1993 was a tough time in Modesto, CA for unemployed Disgruntled Old ( or young) Coots. Jobs were difficult to find, as usual. Concord, CA had been left behind due to my last two jobs going out of business after having been open for decades. Both victims of a local recession.
“Why can’t you just get a job and keep it, put in your thirty-years, retire then draw your pension?” I have had kinfolk ask me.
Well… excuuuuse me! First, most of my jobs never offered a pension plan and most didn’t even offer health insurance and the very few that did wanted so much for it that the pay left over would not pay the rent and utilities and food and transportation and as for savings? HAH!!!
The workers who did buy that insurance were invariably females who took the job specifically to provide their family unit with insurance with hubby’s wage paying the other living costs.
A Web search will also offer plenty of evidence that nowadays the typical employee has multiple different employers and do so often due to being FORCED to do so!!! It IS a different era from what our sires lived within and is increasingly different in so MANY ways.
In 2001, after moving to Nebraska, I DID get a job with affordable health insurance!!! Hooray!!!
Fourteen months later, a mass-lay-off. Thousands unemployed as the jobs were outsourced. Permanently leaving the USA. That firm had once put over 7,000 Americans to work at a livable wage with good health insurance, a pension and other perks.
It IS a new age and the oldsters seem to be unaware how much has changed for so many of us.
Concord was a dead-end and I had been living in the camper-shell-covered bed of my tiny 1978 Toyota pick-up. Showers and phone access at a friends’ apartment was an asset but what with a wife and three kids there was no sleeping room.
It was time to go.
Knowing the rent was less in Modesto I headed there and used some meager savings to rent a room in a decrepit ancient building in the old-bad part of town. Ugh.
Jobs? The majority of the seemingly many jobs in the newspaper were not there to hire, I believe. If so, why does the same ad appear for month after month?
Warning: Do not allow the apparent presence of job openings in any venue be a guide to affect your decision to move somewhere!!!
I was a desperate man. At least my truck was a last resort but summer was oppressively hot in the San Joaquin Valley making truck sleeping nigh-on impossible.
Hard to sleep if the sweat leaves you soaking wet all night.
I commenced visiting firms close to my room, willing to take any paying job and within walking distance to save gas money.
Bearly Ekeing out a Living
A few blocks away was an A&W drive-in place with carhop service. One of the oldies that had been there seemingly forever.
The manager said he had been thinking of re-starting the use of the AW Bear costume.
“Bear costume?” I didn’t know A&W had or used a bear costume.
“Two hours during lunch. On the sidewalk in front. No talking to people, the bear doesn’t talk. Gestures okay. Minimum wage, paid weekly. Weekdays only.”
I asked to see the costume. Furry and much bigger than me in all proportions with an inner structure to keep the fur away from my body and the bear looking plump.
A mesh screen in the face allowed breathing and limited vision. Oh goody. And with the summer heat I knew it would be an oven inside but I WAS a desperate man.
“Well, toss in a meal and I’ll do it,” I replied. “Nope.”
What a cheapskate. Sweltering, facing heat stroke yet unwilling to fork over some food whose cost was much less than the menu price.
“No way. Find some other sucker to sweat to death in that thing,” I replied.
He relented as I started walking away. “Okay, one junior burger at the end of the shift.”
I stopped and waited, looking directly at him, waiting for a hoped-for– Okay, fries and a root beer, too– but he simply stared back.
Okay, I relented, knowing it was a standoff.
Thus began my bear career with A&W.
My Life as a Bear
I started the next day.
Waddling due to my new-found girth, I was sweating by the time I entered my “catwalk” next to the busy street.
The numerous nearby private and government offices fed the pedestrian flow as the march to eating establishments in the area indicated that, at least, some folks were earning more than sub-survival wages.
I stood there, deciding how to perform my duties. I started with the logical, flirt with the females without speaking.
Walking alongside them, my fake eyes aimed at the appropriate and inappropriate areas I ensured those stares were obvious to all, walkers and those in passing cars.
The bulky costume made it difficult to not rub against the gals. Ample giggles were typical.
When the number of passing female pedestrians slackened I targeted passing cars. Waving, bowing, scratching my nose and buttocks I elicited a bounty of yells, waves and honking horns.
It also seemed natural to use the corner aluminum light post as an itching pole so that kept my butt busy.
Expecting the worst at shifts’ end, I waddled inside and stripped, the sweat still rolling down my lardness.
The manager ecstatically strolled in. I was great he said, having heard many good customer comments.
“Does that mean I get a fry and root beer with my burger?”
He just walked away.
And so my A&W career started, lasting a mere few weeks.
Deciding that the brainwashing I and so many life-long Californians had been immersed in was a lie; that if you couldn’t make a success of yourself in California you would be a failure anywhere, I left for Nebraska.
Within weeks my lot in life greatly improved.
If only I had made that move 20 or more years earlier.
Here is the scene of the “crime”.