What Was Your First or Most Unusual Job?

One of editor Linell Smith’s first jobs was driving a Good Humor ice cream truck. Graphic designer Dave Dilworth earned his first paycheck as a farm hand bailing hay, but also managed a snowball stand, tested tear gas for Edgewood Arsenal, ran a printing press, and created an in-house graphic design agency at the University of Maryland all before landing his job in the Marketing and Communications Department at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Whether it was working in a fast-food restaurant, babysitting the kids next door or chopping worm heads for research, tell us about your first or most unusual job on this week’s Throwback Thursday blog. Feel free to mention what you do now?

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }


Linda Base September 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Blueberry picking in NJ for 3 summers before I was old enough to get a "real " job....at 12,13,14 yrs old. I got sick the first day from eating too many blueberries in the hot sun! I remember making $300. for the summer and back then that was big money!


Bob August 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm

1. Paper route
2. Library page...shelving returned books
3. Hamster breeder for medical lab.
4. Chemist at cement plant.
5. After med school, but prior to internship...delivered liquor and wine for a liquor distributor.


Janet August 23, 2013 at 10:55 am

My first job was taking orders at McDonalds. During the summer, when I visited my grandmother's farm in Scranton, S.C., I "put in" tobacco from sun up to noon for $20. My cousins and I sat on the tractor, and as it traveled each row of the field, we had to pull a bunch, of leaves, string it, and put them on a stake. You had to have rhythm and be fast to keep up.


Cy Governs August 23, 2013 at 8:56 am

First (official): Drive-thru operator/shift supervisor at Burger King. I lived in Hawai'i and during the holiday season, my intro was SOOOO long: "Aloha and Mele Kalikimaka! Welcome to Kailua Burger King. My name is Cymantha. How may I help you?"

Most unusual: Economist for the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis for two summers. I worked on data that, at the end of a 7-year-long process, illustrates the U.S. gross domestic product. I loved it!


Laura Gandy August 23, 2013 at 8:19 am

I started as a table cleaner at a food court, and was dismissed from that for having the temerity to leave my workstation to do CPR on a patient in cardiac arrest. After that, I became a CNA, and continued my volunteer duties as an EMT. I've worked my way through several different disciplines in health care, and I wouldn't change any of the experiences I've had. Centralized Scheduling is my current employment - and after some of the places I've been, this is like working in a library.


Alex August 22, 2013 at 3:18 pm

The Key West Sponge Market, Sponge Salesman.


Lorilei Barsh August 23, 2013 at 10:50 am

Love Mallory Square! That had to be a lot of fun!


Stephanie Shapiro August 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm

A few years after college, I worked in "traffic" at a Muzak station in Winooski, Vermont. That meant scheduling commercial, news and other breaks in the between ghastly elevator music that constantly oozed out of the office speaker system.

I operated a mammoth, battle-ship gray key punch machine to produce an hour-by-hour schedule used by the station's engineer to plug in the appropriate commercials, public service announcements and emergency broadcast system tests. Not a career highlight, but a suitably weird interlude during my formative years.


Shirley Purvis August 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I had my first job when I was a student at UMBC. I worked in a lab that did research on the reproductive cycle of slugs. I was responsible for the "care" of the slugs. Mostly that meant cleaning their soiled containers every week. Has anyone ever experienced a slug that has died and "melted?" Then you know the lovely smell I dealt with constantly. My next job was rather better; I worked as an usher then backstage caterer at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Heard Rick Springfield singing in the shower, and had an opportunity to toast marshmallows over the grill with Cyndi Lauper.


Nancy Robey August 22, 2013 at 11:40 am

A summer job I held once was selling aluminum siding over the phone. I don't think I ever sold anything!


Robert O'Connell August 22, 2013 at 10:47 am

I worked at a Masonite plant that turned trees into pressed board. The process started by shredding wood chips, which were dumped on top of an underground tunnel. The wood chips fell through cracks in the tunnel ceiling, where some of them landed on a conveyor belt. The chips that didn't land on the floor were crushed into powder by a big screw. My job was to sweep up the wood chips and dust around the grinder, shovel them into a wheel barrow, and dump them outside where a front-end loader would scoop and dump them on top of the tunnel, a process that repeated 8 hours a day.

The tunnel was always a cozy 120 degrees and the machinery rang at 110 decibels, so I had to sweat in a dust mask, earphones and steel-toed boots. Not bad for 3.35 an hour.


Anthony Keyes August 22, 2013 at 10:44 am

My first job was picking up trash that had frozen to a fence after a dumpster flipped over. I was 12 and worked all day in freezing temperatures. Made $5 but the owner charged me $2.00 for a pair of gloves and $0.50 cents for a cup of hot chocolate so I only walked away with $2.50.

Good times!


SG August 22, 2013 at 9:58 am

My first job was as a bagger/cashier at the local grocery store when I was 15. I have also worked in a retail store selling bath products and as a personal shopper at a high-end clothier. My favorite part-time job however was as a barrista at this funky little cafe in the town where I went to college. I worked the night shift and became the night manager my senior year. It was hard with school, but I absolutely loved it. I got to meet a lot of people, and it didn't hurt that it was considered a 'cool' place to work! In graduate school, I was a graduate TA, by far the most difficult job I have held. It taught me a lot of patience, but also sparked a previously unknown interest in teaching, something I now do as an adjunct at a local community college. Working at Hopkins gives me a deep sense of satisfaction with our research, but the teaching helps me feel connected to the next generation of future nurses and scientists.


Lorilei Barsh August 23, 2013 at 10:48 am

SG, I was a barista in a previous job as well. I have to admit that it was really fun and I enjoyed it a lot!


Patrick Smith August 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

As an undergrad, I was on the Orioles grounds crew at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street. Most of the other guys on the crew were high school kids from the neighborhood. I was about 20 years old and they called me "Pops."


Rah'Shan Ganzy August 22, 2013 at 9:42 am

My first job was on a farm. I helped my grandfather raise pigs, cows, and grow crops. One of the most memorable tasks was when I helped him castrate a pig. I had to hold the pig while he slipped a tight rubber band over the scrotum. The first time I did this I was about 10 years old and I was not very strong. Everytime the pig yelped or jerked I let the leg go, which caused my grandfather to yell at me. I learned quickly to hold that animal no matter what or I would face his wrath.

Today, I work as an orthopaedic tech. One of my tasks is to assist with skeletal manipulation. It is usually very painful for the patient. During a skeletal reduction, I have been kicked, spit on, cursed at, and bit. But I never let that arm or leg go no matter what.

Thanks granddaddy.


Robert O'Connell August 22, 2013 at 11:02 am

For the win.


Kendra Keiser August 22, 2013 at 9:26 am

I once worked for a company in Baltimore that provided balloon deliveries with a singing telegram! It was one of my most memorable and enjoyable jobs during my younger years!
I would take balloons bouquets to people of all ages; for birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions and sing "the birthday song", give them their balloons and then sing "When You Wish Upon A Star" while waving a "magic wand" over their head. My costume was jeans, a white shirt and a black tuxedo jacket with tails! It was fantastic to see their expressions when I came through the door with a dozen or so ballons and this get up! Ahh, thanks for the memories!!


Yvette Oliver-McKenzie August 22, 2013 at 9:26 am

I worked in a non-traditional job for women as a bricklayer apprentice for a time in New York. I did enjoy that position though it was in a male dominated environment and was both hostile and racist for me a black woman. I am proud to say though that I had a hand in building a tower in midtown Manhattan on 46th and Broadway back in the 80's and learned quite a few things about bricklaying. I also had a hand in restoring the famous St. Regis Hotel on 55th St. between 5th and Park Aves. I would not be able to enter that hotel any other time so it was great working upstairs and renovating it for the guests who would soon inhabit it. The overall experience of being a construction worker was great and taught me the difference between male and female daily communications...with men, you can just what you have to say and clear the air and continue on with your day. With women, it is a more delicate dance and you have to frame what you have to say in a more thoughtful way so as not to incur resentments or hurt feelings.


Jenny August 27, 2013 at 7:47 am

Your comment about the communication difference is spot on.


Bonnie C August 22, 2013 at 9:24 am

My first job (other than baby-sitting) was with a small gift shop in what is now called the Federal Hill Main Street district (similar to the Hallmark stores seen in malls these days - it was called Delly's Card & Gift Shop). It was fairly uneventful and I was usually stressed about working around such expensive items, because one of my responsibilities was to dust all that bric-a-brac at least once a week. And, as we all know, if you break it, you bought it. Since minimum wage at the time was $1.15, it would easily take a whole week's wages if I broke something. I had to change into a store "uniform" just before the shift started, and change back into my own clothes just after my shift ended. On days when my shift ended at closing time, the manager thought it was funny to turn off all the lights while I was changing clothes (supposedly because I was taking too long & he wanted to leave). I worked there one full summer so that I could earn enough to buy my own school clothes & supplies.

My one bright moment was when I found a $20 bill on the floor and was able to return it to the customer. Back in 1970/71 that was a lot of money. The customer was so impressed with my honesty they gave me a $5 "reward."


Sheila LInd August 22, 2013 at 9:21 am

I worked at APG in the military uniform "bunker" where service men and women would come to purchase replacement items like boots, c-bags, hats, etc.... We also sold dress uniforms so I had to measure necks, arms and yes... you guessed it...inseams....lol
I knew all the ranks and ribbons for Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corp. Don't remember most of them now which is understandable...it's been 30 years.
My husband and daughter are both ex-Marines but there really isn't no "ex" about it. Once a Marine...always a Marine.


Smith August 22, 2013 at 9:21 am

At the age of 13 I "volunteered" at a veterinary clinic, prepping fecal samples and heartworm tests, washing and grooming dogs, cleaning kennels, and assisting the doctors in the exam rooms and surgery. That kept up every summer and Christmas break until I was 18, then I was paid for working there for that summer. In college, I waited tables, cleaned horse stables, and gave tours of the university's natural history museum and cared for the animals in it, including three rattlesnakes and a 13' Burmese python. After that, it was onto the military as an Arabic linguist and analytic reporter, with substitute teaching on the side. The most surreal moment in work? While working in biotech, a human liver was delivered to my home to save me time instead of waiting for it to arrive at work. I think everyone should have to wait tables at some point, it is a huge learning experience.


A jackson August 22, 2013 at 9:18 am

At the age of 12 or 13, I would go to work with my mother at the pub she worked at a clean the womens bathroom because I didnt like how dirty the mens was and also clean the booths to find loose change, from there I became a hostess.


Sharon Sopp August 22, 2013 at 8:56 am

I worked as a camera operator for the U.S. Senate when they first started broadcasting their proceedings. The cameras were controlled remotely from a small control room in the basement of the capitol building, where about 10 of us worked at any given time. I was fresh out of college with a broadcast journalism degree and it was a fascinating job.


Mike DeVito August 22, 2013 at 8:55 am

Tortilla-cutter and fryer (for chips), cheese grater (for queso), pot scrubber for Tippy's Tacos.


Joyce Dean August 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

oops sorry the pic was so big!


Joyce Dean August 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

My first job was as a waitress at the snack bar counter of Peoples Drugstore inside Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland. I was a high school student at Walt Whitman at the time. Later the drugstore chain was sold and became known CVS.


F August 22, 2013 at 8:28 am

My first job for which I received taxed income was at the age of 13 and I was a waitress at a large retirement facility in Florida. It was the most difficult job I've ever held and it lasted for six months. Some patrons were very nice and some were approaching evil. Few had any patience or basic respect for a humble 13 year old child trying to learn the trade and earn money for college though that was four years away. I have worked continuously since then (mid 1980s) in a variety of interesting jobs before landing at JHU (job content frequently unusual, which is why I'm here). The waitressing job still serves as a benchmark low even including shoveling horse hockey for two years. The horses treated me with dignity and I returned that dignity and the poo washes off with soap and water. As we all age and retire, let us remember to practice kindness first and criticize gently.


MEL August 22, 2013 at 8:23 am

At age 17, I sold Turkey Legs at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. I dressed up in garb from the 1600's and celebrated the 9 best weeks of Autumn among Maryland's finest! Greatest seasonal job ever!


JW August 22, 2013 at 8:02 am

A "mascot" for a restaurant. They opened a new location in the town I was living in and to generate foot traffic, I would attend various public events and walk through passing out coupons and balloons. Interesting fact: those large heads have battery-powered fans inside in an attempt to keep you cool.


Roxann Ashworth August 22, 2013 at 7:38 am

My first job, other than delivering papers, was working on a printing press, jogging and stacking the papers as they came off and loading them onto pallets for delivery. Working 12 hours overnight was quite and experience for a 16 year old girl.


Karen Clendenin August 22, 2013 at 8:32 am

Roxann - I did that same type of job for a summer when I was 19. I still remember the paper cuts 🙂


Anne Caston-Gaa August 22, 2013 at 7:22 am

I worked in animal husbandry and research for the national zoo in front royal VA. We received fecal samples from endangered animal groups in the wild. Individuals followed females and collected their excreta, freezing it and sending it over continents. Our group received and spent hous every day crushing poop to extract hormones to see where the animal was in its reproductive cycle. The goal was to pinpoint estrous without collecting blood. Our group monitored many species. it was a filthy but enlightening several summers and quite successful.


Janet August 22, 2013 at 8:19 am

What do you do now?


Beth August 22, 2013 at 8:47 am

Oh Anne. Sounds fun and I know you loved every minute of it. It prepared you for future endeavors more than you could ever know.


Lynette Fuson August 22, 2013 at 6:47 am

After my high school graduation I worked as a YMCA camp counselor for kids ages 12-16. It was a 2 week camp experience during that time we took the kids on a 5 day out of camp trip during one the following: backpacking, climbing, caving or canoeing. It was fun! I work at the camp for 2 summers in Downingtown PA. Between my second and third years of college I worked as a nursing assistant in a Nursing home on the 3-11 shift. The summer before my senior year in college was a delivery person for Domino's Pizza.


Jackie Kopp August 22, 2013 at 6:37 am

I was an Alumni locator for a large local college in Maine. I helped find alumni the college had lost touch with prior to their reunion years. It sparked an interest in Private Investigation which I wasn't able to pursue until many years later when I obtained my P.I. license.

I also worked for several years as a Crime Victim Advocate, helping crime victims navigate the court system and providing support and assistance as their cases came to court.

I think all of my past jobs and experiences have helped me in many ways with my present job as a Medical Concierge with Hopkins USA.


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