At seventeen I still didn’t know what to do with my life. School sucked and college seemed like more of the same. Bussing tables at Catfish Charlie’s for minimum wage was even worse. Why are all the fun, well paying jobs so much work to land? There should be a fast track for people like me who just want to Tinder match with hot chicks all day and fly jet fighters right out of high school. My guidance counselor tried to tell me that there is no such path, but I found a loophole.
I set my sights on becoming a male model. How could I not? My grandma is constantly telling everyone how handsome I am, it would be a shame to let such unmistakable talent go to waste. But at seventeen, with no idea how to break into the field of magazine covers and J.C. Penny’s catalog spreads, where does one begin?
Fortunately an event was coming to a nearby city that would allow me to finally be “discovered” by talent agents, who would then presumably fly me away on a private jet to begin shooting “on location” for Vogue and probably Harper’s Bazaar too. This event was called “Model Search America” and for only one hundred and fifty dollars I could attend this seminar where I would be exposed to real talent agents just waiting to make my dreams come true. I learned about this fantastic opportunity from our local pop radio station KZFM. They ran the ad every hour for two weeks.
Unfortunately “Model Search America” didn’t work out for me as planned. I would later discover that it was mostly a scam. Should’ve figured it out myself when I ran into so many regular looking people there. But it wasn’t a total loss. I learned a few things from the people at “Model Search America”. Most importantly, models work for modeling agencies and if I wanted to be a model I would have to get noticed by one.
With renewed hope and sense of purpose I opened my local yellow pages to the “M” section. There was one listing for a modeling agency. They were called Infinity Model and Talent Agency. They hired me on the spot. After a few fees for head shots and instruction.
This is it. I finally made it! Someday I would make it to New York or L.A., but for now I was happy to begin my modeling career in Corpus Christi, TX. Home of the Whataburger.
Working for “The Agency” as I referred to it around my friends who aptly responded by rolling their eyes, was not at all what I was expecting. My first two jobs didn’t actually pay anything. The nice lady in charge of the agency assured me that these jobs would get me “exposure” and that the paying jobs would come later. I had a feeling somebody was making money from these jobs and it was probably her, but I was a good little model so I waited patiently for my opportunity.
As the months went by, I would be booked for the occasional paying gig. There were a few bridal fair runway shows to model tuxedos, and a few opportunities to be a fragrance tester at the mall for ten bucks an hour, but nothing that would allow me to make my big entrance into the world of modeling. So still I waited. In the back of my mind I knew I was destined for so much more.
Finally the day came. My agent called me with a sense of urgency in her voice I’d never heard before. She informed me that our (meaning the agency’s) biggest client was requesting one male and one female model to work for them, and they needed them tomorrow. My heart was pounding.
“What’s the job?” I asked, trying my best to sound chill about it.
“You need to go to the Whataburger Corporate office on Parkdale Drive. They are changing their employee uniforms and they’ve narrowed it down to three options. You must model all three options in front of the executive team so they can make a final decision. Be on time, and be extremely professional.” There was a lot of “don’t fuck this up” in her tone. I can barely sleep that night.
So here I am in the Whataburger corporate office, standing in the boardroom at the end of a long wooden table filled with men and one or two women wearing pantsuits. It’s smaller and dingier than I had envisioned. There’s barely enough room for myself and the other model to stand at the front of the room without touching the wall or the boardroom table. Our changing area is the employee restroom, scarcely larger than my guest bath at home. There’s nowhere to move and the clients are only inches away from us. We stand there looking fabulous even though the uniforms fit loosely around the shoulders and baggy at the midsection. Sitting toward the back, a chubby faced man wearing a perfectly starched white shirt with a maroon tie instructs us both to turn around in a circle. Looking back I sometimes wonder if it was as awkward for the client as it was for us. Except for the maroon tie guy. He was totally into it.
We acquitted ourselves admirably. After changing only three times and rotating twice, a decision was made. The uniform of every person who made your Whataburger after 1996 was changed forever. More importantly, I had finally made it big.
Not all of us are fated to leave our mark upon this world. Sadly, my chiseled features and perfect jawline will one day fade into obscurity. But I remain happy in the knowledge that for a time, every employee who served a 100% pure beef burger on a toasted 5-inch bun, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and “just the way you like it” was wearing a uniform that I helped determine. You’re welcome world.