I follow a lot of journalists on Twitter, and one meme that has been making the rounds lately is the “my jobs before journalism” list.
For example, here’s one from Brian Stelter of CNN.
I’ve been in my current field for 20 years this year, but here are some highlights (or lowlights) of what I did before that. They probably aren’t in perfect order, and I may have even forgotten one or two.
Short-order cook/dishwasher — Weekends in high school, so I could make money for insurance on my first car. I was hired as a cook at the local diner, but we had other people who were better at it than I was, so I mostly ended up washing dishes.
Work in the kitchen of a diner, and you will get grease on yourself in places you didn’t think were possible. But I also got to eat and drink pretty much as much as I wanted.
Writing tutor — I did this in college, starting second semester of my freshman year at Utica College. (The picture at the top of this post is from a writing center convention; I’m the skinny one in the back with the Adam’s apple and the mustache.)
It was a lot of fun; I made a lot of great friends, and even though it was only five hours a week for not much money, it was more than enough for my usual spending on pizza, newspapers, gas and going out. (A scholarship and my parents took care of the big stuff, for which I am eternally grateful.)
Bus monitor — This was during a winter break from college. The local ARC needed bus monitors for their morning and afternoon runs. The depot was next to where my father worked, so I rode with him and then went to my aunt and uncle’s house down the road between shifts.
There was one person who we were advised not to look in his eyes because he spit, and one of the clients tried to claw at my hand while I was holding the seat belt he was trying to unhook (I wore gloves, so it didn’t hurt), but everyone was really nice and it was actually a fairly easy job.
Butcher shop — I got the greatest tan of my life that summer, down to my ankles until November.
No, it wasn’t an open-air butcher shop. It was a split shift, and it didn’t take long to realize there wasn’t much for me to do during the early part of the day, so the owner sent me to his house to do various landscaping projects — digging holes for and watering trees … stuff like that.
Then I would go home for a few hours, swim and then come back to help clean at the end of the day. The owner was cranky old German named Fritz, and I didn’t really like him all that much, but no matter how nasty he was that day, he would always say “Thank you for the day” before I left.
The next summer, I drove by his house to see how the trees I had planted the previous summer were doing. Someone at the house saw me and recognized my car from the year before, and called me at my parents’ house to see if I was looking for a job.
Graduate assistant — The University at Albany paid my tuition and enough for me to rent my first apartment to spend two years studying during my office hours and spend a few weeks each semester helping students choose their classes.
I also ran an internship program where I approved internships at the start of the semester and read two-page pass/fail essays at the end.
There are harder gigs.
Radio station board operator — One Saturday night a week, I would run the board and play the CDs for a dance party a local country station held at a bar from 9 p.m. to midnight, at which point I’d hook the station back up to the satellite that provided most of its programming.
The playlist was pretty much the same each week, including “Trashy Women” by Confederate Railroad. I have no idea what happened to them.
The show was eventually canceled, which I found out one night after I arrived at the station and called the bar to check in and the host wasn’t there.
And he wasn’t answering his phone.
And he wasn’t answering his pager.
And there were thunderstorms in the area that could have possibly become tornadoes.
He eventually did call me to apologize — if I remember right, he had gone to a concert — and with the exception of doing board-op for one NASCAR race, that was pretty much the end of it.
Radio station reporter — Basically a paid extension of my grad-school internship while other reporters were out on medical leave or vacation.
Grocery clerk — Between the people who believed in the “higher math” that 10 of the same thing equals one item, meaning they could bring 20 items in the 10-items-or-less line; people who would come early Sunday mornings hoping someone forgot to switch the tags on the sale items so they could get them free plus $1; the guy who constantly tried to buy more Enfamil than allowed (don’t ask); and the people who either didn’t rinse their soda or beer empties or put their carts in the corral … let’s just say it didn’t do much for my view of human nature.
And lots of dudes do their Valentine’s Day shopping that day at the grocery store florist.
Sneaker salesman — It’s a small part, but part of hell is the sneaker section at a Dick’s Sporting Goods at a mall on a December Saturday when you’re working a 12-hour shift.
McDonald’s cashier — See above, and substitute “mall McDonald’s on the weekend of a big movie coming out.”
Insurance sales — And now for the start of the nightmare that was my last pre-what-I’m-doing-now job.
I’ll try to give you the non-traumatic version.
I spent eight weeks training to be an insurance agent. Sure there were other parts of the job, but life insurance made the most money and paid the highest commissions, so you can probably guess what we focused on.
I was great at role-playing in class.
I was great at speaking from my script.
What I wasn’t so great at was selling life insurance or getting referrals.
So after eight weeks, my supervisor suggested it wasn’t working out, but I knew all the stuff the office did, and everyone liked me, so that led to …
Insurance company marketing assistant — In theory, this shouldn’t have sucked as badly as it did. It was basically a job providing backup work for the agents so they could concentrate on selling policies.
Pretty straightforward, except the expectation was to do about 11 hours of work in an eight-hour day.
And I wasn’t all that great at it — not tragically awful, but not great.
And I’m fairly sure my supervisor and the office manager (not the supervisor from when I was training to be an agent) pretty much hated my guts. The office manager, in particular, wanted to show everyone he was the big swinging … life insurance policy, yeah, that’s the euphemism we’ll use.
So that ended badly.
Now, however, after 20 years doing what I like to do, I have a new perspective on my time at the insurance company and the people who caused me grief.
Oh, who am I kidding? If you put them all in the same building and an asteroid was headed toward it, I’d be on Team Asteroid.