MacDonnell's Hollywood Drive-In

We learned about an employment office up in Hollywood and we both went up there. I was the first one at the desk and they had just gotten a call for an experienced dishwasher from MacDonnell's New Drive-In at Sunset and LaBrea Avenues. They took my $4 fee and said I should go over there and tell them I was experienced, because there was nothing to running a dishwasher anyway. They took $4 from Howard, too, and told him to go along, because MacDonnell's hired a lot of help and no doubt would have a job for him, too. [34.200-4]

So we went. The chef did the hiring there.

"Have you had any experience?" he asked.

"Yah," I said."

"On what kind of a machine?"

I didn't know what to say, so I said, "What kind of a machine have you got?"

"I'd rather hire someone with experience," he said, "but you can try it. Come at 7 tonight."

Then I said, "Have you got any more jobs? I had to pay the employment office $4. They took $4 from him, too," I said, pointing at Howard. "They said you would most likely have a job for him, too." [34.200-5]

The chef said some dirty words about the employment office and told Howard to go and get his $4 back. But, he said, they would most likely have a job for him, too, before long, and they did. [34.200-6]

When I came to work I found out why they preferred experience. It wasn't skill they meant; it was whether you had action and speed enough to keep up during rush hours. We had that and I think we were the best and most dependable help they had ever seen for dishwashers. We worked there all the time we were in California and I think they had at least 20 or 25 different men on the third dishwashing shift, during the six months. Most of them were hopeless; some only lasted one shift. [34.201-1]

We got $2 for 10 hours work, six days a week. The Social Security act went into effect while we were there -- on January 1, I suppose it was -- and afterwards we had to take deductions for that, too. [34.201-2]

I went to work from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. and Howard worked 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. I worked five nights and one day a week and never changed shifts. The manager said he appreciated having us on nights when he wasn't there because he could depend on us and it was easier to cope with irresponsible help in the daytime.

We didn't mind it much. That way we had all day to sightsee, etc. But some nights I went to work without having been to bed and the thing I remember best about California is how sleepy I was out there. [34.201-3]

One of my jobs after the customers had mostly gone home to bed was to peel two or three sacks of potatoes for French fries. One night I must have done all of them in my sleep, because I had to go and check to see for sure if I had done them before I went off duty! [34.201-4]

I got my fill of several of my favorite foods where I worked. I was always a chocolate fiend, so I would take hot fudge and spread it thick on a slice of bread. I soon caught up on chocolate. Then I would get a five-pound box of crackers and sit down with it and eat one bowl of chili after another, until one night I got my fill of that and couldn't bear chili for several years afterward. [34.204-3]

"We can't pay you much, but you can eat all you can and gain a little that way," the manager had said.

The first day I worked there I asked the chef what some red berries in a jar on the top shelf were and he said, "Take one and chew it up." So I did.

Wow! Chili peppers. I thought I was on fire.

The he said, "Here are some things in this jar. Chew one of these and it will take the taste out of your mouth." So I did.

Garlic! Ugh! I was learning fast. [34.204-4]

Howard and I were unique restaurant help because we asked, special, to work on holidays (to keep busy and not homesick, because we didn't have families out there and Twila was usually serving parties where she worked). [34.206-5]

We were lucky to be working in a new, clean place where we could have all we wanted to anything in the place to eat, anytime we had time to eat it. Fried chicken was the one exception, because that was the only thing on which the auditor could check sales slips against purchases. [34.206-6]

One night our "stand" had to supply 1,500 orders of fried chicken for the box lunches of some lodge that was having a picnic up in the mountains. The whole back lot was full of fried chicken cooking on portable racks. I didn't even taste one that night either, although I saw one or two of the other help sneaking one. They sure looked good, but I'll never know what MacDonnell's Hollywood fried chicken tasted like. [34.206-7]

Our drive-in served hot turkey sandwiches, cold chicken sandwiches, chicken salad sandwiches, and chicken soup -- all from the same turkey. When I came to work at night there would be a big turkey or two thawing in the sink.

Before I went off shift it was my job to gut the turkey. After I went home, the early morning line-up man was supposed to rinse it out and put it in a five-gallon lard can, along with all the carrot and celery tops and such trimmings, and start it cooking for the day's soup stock. [34.207-1]

One morning the extra-big turkey hadn't thawed enough to get the innards out yet, but I thought the line-up man would see that when he rinsed it and finish the job. Howard's shift was three hours later than mine and he had quite a story for me the next day. [34.207- 2]

The line-up guy had put the turkey in the can to cook without rinsing it and after a while someone discovered that the innards had started to break up and the contents were floating out into the soup stock.

The line-up man grabbed the can and ran out to the garbage can and shook the guts out of the turkey into it and covered them with a lot of lettuce leaves. He put the turkey back on to cook, just before the chef got there.

Howard said nobody dared to say a word; the place couldn't get along without the turkey and soup for the day. (I was safe at home in bed by then, anyway.) [34.207-3]

Howard said when the chef got around to checking things and tasting everything to be served that day, he said, "This soup stock tastes a little gall-y to me, but I've got a cold; maybe it's only me."

Then he turned to an old kitchen flunky who worked there: "Taste this soup, Pop," he said, "it seems a little gall-y to me." [34.207-4]

"Okay, I'll rinse the snoose out of my mouth real good and taste it," Pop said. He did, and his verdict was, "It tastes all right to me." So they served it all day. [34.208-1]

One peep out of anyone could have ruined MacDonnell's Hollywood for good, but it never leaked out. [34.208-2]

(A rumor that did get circulated that winter all but ruined the Chinese restaurants in California. The story was that some Chinaman working in one of them had leprosy and his fingers were sloughing off and someone found part of a finger in a serving of chow mein.) [34.208-3]

I claimed I worked harder in that restaurant than I ever had done farming. At least I had to hurry more most of the time, and we froze more than we did in Minnesota. The cold was so damp there. We had to go out in the back yard and scrub garbage cans and restrooms and it got so cold the water hose froze. There was so much fog that some who were driving to work had to leave their cars along the street and catch streetcars, but the natives said that was just unusual weather. [34.208-4]

We were between Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where a lot of movie stars had homes, so we saw quite a few of them who came in to our indoor counter.

Mickey Rooney was 15 then and he came in with some older kids quite often. He was always "cutting up" and we could watch through the glass in the door by our dishwasher. He would put the salt in the sugar and such stunts. Every once in a while one of the carhops would come in and say Clark Gable was out there in his car or some other famous star -- Robert Young, Joan Blondell or most any of the current ones. [34.208-5]

The food was supposed to be so good there, but before long we were so tired of all of it that we lived almost exclusively on chocolate malts made to Howard's formula: two raw eggs and double-thick malts mixed together, then a straw in our mouth and a spoon in our right hand and a quart of whipping cream in our left hand. As we drank the malt we could keep the glass full by stirring in whipping cream.

By spring we were so fat and short-winded we couldn't even hurry to catch a streetcar, but we never got tired of chocolate malts. [34.208- 6]

We had a bin with a lattice-work front behind the drive-in to keep crates of lettuce and such in. Late one night I stepped out the back door for something and there stood a fellow using the lattice work as a urinal. The restrooms were out on the back edge of the lot, and I said, "What's going on here?"

"I couldn't wait," he said.

So, just to be a "smart aleck" I stepped back into the doorway and said, "Hand out the garden hose." Then I went back in and started the dishwasher. [34.209-3]

The next thing I knew, the back door flew open and three or four of our kitchen workers were holding the fort. The guy I'd seen outside was pointing over at me.

"Send that guy out here," he said. He was holding his jacket back and had a big revolver hanging from his belt.

"What did you want the garden hose for?" he hollered. "Come out here!"

A tough little night cook named Max stood in front of the door with his fists clenched behind him, ready to sock him if he came inside, and one of the counter men was calling the cops.

Then a big, stunning blonde came around back from their car and got hold of him.

"Come on, get out of here. Don't stand here and make a jackass of yourself," she said, pulling on his arm.

"Look at her," he said, "my girlfriend isn't afraid of me."

They left before the cops got there. He showed one of the carhops that he had a permit to carry a gun. (I don't know why.) I've often wondered what he would have done if I had gone out there. [34.209-4]

On New Year's Eve I worked until 5 a.m. as usual. About midnight Jean Parker, my favorite movie actress (she was a pretty one!) came in to the counter, too drunk to eat anything. It sort of spoiled her image for me. [34.210-1]

Howard had one ambition he never got fulfilled. He was hoping we could find some different jobs before spring and, after a period of time we would rent a big Lincoln and drive in to the place where we had been working and tell them we had hit it rich somewhere. I was already too much in love to see much beyond the moment, myself. [34.210-6]

There was a happy, screwball character who worked on our third shift for a month or so. He saved up his money and one day he drove in with a convertible with the top down and parked alongside the movie stars fancy cars, grinning from ear to ear, hoping we would all notice him in his $15 car. He probably had a 15-cent malted milk, too. [34.214-5]

Howard or I had to scrub the garbage cans and clean the restrooms on the back edge of the lot, usually about 2:30 or 3 a.m. after the bulk of the night life had died down.

It happened more than once to each of us -- and was quite a shock to us innocent, country-raised characters -- to have our mop pail in the ladies' restroom and have one come in and say (as they almost always did), when we headed for the door, "Oh, don't mind me."

That wasn't the way our mothers had trained us. We would go out and suspend the cleaning until they left.

One day the manager said he had had a call from one of the neighbors complaining because we banged the garbage cans so loud we woke him up. It was probably me that had been too relaxed. I wasn't used to having such close neighbors. [34.215-5]

One of Howard's jobs, during the dull period after 3 a.m., was to mop and clean behind the counters out in front. The counter men stood on panels of slats that he took out on the lot and scrubbed. The counter men usually went out and had a smoke or sat on the other side and had a cup of coffee while howard was cleaning.

There was always some small change under the slats that they had dropped accidentally. Howard would put most of the money in his pocket, but he would make a big "to do" when he threw the pennies and small stuff up on the counter. [34.215-6]

One night the counterman said, "Where's the quarter I dropped under the slats? I know there was one there." Maybe he had planted it to catch Howard, but Howard wasn't going to admit he had it in his pocket, so he started a diligent search. [34.215-7]

The counterman was getting a little vehement, so Howard got a yardstick and started probing under the freezers and cabinets. When the counterman turned his back, Howard slipped the quarter under something and then swept it out with a big flourish when he turned around. I learned quite a few stunts that winter. [34.216-1]