I waited in the deserted parking lot until I saw the silver BMW round the corner and pull up next to me. Mark got out of the car and opened the trunk. I looked around for a minute, nodding in approval. He got the good stuff this time.
“How much do you want?” he asked.
“35—maybe 40,” I said. The streets had been unforgiving lately but this was a new week and I was confident I could sell more.
“I’ll be back at 1,” he said. “Remember what I taught you.”
I moved to Ireland with two of my best friends one week after we graduated from college. I didn’t have any jobs lined up but felt confident I would have my pick of summer employment. I mean, I had a BA in English.
But after weeks of searching—during which time I secured, then lost, a job promoting Old El Paso salsa, my one roommate, Liz, briefly considered being an exotic dancer at “Whispers” and all three of us interviewed for a job at a nail salon that, upon entering, gave your nostrils the sensation of being dipped into a vat of polish and various other toxins—I started to get a little desperate. If possible, my degree meant even less in Ireland than it did in the United States.
And then one morning I saw a job ad that caught my eye.
“Are you fun and energetic? Are you available from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday?”
I wasn’t exactly “perky,” but I was definitely fun. I also generally preferred to eat lunch around 11 a.m., but I figured I could snack on the job—or wait until 1:30 like a normal, non-90-year-old, human being.
The ad was otherwise vague. I had no clue what the job entailed, but decided to call and inquire.
Once on the phone, a gentleman named Connor informed me that he and his business partner, Mark, owned a company called “The Tasty Sandwich Guy.” He invited me and my other roommate, Bridget, to come for an interview the following morning at the local aquarium, where Mark would tell us more. The fact that we were meeting a potential employer in a massive fish tank was somewhat concerning, but we were in no place to judge.
The following morning, Bridget and I left Liz in a depressed, unemployed heap on the couch and made the 45-minute trek to the aquarium for our super-professional interview.
Once inside, we spotted Mark in the café. He was a small, fit Irishman with surprisingly decent teeth. Even more surprisingly, he appeared to be sober.
After the appropriate introductions, Mark explained that the job would consist of selling gourmet sandwiches to people working in offices and retail stores around the city. He was looking for employees who were friendly, but not pushy. The key to success was developing a relationship with people who would hopefully become regular customers. Well, that and having the necessary upper-body strength to carry a basket full of meats.
After a brief and unpleasant encounter with the Irish Health Department, a cooler was introduced to the mix.
We were told we would get a euro for every sandwich sold and that most decent Tasty Sandwich guys and gals pulled in 60 euros on an average day. That was the equivalent of nearly 100 U.S. dollars and approximately 15 pints.
I knocked the interview out of the park and secured the job two days later. Bridget, on the other hand, was not qualified to peddle lunch meat and remain unemployed. With only one of us working, it would be up to me to take care of my family and put food on the table. I had to step up and sell the shit out of some tuna wraps.
Despite the burden of single-handedly supporting my entire household, I arrived on the first day of work feeling optimistic. I was to meet Mark in the parking lot of a grocery store outside of the city of Galway—a setting, much like the aquarium, that did not scream “legitimate employment opportunity.”
Upon arriving, I waited a few minutes before a silver BMW pulled up next to me and Mark stepped out. An Irish boy who appeared to be my age and a French gentleman wearing a t-shirt and flip flops both emerged from the shadows and made their way to the car.
Together, we made up the Tasty Sandwich Guy team.
“Morning!” Mark exclaimed, popping open the trunk to reveal two large brown boxes full of sandwiches, neatly stacked and wrapped. He gave us each a wicker basket (sans handles) wrapped in a red-and-white checkered table cloth.
“I’m going to give you 35 sambos at ‘der start but I don’t expect you to sell them all,” Mark explained. “It’s very, very unlikely that you will. I’m going to start out by giving you two euros for each sambo you sell, and if you somehow sell all of them, I’ll give you an extra 15 euros.”
After loading up our baskets with a satisfactory assortment of chicken tikki, tuna, egg salad, tandoori, ham and cheese, and turkey sandwiches, and providing each of us with a masculine fanny pack to hold our change, the three of us scattered along our respective routes.
The first business on my route was a hardware store. I walked up to the front counter, cleared my throat and said, “Have you brought your lunch today?”
This seemed like a ridiculous question, as it was only 9:30 in the morning, but it was in the script so I went with it.
“My lunch?” a 60-something Irishman asked while sorting through a box of nails.
“Yes, umm, I work with the Tasty Sandwich Guy. I’m selling sandwiches for four euros. Made fresh every day. And I’ll actually be coming by each morning at around this time with my selection.”
“Sandwiches, eh? Let me see what you got.”
I brought the Little Red Riding Hood basket over to the counter, grateful for the opportunity to rest my forearms. The meats were already weighing me down.
“Well, what do you like? We have tuna, chicken tikka, egg salad, turk…”
“Give me egg salad. Seamus, a girl is selling sandwiches. You want one?”
Before I knew it, three other men were gathered around the counter, picking out sandwiches. One stop and four down. This wasn’t going to be hard at all.
Continuing along my route, I stopped by an office building, marching myself right up to each cubicle and probing the inhabitants about their lunch habits. This was technically solicitation, but it was Ireland, so it seemed fine.
“Where are these sandwiches made?” one woman asked, craning her neck over her desk chair so as to not fully commit to a conversation. By the looks of her, she didn’t commit to dental hygiene, either.
“Umm, they are made in…a factory.”
I was not prepared for this question. Flipping over one of the sandwiches, I glanced at the sticker on the back, searching for an address.
“A factory in Salthill?”
“No thank you.”
It was my first rejection of the day. I wanted to tell this woman with horrible teeth that if she didn’t have enough self respect to make it to the dentist, what did it matter what she was putting in her mouth?!
Instead, I thanked her and carried on.
The rest of the first day unfolded in a similar fashion. Some people were excited to see an American girl wearing a fanny pack—others were not. I was alarmed to find my arm going numb half an hour into the job due to the weight of the basket, but I soldiered on.
At 1:30, I met Mark and the other two employees back in the parking lot.
“Alright!” Mark said, “let’s see how you got on. “Michelle, how many did you sell?”
“Only nine,” said the Frenchman.
“That’s OK, you’ll do better tomorrow.”
“Colin, what about you?”
“I sold 15.”
“Good on ya! Good on ya!”
Mark turned to me, looking a bit puzzled.
“Lauren, where are your sandwiches?”
“I sold them all.”
“You sold them all?”
“Mhm. About half an hour ago.”
Mark stared at me for a moment, his eyes wide. “Well feck me! Good on ya! Gents, this is how you sell!”
Proudly presenting Mark with my empty basket, I held out my palm and watched him fill it with money. I felt a little sorry for Michelle, who only got 18 euros for his trouble, but hey, this was the sandwich biz. It wasn’t for the faint of heart.
“Oh Lauren—one thing,” Mark added as I shoved the money in my pocket. “Going forward, could you please not wear trainers? I just want to give off more of a professional look.”
I didn’t see how my Nike shoes were an embarrassment to a company that operated out of the trunk of a vehicle, but I nodded and walked my ghetto-fab self home.
The next few days, I sold sandwiches like no one had ever sold them before. I found particular success in the hardware stores, where I quickly learned to undo a few buttons on my shirt before going in to speak with the older Irishmen. Chicken tikkas and tuna sambos were flying off the basket and by the end of my second week, I had made up to 90 euros in a single day.
I was sandwiches ahead of my fellow peddlers. My boss said he’d never seen anything like it.
Sales evened out in the next few days and by the second month I had reached a comfortable plateau. The job was beginning to take a toll on my body, though. Blisters had started forming on my feet, leaving me no other choice but to wear white socks with my black Mary Jane-esque Sketchers. This complemented the black fanny pack beautifully.
In addition to my feet, my lungs were also getting destroyed. As the Tasty Sandwich Girl, I was expected to work, rain or shine. Very similar, it turns out, to a prostitute.
Initially wearing a hooded rain jacket, I decided my sales would probably increase if people felt sorry for me. I stopped wearing my hood and began entering stores dripping wet in the hopes that someone would take pity on my sorry state and decide they did in fact want an egg salad. The tactic worked brilliantly until I developed a horrible chest cough and was forced to go to the emergency room, where a doctor discovered I had water in my lungs.
My illness was a minor setback, but the real cash-block came a few weeks later when a stodgy old man on my route claimed we were violating various health codes. The sandwiches were stored in the trunk of a car before being displayed in a basket for four hours without any sort of refrigeration. I didn’t see the problem.
Others did, and the company was suddenly shut down. Unsure of whether I’d work again, I was told to be on standby while my boss figured out a new plan.
Fortunately, I was back in action a week later. To keep the people pleased—and, I suppose, follow proper health regulations—I would have to store the sandwiches in a giant cooler with a shoulder strap. Forced to take multiple breaks on the side of the road and rest my shoulders, I often asked myself, “Is this worth it?”
My sales were dropping more and more every week as the novelty of an American girl with an amazing fashion sense wore off. Three months in, I also started resenting the person I had become. My life on the streets revolved around numbers and I found myself mumbling inappropriate things when customers politely turned me down. Things such as, “f*** you.”
I started plopping down on the side of the road by 10:30 a.m. every morning, dejectedly eating one of my own sandwiches. Certain businesses began asking me to stop coming by and I was later banned from a large corporate center after roaming around the cubicles with my cooler. With half my regular customers no longer interested, I had to look elsewhere for business. At my lowest, I ventured into an adult store, where I had to walk past black dildos and edible underwear just to ask the owner if he wanted a chicken sandwich. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t interested. There were already plenty of thighs and breasts right in front of him.
“Thanks anyway,” I mumbled, walking toward the door before getting tangled in a beaded curtain.
It was official. I was a joke.
“It just doesn’t seem like you’re trying hard enough. You’re not selling what you used to.”
I stared at Mark from the passenger seat, willing myself not to go ape shit. I had had a particularly frustrating day on the job and spent my last hour of work in a pub, drinking a pint of cider until it was time to meet Mark and dole out the money. Sales were terrible and I had started buying my own sandwiches and hiding them in my coat pockets until things picked up. It had been over three months now. I had nothing left to give to the job.
“I’m trying as hard as I can,” I said evenly, as the corner of a salsa wrap poked out of my pocket. “Half of my regulars just don’t want the sandwiches anymore.”
“Have you been sticking to the script I gave you?”
“Yes!” I said, exasperated, “but it’s hard to sell a sandwich when the wrappers are sliding off of them. Last week half the sandwiches you gave me were falling out of their packaging and were already opened. They don’t look presentable. I can’t be expected to sell them like that.”
“I know, and I spoke to the manufacturer about that,” Mark said. “I’m just as frustrated as you are.”
Mark had just returned from a holiday in Australia and I was buying the generic, St. Bernard’s version of everything from ham to toilet paper, so something told me our levels of frustration were not quite the same.
“I don’t think this is working out,” I said, fiddling with the cooler strap. “I appreciate the opportunity and I hope you have better luck with someone else.”
Mark nodded, smiling faintly. “I understand, mate. No hard feelings.”
I unfastened my fanny pack and handed it to him, sliding the cooler into the back of the car.
Stepping out of the car, I shut the door and gave a final wave, watching as Mark’s silver BMW rounded the corner and disappeared.
I had come to Ireland with such high hopes and now here I was, standing on the street with a coat full of chicken.
With nothing else to do, I wandered down to the water. Bridget was sitting on a blanket, writing in her journal.
Bridget looked up, squinting. “Hey…what are you doing here?”
I shrugged, reaching into my pockets. “Have you brought your lunch today?”