by Ski Ingram
My sister, Sherrie, worked at the Winchell’s Donut shop located in the strip mall where the Boys Market was the anchor business. Most of the employees of the market would spend their breaks in the donut shop. I also spent a lot of time there eating donuts and helping whenever I could. I got to know most of the store employees including the store manager, Don Dodge. One day, when I was about 14 years old, I asked Don if he would hire me when I turned 16? He said he would, so a few days after turning 16, I applied, and was hired. This was my very first real job.
I was now a box boy. I was a new member of the Retail Clerks Union making $1.62 an hour. On holidays I got paid triple time, $4.86 an hour. Big money in those days. I worked there from January 1966 until June 1968. On my last night the store was robbed at gun point, which I’ll talk about later.
My job was to put the groceries people bought into paper bags, help people out to their cars if needed, collect the shopping carts from the parking lot, separate the returned soda bottles so they could be returned to the different companies, and clean and sweep the store when necessary. It was a good job for a 16-year-old kid. I loved getting a paycheck every two weeks. I was able to buy my first car and go on dates with girls. I thought of myself as quite independent and grown up.
Don Dodge was a great teacher, but he was also very hard on us box boys. He taught me how to work hard and take pride in the work I was doing. One of his pet peeves, he better not catch you goofing off or doing nothing. I’ll always be grateful to Don, he taught me a major lesson in life. If you work hard and take pride in your work, you will most likely be successful in everything you do.
I worked very hard and could bag groceries very fast. The cashiers loved me because I was so fast. It was very rare that the cashier had to help bag the groceries because I had got behind. One of my favorite cashiers was Ruby Duke. She had been married 4 or 5 times and was a hoot. She hated to bag groceries. She loved me because if I was bagging at her stations she never had to help as I was so fast.
In the strip mall was a hamburger restaurant owned by a guy named Eddie. He liked to play with the horses. He had a bookie and one day his horse came in, so he bought himself a brand-new red Cadillac Eldorado convertible. It was his pride and joy. One day I went to work, and Ruby told me that a horse named “Kim’s Joy” was running at Hollywood Park. We decided to place a $2.00 bet, (one dollar each) with Eddie’s bookie. We didn’t win. It was the last time I ever bet on a horse.
There was a lady that came into the store every week or so who had 10 kids. She would always buy a hundred pounds of potatoes along with two carts full of food. If her husband was with her, he would carry the bag of potatoes to the car, if he was not with her, it was my job. A hundred pounds of potatoes is heavy. Well, on that first day it was but then as time passed it became much easier.
There was an older couple that came in every week. They would have the box boy load their groceries in their car, then go home with them to put the groceries in their kitchen. The old man would drive you back to the store and tip you $5.00. Five dollars was more than three hours pay. Everyone would fight to get to be the one to help them.
There was another lady that would come in every week to buy a carton of cigarettes, a half-gallon of Vodka and 5 or 6 packages of tripe. I always felt sorry for her as she was old and dirty and didn’t seem to have much to live for. I have no Idea where she lived or how she got her money.
We would have quite a few people trying to steal groceries, mostly steaks, from the store. If we saw them, we’d stop them any way that we could. I was one of the bigger boy boys and always seemed to get in on the arrest. There weren’t very many who would fight, but there were a few. One day a guy tried to walk out of the store with 4 or 5 T-bone steaks in his pants. A few of us confronted him in the parking lot. We had him surrounded as there were 3 or 4 of us box boys and clerks there. He wouldn’t give up and tried to break through us to get away. The fight was on. We were all on the ground trying to control him when Don Dodge ran out of the store and began hitting the guy until he gave up. It was something to see as Don always told us to be polite to the customers and help them in any way we could.
In September 1966 Don bought a brand new 1967 Chevy Camaro. 1967 was the first year the Camaro came out, so this was a big deal. Don parked the car just outside the east door. Every minute we got we’d be out there looking at his new car. He was out there most of the day showing that car to all the employees and most of the customers. I don’t think a lot of work got done that day.
One day Oscar Meyer and the Wiener Mobile showed up at the store. Since I was the tallest employee, I had to get my picture taken with little Oscar Meyer. Another time a guy that was over 7 feet tall came to the store to promote something, I don’t remember what. Again, being the tallest employee, I had to have my picture taken with him. Compared to him I looked like Oscar Meyer. I don’t remember his name, but he was so tall that his car had to be modified so he could drive it. It seemed as if he was driving from the back seat. The car was a convertible and when the top was up it was very high. He was a very nice guy. These pictures were posted on the bulletin board in the store next to the office door and the cashier’s window. I sure wish I had a copy of them.
I was in the store parking lot collecting shopping carts one day when I saw a guy pushing a Cadillac towards the gas station on the corner. I went over to help him push. When we got his car to the gas station I looked up and discovered the guy was Rosey Grier. Rosey played football for the LA Rams from 1963 to 1966. He was a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” which included Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones. Everyone in LA knew Rosey Grier. He wanted to pay me for my help, but I refused his money and just shook his massive hand.
After about 18 months I became the “Head Box Boy.” That meant I had the most seniority. I got to choose my work schedule which meant I got to work every holiday if I desired. By that time, I was making enough money an hour to get over $5.00 an hour on holidays. For an eight-hour day I was paid over $40.00. That was almost a week’s pay in one day, sweet!
On my last day of work, I was working until 11:00 PM. The store closed at 10:00 PM and once we got all of the customers out of the store, we’d spend the rest of the time getting ready for the next workday. I had just returned to the store after collecting all of the grocery carts. When I walked in the store, I saw a guy standing in the door of the cashier’s office, somewhere he was not supposed to be. I walked over to where he was standing and asked what he was doing. He turned around with a gun pointing at me and said, “Stand over there, kid.” The liquor department was next to the Cashier’s office where he wanted me to stand. I was standing next to a display of bottles of whiskey. I moved to where he told me to go and he went back to watching the assistant manager, Ray, empty the safe. He had his back to me, and I thought about taking one of those bottles and hitting him in the head with it for about 1/10th of a second but decided I had better not. He got his, (our!), money and left. We called the police and made a report.
A few days later while at school, my senior year, I was called into the principal’s office. I was met by two detectives who showed me six mug shots. They asked me if one of those guys was the one who had robbed the store. I immediately pointed him out as he hadn’t worn a mask during his evil deed. The detectives thanked me then told me that the guy I had pointed out was the guy and he had been arrested for robbery many times before. I guess he went to jail as I was never called to go to court.
If you have ever watched the Sylvester Stallone movie “Cobra” you have seen the Boys Market as it was when I worked there. I was a police officer in Long Beach, California in 1986 when the movie was being made. My partner and I were scheduled to work on the movie one night when they were filming in Long Beach. It was while working on the movie Cobra, that I got to meet Stallone.
As remembered by Ski Ingram