Working for Gus: Memories from Peter’s Drive Inn
by Kathy Newman
Do you remember your first paying job? I had earned money helping my brother with his Star Weekly Route, but my first real money job was as a 17-year-old working at Peter’s Drive Inn on 16th Ave. N.E. in Calgary. I worked for Gus and Barbara Peters slinging hamburgers, making dairy treats and all the other necessary tasks I was asked to do such as washing the floors.
I had a lot to learn, especially about washing floors. “No, no, not like that!” admonished Gus as I pushed the huge, sopping wet, mop back and forth across the Drive Inn floor, diligently trying to complete one of my least favorite tasks. Gus grabbed the mop and showed me the only way to mop floors which was the Naval way. I almost saluted as I watched the methodical sweeping motion demonstrated by my well-practiced boss as his strong arms maneuvered that mop into every corner. I was impressed but stayed silent as he completed the job for me! I think he liked the physical exertion during the quiet moments when the Drive-Inn wasn’t busy.
However, those moments were few and far between as we were normally functioning at full capacity. Gus was the master of organization. As two employees manned the intercom orders, another added the burgers to the automatic grill and waited for them to plop down into the tomato sauce before being placed on the bun which already had the addition of condiments. Someone else monitored the French fries and hot
dogs while window employees made ice cream cones, banana splits and sundaes when they weren’t taking orders.
The RCMP detachment was just East of the Drive Inn, so we had many red coated customers. Two fellows liked to innocently flirt with us sweet young girls working the windows. They would doff their impressive hats and bow when placing their orders like knights requesting the company of princesses.
We decided to have some teenage fun with these two, so I neatly sliced rounds of banana into the middle of their double burgers and without smirking passed it through the window with a gentle, “Have a great day.” About 20 minutes later, I politely answered the phone in the back office and a deep voice introduced himself as a Captain with the RCMP.
“I sent two of my sergeants over to pick up my lunch. Did you make my double burger!”
“Oh sir, I am so sorry!” I spouted with the realization that the flirts did not eat one of the altered hamburgers and that I might now be in danger of losing my job for being silly!
“Oh, no need to apologize. I just wanted you to know that your creation is the best burger I have ever had!” he laughed.
That wasn’t the only embarrassing moment at Peter’s. A young man that I had dated, drove up to the window for a milkshake
and I became so flustered that I forgot to add the chocolate flavouring. He wasn’t impressed!
Then there was the time that Gus locked me into the walk-in freezer with the bread boy! He liked to tease us as our age range was similar and we were both shy around each other. Buns were delivered frequently, and Gus always inspected them. If the tops and bottoms didn’t match, he sent the whole order back but if the buns were up to his high standards, he gave the delivery person a milkshake for their efforts. We always helped to load everything into the freezer, thus, making it easy for Gus to have his own fun with one of the younger fellows. We weren’t locked in very long but realized that Gus liked to play cupid!
Gus worked around the clock, but he had a special technique for relaxing. When in the back making the special sauce, I would marvel at his ability to sit down, lean back with his feet on his desk and fall asleep for exactly 15 minutes before jumping up and completing another task. “I learned that in the Navy too.” He responded to my query. “We had to rest whenever we could.”
The Drive Inn was constantly under the surveillance of the Fire Department Safety Officer, but I think he came more than he needed to as Gus always gave him a Strawberry Milkshake. Once, he came in when I was peeling a fifty-pound bag of onions and he wanted to chat. “Sniff, yes, I had, sniff…a good
weekend.” I cried using the back of my hand to swipe away the unbidden tears as I attempted to answer his question.
“Girl, I can’t stand to watch you cry.” He uttered as he retreated from the noxious fumes and breathed in the fresh, outdoor air.
I worked at the Drive-Inn for May and June and then left to attend the Provincial Recreation Leadership Course in Drumheller for the month of July. Gus wanted me to come back in August, so Barb sent me a reminder; a box containing too huge onions that was labeled, “Less You Forget!” A paring knife was also attached!
In August, I received an order over the intercom that really surprised me; ” Six Banana Splits.” We had never had that request before…maybe one or two splits but never six. Luckily, I asked the customer to repeat their order and Gus heard their response; “Yes, six banana splits.” A flurry of activity ensued. Gus helped by lining up the trays and splitting the bananas while I loaded the ice cream and Carla heaped on the chocolate sauce, strawberries and the pineapple. Gus finished off each split with whipped cream. When the car drew up to the window, I started to carefully hand out the splits but was stopped when the driver shouted, “I didn’t order Banana Splits, I ordered Fish and Chips!”
“Get out of here and never come back!” ordered Gus who immediately backed me up at the window and noted their
licence number. He had heard me repeat the order so knew that this was a carload of bad apples out to create mischief. Anyway, it wasn’t busy, so Gus invited each of us to have a Banana Split…the most expensive item on the menu!
I thrived on the responsibility given to me that summer at Peter’s Drive Inn as I progressed to the honor of opening the shop first thing in the morning. This entailed turning on the burger conveyor belt, making the sauce for the hamburgers, and training any new staff. I also had some evening shifts so I made sure that everything was cleaned before locking up and heading home often around one AM.
Gus was a taskmaster and a great boss. He demanded excellence and, as a result, Peter’s Drive Inn won national awards! Even though Gus has since passed away, Peter’s Drive Inn still thrives!
Now, tell me about your first job!