This was a blog post that I had planned on writing shortly after returning from my spring break trip in Lincoln, but of course it got delayed for one reason or another. Nevertheless, I wanted to post about it, inspired by what transpired over spring break.
Runza is a fast-food chain which originated in Lincoln, and now has many locations in Nebraska, as well as a few locations in neighboring states. My early experiences with Runza (in terms of food) involved having their burgers or chicken strips. My tastes for Runzas themselves didn’t develop until later.
Before we lived in Lincoln, one of our common stops on Lincoln trips was the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Runza” in downtown Lincoln (it is now a Noodles & Co.), where, as the name implied, the place had a 50’s and 60’s vibe to it, complete with that type of music, servers on skates, and decor to fill the part. I don’t have that many memories of specific times there, but it still sticks with me.
Fast forward to when I was in eighth grade. Between my fourth and eighth grade years, the Runza restaurants were an uncommon stop for us, but I enjoyed the burgers better than those at McDonald’s, for example. In eighth grade, we had coupons on the back of Husker football tickets for free Runza sandwiches, and I recall getting them with Dad and Levi after Dad finished a round of being on call. At that point, the taste of the sandwich was weird to me, but little did I know that things would turn around in two years.
Yes, indeed. In October of 2002, I got my first “real” job at Runza, on Pine Lake Road. I worked on weekends, both Saturdays and Sundays, from 12:00 to 17:00. After a short while, my shifts started an hour earlier.
I quickly developed a good name for myself there, and my time working there strongly improved my social and general life skills. I think that beginning my job at Runza helped me to start to break out of my Aspie isolation.
Though I rarely had difficulty interacting with adults up to that point, I often had difficulty interacting with peers prior to working at Runza. Once I started working, many of my customers (AND coworkers) were my peers, and something clicked in my head that made it easier for me to communicate with and be around them. Perhaps my jovial personality came out.
This personality came out a few times, with a few quick vignettes:
- My co-workers knew quickly that I liked pickles. Before I turned 16, I could not attend meetings that were in the evening as a result of child labor laws. The first meeting that I attended was on a July evening in 2003, and I was awarded the Employee of the Quarter award… and my trophy was a jar of pickles! I think I might still have the empty jar somewhere in my bedroom back in Lincoln.
- Just before Chili Season of that same year, I came into work with a “WANTED” sign, showing a hand-drawing of a bowl of chili up against a hand-drawing of a ruler. It said, “If seen, please contact the Chili Warden.” And the Warden was yours truly, so it became a running joke among my co-workers.
- I had fun with birthday parties a few times, getting to wear the Runza Rex costume. None of these particularly stood out, but it is still something that I think might have been foreign to me before I worked there.
- One time, I was working an evening shift (which included closing), and one of the buns got burnt in the toaster. They were going to throw it out, but I said that I would eat it and avoid the wrath of my dark side. Though that was partially funny, it was also partially true, as I was hungry at that point.
Whenever I was at work, I was (nearly-) invariably happy and chipper, and both my co-workers and customers could tell that I enjoyed the job and could make them happy as well. It allowed me to interact with customers (being a cashier) and with co-workers. The policy of bringing trays to the customers (instead of calling their numbers) during non-busy periods made it much more personable. Additionally, when cleaning tables, I would often chat with customers, asking them how their day was going, and sometimes getting into slightly deeper small talk.
Even when it got busy, my high-flying energy and enthusiasm didn’t dampen at all. Sometimes in fact, the busy lunch rushes had me at my best, since I played them like a game. I liked to count the number of orders that I took, though there were no awards for number of orders taken. You know I’m a numbers man!
Of course, there were some rough patches too. I quickly learnt how to deal with irate customers, and take their complaints seriously while not taking them personally. The first time I got caught in an explosion in the drive-thru, it threw me off the rest of the day, leaving me more defensive (but thankfully I recovered and didn’t take out the damage on anyone else). After that incident, though nobody talked with me about it, I feel like it thickened my skin for any future similar incidents.
There were customers that I recognized after a few times and I would get to memorize their orders, and some customers would see me outside of Runza and thank me for my enthusiasm.
In fact, even though I ended my time there midway through my time at UNL, I have seen people at the Husker Alumni Association events that have recognized me as having worked at THAT Runza.
In 2011, when I returned to Lincoln for winter break, I went to that Runza for lunch one day, and a few of the people there recognized me. Thus, on the wrapper for my sandwich, I got a “NOAH :)” as seen on the picture below.
And then, during this year’s spring break, when I was going shoe-shopping with Mom (and the shopping was for me), we were waiting in line for the cashier, and I was talking with Mom. The woman that was next to us said, “Did you used to work at Runza? I recognize your voice.” Despite the fact that it was at least 9 years ago, I have still made a lasting impression. She told me that “We came through the drive-thru often, and whenever you took my order, you were always happy and you really made my day!”
I actually ate at that Runza the following day, and a few of the employees that I worked with are still there. They were really happy to see me, and I was glad to see them too. My positive experience there makes it more of a “family” experience!
My biggest takeaways from working at Runza:
- No matter what you do, go in with a positive attitude and a smile.
- If someone verbally attacks you, don’t take it personally.
- Emotions are infectious, so infect with positivity!
- Taking on responsibilities is rewarding, even if it seems daunting at first.
- Don’t sacrifice quality for speed. Better to do it right than to have to do it over.
ארץ ישראל: י’ ימים (Israel: 10 days)
Lincoln: 22 days
(Dirty?) Thirty: 39 days
אתמול היה ארבעה וארבעים יום–שהיו שישה שבועות ושני ימים לעומר
Today is the twenty-fifth day of the sixth round of M.A.P.L.E.: three weeks and four days.