July 29, 2010

Memorable Summer Jobs

I was listening to NPR's All Things Considered on the way home from work last evening.  They've been running a series called "Summer Jobs", and they have had some really unusual ones.  So I thought I'd share one of my summer jobs, too.

When I was 15, I started working for one of the larger grocery store chains in New England.  I remember that I got $1.19 per hour.  At the time, that was pretty good pay for a part-time job, more than the minimum wage.

During the school year, I only worked a few hours each week.  But during the summers, I worked all the hours they would give me.  Most summers, that ended up being more than 40 hours a week - woohoo, overtime!

In the beginning, I was in the General Department.  That meant that we did whatever needed to be done that nobody else wanted to do.  And for much of the summer, the General Department was only me.

In the morning, before the store opened, I vacuumed the parking lot.  Then I had a to-do list that kept me busy the rest of the day.

One time, I spent weeks up on the roof of the store, scraping and repainting all the air-conditioning units.  While there was a bit of a breeze up there on the roof, it was quite hot and of course no shade.  I learned that this was one way to get a really nice tan.  And I learned that I should use sun screen.

Another time, I was asked to go in on a Sunday, and clean out the grease traps in the meat room.  I didn't know why they wanted it done on Sunday, but I was told to "wear old clothes".  I found out that they wanted this task performed on a day when the store was closed because of the incredible stench that rose up as soon as I opened the cover of the traps.  While I was trying hard to keep my breakfast in my stomach, I had to scoop out the grease, carry it out behind the store, and bury it.  Not the most fun I've had on a weekend.  I learned to work fast and keep my mouth shut.

I cleaned and painted the employee restrooms.  I learned that while I knew from personal experience how foul the Men's Room was, I had never quite imagined how much worse the Women's Room could be.

One of my occasional to-do's was "rounding up the stray grocery carts".   Apparently, lots of local people liked to take a grocery cart home with them.  In contrast, none of them liked to return the cart.  So, I was sent out - in my black 1964 VW Beetle - to drive around, find them and bring them back to the store one by one.  Now, Beetles didn't really have lots of cargo room inside, so I had to remove the passenger seat first.  Then I grabbed a meat hook and some rope and drove off (did I mention that often these carts were dumped in local ponds?)  Once I rounded up enough carts, I spent the rest of the day pounding them back into shape with a sledgehammer, and touching up the rust spots with silver paint.  I learned to return things when done with them.

At one time, stores like this had their own incinerators inside the back room, in which they burned much of their paper, cardboard and wood trash, rather than having it trucked away.  It's not permitted any more, but at the time it was a way to save money.  And all that burning produced a lot of soot, ash, and other less-identifiable residue inside the incinerator.  So periodically, the General Department (me, once) had the pleasure of shutting it down, going inside, and scraping the walls.   I learned what hell must look like, on a day when it's "closed for maintenance".

I liked staying busy, so I appreciated the hours.  In later years, I was "promoted" from the General Department to the Cash Department, and eventually to the Grocery Department, but I still chipped in to help elsewhere on occasion.  And because the pay was good, I stayed on through college - for a while I worked both in a store and in their Corporate Office's IT Department part-time (as a COBOL programmer), while going to school full time.

I learned a lot those summers.  Mostly I learned that I wanted an office job!

My name is Joe Strazzere and I'm currently a Director of Quality Assurance.
I like to lead, to test, and occasionally to write about leading and testing.
Find me at http://strazzere.blogspot.com/.


  1. I laughed (sorry .. cringed) when I read about the cleaning of the grease trap. My website is www.greasetrap.ca . We sell automated grease recovery devices. Fortunately , GRDs have no rancid odors. Unfortunalely, at our pre-sales calls I have witnessed the odors of a conventional grease trap. There are no real words to describe the odor. I find it typical that the low man on the totem pole has to clean out the grease trap.

    I know that you were cleaning the grease trap out many years ago but to bury the brown grease does contaminate the land. Brown grease takes many years to bio-degrade.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Greaseman. Back when I was a teenager, burying grease wasn't the only questionable task one had to perform as part of a summer job.