By Terry Hannum Contributing Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Ice cream stands, ball parks, farming, yard work, road crews, car washes, babysitting and construction all boom with temporary jobs for young people to earn money and gain experience during the summer months.
The first job has the ability to hold steadfast in most people’s memories, with even unpleasant experiences taking on comedic proportions with a bit of time passing. Ask a table of strangers about what their first jobs were like, and everyone becomes friends hearing each other’s stories about the best, worst, dirtiest and funniest work ever.
Even bad jobs have plenty of lessons to be learned — the job you don’t want to do confirms the likable jobs. But others have the opposite experiences, where first jobs offer incentive, mentors and inspiration to drive them forward into a lifelong career.
Camp counselors who become teachers, summer lawn mowing that leads to landscape architecture, ice cream stand vendors who turn into successful salespeople and dog walkers who become veterinarians — summer jobs can shape likes and dislikes at a young age.
Heather Johnson of Delhi had some interesting memories of her first job at 16 in a hometown diner.
“When business was slow, I always had a book with me and I would read. I was engrossed in a Western story when customers came in. I couldn’t stop thinking that one of the customers looked very familiar to me.”
Johnson brought them menus, took orders and shared some conversation with them, the entire time trying to think of where she knew this man from. All at once she realized, “This man looked exactly like the character described in the book I was reading, even his mannerisms,” Johnson said. She laughed and explained to the man how she “knew” him.
Margie Keller, a former Margaretville resident, wanted to start earning money early in life to pay for summer camp. With farm work papers in hand. she found work with the help of a local farmer friend.
“My first summer job was at 12 years old picking strawberries with a Spanish-speaking farm labor crew in Schoharie,” Keller said. “I did not speak Spanish, so any communication had to be done with hand signals. I made very little money the first day because I was slow and many baskets I picked were over or under ripe berries, which did not count toward my total amount.
“The next day I came to work sunburned and sore, but I stuck with it, got faster and learned some Spanish words (not all of them repeatable),” she added.
“I was glad that the strawberry season was cut short by rain because I don’t think I would have held up for too long. I earned the money I needed and took away a lifelong respect for those who farm, knowing I could never work that hard,” Keller concluded.
First summer jobs are memorable for many different reasons. Oneonta’s Robert Garfield shared a story of his first job where some of his memories were captured on film.
“My first summer job was at the game arcade at Rockaway’s Playland amusement park in 1975,” Garfield recalled. “This was just a few years before the advent of ‘Space Invaders’ and the other microprocessor-based video games that would revolutionize the coin-operated amusement game business. But in 1975, the games still used electromechanical technology that made lots of clicking noises.
“We had pinball machines with rotating score reels, shooting games where the targets danced around on motors, and driving games that used rotating drums to represent the road. The only game that had a video screen was Wheels Bally/Midway, an upright driving game where you had to steer something that looked like a car around other cars that tried to crash into you. In 1975, people stood in line to play it.
“The east wall of the arcade was lined with Skee-Ball machines. Some arcades had machines that automatically dispensed reward tickets for your score but our machines didn’t do this. My job was to distribute the tickets by hand and, if a pretty girl was playing, I’d give her her some extra tickets. (Not that it made much difference. You had to save up around a googol of tickets just to take home a coffee cup).”
The site of all of Garfield’s memories is no more, having closed in 1986, but it lives on in film.
“Just after (Rockaway’s Playland) closed, Woody Allen used it as a backdrop for a scene in his movie ‘Radio Days,’ which was filmed in the Rockaways,” Garfield explained. “You can see the scaffolding of the doomed roller coaster rising up above the wall on the south side of the park.”
Stacey Tromblee of Delhi also had an amusement park job experience.
“My first job at about 16 years old was at the Buckaroo Round-up in Frontier Town,” Tromblee said. This park opened in 1952, offering patrons a Wild West-style experience, including bank robberies, dunkings and shoot-outs.
“My older sister had a job there and I decided to work there too,” Tromblee explained. “My job was to round up their six horses, (and) groom and saddle them before letting ticket holders take a ride around a ring. My uniform was a Western shirt and jeans along with a cowboy hat and boots. I remember one horse, Luke, that would stop with a rider on his back then suddenly run forward to bite the rear end of the horse that was in front.
“My Buckaroo Round-up job wasn’t as fun as my sister’s job,” Tromblee recalled. “She had a horseback riding routine in the show arena. My job did have some benefits, though, because I was near the time clock where everyone punched in and out, so I got to talk to a lot of the employees. My pay was $3.25 per hour.”
Like Tromblee, Delhi’s Florence Grill easily recalled how much she made at her first job, which was at Newberry’s Department Store.
“I remember how much I was being paid because I made more than many of the other employees,” Grill recalled. “I started out at 57.5 cents per hour, but because I knew how to do fractions, I was raised up to 60 cents per hour. I was 14 years old and I started out as a cashier.
“It wasn’t a very good start because I was so nervous and made a mistake with my first customer’s change due. The customer laughed and told me not to get so flustered, it was Christmas time.
“After the holiday it was inventory time and this was not my favorite part of the job. Sometimes I had to go down into the cellar and it terrified me. Of course as soon as the others knew I was afraid, they would tease me about animals being in the boxes and things like that. To this day I do not like cellars!” she concluded.
Whether a formative experience or just another chapter in one’s life, first jobs always hold a special place in our memories.