Ancient History

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Whenever my siblings and I would complain about having to do a distasteful job, my dad would trot out stories of working in chicken houses or cleaning spittoons in his family’s bar. Judging from the photo, it doesn’t look like the shady gangster hideout I pictured in childhood.

Of course these jobs always paid a quarter. But that one coin could buy a hamburger, french fries, a chocolate malted, a day at the movies, a bag of jacks, a phone call to ma from the corner booth to tell her he’d be late for supper, a big green marble, admission to the carnival, a bag of popcorn, a peek at the fat lady, and three rings to toss at empty grape soda bottles to win a big blue elephant for the girl next door.

Luckily, I have stories like this to share with my kids. My family didn’t own any kind of business where I could do the jobs nobody else wanted to do, though. My first real job was at an amusement park called Fun Junction. I learned how to install a new roll of tickets in skee-ball machines and fix them when they got jammed. I learned how to operate amusement park rides:

1. Press the green button.

    a. The ride should be long enough so patrons don’t complain to 17-year-old supervisor.
    b. The ride should be short enough to ensure nobody launches hot dog lunch onto their seat.

2. Press the red button.
3. Above all else, look bored.

Starting wage for this job was $2 an hour*.

Someday my kids will be wide-eyed at the miniscule amount I was paid. They’ll be even more shocked when I tell them everything I managed to do during the summer of 1987 with so few funds.

For $1.05, you could get a taco and small Pepsi at Taco Bell. Movies were cheap, especially at the drive-in with a boost over the pathetic fence from a friend. It was free to drive up and down and up and down and up and down North Avenue for hours on end, listening to cassette mixes of bouncily depressing music. You could borrow mom and dad’s camera to take artsy black-and-white photos of run-down buildings and interesting doors—but you had to wait a week to see the pictures because black-and-white film was sent to Salt Lake City for processing. That’s okay, because you’d be busy playing bad tennis, writing bad poetry, and working on your tan in anticipation of the first day of school and the debut of a brand new you for Junior Year. A more confident you, a wiser you, a richer you—because you had a job, but you didn’t let it have you.

*we made less than minimum wage because it was categorized as seasonal work

11 comments to Pittance

  • Mopsy –
    It actually DOES look like a shady gangster hideout.
    I love this.

    Rach’s last blog post..what am I missing?

  • Tracy (tjly7)

    Oh my gosh! I have tears running down my face from laughing at this! I SWEAR my Dad told the same stores. He got paid 50 cents for bailing hay on Uncle Dan’s farm and then they had to WALK several miles home. But they would stop at the corner store and buy all that same stuff for a quarter. hahahahahaha!

    I never thought about adding in my own stories to the kids – I think I got $3.25 an hour in my first job for working at the movie theater. Where we had to add up the totals of everything IN -OUR – HEADS. No calculators.

    And you could mash the corner of a candy box and then claim it was damaged and couldn’t be sold. Popcorn and soda were free with your own cup – and you saw all the movies you wanted for free (plus all the friends you could sneak in too). I managed to save $80 all summer – enough to buy a bright lime green overall/jumper thing with a white t-shirt underneath that had multi-pastel colored cut-out little square fabric things all over it from Contempo. I looked so cool going back to school that year.

  • Laughing so hard at the above comment… I totally remember Contempo. And I worked at a movie theatre when I was older and assistant manager- put together the film reels, popped popcorn, & scheduled the showtimes. Definitely some stories to tell there! Other than babysitting, my first real job was as a bagger at our local grocery store. To this day I am thankful for the bagger’s work!


  • I loved that, above all else, look bored. That is too funny. I worked all through highschool at a fast food resturant. What fun times we had then. Actually, that is where I met my husband! I think I may keep some of those stories from my children, though. Just tell them the ones about hard work and working late and managing time to get homework done.

    Cyndi’s last blog post..Just a few things

  • Great photo!

    I remember my first job was picking strawberrries. We were paid by the flat, so whether or not we made minimum wage was dependant upon how hard we worked. I don’t know how many kids pick berries anymore. Not any that I know of!

    Stephanie’s last blog post..Pictures from Camden

  • Wow. I really missed out. My first summer job was in Norway, working in my Dad’s office for Conoco. I have NO idea what I made because he put it all in his account “to go towards my college”.

    We always got to come home for a few weeks in the summer, though, so I didn’t miss out entirely. I remember driving up and down the avenue for hours, yelling at friends (or rather, my friend’s friends, since I hadn’t been around to make any new ones).

    And working towards the “brand new you” was universal. Fer sure!

    Jenni’s last blog post..No, I do not believe that this is possible.

  • Ah, that was so much fun to read. Why can’t I remember what I earned at my first job back in ’78?

  • I always wondered why they looked soooo bored. Thanks to you, I now know it’s a requirement. Next time I’ll whisper, “Good job!! Your’e doing great with the bored thing!” Thanks for the laugh..

    jackie’s last blog post..New Habits

  • amy

    nice tribute. don’t forget that village potatoes, at village inn, were also in our price range, as were desserts at denny’s and both were open after we got off work well past 11 o’clock. . .

  • edj

    Hey, don’t complain. $2/hour is what I got paid to teach at the University of Nouakchott. I got to make my own photocopies, too.

    edj’s last blog post..Quick Question

  • Wow! I remember Guyton’s! Is it still there? Steve S. worked there, too. I used to mock him, because I was making $3.80/hour at City Market (*above* minimum wage, thank you very much). And you’re correct, cruising up and down North Avenue was a very inexpensive way to kill time when gas was $0.89/gallon and $5.00 worth would last a couple weeks.

    Occasionally, my mother would buy me a tank of gas, which cost about $10.00 for my little old BMW 320i. That freed up $10.00 for cassette tapes to make those mixes, which fueled further nights of cruising, with $2.00 left for a corn dog and coke at Wienerschnitzel just before curfew.

    Again: wow.

    scott’s last blog post..links for 2008-01-13

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