Friday, June 19, 2009

A Brief History of Summer Jobs

The best thing about being an "adult" is the fact that you no longer have to look for and hold a summer job. Real jobs are bad enough; summer jobs can be awful, if you can even find one. My parents didn't care about me working during high school, probably because they didn't want to give me a car and wanted to ensure that I couldn't afford a car, but beginning the summer before college they were insistent that I at least try to work. I spent the summer after high school graduation at Dunn and Bradstreet looking up companies on microfiche, transcribing some assigned number next to each company's name, for eight hours a day, five days a week. Look up number, write it down, look up number, write it down. Soul-killing stuff, indeed.

The following summer I managed to find a six-week job helping out at a camp for kids with ADD. A friends' mother was on the board of the group that sponsored the camp, which explains why they hired someone with no experience working with such children, no interest in going into health or social services, and no real interest in children in general. I don't remember much from this experience except that it rained a lot, my main duty was handing out Ritalin, and I was miserable.

I spent the next summer in Kenya, much to my parents' chagrin, not because I was going off to Africa at a young age, but because it meant that I couldn't have a summer job. This was, of course, the best summer of my college years. Finally, the summer before my senior year, I got a job with the PA/NJ Bridge Commission. Every summer the Commission hired a certain number of college students to "help out." Really the whole thing was some sort of political kickback; I got the job because my mother spent months pestering our State Senator, who was some sort of family acquaintance.

I suppose EZ Pass has been the demise of this program; my job was to fill in for the regular toll-takers who were out on vacation. Whenever possible I worked the graveyard shift because traffic was light overnight and I could sit in the booth smoking and reading and listening to the radio for hours on end. It was the summer of 1984; if I never hear the song "Sunglasses at Night" again I'll die a happy woman. That summer the bridge was being painted, so traffic was down to one lane in each direction. During the morning rush, there could be quite a wait to get through the booth and across the bridge. Annoying thing number one: if I was the only female toll-taker, the truck drivers would line up at my booth, damn the long wait, just because they felt like seeing a woman. Annoying thing number two: every other car driver would ask, "When are you going to finish painting the bridge already?" During my next break, I'd respond, but traffic jams don't engender much of a sense of humor.

If there were no open toll-taking shifts, I'd be assigned to "help" with the office janitorial staff. Said staff was one woman named Toots. The office was a break room, conference room, storage room, bathrooms, and one large office occupied by the Commissioner. Cleaning the entire building only took Toots a couple of hours, and she didn't want any smart aleck college kid getting in her way, but she also didn't want the Commissioner to know how little work there was to be done. So, days when I was assigned to Toots, she would insist that I hide in the women's room. For the entire shift. 7 AM to 3 PM. Toots somehow managed to spend her entire shift hanging around the hall outside the women's room, and any and all attempts at escape were immediately foiled. She also insisted that I take my breaks with her, since she was "supervising" me (yes, I had scheduled breaks from my toil in the lavatory). I don't remember much about Toots, except that she did not like Gerladine Ferraro, did not like her at all.

Since college I've held jobs that I've loved and jobs that I've hated, but no jobs as random, no jobs as stupid, no jobs as memorable, as summer jobs.


LVCI said...

My rule of thumb... If it's a job you love, it's doesn't pay too much. If it's a job no one wants, it still doesn't pay too much!

My most enjoyable jobs were... usher at the old Rialto Theatre. After that, final inspection for a local electronics firm that made musical instruments. Then radio broadcasting. None of those paid spit.

Dunn and Bradstreet- Dittos been there, done that too!

Since high school I've been thinking about the perfect, high paying job I want to do for the rest of my life... I'm 61. So guess that pretty much sums it up. Hey, I'm still working on it


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