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finer things

A few of the finer things

First Jobs

Thank you all for doing such a wonderful job telling us your stories of your first jobs and what you liked, disliked and learned from them. My first job was a service station attendant at Union 76 of Scottsdale (McDonald/Granite Reef). Minimum wage was $3.35/hour and I made $3.75/hour…I thought that was a big deal at the time. I loved earning my own money. I learned a little bit about cars (best battery acid cleaner is Coca Cola and I learned how to repair and change a flat tire) and a lot about how to deal with people…also to never stand around—there was always something you could be doing (or cleaning). Kelly’s first job (besides baby-sitting) was at McDonald’s, working the 5 AM shift on Saturday and Sunday (labor laws dictated at the time that at 15 one could not work at night). Minimum wage (like mine) was $3.35/hour and she was glad for the opportunity to earn it! She loved making and saving her own money but 5 AM for a teen on the weekends was a little rough! What she learned was that a smile goes a long way – with both employers and customers alike. Oh, she also discovered an unhealthy love for McDonald’s biscuits! Sonja’s first job was at Burger King—she was a cashier, but mostly “flirted with the guys in the muscle cars while working the drive thru window.” She earned $3.35/hour which was her spending money to buy her own clothes and do things like go to movies with friends. Her job taught her responsibility, how to deal with customers and that smiling goes a long way!

Here you go…

  • Grocery bagger—loved the independence and earning my own money. I learned to be on time!
  • Other than babysitting, The Gap—I was 16 and could not stand the folding protocol, which had to be done after the store closed using different sized boards depending on the item being folded. I learned that I should aim for something higher because I did not like punching a clock or being micro-managed.
  • First job was in the chart room at Kaiser Hospital in CA—I learned that you should never get sick at Kaiser! But the best job I had was a summer camp counselor—I learned everything there is to know about running a business and having employees from being able to manage a cabin of 14-year old boys.
  • First job was to fill in tax forms for a professional tax preparer…via typewriter! I liked knowing I was working a paid job. I didn’t like how poorly I performed (I was a terrible typist).
  • Bus boy at The Good Egg—I made $5/hour plus tips. I liked having spending money and that the place closed at 2:30 and I had no night shifts. I didn’t like being told what to do, didn’t love the manual labor when I was tired and didn’t love the early mornings on my high school weekends.
  • Staff accountant at Arthur Andersen—I learned how businesses run, how to be a professional and had access to sophisticated clients. I didn’t like the demands on my personal time (nights/weekends), professional dress each day, hardcore reviews by senior staff and overall office politics.
  • Carry out boy at AJ Bayless Grocery—they made me a cashier, which was cool, but the cashier wage (more than the minimum $1.25/hour) was not given to me since I was only 16…they only paid me $1.25/hour.
  • Worked at a popular hot dog place in Chicago. While cooking and serving were big parts of the job so were mopping, cleaning and restocking. I learned the more I did, the better I was appreciated. The manager liked me a lot…enough to take me up in his 4-seater Piper Cub and let me fly the plane for a few minutes!
  • Working in a men’s store in high school—I liked clothing and the nice discount I got on what I bought. Biggest thing I learned was how to deal with different kinds of people. After college while trying out in the NFL I worked at a printing business—I liked the flexible hours but it definitely made me realize I didn’t want to do blue collar work all my life.
  • First job was hustling for any work I could find within walking distance from our family home—pulled weeds, mowed lawns, shoveled snow, small paint jobs, delivered newspapers. I loved having pocket money for clothes and sports equipment. I learned to enjoy work—paying my own way made me feel responsible. I learned that work can be enjoyable when one is focused on securing a positive outcome. Most importantly I learned to respect the value of money and that saving with a goal made life less stressful. I learned that use of credit (interest) was expensive and opted to save/pay cash for expensive purchases.
  • Was hired by IBM to be mainframe consultant. I spent nine months learning about hardware and software—there were no computer courses in colleges at that time. I learned about computers, which were relatively new and began a career in an exciting field that grew very quickly. I also worked with customers to help them solve software problems—this improved my own technical skills as well as theirs. This experience helped me learn interpersonal skills which I used throughout my life. There were absolutely no negatives to my position with IBM. The only reason I left was they were the only major player in the computer field back then and their salaries were low. A few of my work friends were leaving to start a computer consulting company so I joined them…our first customer was IBM.
  • Working for my father at his hardware distribution facility. What I learned most from him was honesty and integrity—he was very humble, honest and educated. I learned to take those values with me throughout my career.
  • Working at the Kroger grocery store stocking and pricing packaged goods (had to price every can and box in the dark ages). I liked seeing people I knew who shopped there. I quit when the produce manager told me I had to put my thumb on the scale to overcharge customers for fruits and vegetables.
  • Sales girl at a department store. I liked dealing with customers and getting a paycheck! Prior to working, I took for granted everything my parents bought me. It made me look at things differently once I realized how difficult paying for things on my own really was.
  • Selling shoes in a department store when I was 16 (I lied about my age). I’ll never forget the pride in landing a job. What was valuable was adjusting to working with others and dealing with customers. That little high school job gave me a sense of responsibility and work ethic that helped me through the years.
  • Working as a cook/candy maker at the Karmel Korn Shop in Hammond, IN. I was 13 and worked for my parents—that was probably both the worst and best part of the job. I did like it when cute girls came in the shop and I met them by offering a piece of homemade chocolate fudge…always a good ice breaker!
  • I was an ice cream scooper at Baskin Robbins Ice Cream (Cactus/Tatum). I loved interfacing with the public and serving something customers loved. I disliked the grumpy people that in spite of getting a yummy treat were still grumpy! It prepared me well for dealing with a customer base and taught me that you have to do your best to “kill people with kindness”.
  • Busing tables at Willy & Guillermo’s on Central Ave in Phoenix—I was a sophomore in high school. I liked the responsibility of having a job, meeting people other than those in high school and making money. The work itself was not super desirable but it was a means to an end. I learned that there is a very wide range of human behavior and motivation. It reinforced the importance of education to maximize work options. I learned a little Spanish too.
  • Lugging beef at Iowa Beef Processors in Denison, IA. My shoulders bled every day. I learned that my freedom while working is an invaluable commodity.
  • Summer sports day camp counselor—I liked being outdoors (even in Houston summer) and teaching kids new sports and how to work as a team. I disliked parents who let their spoiled kids behave badly towards other kids and counselors.
  • My first job was at an apple orchard and pumpkin patch. I worked as a weeder in the pumpkin fields. It was a bit tough spending all day outside in the middle of summer and always on your feet. But 17-year old me was ecstatic to be earning the $7.25/hour minimum wage. What I disliked most was by the end of the day I was too exhausted to go out or do anything, so it felt like this job was my life for a while.
  • I had a paid summer internship with an advocacy group in New York City. The best thing about it was that once when I was in line at the bank to deposit my paycheck a woman looked at me and widened her eyes and said, “Are you Sylvester Stallone?” The worst thing about it was there was no air conditioning and I tried to cool off with a desk fan but that only cooled one side of my head at a time, resulting in headaches.
  • My first paid job was a summer rec leader at a city park making $3/hour when I was 17. In this job I learned how easily I could get a tan! My first job out of college was a financial analyst at Xerox—I thought it was easy and I couldn’t believe how much I was getting paid to this entry level work. But it wasn’t until a few years later that I realized how much more I really did learn. I would say that one of the most important things I have learned is that you don’t realize how much experience you are getting from a job until you leave it then reflect back on it for one reason or another.
  • My first job was a runner for a lawyer in downtown Las Vegas. I got to deliver documents to the courthouse and deposits to the bank. I worked a few hours after school my sophomore year. I liked learning about the law by reading the court cases. I didn’t like all the parking tickets I got!
  • Paper boy—didn’t like getting cold and wet in inclement Pittsburgh weather.
  • My first paying job was a Mother’s Day gift wrapper in a shoe department. Besides learning how to wrap a box, I learned to be responsible in a business setting and that doing a good job had its rewards—a job at Christmas!
  • I sorted cattle for Dad—loved it!
  • Babysitting for the Weiss family! Then working at a yogurt/ice cream shop at Paradise Valley Mall.
  • My first paid job was an apprentice butcher in my dad’s grocery store. I was 14 years old. I enjoyed the banter and camaraderie between my fellow workers. I really didn’t enjoy much else about the experience. I disliked the fact that I was cold all day despite wearing an apron and a white coat and then had to go out into the heat of the summer. I also learned what taxes were (didn’t like that either).
  • Working at a mortgage company where you would never leave the office. It was like selling windows. Someone would hand you a list of names and you would call hoping anyone would say yes. It was a slimy place. I learned that there are very unscrupulous people in the world and that people would sell their soul for money.
  • First real job was an “aircraft mechanic” at Cutter Aviation—I was 17 and really was just a “ramp rat” but got to hold a wrench occasionally. I loved the people, being around airplanes and the trust showed in me. I made $1.25/hour but it was better than digging sprinkler ditches in the sun. I had just gotten my private pilot’s license. I learned to complete every task well, whether being “captain of the head” or actually working on airplanes…someone’s life could depend on the quality of my work.
  • My first job was a “janitor” of the small church in the community where I grew up. My guess is that less than 50 people attended service there. The best thing about it was having complete responsibility and having no one really to answer to. Of course, that may have also been the worst thing too because if I didn’t do a good job, there was no one to encourage me to do better. I learned that I wanted to have a job where I could make more money and have a little more fun!
  • Retail sales in Benetton store (15 years old)—great experience learning customer service and camaraderie.
  • The Triumph of Chutzpah: When I found myself in Los Angeles with no job, no permanent residence and no real prospects, I learned the fine art of “reinventing” myself. This was before the advent of fact-checking via the internet and before lying to prospective employers was considered a criminal act. I don’t recommend it, but at the time, it worked. I answered an ad for an “experienced switchboard operator” (I was not). I don’t endorse lying, but somehow in those years, Chutzpa triumphed and I got the job. I was able to learn the basics quickly enough to get through the first few days with the help of friendly co-workers. In a few weeks, I got good enough to merit a promotion to “secretary” (my real expertise) and as they say, the rest is history. I should have applied to be a secretary but didn’t know they needed one. I think the take-away from that experience was “don’t be afraid to speak up about your abilities”. I loved the job, made good friends, and got a real going-away party including the gift of a gold bracelet which I wear to this day, 50-some years later.
  • About a hundred years ago when I was young, adventurous and ready to attack the world, I was beyond surprised to find out how many doors remained closed to my gender. There were, it seemed, even at the very tender age of ten, jobs that a girl simply “could not handle”. Today I find it amusing (and maybe even a little comforting?!?!?) that our ten year-olds are protected in the folds of and get to enjoy childhood longer than we had the opportunity to do so. Having said that, I learned to sell not ME but MY ABILITIES. I had my heart set on a job usually held by young men. It was a job I not only really, really wanted, but the only one I considered would allow me to purchase all my school necessities for the coming year. I can never hear the term “cherry-picking” something without memories of my first job flooding back because that is exactly what I did! I picked cherries with a group of young men between the ages of eleven and eighteen. I was not allowed any type of assistance from them, carrying my own ladders and equipment from tree to tree as called forward by the general picking crew was the condition by which I was finally granted the employment. We “elite”, who were paid a half penny a pound additional, were the “toppers”. We liked to think of ourselves as the real cherry pickers. We were the ones on the extension ladders with the “grabbers”, going after the sweet red nuggets left behind by the wave of pickers preceding our work. If we were willing to work hard and as some called it, take risks, we could make as much as $10 per morning, which was a fantastical sum for anyone in 1958. What I learned was that I could not top the trees if I fell from a precarious position and broke an arm or a leg…or both. I learned I would never have those brown two-strapped shoes I wanted to go with the brown and green box-pleated skirt in the Sears window if I couldn’t carry my own extension ladder or slowed down my pace. So I didn’t take UNNECESSARY risks. I learned where and how to brace the ladder to create a firm tripod with my foot and the tree. I exercised until I had tears to be strong enough to do the work, but I never had any regrets because it forged lifelong habits with lifelong benefits. I learned that sore muscles can be iced and that boys appreciated a girl who doesn’t whine. I also learned that cherry season is very short when looking at the grand orchard of life. There were so many more things I learned that first summer of employment…things which prepared me, I think, to better know and understand the expectations of any task put before you and even the mindset of the taskmaster. Priceless compensation!

Found this one as we were compiling this project (no, he is not a client)

–Gary Weiss, June 2019

The Finer Things Archive