As I wind down my last few weeks on the job at MegaCorp, I am reflecting a bit on all of the jobs I had when I was a kid – before I graduated from college and started working professionally. As I look back, I figure that I only had about 18 months time off of work from the time I was in 6th grade until now. That’s 37 years.
I’d like to share that I learned something profound in each of them, but that would be lying. Mostly I learned how to be a ‘pretty good’ employee and pick some fun PERKS along the way. Here are the 10 jobs that got me started working …
CHRISTMAS CATALOGS – One of the first ‘jobs’ I had was putting address stickers on Christmas catalogs at the JCPenney store where my Dad was the store manager. I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade and I would come to his store after school in August when the Christmas catalogs came out and make sure everyone had a sticker on the front with the store’s phone number. There were thousands of catalogs several times a year (Christmas, Spring/Summer & Fall/Winter) and it felt like a real job to me as I came to work with my Dad and he took me out for lunch. BEST PERK: He couldn’t pay me any money from the store, but let me pick some merchandise equal to about 50 cents and hour. I remember bringing home a T-Shirt and a bunch of Whitman Christmas Coloring Books.
SEED & CARD SALES – Another job I took on as a kid was selling seeds & Christmas cards door-to-door when I was a kid. The comic books would advertise all of the AMAZING toys you could earn by using the AUTHENTIC selling kit they would send you. I did this with one of my older brothers and was always shocked when anyone actually bought anything from me. I was still in grade school, so I’m sure they were trying to be encouraging of my blossoming enterprising nature. I how much I ever sold, but it couldn’t have been more than $15 total. I don’t think I ever got the FM headphone radio I was so excited about. BEST PERK: Lots of extra seed packets I planted in our backyard and cut-open milk cartons
PAPER ROUTES – I had a few different newspaper routes when I was in junior high school, starting in sixth grade. This was my first real job. I rode my bike delivering the Quincy Herald Whig around our small town in Illinois every evening and Sunday morning for several years. The papers got delivered to our house with separate fliers that had to be collated into the papers before they were delivered. Sometimes on Sunday mornings I would have a huge stack of papers and a couple dozen separate inserts (including Parade). In addition to delivering the newspaper (sometimes in the dark of winter after school & basketball practice) I would have to collect subscription $$$ and turn the money into our dispatcher (who was a nice lady, but unfortunately named Iona Schmuck). BEST PERK: Wasted every dollar I ever made on comic books, 2/$1 hot dogs, and Dairy Queen treats before I ever got home each evening.
FARM WORK – I spent one summer working on a corn detasseling crew. It only lasted a couple weeks, but it was hard work in the field all day. We’d take a school bus to some distant farm field early in the morning and walk up and down rows of corn and pull out the tassels. Don’t ask me why this job needed to be done, but it was hard work and I felt like prison labor with the college-aged supervisors yelling at us to ‘go faster’ up and down the rows. The dew in the morning made you 100% soaking wet until after lunch and then the sun would scorch down on you. A few weeks we would skip the corn field and ‘walk beans’ – pulling weeds out between the rows. BEST PERK: I can’t really think of any. It might have been the worst job I ever had. I did buy a mini Igloo Playmate cooler to bring my lunch in and I still have it, though.
GOOFY JOB – One summer I had an acting job at the local mall (where my Dad had a store) as Goofy in a ‘Salute to Walt Disney World’ production. It ran for a few weeks and we got to wear the official costumes that were featured in the Magic Kingdom in Orlando (the only park Disney had in Florida back then). I was Goofy – others were Mickey, Minnie & Donald. In addition to a show that ran 3-4x a day, we visited kids in the hospital, rode on a fire truck in a parade, and made other appearances. It was a great summer job and I think we got paid $250 for the two weeks. It was a huge amount of money when the minimum wage was only a couple bucks an hour. BEST PERK: Got to ride a fire truck & hung out at the mall all day between shows. That was a pretty cool place to hangout in the ’80s.
TARGET STORE – I worked at a Target Store in the suburbs during high school. It took many months to get a job there – I kept going back and talking to the personnel director every Monday afternoon after school. His assistant later told me that he said “As soon as a job comes open, that kid is going to get it.” I ended up working there for four years in almost every role in the store. I started by stocking shelves, but also cashiered, worked in the auto service center, mixed paint in hardware, stocked the record department, and moonlighted as the store’s switchboard operator. I even wrote software on a Commodore PC to help the store track shipping productivity. Twice I worked 90+ days in a row without a day off. BEST PERK: Girl at the snack bar / bakery would give us free cookies before she was caught (and fired) by the ‘cookie cops’.
RESIDENT ASSISTANT – For two years, I worked in our college dorms as a “RA”. You weren’t supposed to call them ‘dorms’ – they were officially ‘residence halls’. I was assigned to the all-guys “Grimm Hall” – which which aptly named. I’m still friends with a number of guys I worked with in that hall. It was the first role I ever had where I sensed I had some leadership inclination. While some RA’s went to the Niedermeyer School of Leadership (see Animal House), I was not the strictest of disciplinarians. I did enjoy helping people and trying to make our dorm community a fun place to live with a minimum level of respect for each other. BEST PERK: Extra-large single room for free and a key to everywhere in the building (including the roof where we went to drink beer).
COLLEGE RADIO – I had a fun job on campus as the Music Director of our college radio station ENERGY 88.7 FM. I don’t think there could have been a better job on campus, although I didn’t make much money at it. In fact, at one point the professor overseeing the station asked me if I would work for free as the station was out of money. I insisted that I needed to be paid and made up for it by rebuilding the station’s music library for free by working with record stores and the record companies. The station had been cut off from getting music at one point because we didn’t sign their licensing agreements and more than half the station’s library had disappeared under a previous Music Director several years earlier. I also worked at a bar in town as a DJ and my girlfriend (now wife) and her friends would come down often. BEST PERK: Always had the latest music, had my own private office at the station, and got free beer at the bar when I worked.
LIQUOR STORE – I also worked at a liquor store in college. At the start of one school year, we built a giant wall from cases of Old Milwaukee beer that was on sale for $2.99 a 24 pack (incredible value!). It was amazing. It had the name of our college spelled out in blue (Old Milwaukee Light), against a background of red (regular Old Milwaukee). It was true brewery art and I wish I had a picture of it. Working here, I mostly stood around and heard cool stories from the aged stoner who also part-timed at the store (an old friend of the owner). BEST PERK: I had a ‘side hustle’ going where I’d fill out rebate forms from trash packaging and receipts customers didn’t want. Probably made an extra $5-10 a shift x3-4 shifts a week.
CAR DEALER – My brother got a job at a large Chevrolet dealer running the ’Delivery” department that completed your trip through the dealer to buy a new car. Our job was to fill out all of the warranty & licensing information and make a big presentation to you of your new car on a red carpet. This faux ceremony took place under the spotlights after you spent 90 minutes getting beaten up by the salesman, sales manager, and finance manager. Half the people liked the spectacle, half the people just wanted to get in their new car and get the hell out of there (and start their new car depreciation). We even threw in a free tank of gas. BEST PERK: We got to drive around new Corvettes, Camaros, Blazers, and Silverados – especially after dark when the dealer management was gone and there was one slow customer who didn’t get out of Finance until midnight.
So those are the humble jobs that led into a long professional career over another 27 years. What are the interesting jobs and hustles that you did as a kid? Any cool perks? Learn anything profound?
Image Credit: Pixabay