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It's a Living…

What was your first job?

What’s the worst job you ever had?

NorthBay biz asked some of its readers these questions. Their answers prove that, when you start at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Debbie Meekins, First Community Bank
First: When I was 16, I worked in a department store and moved from cashier to the shoe department to be able to earn commissions on top of my $3.50 per hour. 
Worst: Wells Fargo Bank drive-up teller. I had a very mean boss and decided that, when I became the boss, I would appreciate my employees. 
Frank Chong, Santa Rosa Junior College
First: While in High School, I sold tropical fish at an aquarium shop in Downtown Manhattan. I learned that warranty policies were tricky!
Ken Fischang, Sonoma County Tourism
First: I was always tall and looked like I was at least a few years older than I really was, so I was hired as a banquet waiter at age 14. I rode my bike seven miles each direction—in rain, sleet and snow, mostly in the evenings when it was dark—to earn $2.25 per hour including tips (and, often, a meal) at The Trails Banquet Hall, and I loved it. I was able to save enough money to buy my first car at age 15.
Worst: As a teenager, I tried detasseling corn one very hot and humid summer in the Midwest. We seemed to never stop sweating, and we were covered with cuts from the corn leaves, irritated by the pollen and bitten all over by chiggers, mosquitos, deer flies and horse flies. I learned how hard farmers work to put food on our tables and how fickle Mother Nature can be to them.
Sanford E. Bressick, New York Life
First: My first job was working at Carl’s Jr. in Los Angeles at age 15. The first task that was given to me was to scrub around the toilet and clean the floor area. In the hallway between the boys and girls room was an old pay phone. I immediately called my dad, who had dropped me off no more than an hour earlier, told him what they were having me do and asked if he would come get me. I was picked up 15 minutes later.
John Bly, Northern California Engineering Contactors Assoc.
First: When I was 11 years old, my father was building a buried storm drainpipe for the original Oakmont retirement community. He took me to work on a Saturday and dropped me down about 13 feet through a manhole with a flashlight, a rope and my homemade skateboard. My shoulders barely fit, but I scooted my way up the pipe until I saw dripping water. I tugged on the rope, they marked the end of the rope then pulled me back out of the pipe. They laid the rope along the top of the ground and dug where they marked my “tugging,” found the bad joint in the pipe and fixed it. I got paid an ice cream cone for my work that day.
Worst: A hydroelectric project built in the snowy winter above Marysville. I had to live in a trailer with no running water during the week. That taught me I did not want to be the low man in the job hierarchy. I earned my civil engineering degree so I could have running water at night.
John Friedemann, Friedemann Goldberg LLP
First: When I was 13 years old, I got my first regular job pulling weeds for a law firm and doing other cleanup no one wanted to do. I got paid $1.25 per hour. Forty-three years later, I’m a managing partner of a law firm, so not much has changed.
Worst: My worst job ever was working as a janitor on a graveyard shift while I was at UCLA. It taught me to clean up after myself or the custodial staff will curse me.
Susan Dickson, Private Ocean
First: I was a “debudder,” which is someone who goes up and down rows of carnations to remove all but the main bud so that when they’re harvested, there’s only a single flower. I think I made around $1 per hour.
Worst: The worst job I ever had was as a server for Mr. Steak Restaurant while I was in college. One morning, I ended up in emergency surgery. When I called my manager, Mr. Harbaugh, to explain that I was in the hospital, he informed me that I would be fired if I didn’t show up for work the next day. I was released from the hospital the afternoon of the surgery and, not wanting to lose my job, I hobbled into work the next day and managed to get through my shift. On one hand, I learned what it meant to be a dedicated employee. At the same time, I vowed that if I were ever in charge, I’d never treat someone that way and would always show real concern for my employees.
Roni Brown, Top Speed Data
First: My first job was babysitting for a family with three young children when I was 12. I made a whopping $45 per week.
Worst: The worst job I had was really a chore: picking up walnuts without gloves. The lesson was…wear gloves. My hands were black for days.
Jason J. Hunke, Jackson Family Wines
First: When I was 14, I worked atBaskin-Robbins over the summer in my hometown of Denver, Colo. I made $2.50 per hour and, after two months, on my 15th birthday, got a raise to $2.70 per hour. (P.S. You never get tired of ice cream, even when you can eat all the free stuff you want.)
Worst: When I had just started my communications career working for a PR agency, I had a really unpleasant boss. She yelled at people daily and employees were often in tears. I learned early that you can always be compassionate as a colleague and a leader—even if you’re giving tough feedback. Ultimately, you’ll be more respected and supported in all that you do. Humor works wonders as well, and having fun at work can be a powerful motivator. No matter what line of work you’re in, fundamentally, it all boils down to relationships.
Pamela S. Chanter, Vantreo Insurance
First: Aside from babysitting, I picked strawberries, blueberries and beans for two summers. Don’t recall what I earned, but I know it wasn’t much.
Matt Martin, Social Advocates for Youth (SAY)
First: Mrs. Kawa lived next door and needed help keeping up her home. My very first job was mowing her lawn; I earned $15 for an afternoon of work. She taught me about the importance of being committed and earning my own way. She’d always hold me accountable to providing a good product (even when all my other friends were playing baseball the next street over). I’d like to think she got her money’s worth and I learned an important life lesson. It was a good partnership!
Worst: I’d have to say that was my stint on an assembly line as a window factory worker. It wasn’t necessarily bad work, but it was absolutely back-breaking. The factory was stifling hot, and those darn windows keptcoming. The people I worked with were great. They were “my people,” like my father—hard working with a tremendous heart and clear vision. They saw something in me that I don’t think I saw at the time. They continually encouraged me to work my way out of the factory. I learned a lot about the importance of following through with my educational goals. I did and, here I am, helping assemble dreams.
Dale Miller, Romelli Bail Bonds
First: My first “job” was as a helper at a fish and chips restaurant on Fourth Street (now it’s Bruno’s). I was 12 or 13, and I would ride my bike to the shop on Saturday mornings and tidy the grounds, stock the beverage cooler and do other odd jobs. It was a long time ago, but I think I got $10 or $12 for the half-day I worked.
One day, I was sent up on the roof to scrape the leaves off and away from the drain. I shoveled the muddy gunk over the parapet and onto the walkway in the parking lot. At my normal quitting time, I climbed off the roof, checked in with the owner (he usually worked alone on Saturdays) and told him I was leaving. The man had customers but said he’d see me next week. When I returned the next Saturday, he told me I was fired: He couldn’t have somebody around who didn’t know enough to clean muddy leaves off the walkway. I rode my bike home with tears in my eyes, but I learned an extremely valuable lesson: Never do just the job you were asked; always take it upon yourself to do the job that’s needed.
Rolf Nelson, Exchange Bank
First: I was a Press Democrat paperboy when I was 11 years old. I earned $25 per month plus tips. In those days (1965) the PD was an afternoon paper, and we delivered on our bike and collected door-to-door. 
Worst: Pulling weeds for my dad when I was 10 years old. He paid me $0.25 per hour. I learned I never wanted to work for my dad. 
Carolyn Stark , Sonoma County BEST
First: I got my first job at a dry cleaner when I was 15. I rode my bike to work because I couldn’t drive yet, and I really can’t remember how much I made since it was so long ago.
Worst: The worst job I ever had was while I was on a holiday break from college. I worked on a factory line doing the same thing every minute of every hour for eight hours. I’d been thinking about dropping out of college, but that job sure changed my mind. 
Matt Delaney, JDH Wealth Management
First: My first job was mowing the fairways at the Windsor Golf Course. I worked there when I was 15 years old and earned $6 per hour. There’s nothing like getting hit with golf balls all day!
Worst: My worst job was a claims processor during one summer home from college.
Bill Carson, Windsor Golf Club, Rooster Run Golf Club and Adobe Creek
First: My first job was delivering the Oakland Tribune at age 12. I made about $30 per month and delivered seven days per week. My first wage-earning job was a dishwasher at the Eureka Inn at age 16, where I earned $2.30 per hour.
Worst: That would be the dishwasher job at the Eureka Inn. It taught me to appreciate everyone who works for me and that every job is important.
Joanie Benedetti Claussen, Clover Stornetta Farms
First: My first job was scooping ice cream for Clover at the Sonoma Marin Fair. I was 14 and I earned 3.75 per hour. 
Worst: My worst job was filing papers, which I did one summer. I hated it because I was in a room with no windows, and I was filing for eight hours straight. 
Ame Van Dyke, E.R. Sawyer Jewelers
First: My very first job was babysitting a 6-month-old baby at age 11. The mother, who is now a friend of mine, constantly says, “I cannot believe I left my infant with an 11-year-old…you seemed so mature.” I adored babies and children, so I had them pay me whatever they felt was fair. To be honest, I would have done it for free.
My first real “out in the world” job was at Lena’s Restaurant, where Chop’s Teen Club is now, as a busgirl with a job permit at age 14. I made minimum wage at the time and loved having my own money.
Worst: The worst job I ever had was working as a waitress for a large Mexican chain restaurant when I was in college. We wore off-the-shoulder, very short dresses (we had to wear tennis undergarments because they were so short). I was constantly pulling my dress down and it was awful. I learned to deal with the general public and how to give good customer service, as my tips were based on how I dealt with issues and how I treated my customers.
Doug Van Dyke, E.R. Sawyer Jewelers
First: My first job was being a bagger at Larkfield Market (aside from slave labor for my parents here at the store—ha!). I was 16. I made minimum union wage and spent it all on my first car.
Worst: The worst job I ever had was during the summer of my senior year of high school. I worked for the contractor who was preparing our building for E.R. Sawyer Jewelers to move in. He made me clean and scrape pigeon poop—not fun.
Judy Peck, Building Care Systems
First: My first job was working as a gift wrapper over Christmas for Modern Eve, a dress shop in downtown San Rafael. I was 15 years old and got the job through a friend who usually did all the wrapping, but as the gift buying intensified, they needed more help. I loved wrapping gifts and it was amazing to get paid for something I loved doing. I can’t remember how much I made but I do remember the first check I received. I’d never gotten paid for anything before (except for my allowance at home), and you would have thought I’d made $1 million. It was “my money” and I could do what I wanted with it. What a gift! I was such a spendthrift that I kept the money for quite a while trying to decide what to spend it on. I realized at that young age that I never wanted to have a job I didn’t like. Someone once said, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I still love what I do.
Worst: I worked for a dentist early on and, as much as I loved the work, I didn’t like the man as a person. I learned that even though you may not respect the person, you have to respect the position. I worked there until I found something else. Now, as an employer, I’ve worked to maintain the respect of my employees.
Michael Arendt, Exchange Bank
First: I lived in a very small community in Minnesota that had few jobs. At 15, working with migrant workers and other kids from the community, I hoed weeds in the onion fields for $0.75 per hour. I made my own baloney sandwich and Kool-Aid (in a Mayo quart jar) for lunch. My dad was a grocer, and the only people he’d extend credit to were the hardworking seasonal laborers and their families. 
Worst: Just before I started at UC Davis, I worked for half a day on a harvester sorting tomatoes. The machine picked up everything, including five-inch hornworms. Start to finish, one row took four hours. The work was hot, dusty, incredibly boring and very low paying. I quickly realized how incredibly fortunate I was to go to college, when my labor peers were migrant workers whose futures were severely limited. 
Cathryn Couch, Ceres Community Project
First: My first job was at a donut shop in Canton, Conn., which is still there. I started when I was 16 and only worked there for about six months. I gained close to 10 pounds and earned whatever the minimum wage was in 1972. I think it was $4.25 per hour.
Worst: When I was earning my MBA at the University of Michigan, I interned on the Worldwide Product Planning team at General Motors in Detroit. It was 1979, and I was the only woman (other than the secretaries) on a team of about 15 men. Many had young children, but the ethic in the company was to come in early and stay late. When we were preparing for board meetings, we would sometimes work until the early hours of the morning, then drive home to shower, change and be back a few hours later. There was almost a competition to see who worked the longest. Some of these guys rarely saw their kids awake. It was an early and very important lesson that I had no interest in working in that kind of environment, and that work/life balance was something I valued.
Willie Tamayo, La Tortilla Factory
First: My first real job with a regular paycheck was as a restaurant dishwasher at age 14. The cook was fired a couple of weeks after I started, and I told the owner that “my mom is a cook, she cooks for our family every night.” My mom got the job, and then I really ate well at the restaurant.
Worst: I grew up in Omaha, Neb., in the 1970s. There were a lot of meat packing houses and, after high school graduation, I got a job hosing down the butchering room after production. What an eye opening experience—reminiscent of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I lasted all of four hours and walked out at my lunch break, never to return. I decided then and there that I needed to go to college and get an education. So I moved to sunny Northern California, went to junior college and then transferred to Cal and graduated with a degree from the Haas business school.
Mark Quattrocchi, AIA ; Quattrocchi Kwok Architects
First: My first job was working in my father’s cabinet shop at around age 9. The work was mostly sweeping, stacking lumber, building pallets and things like that. I believe this single act created our current child labor laws: My salary was the “satisfaction of a job well done”…or something like that. Oddly, at the time, that sounded like a sufficient salary and was likely commensurate with the quality of work. I’ve since tried that compensation plan for our 50-person architectural firm with little success.
Worst: By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I worked in construction. My first job was for a rather unsavory house flipper (hopefully no NorthBay biz readers live in one of these homes). It was 1973, and I was paid around $3.50 per hour. Being raised to take pride in my work, it was appalling to constantly be told not to do such a good job, finish sooner, use fewer nails and to paint over things that needed replacement. I couldn’t get away fast enough. From that experience, I learned the link between what I do and how I feel about myself. My father used to say, “a job worth doing is worth doing right”—and that is so true!
Jenny Bailey , This Vivid Life
First: My first real job was as a bagger at Giant Food Stores in Yardley, Penn. I was 15 years old and made $4.25 per hour. I’ll never forget how exhilarating it was to receive my first paycheck. I loved the idea of working hard and making my own money.
Worst: The worst job I had was my first job out of college as a copier salesperson. I was only with the company for four months before I joined the telecommunications industry, but in that time, I learned the value of persistence. I made my daily cold calls, customer visits and updated my funnel. It was tough work, but it prepared me for a career as a sales professional, and for that I’m grateful.
Jane Liscum, Century 21 Alliance
First: I was 12 and picked prunes for the famous Sonoma Mountain (Bennett Valley) man Russell Cundiff. He could make anything grow: prunes, apples, peaches—any fruit or vegetable. He later began to plant grapes. We were paid $0.25 per lug, and I did that for four years.
Worst: Picking prunes! We were up and picking no later than 7 a.m. and walked to get there. We would pray it would start out foggy for the coolness and learned what layering was before it became a fashion statement. We were kneeling and sitting (and oh no, no cushions, pads or blankets) on just our damp sweatshirts from morning fog and dew. The best part of it all is, I wouldn't change a thing.
Brian Ling, Sonoma County Alliance
First: I was 11 years old when I started working on the driving range at Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club. I earned $1.15 per hour and learned, “Work’s dangerous, wear a helmet!”
Worst: Also at 11 years old (yes, I had two jobs), I delivered the Press Democrat. Delivering was fine, but we also had to go door-to-door collecting for subscriptions, typically in the evenings. Surprisingly, very few people wanted to pay (or tip)! Lesson: I’m not good at collecting, and people can come up with a lot of very interesting excuses.
Rick Wells, Marin Builders Association
First: My first job was as a little league umpire, calling balls and strikes. I was 13. It taught me a great deal about people, passion, sports and how to handle a bad-tempered parent. For my work, I was compensated with snack bar credit. I spent most of my earnings on Chili Billy’s and Otter Pops.
Bill Silver, Sonoma State University
First: I grew up in a family business, a retail pharmacy in a small New England town. Like many kids who had jobs in a family business, I started when I was 3 years old: Old enough to walk means old enough to work! I was a shelf stocker and a newspaper stuffer, and got paid in ice cream. When I was 16, I moved up in stature to work at the soda fountain, where I had the prestigious title of “soda jerk.” I think today, I’d be called a “barista,” which would impress the girls more. I earned the minimum wage of $3.10 per hour.
Worst: I was a security guard for a Circuit Wise, a company that manufactured circuit boards for Atari video consoles and Corvettes, among other things. I guarded the gold that was used to plate the circuit boards. The only weapon or equipment I was given was a flashlight. They told me to call the police if I saw any suspicious activity. For the $3.75 they were paying me, I learned to run away if anything bad was happening.
Jeff Gutsch, Moss Adams
First: My first jobs were in high school when I was around 15 or 16 years old, working for minimum wage. First, I was a gofer at the old Mailer-Frey Hardware Store in downtown Santa Rosa (I guess I must be old, as that store has been gone for decades). Following that, I was a dishwasher at the Oakmont Inn, which taught me never to upset the chefs, regardless of whether you’re a dishwasher, busser or a customer.
Worst: The worst job I ever had was moving pianos while I was in college in Chico, which taught me to use brain over brawn, and also to ensure heavy things are strapped down tightly. There were a few times pianos got away from me in the truck because I hadn’t strapped them down well enough.
One time, we had a few pianos in the back of the moving truck and were headed from the company’s warehouse to its retail store. My “colleague” and I couldn’t remember if we had locked the warehouse door, so we went back to check because the owner was heading to the warehouse and we didn’t want to get fired for leaving it open. While we were racing back, we could hear pianos slamming around in the back of the truck. When we got there a few of the pianos were damaged, and one had a horrific broken leg like Joe Theisman had sustained a few months prior. That “Joe Theisman” piano, as well as a couple of others we damaged that day, cost me a few months’ pay—and the worst part is that we had closed and locked the warehouse door earlier.



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