Click here to:                    Mobile Bay Times.

Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times

... the people and places, politics and culture of the Mobile Bay area
Tell a friend about this page
Support Mobile Bay Times
Politics & News
Subscribe to Mobile Bay Times
First Job
(Part 5)
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.

"First job was as a paper boy in Georgia. I threw 198 papers from canvass bags tied to my bicycle and got paid cash. No taxes.

My first job with a tax deduction was as a busboy in one of the all-night restaurants in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Atlanta.

Atlanta had and has some beautifully weird people.

That was in 1967. I was a student at Morehouse College. The job was on the graveyard shift - 11 p.m. to 7 a.m..; four 15-minute breaks spread out across the morning and two meals of anything on the menu except steak.

I bussed and washed dishes, mopped the kitchen and galley, rearranged dining furniture from day-set to morning-set and back to day-set and sometimes escorted "inebriated and free-flowing" hotel patrons to Concierge.

Slow times, between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., was spent refilling condiment containers - salt, pepper, sugar, mustard, catsup, etc. and whipping down wood and brass fixtures.

There were a few occasions where the busboys served as 'bouncers' when non-hotel guests would accost the waitresses (There were no waiters on my shifts.)

Monetary pay was minimum wage and a share of any cash tips that waitresses might report. It was easier on the waitresses to just give the busboys some change rather than report it because the reports we taxable.

If we got tables clean and ready fast, the waitresses could fill their zones and make more money. Fast in and out meant more customers in a zone.

On a good night-morning, a busboy might make fifteen to twenty dollars in dimes and quarters.

Busboys competed in speed with the fewest re-calls (table cleaning incomplete). We'd compare tips when we took our breaks. The older guys would beat on how much they would make and how fast they could bus or "bust" a table.

I was too busy trying to stay awake or read something for class or sneak a bite. We couldn't carry food out but were free to eat all we could during breaks. Cooks were not suppose to fix us anything special but we could turn in our food preference (with the exception of steak) and it would be hot and ready when our break would come. There was no 'break-out room' or employee lounge. We could not eat at a paying space (anyplace where a restaurant patron might want to sit). In good weather, we'd sit on the loading dock steps outside. In bad weather, we ate in the dry-goods stock room.

In my first two weeks bussing tables, I learned a lot. I learned (1) that most of the "China" at the Marriott was made in Japan and will shatter if dropped from six feet onto a red ceramic tile kitchen floor; (2) that getting on good terms with the cooks had many advantages over being on good terms with the boss; (3) that even when the boss was wrong, he was still boss; and (4) being called 'boy' didn't mean I was one.

In my four years at Morehouse College, I had several 'work/study-type' jobs where I never saw any cash or cashed a check. I mopped, de-waxed, waxed and buffed hallway floors; I opened the gym some evenings and set pins in our two-lane bowling alley; and I chauffeured kids for a Spelman College faculty member when her turn came up in the car pool and it conflicted with her teaching schedule. I taught gymnastics at Spelman College when the faculty member was on maternity-leave. I started a used magazine/journals stand in Bankhead (not to be confused with Buckhead) and taught reading after school at B.T. Washington High School.

My first paying job with benefits came when I was a full-time fireman with the Atlanta Fire Department during my senior year at Morehouse College. I completed the fire academy in the top of my class and was stationed two blocks from campus (Station 7 in the West End). I slept at the double company station and ate my meals there five to six days a week. The remaining day or two I slept in a dormitory lounge and used that dorm's gang shower facilities.

Whenever I'm in Atlanta, I typically will visit the Marriott and the fire station, both of which are still operating. I seldom visit my college which is still one of the best in the world. Go figure."
-- Joseph Mitchell,
state legislator

"Twelve-years-old in the middle of the Second World War. No able-bodied men in sight. Stock boy at Woolworth's 5 and 10 in Wilmington, De. After school and 40 hour week during summer ($16.00).

Good news was that child labor laws kept me from working past 7 p.m. on Fridays. Still time to walk across Market Street to the Savoy theatre and the movies.

On most Saturday nights I would put on my father's suit (I was growing through his size at the time), go to the Eagle restaurant across from the DuPont Playhouse for a bowl of soup and glass of milk. I would then attend whatever was on stage at the playhouse.

'Arsenic and Old Lace' with Bela Lugosi and Moss Hart's 'Winged Victory' were two of my most memorable plays. After a few plays the theater staff 'adopted' me and comped me into no-show seats where I sat next to the DuPonts, Sharps, etc.

My parents had never attended high school; however, they strongly encouraged education of any kind. I got to keep about half of my earnings.

After two years, I got raised to 45 cents an hour and put in charge of the prestigious candy section which was kept under lock and key (mine). I developed a real taste for Turkish taffy.

In the 9th grade my junior high principal got me a job at the high end Greenwood book and antique store where I worked through high school except for football season."
-- Al St. Clair,
executive director, Alabama Cruise Terminal

"You'll never guess where my first job was -- Carwie Ace Hardware."
-- Greg Carwie,

"I loved my first job. I was the summer caddy master at Spring Hill College Golf Course back when I was a junior at Murphy in 1952.

I worked for Alvin Buckhaults, who was the pro and a great teacher of golf and things about life.

The caddies got to play golf and I played the Caddy Champion for the real Mobile Junior Championship since at that time Blacks could not play in the city championship held at the Mobile Country Club. 

I was responsible for operating the pro shop, signing up golfers and assigning and overseeing about 45 caddies.

Mr. Buckhaults was a great storyteller. I believe I developed a style of teaching under his tutelage and look back and think how fortunate I was to have had such a great mentor and teacher."
-- Billy McLean,
Presbyterian minister

"My first job was as a lifeguard at Cottage Hill Lake. Unlike most cushy lifeguard positions, this one involved actual work.

The Lake was deep and pretty large and I actually had to rescue a few people who got in trouble. It also had a mud bottom and the Kruse twins and the Barnard brothers (one from each family is now a lawyer around here) seemed to live just to pelt me with mud. But it paid $2 an hour and that was big money back then." 
-- Mary Beth Mantiply,

"My first real job was at WCIS AM/WKKY FM in Pascagoula. I was just out of Ole Miss with a degree in broadcast journalism and aspirations of becoming the next Walter Cronkite.

However, I found myself working for a little AM radio station in my hometown and the only way the station would let me do an afternoon air shift was on the condition that I try to sell ads in the morning. I was a dismal salesman and found myself aching every morning to get to my minimum wage-paying air shift. To tell you how bad a salesman I was, I will always remember that my biggest commission check for one month, at a 20 percent commission, was $37.50.

The good news about working for that station was that it was a place I could start out on the air and make a lot of beginner mistakes without the risk of being fired.

I was at WCIS for six months in 1978 and have many fond memories of the people I worked with. Within a year and a half, I was in Mobile and really came into my own as a newsman there."
-- Les Kerr,
singer/songwriter, author, journalist

"I believe that my first real job was picking cotton. It began when I was in first grade and lasted each summer until I was 14 and got a job in radio.

Picking cotton was my hardest job by far. First it paid $2.50 per 100 pounds. And I never, even at 14, could pick that much.

The work was from daylight until about sunset, always in the hot summer from August until mid-September. One was on his knees, without knee pads, or leaning over dragging a long cotton sack. The burs were prickly, insects were bad and even snakes were between the rows.

I picked mainly because my friends, the sons of farmers, picked.

It taught me to appreciate a good inside job and no doubt influenced me to get a college education."
-- John Butler,
retired juvenile court judge

Tell a friend about this page
Sign InView Entries