My Jobs #1
I turned 18 in August of 1974. Gas was 36 cents a gallon and minimum wage was 2 bucks an hour. Throughout high school I played drums in a rock band. I made pretty good money for what I did but when I finished high school I knew I needed a real job to make it on my own. So I filled out a few applications and got hired at a local chain gas station ( which shall remain nameless ). My new boss was training me in and he started telling me about the safe. The safe was about waist high, sat behind the counter and had a combination locked round door on top. To the side of the door there was a slot about 10 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Then he told me what the slot was for. He said, “If anyone comes in here to rob the store and they have a gun or a knife or something and they tell you to open the safe, you grab the keys off the hook here and you make like you’re gonna open the safe then you drop the keys down that slot see ’cause then the keys see, they fall down inside the safe and then they can’t rob you.” It was at this point that I knew I wasn’t meant to be a lifer at this job. I said, “Mister, I really need this job, but if somebody comes in here and points a gun or a knife in my face for 2 bucks an hour I will help them carry the entire store out to their car.” His jaw started working but no sound came out of his mouth. Finally he said, “But, but, but, you can’t do that, this is company policy. You have to save the money in the safe.” I thought about this for a second,and said, ” Ok sir, whatever you say.”
A few weeks later I watched a car pull into the driveway of the station. It was swerving and going way too fast. The car clipped the gas pump, knocking it clean off the ground and into the air. Flames shot about 15 feet straight up and my boss leaped over the counter and ran full speed for the back room where the pump shut off switches were. In those days they didn’t have automatic switches. The car kept right on going out the other driveway and down the street. Luckily someone got the license number. Turns out it was a 15 year old girl taking her boyfriends car for a joy ride. Joy. I had watched my short life flash before my eyes in those flames. It didn’t look like much. I decided that I wanted my life to look better the next time it flashed before my eyes, and in order for it to do that I needed to stay alive. So I went and got a job in a cereal factory. How harmful can cereal be?
My Jobs #2
The continuing saga of jobs I have had. I left the gas station in 1975 due to a distinct lack of safety and went to work for a cereal company. I’m thinking this should be pretty safe right? So my boss gives me odd jobs to do around the factory. I work on the clean up crew and the popcorn line. The company made popcorn balls along with cereal and flavored soybean treats. One day the boss takes me off the line and we go into a room where there are three large water pump systems for the safety sprinklers. He tells me that the pipes from the three systems run all over the plant. He says, ” When I look up at the ceiling I can’t tell which pipe is connected to which pump system, and I want to be able to. It’s your job to paint stripes on the pipes so I will know which system they belong to.” I asked him how I was going to be able to get to those pipes which were twenty feet in the air. “I don’t know how you’re going to do it and I don’t want to know. Just get it done.”
The next day I found myself hanging twenty feet in the air from a sprinkler pipe with paint, tape, a paint brush, wire brush and rags hanging off my belt. Both legs and one hand hanging on to the pipe and the other hand scraping, taping, and painting. No safety rope, no net or parachute. Nothing between me and the solid concrete floor except air. Some of those pipes were in really scary places. Between machines and tanks and places I could barely fit through. So much for safety.
Another job I had at the cereal factory was loading box cars with cases of cereal. The box cars were on the railroad tracks outside the building and it was our job to move them into place and load them up. In the summer it got to 125 degrees F. in those cars. You would have to catch a case of cereal off a chute and throw it to the next guy and turn and catch another one right away our it would hit you and knock you out of the box car onto the ground. It was about a five foot drop. You did this all day. Five bucks an hour. That was good money because minimum wage then was two ten an hour. I was in great shape. There was a water hose outside of the plant and I would turn on the water and hold it over my head at the end of the shift. I was 18. When you’re 18 there are a lot of things you don’t care about like you do when you’re 56. I didn’t care about walking home soaking wet because it felt good to be cooled off.
So that was my job at the cereal factory. Had I stayed there I could have made a good career out of it but like I said, I was 18. There were new adventures to try. Next stop, North Carolina.
My Jobs #3
At the end of April, 1975, I found myself on a Jefferson Bus with a $3000.00 cashiers check in hand headed for North Carolina. Why North Carolina you might ask? Good question. I went to high school with a couple of friends who were related. They both left school to go south to live with Ricks brother. For the purposes of this story my friends will be Rick and Jay. Why a $3000.00 cashiers check? I had recently received a $6000.00 check as a settlement for an accident I had been in. More on that later. And since money means adventure to an 18 year old kid, I quit my job and headed south. I wasn’t a complete fool however, and left some of it in the bank.
I remember my first day in N. C. It felt like I had a wet wool blanket draped over my whole body while standing in a sauna. Nice. I thought I would die. I was born and raised in a Northern state and had never been in the southeast. It was like a blast furnace. But I was young and recovered pretty quickly. My friends were glad to see me and we got on like always.
I broke my back in a car accident in 1972. A friend was driving and the right front tire got too close to the edge of the tar and we went in the ditch. Then we flew the car over a driveway and smashed into the ground on the other side, ’cause cars don’t fly even when you try to make them. There were no seat belts in the car, (1972) so I was thrown up into the roof and tore open my head on the rear view mirror (56 stitches) and this caused compression fractures in my lower lumbar vertebrae. My tissues and muscles were so swollen that they compressed my spinal column so I couldn’t feel anything or move from the waist down. Nice.
A month in the hospital and another at home left me with a huge brace from my crotch to my armpits that had metal bars up the back and laced up like a corset. I walked with a cane to keep from tipping over and took muscle relaxers and major pain meds. Besides a cross hatched scar across my forehead. This is the condition I was in when I went back to school. No Phys Ed for me. So two years later I receive a $6000.00 check from the insurance company. And it was all mine. Half went into a savings account (momma didn’t raise no fools) and the rest went to North Carolina with me.
While I was there, we built a car out of junk cars we had access to. It started fine so we borrowed the license plates off Ricks brother’s car and took to the road. The county sheriff liked our car better than we did so he took it from us. Said if we paid the fine we could have the license plates back. So we borrowed the license plates from the neighbors car and drove Ricks brother’s car into town to get the plates off our car which were really off Ricks brother’s car and changed them in the parking lot of the sheriffs office. We let the sheriff keep the car we made seeing how he liked it enough to take it anyway.
My friends knew some guys in a rock band who were looking for a drummer. They wanted me to try out for the job but I didn’t think I was going to stay that long so I didn’t. Well it seems that one of the guys in the band knew B. J. Thomas. B. J. Thomas was a rock star at the time who wrote songs like “Raindrops keep falling on my Head” and “Hooked on a Feelin'”. I know there were others but they escape me. So B. J. Thomas comes to town looking for a band to tour with him for his upcoming U.S. tour. Guess who gets the job. The band I didn’t try out for. That was my one not so close brush with fame and fortune. Alas.
While I was in N.C. I didn’t need to have a job because I had money. So I just had alot of fun instead. I met alot of crazy people there. We drove to this place way up in the hills and came to an old cabin. On the porch sits this old fella with a long white beard, overalls hitched up only on one shoulder, no shirt, straw hat, Blue Tick Hound sleeping on the porch and a shotgun across his lap sitting in a rocking chair. This was amazing! Like right out of a movie. But the best part was, wait for it, He made moonshine. Which we bought. And drank. And threw up. It was great to be young. After awhile I started missing home so I hopped another Jefferson and off I went. We all stayed friends for a long time and I went back to see them a couple of times over the years. Some other friends of mine who knew them went down there too. One of my friends drove a little Volkswagen at that time. Rick and Jay and a couple other guys had this little airplane they built from a kit. It needed a Volkswagen engine to make it fly. My friend had a Volkswagen engine. Attached to her car. They borrowed it to make their airplane go. Without telling her. She got in her car to go get smokes and it doesn’t start. So she opens up the hood which is in the back and finds herself staring at the ground. That’s the kind of thing that would happen to you if you hung around those guys much. Well that’s probably good enough for now. I’m not sure where the story will go next. I’ll have to think about it.
My Jobs #4
Some time after coming back from North Carolina, I had a job washing dishes at a local restaurant.We had a regular customer come in for lunch everyday who ordered chili. He would eat his chili and then complain about it. It was never hot enough according to Chili man. “You guy’s gotta make some hot chili one a these days,” he said. Finally the cooks got fed up with his complaining and they made him a “special” bowl of chili. It had jalapeno peppers, habanero peppers and hot chili’s. Chili man came in for his usual bowl and one of the cooks hand delivered it to him. “We made a special bowl of chili for you today, We hope you like it”.
He smelled it. He looked at it, from several angles. He stirred it and studied it. Finally he stuck his spoon in and took a mouthful. He chewed. He ate the rest of the bowl up in about a minute. “Finally you guys made a great bowl of chili. If I could have one like that everyday, that’d be great”! The cook told him to get out. He laughed, “See you guys tomorrow”!