Today’s blog stems from a daily writing prompt – “What was your first job?”. I’m surprised that I haven’t written about this before. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my first job actually led to my radio career! Let me tell you how…
Let’s be honest, what 16 year old really wants to get a job?! I know that was the last thing on my mind! Oh sure, I wanted to have money, but I was perfectly content asking my parents for it! Once I got my driver’s permit, and wanted to drive the car, my dad told me I was going to have to start helping with gas money. He thought it was time for me to work.
My dad played in a wedding band for many years. One of the guys he played with worked at a boat marina right down the road from my house. He asked if they needed any help and he said they did. So I went in and talked with Dennis. I knew him from the band. He asked me a few questions and then told me I’d be helping out in the back cleaning and such.
I don’t really remember, but I think minimum wage was like $3.35 an hour when I started. I was clueless about boats. I remember the first couple days I did a lot of cleaning. I swept the floors and emptied trash. I also remember washing and waxing boats that were being delivered. It was hard work. Hell, I didn’t like cleaning my room, and here I was cleaning the shop and washing boats. It was quite a change for me! I remember chuckling at the brand of boat I was waxing – a Sea Nymph!
Now, I know that according to the dictionary a “nymph” is “a mythological spirit of nature imagined as a beautiful maiden inhabiting rivers, woods, or other locations”, but a 16 year old kid knows the other (more sexual) definition and, of course, finds it funny.
Dennis was my boss. He was also a salesman. A couple other salesmen worked there, too. Bob and Gary. I remember Gary always called me Cosmo (this was long before Seinfeld). I don’t remember much about the showroom, other than some of the boats that were in there, the racks of accessories, and a sign for one of the brands of motors we sold.
In the shop, there were some mechanics who worked on the motors. The only one I remember was Leo. He was a big guy who I always thought looked like a wrestler or body builder! He was very friendly, though and I liked him. He made me laugh a lot.
Dave was the Service Manager. I think we started talking about the Three Stooges one day, and became instant friends. When I was promoted to work in the Parts Department, I worked very closely with him. He would send parts requisitions and orders for jobs that they were working on in the back. My job was to gather what parts we had in inventory and order what we didn’t have.
It was while I was working back in the Parts Department that I really got a glimpse at how expensive owning a boat was! I was clueless about motors and Dave was very helpful in schooling me on some of the important basics. He told me about the most commonly ordered parts and I learned about water pumps, crankshafts and O-rings! I also learned that this fancy gadget is called an “impeller”:
And this thing is called a “Flush Muff”:
Whenever someone came to the Parts counter, I needed to ask them what motor they had. Once I knew if it was a Johnson, Evinrude, Mariner, Mercury or Volvo, I could grab a Microfiche and look for whatever part they needed. We had this big honking microfiche machine where I slid the films into and it would project the schematics on the screen so I could find parts.
There were plenty of times I had NO CLUE what the customer was asking for, so I called Dave up to the office. He could usually find whatever it was in like 3-10 seconds! He also knew the “exceptions”. “Oh, that’s a 1979? Well, for that motor, you need ….” I was amazed at how much he knew. He was such a great help!
I remember he always ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day. I remember he was a big Monty Python fan, and we often spoke in quotes from their bits. There were times where him and I would be working late and for no reason at all he’d hit the page into the shop and just laugh or say something silly. So I’d be in the parts room and I would hear the “ding” in the shop followed by him laughing! He did a spot on Archie Bunker impression, too! We had a lot of laughs while I was there.
Dave remains a good friend. He often offered up an ear when I was dealing with stuff at home. He always had some great advice. He also was instrumental in clearing up some issues I was having with some things of a religious nature. I can never thank him enough for his counsel on those things!
As I think about it, I was very lucky to work here. They were very understanding of my schedule, even if it meant more work for everyone else. As a band kid, we had football games, concerts, after school rehearsals, band festivals, and so many other things. I would often go right after school to work and on a normal day worked 3p-6p (they closed at 6). Some days I would only be able to go in and work a couple hours. Many times, I would only be there long enough to put in the orders for the day because I had band rehearsals. I know that Bob probably hated the fact that I was there sporadically.
Summer time I was there more. We used to run over to the Dairy Freeze for burgers for lunch. I’d work full days until the week of Band Camp. Summers were busy at the boat place! There would be a steady stream of customers at the window needing parts. The radio played all day while I worked. The two things I remember ordering the most were (1) these little blue O-rings that everyone seemed to need and (2) propellers.
I am sure they are more expensive now, but I remember these things being about $120 for aluminum props. I remember having to know what “pitch” they were, too. The stainless steel props were like $300 if I remember right. We also sent props out to be reconditioned. Usually they’d bring it in with some big chunk taken out of it because they hit a sand bar or a log or something. Sometimes they could fix it, other times they couldn’t.
When winter rolled around, we did a lot of winterizations of motors and shrink wrapping of boats. That’s the crappy thing about Michigan, you can really only use your boat about 3-4 months out of the year. I want to say by October or November, they would run on a skeleton crew. Hours were cut because we just weren’t busy. After all the winterizing was done, I had to do inventory. I HATED inventory. You had to go into every box and count everything to make sure that the inventory was correct.
It was during this slow time that I paid more attention to the radio. Paul Christy and the Christy Critters were on WKSG Kiss-FM in the morning. I would get to work at 9am and hear their last hour. At 10am, Jim McKenzie came on. I listened to him every day. I always tried to guess his “Slow Motion Stumper” (a song intro that he slowed down a lot). One day I actually won – movie tickets to see the movie “Can’s By Me Love” which starred a VERY young Patrick Dempsey!!
The more I listened to Jim, I always felt like he was having fun. He was great talking with listeners. He always had great topics to talk about. He had loads of trivia stuff that would say about the songs he played. This guy was getting paid to do something FUN, while I was counting friggin’ O-rings and impellers! It was during the summer of 1987 that the idea of working in radio first entered my head….all because of Jim McKenzie and Kiss-FM.
It’s funny how that first job eventually led me to my radio career. I started as an intern and eventually got the overnight show.
I still hear from Dave regularly on Facebook. Dennis and I are still friends, too. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to work at Suburban Marine. I had hoped to find a copy of their logo, which was kind of a boat steering wheel like this:
I can’t remember how many years I worked at Suburban, but it was probably like 2-3 years. I remember while I was in school, I also started doing work as a stage technician (running lights and sound), and was working at Kiss-FM as an intern every morning before school late in my senior year.
If I had actually gone out to look for a job as a 16 year old, I know I would have never looked at a boat place. I probably would have ended up at some fast food place or something. It was a good job where I learned a lot. It also gave me plenty of time to work on homework, study, practice my trumpet, or go out toilet papering houses at night.
Now that I think about it … I wonder why no one from work ever took me fishing?! I must have been a real pain in the ass……