Storyworth: Did you have a job while you were in high school?

| February 22, 2022 | 0 Comments

In Roslindale Square, there were two grocery stores when I was growing up. As you went down Corinth Street through the middle of the neighborhood shopping area, Roche Brothers was on the left and Corey‘s was on the right.

My father got friendly with the delivery guys from Roche Brothers. When I was 13 years old, he convinced them to hire me as what was called a “striker.” Generally there were two people in the car or truck delivering the groceries, the driver and the striker. The striker was the kid who would actually bring the groceries into the House while the driver waited outside in the vehicle. If the order was four bags or less, the striker would grab two bags in each hand. This is before bags had handles so you would just sort of scrunch them up and grab them in a fist. When you started doing this, you would get blisters on your knuckles from rubbing against the paper of the bags. It was a real badge of honor when, over time, those blisters would turn into calluses. While they would be unsightly it would show that you were an experienced striker. Also, after the blisters turned to calluses the pain would stop.

The crew that did this delivery work were various types of miscreants from the neighborhood. This was my first exposure to the delinquent class of Roslindale. I also learned a large number of new words.

When I started this job, the delivery team would generally hang around the front of the store beyond the cash registers. There would be racks and shelving where grocery orders would be placed with a tag attached listing the address. Drivers would be given a stack of slips of probably 20 addresses and it would be their job to assemble those slips into a route that would be geographically logical. Generally the routes would leave from Rosendale head into West Roxbury, which was the nicer part of town, mostly single family houses and pretty easy to deliver to. The end of the trip would be the Forest Hills section Near Jamaica Plain. This was the lower income area that included housing projects and three decker houses. These were the hard ones to deliver to because you had to go up three flights of stairs to the third floor apartments. Of course, this was also a fairly densely populated area with large families. So, the orders were larger. It wasn’t unusual to have to carry six bags of groceries up three flights of stairs to deliver them.

Today, Roche Brothers has 21 stores around Massachusetts. But back when I worked for them, they only had two. The very first one in Roslindale Square was opened by Pat and Bud Roche and started out as a meat market, which grew into a grocery store. Then they opened one in West Roxbury about 2 miles away which was much more modern than the Roslindale store. While I was working for them they opened a third store in Needham.

But in the early days, it was very much a family operation. In fact, when the delivery service got very busy, Pat Roche would allow us to use his station wagon to do deliveries. One day while I was loitering around the front of the store waiting for my next delivery route as a striker, I noticed the manager of the store take a call at the customer service desk. I saw his face get contorted and his shoulders slump as he hung up the phone. That was one of those days when we were using Pat Roche’s car. The call was from the driver. He had gone to his first stop was at his first stop. He hopped out of the car to bring the bags in and left the car running. When he came out, he saw the car, jammed with groceries, driving away. Somebody had stolen it. There were probably 10 or 12 orders in the car. Those customers actually hit the jackpot because there was no way to determine what they had bought, since this was in the olden days before computers. So, Roche Brothers just invited them all to do essentially a supermarket sweep and just take whatever they remembered buying.

At a certain point the company realized having these ruffians loitering around the front of the store was not good optics. So they developed a somewhat elaborate system that allowed us to move into the basement of the store and load the delivery vehicles in the alley behind the store. The clerks would put the bags into boxes and set them on a conveyor belt that would take them down to the basement and the back of the store. Thus, we were banished out of site, which in increased the degree of misbehavior by the crew.

One day I came to work into the basement and noticed two or three racks of suits and coats standing there. While it wasn’t explicitly explained, clearly they were stolen. But everybody involved in the delivery service was invited to take their pick of coats and suits. There’s actually a scene in the movie Good Fellas that very reminiscent of this experience.

On another occasion I was out doing a delivery route with one of the more delinquent drivers. We only had about two or three orders left and he decided he needed to have a drink. At the time I was about 14 years old, about three years away from my driver’s license. But he just decided he had to have this drink. So he pulled up to a bar hopped out handed me the keys and said you deliver the last few. I was so excited about the opportunity to actually drive a truck that I seized it. And drove around, a nervous wreck, but excited, and delivered the last few bags and came back to the bar to pick him up and that was the end of our route that night.

Another time, around the same age, I was riding shotgun and the Jackie Wilson song, Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher, came on the radio. The driver loved the song so much, he just had to ”dance.” So, he grabbed my hands and put them on the steering while he pumped his arms in the and wiggled his body to the song, while I steered the car from the passenger side.

I worked as a striker for about three years until I was 16 and a half and eligible for a “real” job as a clerk at Stop & Shop Supermarket, where I worked for 11 years. But the delivery service years were a real coming of age for me. Looking back, I’m not sure whether it was good or bad for my development. I tend to thing it was probably bad. It didn’t exactly set me up for a life of intellectual growth and achievement. I was a bit lost for much of the period after this experience. But it was what it was and opened my eyes to a slice of life that I’d never really known. Even though these guys (and they were all guys) were probably considered thugs by many, they gave me respect and affection. I remember the time fondly.


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