That’s Why They Call It “Work”

My 1st job — as soon as I turned 16 — was at Chubby Lane’s.

I wore dorky blue shorts and knee socks.  I got french fry grease all over my already-greasy teenage face.

I learned that when Chubby’s kids wanted a cheeseburger at 8 p.m. — right after we cleaned the grill — they got it.

I thought of my days at Chubby’s — and other jobs I had in high school and college, like working at Longshore, and Singing Oaks day camp — the other day.

The reason I thought of that long-ago employment was because I saw a Westport teenager working in a downtown store.

Suddenly it hit me:  Most kids around here don’t have jobs these days.

The reasons are many.  Some legitimate; others, well…

A sight you won't see in Westport.

For example, school is far tougher than when I was at Staples.  Classes are harder, and there are more of them.  Homework is more intensive.  Grades count for more.

Colleges demand more in terms of extracurricular activities and community service.  Athletes play their sports out of season, as well as in it.  Artists and musicians have many more outlets for their creativity.

With fewer teenagers working, there’s less peer pressure to get a job.  If you don’t see your friends — or older siblings — working, there’s less chance you’ll want to yourself.

Parents no longer ask their kids to pay for movies, gas, clothes, whatever.

Our economic implosion has put top-down pressure on the workforce.  Men and women now fill jobs once held by boys and girls (even if those youngsters came from Norwalk and Bridgeport, not Westport).

There are many more options for teenagers’ leisure time.  They can play video games, watch movies on their laptops, texttexttexttexttext.

And hey, let’s face it:  Work is work.

I can’t remember why my 16-year-old self was so excited to get that job at Chubby’s.  I don’t recall wondering whether I should work or not; it was simply a rite of passage.  I do remember how independent I felt getting my “working papers,” my training, my 1st paycheck.
Today’s teenagers work, for sure.  They work incredibly hard — and I am a huge fan of Westport’s youth.

Besides all they do in school, after school and volunteering in the community, they babysit, tutor and give computer lessons.  Others help out in offices.

But very, very few work in stores and restaurants.  Westport kids don’t work at places like CVS, Planet Pizza or gas stations.  Which is why seeing one behind a counter downtown was remarkable enough that I could write an entire story about it.

27 responses to “That’s Why They Call It “Work”

  1. Blair Satter

    I remember you at Chubby Lane’s (the best hamburgers in the world) and I also went to Singing Oaks. What is there now? If my memory serves me my counselors were Cliff and Todd.

    • Singing Oaks is now big houses in Weston — and has been for nearly 20 years. Peter Meehan (reluctantly) sold the property to a developer, when running a day camp became financially unviable. They were a great Weston family.

  2. You could try Dunkin Donuts, Olympia Sports, Staples, Barnes & Noble – for starters.

  3. Eric Buchroeder

    I liked eating at Chubby’s and dated several girls who worked there (he always hired the hot ones) but I would’ve rather marched down Main Street at high noon buck naked then wear those blue button down shirts, bermuda shorts and knee socks at the same time so my restaurant server experience was confined to Mario’s!!!

    On the day camp front; I know you’ve said publicly that you didn’t get along with Mahackeno (or it didn’t get along with you) but that you enjoyed the time you spent at Compo Beach School and now you’re high-fiving Singing Oaks.

    I think that may just make you the only person in Westport history who logged inmate time at all three lockups. It might be interesting to all your many readers (and a warmer alternative right now to talking about winter) if you gave an insider’s comparison to all three camping experiences.

    Pleeeeeese do it!!!! THANKS!!!!!!

  4. Eric Buchroeder

    Another thing……we used to call the female employees Chubbettes (and we weren’t referring to a roll of quarters in someone’s pocket).

  5. Actually, my first job was also at 16 and was also at Chubby Lane’s. I was one of his brother Paul’s athletes at Staples and Paul got me the gig. Almost none of the “hot” girls who worked there (and they were hot) would even talk to me, but I just put it down to mutual shyness and their having no idea who I was. It was a very prestigious job for the girls, though, pretty much the top of the teenage work pyramid in town at the time.
    I only lasted there a few weeks. My time was divided between the Post Road establishment near Maple Avenue and Compo Beach; Chubby also had the franchise there at the time. If the weather was bad and things were slow, he’d actually send one person home, with no pay for the day. It was a fairly wet summer, and I was the last person hired, so the one sent home was me. I ended up not making much money, so I retried as a Chubby employee.
    The uniform was meant to be a badge of honor but yeah, those knee socks were odd.
    And Dan’s central thesis is correct. Teenagers in town all wanted jobs back in the day; I had a couple of rather menial ones, but I wanted to be working. None of the teens in my family, all of whom are now in their early 20s, cared about having jobs.

  6. Exactly where was Chubby Lane’s located? Any connection to the well-known Lane family?

    I was a camper at Singing Oaks – summers of ’73 and ’74. Ah, good ol’ days.

    My first real job was at Family Affair restaurant. (Remember that place, Dan??) It was January 1979. I thought $2.91 an hour was a great pay 🙂

    • Yes — Chubby Lane was the brother of Paul, long-time football coach. Their parents owned the stone house on Long Lots set waaay back, with a long sloping lawn. You can see it now, because it’s at the end of Moss Ledge, with houses in front of it. The Lanes had lots o’ kids.

      I have absolutely no recollection of Family Affair — where was it, and what kind of restaurant? No clue whatsoever.

      Chubby’s was where the current Willows Pediatric is — between Boat Locker and the Westport Inn. (It later became Ocean Grill, as I recall, and several other restaurants.) The key to its fantastic hamburgers was that the meat came — freshly ground — from Charpentier’s Butcher shop, across the way (later Tacos or What?, and now another Mexican place).

  7. maxine bleiweis

    Hundreds of young people have gotten their start in the work world at the Westport Public Library.

  8. The Dude Abides

    I worked at Ed Mitchell’s in Colonial Green my senior year in high school and college holidays. Great job with a substantial discount on clothes.
    But on point, the first question the CEO of J.Crew asks: WHAT WAS YOUR HIGH SCHOOL JOB???? His mindset is that if an applicant has not taken crap in a crappy low paying menial job, then they “probably won’t take it from me.” It seems that “internships” now are the coveted experience to fluff up your resume but I do believe that is a mistake. Nothing like $5.35 an hour to give you a reality check (excuse the pun).

  9. A well known builder here hired his son and a few of his buddies for summer work not long ago. “Never again,” he said. “Late to work. Didn’t show up.”
    There is a reason the minorities have taken over these jobs.

  10. Larry Perlstein

    I worked at Waldbaums as a bagger, as the restaurant in the Westport Inn as a busboy and at the Merritt Superette as a stockboy and putting together the Sunday NYTimes at 4AM, and I can honestly say that I didn’t learn anything from those jobs other than that I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to do this stuff for the rest of my life. I guess that was a valuable lesson.

  11. Holly Wheeler

    Chubby Lanes was my ears and in my eyes
    There beneath the blue suburban skies …
    RIP Chubby’s. And Big Top.

  12. My first two jobs were awesome:
    1) bus-boy/dishwasher at Arcudis. was really a blast. ate a ton. played a lot of wiffle ball.

    2) bus boy / bar back at Onion Alley. Summers on the roof deck, 16 year old kid surrounded by hot chicks from college. awesome.

    That said, both jobs took away from my academics and athletics – without a doubt. Students today should choose wisely.

  13. What a Fool Believes

    I hear Greens Farms Liquor is a good place for kids to work. Everyone very polite and good management.

  14. Mike McGovern

    Gristede’s at 68th and 2nd.

  15. Try Jimmy Izzo’s hardware store at Main and Canal St. Hires girls for the counter and boys to work the store. GFS owned by Jack Reilly, hires guys who can look you in the eye when they talk to you and yes they must be polite!
    Both great to work for, so says my son.

  16. Both Michael Bolton’s kids worked when in school. Nice young adults too.

  17. I was pleasantly surprised by a young woman this holiday season who worked at Crate and Barrel. Her attitude, professionalism and just everything about her was a above what you would expect, especially at that time of year. When I complemented her and inquired, she told me she was only seasonal help since she was a Staples student.

  18. *a sight you do see in westport

    ironic how two teens actually do work at mcdonalds

  19. Dan –

    Who did you see working downtown? Kids go down there!?

  20. I started working as a little kid — hot walked and groomed polo ponies at the Hunt Club and then when I turned 16, I got a job in the kitchen at Allan’s Clam House — I was a Pantry Girl for 3 years.

    (btw Dan . . . i think i still have a stash of plastic monkeys from Chubby’s)

  21. What is a Pantry Girl?

    • A Pantry Girl is a sainted teenager who worked in the kitchen of Allan’s Clam House — she made salads, salad dressings, plated oysters and clams on the half shell, held her nose while plating pickled herring, kept the coffee brewing, sliced pies, put ice cream on pies, made chocolate mousse and hot fudge sundaes, did prep work for the chefs (like cleaning soft shell crabs, shrimp, and breading frogs legs) and she washed saute pans throughout the night to keep the line cooks from running out of pans.

      • there were several Pantry Girls by the way – usually a crew of two to three worked the lunch and dinner shifts . . . oh and to earn your spot as a Pantry Girl you had to be a dishwasher for a month!