My First Job

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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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”:

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And this thing is called a “Flush Muff”:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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……

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31 Years Ago

The year is ….

1988

  • Ronald Reagan is President of the United States.
  • It cost 24 cents to mail a letter.
  • A gallon of gas was 91 cents.
  • The Washington Redskins beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII
  • The Winter Olympics were held in Calgary.
  • The average yearly salary was $24,500.
  • The LA Dodgers beat the Oakland A’s in the World Series.

1988 movies included Rain Man, Die Hard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Big, A Fish Called Wanda, and ….

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1988 music included:

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…and Sweet Child O’ Mine from Guns ‘N Roses, too!

It was also a very special year for me …

Always an Abe!

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I was reminded by Facebook’s “Memories” feed that it was 31 years ago this week that I graduated from Lincoln High School. (25 years later – to the day – I would graduate from college.) It’s hard to believe that it has been that long. Some days I can’t remember where I put my car keys, but I can remember graduation day like it was yesterday!

The ceremony always happened outside, unless it rained. If it rained, less people from your family could attend, because it was moved indoors to the auditorium. Luckily, the weather cooperated June 9, 1988, and we walked the stage outside in the stadium. The band performed some songs prior to things getting started. As a senior, we played through most of them. I remember conducting a number – it was called Tin Pan Alley. That is a memory I will never forget.

At the required time, the seniors left the band to go line up to walk in (to Pomp and Circumstance). I will always remember in the days leading up to graduation, sitting in band class and the seniors having to “sit out” during a number because we weren’t going to be there when they played it. Sitting in class listening to Pomp and Circumstance while the underclassmen played it was weird. It was then that I knew exactly how the seniors the year before felt when they had to listen while we played it.

I remember someone telling me that your senior year will go fast – they were right. There were times I wish there was a pause button. It was my favorite year of high school hands down. Our football team was undefeated. I had a solo in the marching band show. I went to all the dances and the prom. I got my first new car and spent many hours with my friends driving around listening to mix tapes I had made.

Things I Miss Most

It’s 31 years later and there are times I wish I could go back. There are so many things I miss about high school:

Friday Night Football Games. Yes, I miss playing in the Halftime Show, but I also miss watching our boys win! My classmates were always out their playing hard, and as I said, were undefeated my senior year. Coach Jim Benefield was the BEST! Hands down.

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Movies in Class. Whenever you walked into a class and saw the TV and VCR, you were instantly excited. Even if it was some dumb educational film, it was a welcome event!

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School Holidays. Winter Break! Christmas Break! Extra days surrounding other holidays! We had a lot of extra time off! And who can forget Summer Vacation?! In some countries, extra days off and built in vacation time is looked at as a must. Productivity in those countries are high and workers are happy. Sadly, once you graduate, you seem to work to death and often have to fight to get time off! I miss those holidays!!

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Yearbooks. There was a time where you didn’t know what your picture looked like until the teacher passed them out. 9 times out of 10, mine came out looking terrible. Even Picture Retake Day didn’t help! There are plenty of bad yearbook pictures of me! There are also plenty of other kids with bad yearbook pictures. Today, I love sitting back and reading the things people wrote in my yearbook.

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Less Responsibilities. This holds true for most adults. We tend to look back at the days of ‘freedom”. Who wouldn’t want to be in a position to not worry about whether or not you have enough money to pay bills?!

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Working While Going to School. My first job was at a boat marina. They worked around my crazy band and school schedule. I don’t remember the hourly rate, but I do remember getting a check for $150-$250 every two weeks. It was like “mad money”. I used it to buy albums, tapes, books, and gadgets. I really had no bills, and a teenager rarely saves money.

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Passing Notes. Long before texting, we used to write notes and pass them back and forth in classes and in the hallways. Sometimes, I’d get caught passing one in class. I did most note passing in the hallway. Many times it was just stupid gossip, a drawing, or the “Do you want to go to the dance – check yes or no” type note. Some folks even got real creative about the way the notes were folded, too!

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Lockers. I am sure my locker partner, Joe (who was always good at numbers), can remember our locker combination! I remember it was outside the library, under the clock, on the second floor. I rarely used it after freshman year. I kept most of my books in the band room or in a backpack. A lot of girls decorated the inside of their lockers, and on game days, they often decorated the lockers of the football players. I think my locker was basically a storage place for whatever I didn’t want to take home.

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Less Technology. I’ll be the first to admit that I am connected to my phone today. But, back in school, we weren’t connected to it. We talked to people. We had to use the card catalog to find books and encyclopedias to write reports. We used maps. We watched film strips! We had to thread the film projector. We rewound tapes to listen to a song again. Yeah, technology is great, but there were advantages to not having it too.

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Field Trips. You had to have your permission slips! I never did the Washington DC trip. I did do a Florida Trip to Disney. I also loved those little trips to places like the Detroit Science Center or Cranbrook. I remember having my mom chaperone a couple times. Field trips were probably more frequent in elementary and middle school, but the ones in high school were always great fun!

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Young Love. As you flip through a yearbook, you can often see those high school romances (the ones that lasted, and the ones that didn’t). I know a few people who married their high school sweetheart and they are still together!! That’s amazing! With young love comes hurt in many cases. I witnessed that at a prom I DJ’d recently. I remember seeing this guy sitting on the floor with his face in his hands and I thought, “I know how you feel, pal.”

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Dances/Prom. It wasn’t until high school that I even attended a dance. It always seemed like it was just me and a few friends going to get out of the house. We never danced with anyone, we sat and talked and listened to the music. We walked around and drank that really crappy punch that always seemed to be the drink provided. I remember going to Homecoming with a gal who asked me. I had no idea even how to dance! After that night, though, I realized dancing with girls was a whole lot more fun than sitting eating those stale mints and drinking that punch! I remember using some of the money I was making at that boat job to rent a tux and go in on a limo for the fancier dances.

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Teachers. No surprise here. Go back and read some of the many blogs I have written about the teachers I had in high school. They were the best! Mr. Shaner, Mr. Benefield, Mr. Balos, Mr. Yanoulaki, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Beltz, Mr. Harvey, the list goes on and on. I am friends with many of them on Facebook. I am also friends with other teachers who I never had in class, but always respected and made an impact on me. I was lucky to know them in high school – and after!

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Friends. My core group of friends and I have pretty much stayed in touch since high school. With My Space and Facebook, I have been able to reconnect with those I lost touch with. That’s one thing about technology that I am ok with. A downside to this is that since we all are connected on Facebook, our chances of a real reunion probably won’t happen (Not that we ever really had one – we didn’t. We tagged along with the Class of ’89 once, but nothing official for my class.) What was great about high school is that you always saw your friends every day. It was always extra cool when they were in the same class as you. The ones that weren’t, you couldn’t wait to meet them in the hall to tell them about something silly that happened or to plan something for after school. I miss that, but at the same time, when I am finally able to hook up with a friend on the phone or on social media, I enjoy picking up where we left off.

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The Future. In high school, the future seemed so unclear. There were infinite possibilities. Your career path had not been chosen yet. There was a blank canvas for you to paint on. You had so many choices. You were in control over what you did next. The future was bright and it was something to look forward to. I’m not saying that 31 years later, I have no future, I do. It’s just different to look at it and know that the future is a bit more narrow since there is a lot less time ahead of me. I can still look ahead and know that there are a lot of good things awaiting me. I still look forward to the future, but I am looking at it through eyes that have seen more than an 18 year old. I have experienced more hurt. I have seen more cruelty and negativity. I have seen more dishonesty and hatred. I have lived through much difficulty. I look at the future a bit more cautiously now than I did at 18. I am smarter now, I hope.

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Final Thoughts

Would I love to go back to the days of my youth? Would I love to have less responsibility, no bills, and have more time to just have fun? Yes. Without a doubt! However, if I were to go back to those days, I would live through some hurtful times, through depression, and shame. I would likely make some of the same bad decisions. I would make the same mistakes, maybe more.

Truth is, if I had the opportunity to go back and change things, I probably wouldn’t. Anyone who has watched Back to the Future or any time travel movie knows that all it takes is one small change to change everything else in the future. Would I like to go back and erase embarrassing moments? Would I like to go back and take back words I said in anger? Would I like to correct a mistake? Sure. But if I did that, it changes where I am today.

Yeah, I went through some real crappy times, but they all brought me to where I am today. Today, I am a happily married man. I have an amazing wife. I have two wonderful sons. I have some of the most amazing friends. I have a loving family. Life is good. Why would I want to change it?

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