How Did You Get Your First Job?

(As a holiday gift in December 2022, Chloe, Ella & Alex provided me a gift subscription to something called Storyworth. Each week in 2023, I’m being provided a writing prompt designed to get me to reflect on some moment in my life. At the end of the year, my reflections will be printed in a bound book as a family keepsake. So nice! I have the option of editing or even selecting the prompts, as do Chloe, Ella & Alex. I chose this first one, “How Did You Get Your First Job?”)

Commonly, when telling people about my first job, what comes to mind is from 1979 when I started as a clerk at Hunter’s Books, a small bookstore in the Crossroads Shopping Center in Bellevue, WA. Hunter’s was a small chain with headquarters in California. There were two branches in Bellevue, a larger one in Bellevue Square and our quaint shop at Crossroads, not far from our house on the edge of Lake Hills.

How I got the job is pretty straightforward but does require some explanation. The manager of the Crossroads store was the mother of one of Scott’s high school friends, Scott being my eldest brother. Since Scott turned 16 in August of 1975 and you had to be 16 to have a job, he probably got the job soon after that although it may have been in 1976 or even 1977.

Scott at Hunter’s Books, late 1970’s
Jobs for high schoolers back then were mostly restricted to restaurant work, bussing tables or washing dishes. And I have a recollection of Scott doing that. But at some point, he started working at Hunter’s. I assume the manager liked his work ethic so when an opening came up, Steve, my other brother, got a job at Hunter’s, likely around the time he turned 16 in 1978.

History repeated itself when a clerk left Hunter’s soon before my 16th birthday, which was in May of 1979, and I was hired. Steve and I sometimes worked together but mostly we worked opposite shifts. Weekday shifts would be after school, beginning around 3pm and ending at 9pm when the store closed. Weekend shifts would be all day on Saturdays, 9-5pm, and Sundays from 12-5pm, the hours the store was open. On the weekday shifts, we would work with the day crew, middle age women whose work seemed as much a social gathering as selling books, until they left at 5pm.

Smallman Family, 1980
From 5-9pm we worked by ourselves, which was a great thing. We’d change the radio station from the classical music preferred by the manager to the “new wave” station, KZAM, that had rocketed into our consciousness in 1979. Working by ourselves in the early evening also allowed us to get our homework done at the store. Other than a “movie rush” (there was a theater next door), it would be pretty quiet. To close up, we’d clear the cash register of the day’s receipts, enter them into a simple ledger, and make the night deposit at the bank around the corner.

Steve and I alternated working on Saturdays and Sundays. Saturdays, we had a co-worker, Magda, who was probably in her mid to late 20’s but seemed much older than that to me. All things considered, she was pleasant and reliable. I remember telling her about the police scanner I’d received for Christmas in 1979 and then the fancier one I saved up to buy a year later. She was interested so I brought it in and when it was quiet in the store we listened to local police and fire department calls behind the counter. On Sundays, Steve and I worked by ourselves, opening and closing the store on our own.

At the time, the amount of responsibility we were afforded didn’t really occur to me. But we had a key to the store, handled the cash, did the bookkeeping, and made bank deposits. By the time I was a senior in high school and Steve had left Hunter’s to attend the University of Washington, I was working a 40 hour week and had acquired the unofficial title of Night & Weekend Manager. I was able to craft my school schedule around my shifts at the bookstore. I don’t recall my exact hourly rate but it started at something like $2.10/hour. Not having other expenses, I saved up what I earned and sometime in 1980 used it to buy a component stereo system to the tune of around $1000. All in all, it was a great high school job.

Okay, so I began this essay by saying that I commonly refer to working at Hunter’s as my first job. Indeed, it was the first job I had in which I received an actual paycheck and had taxes withheld. But one of the most formative experiences I had as a young teen was the nine months I worked as paperboy when I was in 9th grade.

Andy, 9th grade
One of my best friends at the time, Pat Stull, was the “shack manager” in our neighborhood for The Seattle Times. A “shack manager” was a kid who received the daily papers at the shack, a tiny structure quickly constructed in neighborhoods throughout the region for The Seattle Times to drop off home delivery papers, and divided them into piles for the neighborhood paperboys to pick up based on the size of their routes. Pat told me that a route was opening up so I pursued it.

I took the offered job almost on a whim, not really realizing how much being a paperboy interfered with one’s daily routine. You worked every day, right after school on the weekdays so no hanging out with friends, and got up before the dawn on weekends (my alarm woke me up at 4:52am). You also had to collect the subscription fees directly from the customers on your route and then pay The Seattle Times for the papers you’d received that month. Whatever was left over, including if anyone was kind enough to tip you, you’d get to keep. When all was said and done, I made about $1/day so probably less than $300 for those nine months.

The experience was formative because once I picked up the papers and started walking to my route, it became almost meditative for me. The neighborhood had a serene feel on the weekdays, a time of day just before day workers were getting home. And while the darkness of the weekend mornings initially scared me, I came to enjoy the stillness of this time of day. The quiet, broken only by the sounds of my walking or, on Sundays, the sound of the paper cart (Sunday papers were too heavy to carry so paperboys pulled them in a cart), made it easy for me to imagine I was the only person alive. I made a point of putting every paper on the doorstep and on rainy days putting them inside the storm door if there was one. To this day, when I see a newspaper far from someone’s porch I get a little smile at the thoughtfulness of my 14-year-old self.

One other “job” I’d like to mention came when I was in the 3rd grade, I think. I don’t recall all of the details but the feelings are pretty clear. What I remember is sitting at our kitchen table with my family and talking about door-to-door salespeople. My paternal grandfather worked for a company called Mason Shoes and one way their shoes were sold was by salespeople going door-to-door. For some reason, this really appealed to me so I decided right then and there to become a door-to-door Mason Shoes salesperson!

Andy the Shoe Salesman, early 1970’s
My family didn’t dissuade me, at least not by my recollection, so the next thing I remember is putting on a suit and tie, affixing a pocket protector in my suit jacket pocket and putting in some pens, grabbing a briefcase and a Mason Shoes catalogue, and getting ready to head out the door. While I don’t have pictures of me as a paperboy or at Hunter’s Books, my appearance must have been either humorous or adorable enough for my parents to have snapped the accompanying photo.

My final recollection of this experience is more of the feeling variety. I’m pretty sure I started out the door but got cold feet and never managed to knock on any doors or ring any doorbells despite what I now think was mock encouragement from my brothers. Who knows, maybe a nifty career as a shoe salesperson got thwarted that day.

So now here at the end of this essay, what do you think was my first job – bookstore clerk, newspaper boy, or shoe salesman?

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