if we have beer when they already know the answer is no.
Each day I dress in a uniform consisting of khaki pants/shorts and various colored shirts adorning the “McSweeney’s” logo. This sounds as though it would be comfortable, which it is. The uncomfortableness of the outfit comes from the words on the back of the shirt, “One nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Not that I am unloyal to the land of bald eagle, but I find it to be a little overbearing considering we attract international customers, as well. If that isn’t enough patriotism for you, there is a mini constitution booklet at every table for leisurely reading! However, this sort of marketing does seem to work in our favor. The majority of customers that we attract are elderly couples that order the same thing everyday. Sometimes, the cooks even begin making their order when we see their car pull into the lot.
If all of this doesn’t sound like enough fun, the fair experience is a whole different side to the job. As an employee of McSweeney’s you are required to work fair week each summer. As one of the youngsters of the crew, I was naturally scheduled there daily.
When the dreaded week comes along, instead of finding shelter in my little restaurant, I drive to the fair. I park my “black beauty” Suzuki in the farthest parking lot physically possible. Next I approach the little McSweeney’s fair shack. From outside, you would assume it was an outhouse painted white and hunter green. I am then ordered to lift the latches and boards covering the windows. Being my clumsy self, I am unable to do this without cutting my finger (thank you purse band aids). After this fiasco, I wait anxiously for the magic to happen. When I say “magic” I mean waiting for the first carnie with three teeth and no money to approach. After giving me their sassiest attitude, they neglect to tip me and then complain about their order. But the customer is always right… Sound like fun yet?
The highly anticipated Thursday of fair week is a completely new experience. Thursday brings about another perk of the fair, the infamous McSweeney’s Michigan Eating Contest. During the contest I transported bins of about 20 michigans to the gazebo where the contest took place. There, about 25 people ranging from age 18 to 50 indulge in michigans. Contestants are given 10 minutes to eat as many meat covered hot dogs as possible. I was lucky enough to not witness any puking this year. The esteemed champion not only wins all of that free food, they also win $100 dollars. I know that this sounds appealing, but I promise most people regret that thought once they witness it. This year’s winner only downed nine dogs compared to last year’s 15.
Although it sounds like everything that occurs at the fair is heinous, seeing a familiar face or a smiling child always brightens my day and makes the shift pass by quickly. Once the fair is over, it’s back to civilization.
After all of that criticism, it seems as though I hate my job. Which some days might be true, but who wouldn’t want to hang out with a carnie?
Maddison Murnane is a freshman journalism major who knows her way around a carousel. You can email her at [email protected].