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Weekend Roundtable: First Jobs

In honor of the Labor Day holiday, let’s use this week’s Roundtable to reflect back on our very first gainful employment. What was your first job?

Deirdre Crimmins

Throughout high school and a little into college I worked at a bagelry. Due to the ungodly early starting time (bakers’ hours are brutal), it was one of the better paying jobs for kids back then. As much as I hated smelling like bagels all the damn time, I didn’t mind the work. The group of kids working there were great, and we had fun all being sleep-deprived together every weekend. Sure, you always had cuts all over your hands and you had to deal with hangry customers, but I also always had gas money and was done with my shift by the early afternoon. My college years led me though a series of very odd jobs (parking enforcer, the person who glues call numbers onto book bindings, etc.), but those are stories for another time.

M. Enois Duarte

My first job was when I was 13-years-old, which my school set up through some summer program for low-income, urban city kids. It was a humdrum, terribly unglamorous filing clerk job at a government building right in the heart of Los Angeles, basically running around retrieving or putting away paperwork for others with the occasional cup of coffee for my overlords. I have very vague recollections of the people and faces, but remember surprisingly enjoying the work, which I’m sure has more to do with the idea of earning money for myself than the actual labor itself. My fondest memories are the morning and afternoon commutes on the bus. There were four separate buses I had to take to and fro, making my commute just over an hour long each way. Man, there were some interesting characters on those rides, but they made my days pretty entertaining. The money I made that summer also marked the beginning of my home theater obsession. It was the year I purchased a JVC VHS player and a Technics stereo receiver with a dual cassette deck player. I loved my system, enjoying movies in full stereo and blasting my tapes before upgrading to CDs a couple years later.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

My first jobs were work-study at Clemson University. I started off shelving federal documents in the library, and I later wound up maintaining one of the websites for the Department of Aquaculture, Fisheries, and Wildlife. Working for minimum-ish wage ten hours a week funded pizza, comic books, and moviegoing in the late ’90s.

I had two classes left to get my B.S. in Computer Science, and they were offered in separate summer sessions. The campus was a ghost town, those classes weren’t particularly challenging, and I had nothing but free time for a couple of months. I taught myself to code database-driven websites in a then-obscure scripting language, and that unexpectedly made me a hot commodity after graduation. Nearly eighteen years later, I’m still working at the travel startup that hired me, only now it’s owned by one of the largest media conglomerates in the country. When I talk about my first real job, I’m speaking in the present tense!

Josh Zyber

I wanted my first job to be working at the movie theater that was within easy biking distance of my house when I was in high school. I trekked over there and filled out an application, but never heard back, owing to the fact that my family never had a telephone in the house all through my teen years. (That’s a long story for another time, and made teenage socializing very difficult.) I guess it was a little unreasonable to expect the Sunshine Cinema to mail an acceptance letter to some random kid off the street. I imagine that the manager chuckled and tossed my application in the trash when he saw it didn’t have a phone number on it.

Instead, my first official job was a work-study position in the Media Lab at the College of Communications at my university. This was the easiest and best job ever. I worked the late shift from 5pm to 9pm every evening. All I had to do was show up and sit in a room filled with TVs and video equipment. If any professors came in needing a TV and VCR for a class, which happened maybe two or three times a week, I made them put their names on a sign-out sheet and then pointed to a cart they could wheel down the hall. Then I’d wait around for them to bring it back, and lock up at the end of the night. That was it, the whole job. This gave me plenty of time to do homework. And because the Media Lab had two Laserdisc players that no teachers ever requested, it kicked off my obsession with home theater. I’d go to a local shop called Laser Craze before work and rent a bunch of LDs for the week. I watched two movies a night there almost every weeknight for four years. Also, fun fact: I met the future Mrs. Z at that job.

I’ll toss in a story about my second job, because it’s funny. As my freshman year of college was winding down, I was worried about finding employment for the summer when I went back to Florida. My dorm mate Ted suggested that a telemarketing gig was easy money. He’d done it himself the previous summer and made a bunch of cash, and said he enjoyed it. I think Ted was just naturally more inclined toward sales than I was. I didn’t want to do anything too sketchy, so I landed a job fundraising for the Police Benevolent Association, cold-calling names off a list trying to sell tickets to an upcoming charity concert headlined by Lee Greenwood. I didn’t even know who Lee Greenwood was. (I later learned that his signature song is the Country anthem “God Bless the U.S.A.”) I sucked at telemarketing. I had to call people up right at dinnertime, and most of them did not appreciate me interrupting their meals one bit. I lasted precisely one-and-a-half days before I was fired, having not sold a single ticket. I’m actually kind of proud of that fact, to be honest.

Your Turn

Tell us about your first job in the Comments.

Note: We’re taking Monday off for the holiday. We’ll see you back here on Tuesday.


  1. Erik in Wisconsin

    My first job was at a service station (not just gas, but actual service) back in 1969 when I was 16. We had uniforms and, besides pumping gas, were expected to check the oil, wash the front and rear windows, and ask if the customer wanted their tire pressures checked. Our station provided just about every type of service short of engine rebuilds or body work. I frequently was fixing flats, installing new tires, doing oil changes and washing cars (inside and out). Everyone dreaded when old Mr. G___ would come in with his 1950s sedan needing its semi-annual cleaning. He was a cigar smoker, so you practically needed a razor blade to get through the film on all the interior window surfaces. There were many other colorful customers. One had a heap of a pickup truck and didn’t look much better himself. He always smelled like sour mash, and I’d end up cleaning out the empty pints of J&B scotch from under the seats. Pay back then started at $1.15 an hour (before taxes). The money didn’t pile up real fast, but it was plenty good as stuff cost much less at that time than now. And we always had some kind of promotion going on. If it wasn’t a scratch-off card for money, it was free drinking glasses with the company mascot on them, or kitchen wash towels, or kitchen knives, or something. You could hardly give gasoline away back then. Prices were 32.0 cents for regular, 34.9 for “ethyl” and 36.9 for high test. Unless a nearby station started a gas war. Then you could get it for as little as 26.9. The oil embargo of 1973 put an end to all of that and it hasn’t been the same since. Relatively speaking, the prices today aren’t that bad given what inflation has done across the board. I just wish there was some stability to the pricing like there used to be. The constant fluctuations drive me nuts.

    Great job on all the stuff you guys do at HDD. Besides the video reviews, I particularly like these weekend roundtables. Keep it up.

  2. Csm101

    My first job was a busboy at an Italian restaurant called Pacino’s. I remember being there pretty late my second night of work and hating every second of it. That was until all the servers started paying out their tips to me. I made like 41 dollars my second night. I thought I was rich. I have a lot of fond memories from that place, from new experiences with girls, booze, trying new things. Those grown ups love corrupting teenagers 😀.

  3. David

    Hollywood Video in the late 90s was to this day the funniest job I have ever had. I still remember when we got “DVD’S,” we had to lock them in a cabinet and had to make sure we had a recent credit card on file before renting them out to people. The “The big hit,” and “Replacement killers,” were the two that my store received. We did get 12 free vhs rentals a day and wore an usher uniform like we worked at a real theater and got a discount on used videos and candy, so it was pretty cool.

  4. EM

    In college I lived in a “French House” dormitory. Not long into freshman year, I was tapped for the position of the house’s language assistant. This recruitment was flattering but disappointing—I had looked forward to having a language assistant, not being one! Still, I managed to learn along the way; and much of what I did—helping people with their French, encouraging conversation in French, and so on—is stuff I would have done for free anyway. And I managed to combine the job with my movie mania, organizing movie nights in which we watched VHS tapes of French movies, English-language movies adapted from French literature, and so on.

  5. John M Burton Jr.

    Didn’t know Adam was here in my neck of the woods (Upstate SC). Small world. My first job was a summer job at an ice cream store. When summer was over, I got a job at a movies theater (in 1979) and it was one of the best jobs I ever had!

  6. When I was 15 I got a job at a local radio station thanks to my grandfather knowing the owner. It was fun. I didn’t do much and the pay was $4.25/hour. It was a country station that did all the local sports and events as well, so there was always something going on. It lasted about 6 months before I got fired because the owner didn’t like how loose I was with my language. I mean, come one! I’m 15 and trying to fit in with 30+ guys who were generally drunk or on their way to go get drunk, I had to work a little blue to fit in.

  7. Charles Contreras

    My first job was working at a little hot dog joint that was a couple of blocks from where we lived. The owner was Turkish, as well as one of the workers along with some of his friends who hung out there. I didn’t need porno at the time as listening to those guy’s sexual conquests were vivid enough for a young and naive 16 year old. And even though I would come home every night smelling like hot dogs and gyros, it occurred to me that this job was a means to fund my movie collecting habit. And this was when I was into super 8 film at the time. It gave me the opportunity to upgrade to a Eumig super 8mm sound projector and a quality Eumig sound camera with a great zoom lens to boot.

    The job was what it was, and our boss proved to have quite a temper. However, once a year, usually in July, we all came in on a Sunday (we were closed on Sundays) and we cleaned the place from top to bottom. About halfway through the day, our boss broke out the beer, we’d gotten just buzzed enough to actually enjoy being there on our day off, then he hosed us down with the garden hose! Believe it or not, by the end of the day the place looked great and was ready for business the next day. But we weren’t done yet. We all had to go home, get cleaned up ourselves, and returned to the shop, as our boss took us out to dinner at a really nice restaurant, then out to a movie.

    By the way, since most of us were still in our teens and all of this took place during the early eighties, I believe the statute of limitations ran out a long time ago. But I don’t recall anyone complaining about it, either! Ah, the memories!

  8. I worked for two years at a Kroger’s. To my parent’s surprise, instead of saving up to buy a car, I bought myself a computer – Penitum 90, Windows 95, 1.2 gig hard drive, 16 meg of ram, 4x CD-Rom, SoundBlaster Awe32, and a blazing fast 56k modem. I was also one of the first 5,000 subscribers to MSN because it was 1995 and we had to have a way to get onto the internet, right?

    Anyways, at Krogers, I was a bagger for a year and a half, then I became a cashier. I wanted to work in IT, but no one would hire me because i was not at least 18.

    Went off the college and became the first freshmen to ever be hired in the computer lab. I helped seniors with their programming assignments.

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