Having worked full-time since I was 18, I’ve been on a few economic rollercoaster rides. When you’re young, need cash and jobs are scarce, you become less discriminating. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, some of the less-than-stellar jobs I’ve had over the years have made for good stories after the fact. As promised, here is a list that might have you thanking your lucky stars.
These gems are in chronological order. Please use the polling feature at the bottom to select which one you think is the worst. Also, use the comment section to tell me about your worst job – hopefully it’s not the one you have today.
1980 and 10th grade. A small, 20-seater in Guelph, Ontario. Part coffee shop, part pizza joint – all day traditional breakfast (eggs, bacon and toast); steak sandwiches; calzones and, of course, pizza. Most of my shifts had me working solo. The phone would ring non-stop for pick-up or delivery orders. The jukebox would blast everything from Juice Newton to Foreigner. The beginning of a shift involved making the dough for upwards of 50 pizzas, then getting that dough in pans with an initial slathering of sauce and cheese. One fateful day, the industrial dough mixer and I had a tussle – it won and pinned my hand between the dough hook and the inside of the large metal mixing bowl (don’t ask). Chief cook, bottle washer and order taker. I’m surprised they didn’t have me making the deliveries, too. I believe a move to Alberta saved me from an illustrious career as a short-order cook.
From the pizza oven into the deep fryer. When you only have food service experience that seems to be all you can get for work. I first donned my McD’s polyester uniform during my last semester of high school. The upside was that I established a great network of friends and the Golden Arches stressed (at least then) a strong work ethic. Downside – when you are cooking burgers, you end up smelling like burgers. Likewise with the McRib. Grease in every teenaged pore. Really Mom, that’s the reason I was taking those long showers after work.
Sounds innocuous enough. What it really means is that I would serve legal papers to people being sued or divorced or generally just required to appear in court. No one was thrilled to see me. I served bar bouncers being sued for assault; a few members of a large, local wrestling family; and a litany of people who “bought” furniture from The Brick and fell for the “do not pay ’til, (some future date)” credit scheme. Except for the fact that many didn’t want to pay at all. My days went something like this: I’d stalk the person I was supposed to serve; walk up to them and say, “are you so-and-so?”; when they said “yes,” I’d say, “these papers are for you,” and I’d turn on my heels and run like hell. Not a way I recommend making new friends.
Thankfully this was just a summer job between university sessions. And I’m equally grateful that it was self-service but it was long before pay-at-the-pump. This gas station was in a very new subdivision that didn’t have any amenities. It was the place that suburbanites would buy milk, bread, eggs, cigarettes and where, in the summer, millions of kids would come to buy penny candy — think mini 7-11. When I wasn’t bagging gummy worms and sour soothers I was measuring the amount of gas in the underground tanks, turning gas pumps on and off and chasing kids jacked up on sugar out of the store. Credit card payment were where things got dicey. It involved taking an imprint of the card in a gizmo that slid one way and then back the other (cha-chunk). Then I had to look in the dreaded weekly booklets from VISA or MasterCard that contained a listing (in the tiniest of type) of stolen or compromised card. That took some time and, FYI, people in line for smokes get impatient. I would have workmares about looking up these freaking credit card numbers.
I pulled this “opportunity” off the Hire-a-student” summer job board. I’m guessing it was 1986 and it seemed a lean year for summer jobs. I called immediately and went in for the “interview” that very day. The skill testing question was something like, “what’s your name?” I nailed it and they hired me on the spot. The can shredding operation was pretty straightforward: all day long, large trucks would deliver empty beverage cans with a tremendous clatter into a metal hopper, and the cans would funnel down to a machine that would crunch and munch them together into large blocks. Besides being incredibly loud (newbies didn’t get hearing protection), the place smelled exactly how you would imagine a never-ending cascade of old beer cans might smell. My job was to pick up cans that didn’t make it into the hopper, as well as any other metal scraps around the warehouse. All day, as I stooped to pick up stray cans, I lamented how I was going to tell them this career wasn’t really for me. Maybe it was my clean, brightly coloured Polo shirt, or my spiffy topsiders, but when the whistle sounded that my day’s torture was over, they handed me a cheque for my day’s work and said they wouldn’t be needing me the next day. Some prayers do get answered. Can I get an Amen?!