Another day. Another dollar.
Growing up I held down dozens of unique jobs that instilled in me a solid work ethic and plenty of stories. In college, I supported myself with jobs that had flexible schedules to accommodate my classes.
Why list them here? I learned life lessons from each one.
When I was 14, I sold the Dallas Times Herald door to door. Later I sold nonprofit memberships, commercial financial services, even vacuum cleaners. While not my favorite endeavors, these jobs taught me to be approachable, think quickly on my feet, handle rejection and read different buyer personalities.
Ice Manufacturing and Delivery
My first job with a printed paycheck was at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. I worked two full seasons in the onsite ice plant and helped deliver 30 to 60 tons of ice throughout the park every morning before it opened at 10:00 am. We ate lunch as a crew and then went back to the ice house to bag another 30 tons. We worked in the huge freezer vault stacked three one-ton pallets high and had to wear parkas all summer. I operated all kinds of unique heavy equipment and made life-long friends.
In Austin, I drove a heavy bobtail rig around town for a hot-shot ice delivery company called Flash Cubes. I’ve been in the kitchen and backroom of nearly every restaurant, bar, convenience store and event hall in Central Texas. The job kept me in excellent physical condition and I made enough money to keep attending UT.
Uh, yeah. Men actually do work at Hooters. We have three responsibilities: wings, wash dishes and break up fights. Paradise for an 18-year old guy. I opened the Arlington store on Collins Avenue.
I was a summer roofer in Texas. ONCE.
One summer, I took a job delivering rent-to-own furniture throughout Fort Worth’s East Side. Unfortunately, I also had to repossess furniture from folks that missed their weekly payment. I dreaded picking up furniture for nonpayment. First of all, I received considerable animosity as I was usually a sweaty white guy in a tie removing furniture from the home of a poor black family. My heart went out to the kids that were crying wonder why this stranger was taking away their new (used) sofa and entertainment center.
Our inventory was generally low quality, yet our customers could expect to pay four times the value because of high prices, interest and fees. Many of our customers had no realistic way to provide for their families except to get on a weekly payment plan. Others were simply uneducated, undisciplined or unable to find other options.
This summer job gave me insight to the cycle of poverty gripping the poor people of America. I witnessed similar indicators as a cab driver in Austin. This experience formed my opinion on the necessity of financial education and training to all American children, especially those in poor neighborhoods. I believe strongly that all of us have a responsibility to help those in need.
Dallas is a cosmopolitan city with dozens of swanky restaurants and nightclubs. During lunches and evenings, I parked cars for patrons through a company that rotated valets to eateries, clubs, businesses, private parties, you name it. I drove virtually every make and model of car through 1993.
Working as a valet exposed me to a vast undercurrent in the service industry. I met many of Dallas’s leaders, musicians and artists, carried out odd requests for celebrities and ate gourmet food nearly every meal. Being a valet brought a friendly fraternal bond with my coworkers. I still keep in touch with many of them today.
When I transferred to Austin, I continued parking cars at the Austin Marriott with a brief stint at the Marriott Riverwalk in San Antonio. My experiences as a valet are the foundation of my first screenplay, The Levelers. I wrote this in 2001 with an online integration plan long before Hollywood studios had conceived of attracting niche web audiences. The screenplay has similar themes to the much-hyped $30000 Millionaires written a few years later.
I’ve worked in a dozen Austin nightclubs dealing blackjack for non legal tender. Dealing tens of thousands of hands revealed patterns to me that I later used to win a little money in Vegas. Believe me, there is nothing scientific about the patterns. I’ve lost my share from Atlantic City to plenty of Indian Casinos in the midwest and California.
I did learn a system for counting cards in single and six deck shoes, but I found it excruciating and boring. Blackjack is a social game and the system took too much concentration to shoot the bull with other gamers. Today, I prefer Texas Hold ‘Em and the rare Craps game with increasing bets during streaks to maximize profits. Now if we could just predict streaks! I’m sure game theorists and mathematicians are working to solve that problem as we speak.
The city of Austin issued my “hack” license in 1994 and I had a new flexible vocation that worked around my college classes. Did you know cab drivers in many cities are self-employed? I leased a Yellow Cab for 24 hours for $65 to $85 depending on condition. The lease included insurance and a dispatch radio. I paid for fuel and I kept 100% of fares and tips.
If you want to know the truth, I thoroughly enjoyed this job. I met so many unique characters and I earned my keep. Other hacks would park in the airport queue and play chess for an hour waiting for their fare at the terminal. I found I could make much more money on the hustle. Half the fares from the airport went downtown, which was an $8 honest trip back then. I have a ton of stories and will definitely commit them to ink.
Other Odd Jobs
As a young adult, I worked hard as a grocery bagger, an NSF check collector, security guard, bartender, UPS pre-sort at the Dallas Hub, wedding caterer, cabinet assemblyman, short film & television actor and Chuck-E-Cheese (yes the guy in the rat costume). All of these off-the-wall jobs exposed me to many facets of business and helped me appreciate the values of hard work, team work and a sense of accomplishment.