Tuesday, February 28, 2006

all the jobs I've ever had

Since I dreamed up this category, I guess I'd better contribute.

I did the usual (for girls, anyway) rounds of babysitting. At times, if there were Portland Trail Blazer games on, I'd lay hold of the TV and not let the boys watch their cartoons. Hee. And they (or their parents) PAID me for this! Yes, I could've been better. I still have a scar on my thumb from when I tripped and fell backwards, down stairs, while holding an infant. I somehow managed to hurt only myself. I didn't drop him or let him hit the ground. Wow, I sound like quite a nut. Moving on...

My first "real" (?) job -- a summer job, before college -- was working at the Willow Drive Tree Factory -- er, nursery. I believe I applied at every non-fast-food, entry-level job in Ephrata (that would be about three places) before falling back on this option. But actually, it was pretty fun. The rising at 4 a.m., well, not so much, but lots of people from high school -- some of them my friends! -- worked out there, too. It was extremely tedious, but we could talk all we wanted, and/or listen to music. I still get shivers (in a bad way) when certain songs are played from the two summers I worked there. We had a radio tuned to a station that played the top dozen or so songs. We heard them an average of four times a day. I'm guessing I have less tolerance than most for repetitious music -- a bad trait as the parent of a youngster. At least most (non-Barney) kids' music isn't as horrifying as the Top 40 usually is. One memorable one is "Buffalo Dance". I might well have blocked all the others out -- until they surface unexpectedly on the loudspeaker in the mall or someplace. Yikes.

One of the most interesting things about Willow Drive is that is was owned and run by Mormons. So most of the Mormon teen contingent -- a large number -- worked there.
Why was this interesting? Er, I don't know. It just came up now and then. Talks turned to religion, etc. I learned lots of stuff about Mormonism -- kind of the insidery speech, and stuff -- that I didn't know. They all took off one week to visit the new temple in -- Seattle? Portland? Someplace -- before it was dedicated and then all top-secret and stuff.
Then there were a few of us Catholic/atheist/other types, then a bunch of Hispanics -- some illegal immigrants, as it turns out -- who worked on their own crews. The men were rather desperate, as they liked to ogle us in our sweatpants, sheen of dirt and sweat caked on our makeupless faces, when the crews were near each other. Ick. It was dirty, backbreaking work -- by which I mean we were bent double all day -- but give me work outside in the dirt, with the opportunity to shoot the breeze with my peers, over several other jobs I had later.

The two summers after that first summer, I had the sweetest job EVER. I worked for the Dept. of Natural Resources because one of my friend's dad was a manager there. The flimsy official reason was that I was studying to be in an ag industry -- sort of; I went to college with the intention of being a veterinarian. But by the time I tossed that idea aside, I had experience on the job, so they could hire me back! Sweet. My main duty was to take a brand new Chevy S-10 out into Grant and Douglas counties -- some backcountry if ever there was some -- and talk to farmers who owned plots of government-owned land and inspect their crops. Or hear why they hadn't planted any. To fill out a little sheet with whatever they said. It was a hoot -- I lived in a small town, but driving out to farmers' houses in the middle of NOWHERE was another level altogether. I really grew to respect the landscape during those summers. There's natural beauty everywhere, as it turns out. Even in the high desert. I did get a lot of cheatgrass in my socks, though. It was cute, how some of the farmers were so paranoid to have to talk to me. And I had no idea what I was doing. I just had to act like I did. I think they invented the whole inventory to give us interns (two of us) something to do. But, it was fun. So that's where your taxpayer money went those summers.

The second year I did that, I had signed up (actually been 'chosen,' as well, if you can believe it) to be a "Rho Chi" -- a Rush counselor -- for my sorority during Greek Rush. Washington State starts quite early in the school year so as to pack in a semester before Christmas, so I had to bid adieu to my awesome DNR job far too soon that summer. My next school year was to take place in Wales, which started much later, so I had a spare month in which to acquire cash after returning from Rush. Let's see, I don't recall if it was too late in the season to work at Willow Drive, or if I thought factory work would actually be better. (moment of insanity there) I went to work at a place in Quincy, Wash. (motto: Opportunities Unlimited -- for most of the time I lived in Ephrata, someone had painted over the "Un" part on the sign) It REALLY stunk. Literally, and figuratively. Ten-hour shifts, staring at a conveyor belt, smelling the rank stench of filthy creamed corn, trying to weed out the spotted or not fully peeled corn cobs from the rest. EVERYONE else who worked there was Hispanic and non-English-speaking, and it was too noisy to talk during work, anyway. I hated it. To make it worse, it wasn't an everyday job; I was on call. Whenever the phone rang at my parents' house, my stomach would churn. It was the only time I believe I've ever experienced sheer dread. I did, however, discover the wonders of ginger tablets to ward off motion sickness. Worked like a charm.
I probably only did that for about 10 days, all told. But it stands out as one of the worst periods of my life. I am really some kind of wimp. It gives me huge -- massive -- respect for people for whom that sort of opportunity is welcomed and embraced. All I longed for after that was a desk job. ANY desk job. Even the loathsome data entry would have been fabulous.

Then, the year in Wales. The summer after that, back to Willow Drive -- too late to get anything else, and not much else to get, as I've said.

I believe the summer after that was the Miracle of the Dow Jones Editing Internship. It was announced one day in my journalism editing class that there would be a three-hour test for one of 50 internships nationwide that Wednesday. I thought, What, and miss 90210? (dating myself there, I see.) But I did anyway, and actually landed an internship. A friggin' miracle, I assure you. I learned later that I had a high score but little to no experience, and the powers that be like to 'take a chance' on one person per region per year, and I was their woman. Thank the Lord. So, what fabulous locale was I to be placed in? Answer: Spokane, Wash. Two hours from my hometown. Blah. At the Spokesman-Review. But, it was great experience, and six months later, after graduation, they took me back for a six-month stretch to fill in for someone's sabbatical.

From there, the Seattle Times hired me for a three-year internship (ridiculous thing, a three-year internship; tells you all you need to know about the Seattle Times' fiscal policies), where I learned more than I will admit not knowing about editing, etc. Sports dept. work is the hardest of all at a newspaper. It really is. The Friday and Saturday night bombardment of calls from local high school coaches with results; late nights, and weekends, of work gathering scores and stories, because most sports happens at night; the rampant lack of respect because, well, you're the "toy department." But, it was fun. And, as I said, a learning experience. I wasn't able to make many new friends on my 7:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. shift, though.

As that was coming to an end, I thought, "Well, I'm going to be picky. Let's see: I'll work in San Francisco, or Portland. Or Seattle." None of those places bit on my applications. "Hm! Or, here's some paper called the Stars and Stripes -- they have a 13-month job opening in Germany. I could handle living in Europe again!" My parents thought I was a bit nutty, I think. The interview took five minutes, over the phone. Then I was hired, and given less than a month to pack up all my stuff and show up. Sweet!! I sold the car, paid off the credit card debt and boarded a plane for Frankfurt.

Spent 19 months there, actually. In sports again, but MUCH easier work this time. Learned a few things about designing pages, which I'd never really done before for my job. After that, they hired me for the new D.C. office opening up. I figured I'd come back, do the required year, and be back to the West Coast. But, darn it! I made some great friends (most of whom have since moved away), found a wonderful church (now defunct) and, as it turns out, had a kid and got engaged... You know the rest. Or will know it, as soon as I do.

Oh, I forgot several college jobs -- those will have to come tomorrow. I'm late to catch my ride.


  1. OH MY GOSH!! "Buffalo Stance" by Nena Cherry ALWAYS takes me back to Willow Drive too!! That job pretty much convinced me that I needed a college education or I was going to end up there forever and that would have been a fate worse than death. I guess it's always made me appreciate the jobs I've had since then.

    Thanks for the memories :)

  2. You were in a sorority ?! ..can opened...worms everywhere.

  3. Uh-oh... I kinda figured that one would out me. Yes. Many, many blog-worthy moments there. (that's where the 'sister who gave up sex for Lent' story came from, too.)
    I'll save it for another post, but for me, that decision (to join; I went to Rush in the first place just to get a jump on going to college; case the place out, I guess) was truly one of those moments in which I was saying, "God, should I do this? Or shouldn't I?" And I felt that it truly didn't matter to him -- that it would be okay either way. I am maybe a hair this side of regretting the decision at this point, but boy, it taught me a lot about people. And myself, I guess! Shocker: I value privacy. And not having people I don't even like all that much barfing in our shared bathroom each and every weekend. And pettiness... And sleeping in a large, cold, light, shared space... And frivolity... And being judged by what I wear and how much I weigh...
    Ahhhh, that's a long list.

  4. I went to a college without sororities and had a somewhat negative (because of being uninformed) view of them. But at UNC and even here at W&J, I've found some of them to be diverse, open, and supportive. I guess it depends on the sorority! There were even Christian ones at UNC.

  5. Oh, I have an INFORMED negative opinion of sororities, in some regards. Mine was pretty different, but not entirely so. Still lots of carousing, but -- despite my earlier comment -- not nearly as judgmental as most. Which is why I 'got in' (as you'd know if you'd seen me in that era).
    A Christian sorority sounds awesome, actually. Being in a sorority didn't leave a lot of time for other, one might say more important, things.
    I'd say that the general scene in sororities was MUCH different than in fraternities. You couldn't have alcohol on the premises in sororities, for example, whilst fraternities seemed to be all about having alcohol on site. I'll never forget the telltale stench of dirty socks and cheap, stale beer that heralded the passing through a fraternity's portals.

  6. To those of us who knew "Katie" in High School, we were just as surprised as you all when she told us she was going to "Rush" at WSU. The LAST person I could ever see in a sorority!! What do they say? "Life is stranger than fiction."