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Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times

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First Job
(Part 4)
Thousands of college graduates are beginning or seeking their first "real" job while high schoolers scurry about hunting for part time work and a little extra spending money.

Many have gone before them in a fledgling quest for their place in the world. Mobile Bay Times sought the recollections of a few veterans of the working life.

"What I count as my first job was working for the Post Office as a temporary substitute mail carrier for three summers during college.

I was assigned to the Cottage Hill Branch, which at that time served an area of West Mobile that is now almost midtown but then was the certified End of The World.

It was a job providing high adventure and great skills development, what with getting to drive mail trucks with their steering wheels on the wrong side, getting to shoot dogs with pepper spray, and being constantly schooled by the regular mail men on the critical importance of not showing them up by running their routes faster than they did. (Mail carriers collectively pioneered the principle of Parkinson’s Law by ensuring that the work of delivering a route’s mail will always expand to fill the paid time available for its completion.)

Some of the best days of my career as a mail carrier were the days I was assigned to deliver the Tillman’s Corner mail route. The route included delivering mail to a certain widely-reputed and brightly painted “house of sale” then (but no longer) located on Highway 90 just outside the city limit.

On most days, I would merely get to put the mail in its roadside mailbox, making sure that I did not leave by mistake the mail intended for the neighboring church that was the next stop up the highway. On one auspicious day, however, I was given a COD package addressed to a lady recipient at this stop, which necessitated that I 'get down' from the mail truck and go inside to obtain payment and a signature for the package. The package appeared to be some item of clothing with a return address on the package for the 'Maison D’Amour, Hollywood, California.' (Some things you just never forget.)

The details of what transpired when I, a callow youth, went inside and exactly what the lady tipped me for making the delivery are matters best left for discussion at another time. . . .

Well, OK, OK — a lady in a bathrobe behind the front counter signed for the package and tipped me 18 cents because she didn’t have the exact COD amount and told me I could keep the change.

But something lurid and astonishing might could have happened to me in that place and you will never convince me otherwise."     
-- Donald Stewart,

"One of my early summer jobs was driving the 'DDT' Truck for the city of Demopolis, Alabama.

Before DDT was deemed a dangerous pesticide, it was used for mosquito control during the summer months. The truck was equipped with tank and sprayer mechanism, which dispensed the DDT as I drove the truck throughout town. There was also a hose attached to the DDT tank allowing for a more directed application of the insecticide.

In many of the poorer neighborhoods residents would invite me into their homes to spray their beds to free them of 'bedbugs.' Usually a thorough soaking of the bedding was applied. I often wonder how the health of these people was affected by sleeping in a pool of 'toxic' chemicals.

Having breathed the DDT non-stop for an entire summer without protective wear or mask, I didn't lose a lot of sleep with my concern for those with sprayed bedding. Like many of my generation, we were raised teething on lead based paint, wore flammable garments, survived malaria and many other maladies without antibiotics, rode bikes without helmets, and were transported in the open rear of a pickup truck. Why should a little toxic chemical be a problem?"
-- Harry Coker,
retired dentist

"My first summer job was at McRae's Department store. I was hired before the store was opened as part of the initial employee group.

What a great place to work for a 16 year-old-boy. Wow, I was so excited about the grand opening.

I knew I was going to see and meet so many girls working in a mall department store; especially on the opening day. My excitement grew more when I was assigned to the women's shoe department. The store opened at 9 a.m. during one of the worst torrential downpours in the history of Mobile.

As the grand opening ceremonies concluded, I waited with great anticipation, all I could hear from the front of the store was the faint voices of women, as the sound grew louder, I became more excited; and then there they were -- women, old blue- and gray-haired ladies with soggy, smelly feet and crust covered heels, lined up to Airport Boulevard for the 'buy one, get one free' pair of thick rubber-soled SAS grandma shoes.

Wow, what a day basking in the glow of doubled coupon-carrying, geriatric shopaholics. Just what every 16-year-old boy dreams of."
-- David L . Thomas
Bishop State Community College
Director, Division of Adult Education and Economic Development

"My very first job was as a mother's helper. I volunteered in the Guidance Office and this young mother of two, soon to be three, was looking for a helper.

I ended up being good friends with the family such that they took me to Canada (from the New York area) to go to her brother's wedding and sit the boys in the hotel room, but it was my first trip out of the country and felt very exotic at 16!

I felt like it was not real work as the mother and the family treated me very well, taking me on family picnics and asking what I wanted to eat when she went grocery shopping. They were a large and close Armenian family and it was an enlarging experience in many ways."
-- Rose Johnson,
director, Mobile County,
Alabama Department of Human Resources

"My first job was as a paper boy delivering the Newark Star Ledger in Maplewood, New Jersey. It was 1950 and of course to me life seemed so simple and so much fun.

Also, I remember, my parents were thrilled and excited that finally I would learn the value of a dollar and how difficult it was to really go out and make a real living.

Before embarking out on my own to deliver papers, my father spent several evenings driving me through my paper route so I would know what customers were on the list to receive the daily as well as the weekend editions of the paper.

Well, the first day of my new job arrived and I set my new alarm clock for 5 a.m.; that was the time the paper bundle was dropped off at my house and of course they had to be unbundled, folded and put in my new paper boy canvas sack.

Since my mother didn't want me to go out of the house that early in the morning without something to eat in my stomach and I didn’t have a bicycle, my father got up helped me unbundle and fold my newspapers then drove me around my entire paper route to be sure I made it around without any kind of an incident.

Also, curious as to how I was going to handle my new job, go to school, and do my homework all in the same day, my younger littler sisters got up to cheer me on.

Well, as I think back now, the excitement and wonder about the number one son, me, the older brother who was going out into the world of free enterprise to make a living lasted about two weeks! After that my mother didn't get up to make my breakfast anymore, my father didn't get up to help me fold and deliver my papers anymore and to my younger littler sisters the thrill of Johnny's new job had long since waned. They were more interested about what was going to happen on the Howdy Doody Show that evening.

I truly believe with the stress of my new job, the fact that everyone in our home was in a state of shock and practically comatose at 5 o'clock in the morning and the struggle to maintain their sanity and keep a harmonious household environment forced my parents to buy me a new bicycle. 

They bought me a spanking brand new Schwinn bicycle.

Let me tell you, it was at the time a "State of the Art" bicycle with a basket, horn, lights and other goodies that made me the envy of my friends. My folks said they thought I had learned the value of a dollar and a fairly good work ethic and most importantly they didn't have to get up at 5 a.m. any more.

This was a great learning experience for me. I've learned stress is good, so I try to stress out everyone around me."
-- John R. Gavin,
board member, Mobile Area Crime Stoppers/community activist

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