Caterpillars, Hookers, and Me
by Vicki McCoy Grey

What do caterpillars and hookers have in common? Me, of course.

I worked at Howard Johnson’s on the turnpike during several summers. It had a dining room and an area with four U-shaped counters.  I had a counter.  Every day, I trotted off to work in my green-and-orange HoJo uniform, institutional white shoes, stockings, and — horrors! — a hairnet.

One day a handsome young man sat at my counter and ordered a creamy white tuna sandwich on dark rye. He gave me the “eye,” which thrilled me.  But he repeatedly kept looking at me and down to the counter.  Odd…

Finally he said, “Come over here.”

I stood in front of him and smiled, “How are you today?”

He whispered, “Look at my sandwich.”


“My sandwich!”

There, dancing on top of the dark bread, was a bright-green caterpillar.

“Let’s be discreet about this.”

The caterpillar kept dancing.  Helpless, I burst out laughing. I couldn’t stop. I carried it back to the kitchen where the rest of the teenage staff became hysterical.

By then, the poor man had had enough and walked out.


At seven most nights, “Mother and Daughter” came to dine. “Mother” was in her fifties; “Daughter,” her thirties. We hated to see them at our counter. They lingered, griped about orders, and rarely tipped. Dyed red hair done in an outdated style, sheath dresses, jewelry, and high heels, they often talked to truckers who parked their rigs on the far side of the property.

“Why do those women come here to eat?  And why not sit in the dining room?”

“You’re kidding, right?” said another kid. “Don’t you know?”

“Know what?”

“They’re hookers!”

Ah well, it filled in a big gap in my worldly education.

IMAGE: Howard Johnson’s ad from 1959.

 NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It seems funny now to look back and realize how important that backbreaking, poorly paid job was to me. I desperately wanted to go to college and become a Spanish teacher and what tips I could garner would help me reach that goal. I put in three long summers there with other kids who were all striving to better themselves so they wouldn’t end up in just these positions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vicki McCoy Grey, of Springdale, Pennsylvania, has a B.S.Ed. in Spanish from Clarion State College and an MFA-NFW from Chatham University. Newly retired, she is spending a lot of time writing short stories and experimenting with different styles. Writing groups help to spark her creative side. She has received several awards for her work from the Writing Success Conference.