College presents many challenges for young adults. The academic hurdles, of course. And the social battleground was something the high school band, athletics, 4H, and sock hops barely prepared one for.
No, college life came with an entirely new set of objectives and life requirements. And some of those required something even more nebulous – responsibility! Why, we suddenly were responsible for, well, for ourselves! Although there were a few exceptions, most of us were responsible for feeding and clothing ourselves. Doing our own laundry. Grocery shopping. Buying our own clothes – although one fella, Bill, took this to a level foreign to the rest of us… it seems he had access to his dad’s account at Brooks Brothers.
But even Bill had to work. Sorta. Bill was one of several guys in the frat who majored in Recreation, of all things. And a few of these fellas found employment in that field as playground directors, baseball umpires, brewery hospitality room staff, pizza waiters… and even security guards for some of the non-recreation guys.
Hank did that for a while – security guard. Stationed in the giant pumpkin office at Fairyland, in Oakland. After hours. For a short period. That job lost its glamour the night he settled in with a bottle of Old Crow, and started playing Johnny Cash at full volume on the office phonograph machine. Without realizing that it was piped throughout Fairyland on the loudspeaker system and had Johnny serenading the entire neighborhood. At about 0130 in the morning.
Hank and Half-Breed Pete both cooked chicken for the Colonel for a while. Evidently, they didn’t care for it, and both moved on after a few weeks. But I do recall them both telling me how if a few choice hunks of gospel bird hit the floor, they’d just get left there and kicked about until near the end of the shift. Then, they’d get picked up and tossed into the fryer, and added to the last buckets of the evening. O Yum!
Hank later found gainful, full-time employment with Uncle Sam, marching and doing KP at Fort Polk, Louisiana. That lasted until they decided his knees were too shot from football injuries to march, much less slog through rice paddies. So they sent him home. Upon his return, he quickly found employment in a local abattoir and made more money than anyone else in the frat. Not an enviable gig!
Now, Half-Breed Pete was another story. I won’t say that he wasn’t ambitious, but he did seem to consider his being Kappa Phi Delta “House Mother” as sort of full-time employment. His compensation was free room and board; “care packages” from home and occasional part-time, temporary jobs provided him with what spending money he had. Enough for essentials and a date every once in a while – a career philosophy he followed throughout his life.
And then there was me.
My first college job was on-campus, working for the college’s Audio-Visual Center. Yup… I was a projectionist. The kid who showed up and presented films for classes, back in the day when we literally had 16-millimeter sound projectors. This was a one-semester contract assignment, after which I could re-up or move on. Although it was interesting, and I got to see a lot of films I would have most likely never seen otherwise, I did have a sense of adventure that demanded something more.
Ah well, I was young. And though the world may not have been my oyster, it was at least an adventure; I figured I’d muddle through. After all, I’d worked through high school – weekends working for an electric company (until a union rep ran me off); sanding and painting on a wealthy electrician’s yacht; summer job working for the Navy at their supply depots, and even the Post Office. I even worked for the Post Office during the Christmas break my first semester at State.
I parked cars, shoveled stalls at the Cow Palace, washed dishes, passed out handbills….
But one of the most memorable short-term jobs I endured was Candlestick Park.
Oh, Candlestick was a wonderful and fun place to visit, even though it tended to be a mite chilly. Actually, at times downright cold. The only baseball park I'd ever been where one would wear a parka and drink hot cocoa or coffee at night games. Still fun for spectators, but an absolutely AWFUL place to work. At least for the clean-up crew working after Giant’s games.
Well, I’d gotten word that Allied Maintenance had the contract for cleaning the stadium and was hiring broom-pushers. Pay was at the handsome sum of seven bucks an hour and all the dropped change you could find, so I wasted no time in signing up for this plum and lucrative pursuit.
Ah, but then, this is California. And just like back in 1849, the lure of gold turned out to be highly tarnished.
First, unless we bought a ticket, they would not let us in until the bottom of the ninth inning – or the end of the game, whichever came first. After all, they certainly could NOT have these guys watching any baseball for free, no siree Bob!
While the crowd was clearing out, we’d report in; when they were gone, we were released to start work – but only after a mad rush to the dugouts to swipe the team manager's lineup cards.
Then we would set to. Each man was issued a barrel, a scoop, and a push broom. We'd select a section, start at the top and sweep each row to an aisle, sweep the aisle down, then scoop up the trash into the barrel... haul the barrel to the dump station.
Mind you, this was back when the stadium was still open on one end, and it was WINDY! Often the wind would change directions, whip around and blow the trash back and we'd have to start over.
And to keep it interesting, they'd turn the lights off; we'd literally work all night in the dark. If we were lucky, it would be a rare clear night with a full moon. That didn’t happen often, so we’d eat a lot of carrots and rely on the dim security lighting. Some of us would clip an Army surplus, right-angle flashlight to our belt.
So there were two classes of workers - college kids and winos. You had to work a minimum of three hours to get paid (in cash!). The winos would work their three hours, collect their $$, and head to the liquor store.
That left us kids with most of the work, so we did get in a bunch of hours. Often, we’d start before the sun set and finish up well after sunrise. But hey – you could make as much as eighty bucks! Of course, we would have to wait a few hours for the liquor stores to open.
The job did get better when I met the fella in charge of cleaning the press boxes. During a chance encounter at a water fountain, we struck up a conversation. I don’t recall his name, but I discovered he was a cousin of Joe Tavaglione, one of my frat bros. He promptly drafted me to be his "assistant," which meant cushy duty!
We'd clean the press boxes quickly, then avail ourselves of the sports reporters leftover beer and food - fried chicken, pizza, hot dogs, ice cream, and other savory treats.
From that point on 'twas a fine time indeed!
Sadly, baseball season always does come to an end. And for some reason, I decided to not stay on for football. The Forty-Niners would have to find another chump to clean up after their games – I was done. Candlestick was cold and miserable enough during the summer, and I had no intention of freezing my joints (and other tender parts) all winter.
“Hey, Rocko!” said Fast Eddie. “I’m quitting my job in the mailroom at Western States BankCard! There’s gonna be an opening, if ya want it – I’ll put in a good word for ya!”
So, I hie’d myself on down to the sprawling building near the wharf and signed on. Starting pay was a staggering four hundred and twenty dollars a month – and we got to work indoors, with heat and lights! Life was GOOD!
That was a fun job; most of the crew were guys around my age, and we had excellent work habits. When we eventually moved to a new building, the ceiling tiles literally sagged in areas under the weight of all the collected beer bottles tossed up there after propping one open with a broomstick. Lunchtimes usually included a beer or two, or when we were feeling more sophisticated, a sub sandwich washed down with a screwdriver or even martinis, usually consumed while seated on the steps of the sewage processing plant around the corner.
Then came the day when two “over martini’d” fellas decided to get into a fight over a piece of pipe. This pipe was used to squash down computer paper in the decollating machine. Anyway, these two were about to start hammering each other and the boss, an elderly gentleman of around fifty or so, was freaking out.
Somehow, I had a flash of divine inspiration, and asked the two guys to “just hang on ‘til I get back!”
With that, I rushed out to my car and fetched a hacksaw that I just happened to have in the trunk toolbox. I then amazed the two wannabe pugilists by using said hacksaw to turn that length of pipe into two. They were both happy, instantly resumed being best buddies, and the boss was so impressed with my not-quite Solomon wisdom that in short order he promoted me to “lead mail clerk.”
The promotion even came with a raise, which I quickly declined. Seems it literally put me into a higher tax bracket and resulted in lower net pay. But that was okay – the boss pulled some strings, had the job re-classified, and I eventually realized an extra five bucks a week. Sadly, though, it ended the lunchtime martinis. Closest I could get after that was making large batches of rum- and bourbon-balls to bring in at Christmastime.
But I was on my way! Sorta. I would have never dreamed that this would lead to a banking career, and that over twenty years later I would step down from a position as a department head and project manager with a vice-president grade with a major international bank.
And sometimes I reflect on those carefree days pushing a broom at the no-longer existing Candlestick Park. That was a heck of a lot more fun than banking!
I came, I saw, I lived