What Did You Learn From Your First Dirty Job?

What Did You Learn From Your First Dirty Job?

Inspired by Mike Rowe, Federalist authors and editors remember their first, minimum-wage jobs and the lessons they learned from them.

From: Rich Cromwell
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

I have anecdotes I could add to this. Suspect some of you do too.

 


From: Scott Lincicome
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

This is great and similar to my experiences as an awkward teenager schlepping skates at the Galleria mall ice rink for $3.65/hr.

 


From: Rich Cromwell
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

I wrote a paper so a man in the National Guard could get a promotion. Hooray for academic honesty! Then I mowed yards under the table.

 


From: John Davidson
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

One summer during middle school, I took a one-time job for $7 an hour digging a trench 2x1x40 feet with a pick-ax and a shovel through gravel-y dirt. At the end of the day the guy paid me in cash and thought it was awesome. Later, in high school, I work for the City of Wasilla Parks & Rec Dept (when Sarah Palin was mayor!) and sometimes the job included getting inside dumpsters and scrubbing them by hand. That one paid about $9 an hour. Huge—and totally worth it.

 


From: Robert Tracinski
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

Busboy/dishwasher at a Holiday Inn. Then Denny’s. And this basement bar where all the waitresses wore 1980s aerobics outfits—leotards and leg warmers; this wasn’t a “retro” thing because it actually was the 80s—while I schlepped cases of beer to the bar and hauled back giant trash cans full of empty bottles.

$3.65 an hour.

 


From: Robert Tracinski
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

Oh, and then there was the summer I painted my parents’ house in exchange for $600 to buy an 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain (a telescope, like this one but without the fancy electronics). I thought it was awesome and only figured out later the coolie wages they were paying me.

 


From: Scott Lincicome
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

By the time I was 17, I had leveraged my ice rink job into a ladies-shoe-salesman job (yes, Al Bundy) at the same mall.  Straight 10% commission on everything I sold. I dealt with old-lady-feet for 8 hrs/day, but made a small fortune and learned a ton about human nature (for better and worse). I even kept doing the job when home for holidays during college and law school (which was often really funny, as people don’t really expect a law student to be on his knees trying to sell them shoes).

 


From: Rich Cromwell
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

I think that’s worse than my brief foray into lab work—I made slides from pap smears.

 


From: Scott Lincicome
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

Heh. Yeah. It was often a lot of fun and a pretty high-end store, but it was definitely hard on the ego at times, especially when cute girls from school/church/etc. would walk in. But I wouldn’t change a thing: I had financial “independence”, an invaluable perspective on work, business, and people (especially people from different backgrounds), and, of course, a pretty unique—for a teenage dude—understanding of fashion. When I go home to Dallas these days, I’ll occasionally stop in to say hi to the owner and his wife (who were always really kind and supportive).

 


From: Ben Domenech
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

My dirty job experience can’t really compare—lots and lots of yard work, basically, for way below minimum wage. My mother is a gardener, so I had to do a ton of weeding and mulch work just at home. I worked for a 4H Club and shoveled more manure than I thought possible. I helped paint a house and fences. But mostly I mowed a lot of lawns. The best paying deal I ever pulled off was when I was about 10 and my dad paid me to pick up the gross green walnuts that were strewn about the back yard, inedible and killer of the mower blades. We picked up enough of them to buy a Super Nintendo.

I also volunteered at the library for free computer time, and taught a model rocketry class to kids younger than me. NERD.

 


From: Rich Cromwell
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

I did enough for several people. I spent two summers at a factory that made radiator caps. One task my insane boss assigned was burning the remains out of a bunch of barrels, which was foul and made me cough a lot. The EPA showed up to investigate the next day. No citations were issued, so I’m probably okay.

 


From: Mark Hemingway
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

I’ll just put this here:

Muckraker


From: Daniel Payne
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

I was in homeschool, which meant I could work a job when all the rest of my punk friends were sitting inside. I worked at a coffee shop around the corner from me, from my sophomore year onward. It was easily an education worth five times as much as what I got in school. They eventually put me in charge of opening the place up at 5:00 am and making muffins and stuff. The boss was a great guy who taught me an invaluable work ethic.

Admittedly, I think I had it easier than a lot of you guys. Still, it was just a great experience and an indispensable one. I worked enough during one busy Christmas season to buy an XBox 360.


From: Ben Domenech
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

That sounds a lot like the Starbucks experience. That was my first real job. Get up at 4:30 AM, drive 40 minutes through pitch black of rural Virginia, work for seven hours giving desperate commuters their caffeine fix, trade all the marked out pastries for lunch from the deli, collapse at home for a nap.


From: Sean Davis
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

Preschool janitor here. I still don’t understand how poop ended up on the bathroom wall every day.


From: Scott Lincicome
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

The barter system among services employees is great—we used to trade free, after-hours ice skating for Chik-fil-A.

Mark—you win, man. You win.


From: Neal Dewing
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

The first thing I did that resembled a real job was tending to my mother’s candy store when I was about 15-17, in exchange for a POS car. Selling penny candy to children who were intensely focused on getting the most from their 18 cents taught me some patience. I learned how to botch a sale after a polite, friendly customer recoiled in horror and fled when I absentmindedly tried to hand her a scone without using a glove. We had manual receipts instead of a register, but I never did learn to make change without a calculator. When Mom had to close up shop, I learned that having a great idea and a lot of talent isn’t always enough to keep a dream alive.

My first actual job was working for a lawn care service one summer. It was a guy with a trailer, some tools, and a zero point turn mower (which I never got to try) . We had a contract with an upscale neighborhood built around a golf course (this taught me that having money does not correlate with common sense). I always did the edging and weed eating from the clubhouse down to the gate, which was a decent walk. I picked up little things like learning how to jump a battery. I learned sometimes bees will just sting the hell out of your ear even though they are the jerks that flew into you.

I honestly don’t remember what I did with the money I made. Probably paid some bums in Newport News to buy liquor for me. They didn’t work cheap.


From: Robert Tracinski
Subject: Rowe on the minimum wage.

If we publish this exchange, we’ll have to use this somewhere.

 

Thinking about it some more, the things I learned from menial jobs were:

1. No one’s too good to put in a hard day’s work at a dirty job. And even the crappiest job can be a source of pride. I could write an epic poem about that one shift when the Sunday brunch crowd kept coming in waves, and two guys called in sick, and they sent me into the breach, manning the dish machine single-handedly for hours. I worked harder and faster than I ever had before, and by god I got those dishes clean.

 2. Anything above washing dishes has to be earned. If you want a better job, something cleaner, more respectable, better paying, then you had better offer something more productive. It teaches you not to take a cushy desk job for granted, and to always ask what you’re offering to an organization to justify your pay.

3. Anyone can rise. Well, almost anyone. There were a few guys who didn’t have much upstairs and were already at their limits. But anyone near the middle of the bell curve could figure out how the system worked and learn how to run things. All it took was some ambition and a willingness to take on responsibility. A lot of my bosses had started out that way, including the big guy with the broken nose who started out as a bouncer and worked his way up to manager at a fairly fancy restaurant.

4. I was good at those jobs, but I was never the best—despite being the most educated person in the room. It gives you an appreciation for skills that aren’t book-learning, and for the fact that people you might otherwise be tempted to look down upon have abilities that you don’t.

This is why I’m kind of excited about having Scott Walker in the 2016 race. It will be good to have somebody who—gasp!—didn’t finish college, and who sure as heck didn’t go to Harvard or Yale.

Update: It looks like Mike Rowe feels the same way.

Robert Tracinski's work can also be found at The Tracinski Letter.
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