First Job

What was your first job?

March 19, 2019 | | Headwaters Nest

It’s 6:30 on a Friday night in late winter, the sun has just gone down, and I’ve just dropped my son Adrian off at work. (Cue needle scratching across record and dramatic pause!) That’s right – work. He’s 14 and has his first job!

Every Friday night he works at the rental shop at Hockley Valley Resort for a three-hour shift. His responsibilities include cleaning the members’ area, greeting customers in the shop, receiving the rental ski and snowboard gear, and checking the safety of the gear before storing it away for the next day.

Late last year Adrian met with Dave Dingeldein, the ski director. Adrian has been skiing with Dave at the helm for a number of years, and Brian Donato before that. A half-hour interview behind closed doors was sealed with a handshake and a job offer. It’s been a good snowfall year and the rental shop has been busy on Friday nights.

It made me think back to my first job – there was haying on the farm and feeding animals, but that doesn’t really count. My first job with a paycheque was at 77 Broadway in Orangeville, in a paint and decor store. (Look up at the building and you’ll still see the funky 77 logo.) I learned how to mix paint according to the formula book – read formula, calibrate colours, select base and finish, add various shocking pigments. Then place can on mixer and wait for magical finished product to appear. Keep mouth shut if the colour has no business being on any wall or piece of furniture, even if it was the ’80s and shock value in decorating was high.

My friend Kathryn had a job at the jewellers up Broadway. At lunch we would meet at Mr. Submarine and order three pizza subs, one each plus one to split. Ah, the metabolism of youth. Kathryn would borrow glamourous rings from the store to wear out to lunch, describing to me their qualities, settings and stones. Her hands were tanned and nails pearly perfection. I lamented my paint stains.

As a daily regular at Tim Horton’s when it was across from the Kar Bath on Townline, I eventually asked for a job. I was in for a shock that summer. Shifts started at 5:30 a.m., and because summer is the height of construction season, I would arrive to lineups of tradespeople out each door. The smell of yeast permeated the air. One particularly busy morning, one of the longtime counter staff barked at me, “If we had to wait for you to make coffee, we’d be here all day!” I bit my lip and looked up at my next customer. A burly giant of a man said, “Don’t worry, dear. I’ve got all day.” His sweetness surprised me. I held back tears and decided that side of the food service counter wasn’t for me.

Later that afternoon, as I drank a coffee and waited for my ride home after quitting, the manager from the gas station across the way came in for his afternoon perk. We had gotten to know each other over my few shifts. “Why aren’t you working?” he asked. I told him my shift was over and I had quit. He offered me a job at the gas station. I said yes.

So for the rest of my high school years, I worked nights at Townline PetroCan. Orangeville was smaller then, and we had a big draw. Close to the Kar Bath, close to Barth’s Cleaners, across from Tim Horton’s … but the biggest draw? Drive Thru Smokes. Yes, you read that right.

The little kiosk was a glass hut on a concrete pad. If it was -40 outside, it was -40 inside. I was thankful for the brown PetroCan coat that smelled like gas and seemed to be made of asbestos. I worked there night after night, from after school until close. Sitting at the side window where you could drive up and place your order, I became known as The Drive Thru Smokes Girl. On weekends, closing time coincided with “last call,” and our cheap cigarettes meant there was always a rush of customers just as I was finishing up. Some nights I would be counting $5,000 in cash before running out into the inky night to take gas measurements from the tanks.

I was never robbed, but it felt dicey. I was hassled to sell cigarettes after the till, safe and lights were shut for the night. Friends started showing up to make sure I was safe, and I’m sure my friend’s dad, who was the police chief at the time, had something to do with the Orangeville police officers who regularly parked nearby.

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  • For years I kept that job. I bought my first used car with my pay. To keep my grades up, I did homework in the glass box at nights when it became quiet. I went to concerts, went to Wonderland and ate all the junk food I could with my earnings. I monitored the boys who showed up to baby their cars at the Kar Bath. I also paid for much of my university because of that job. They were good years.

    More than a decade later, I was visiting Orangeville and some tipsy guys were eyeing me at the bar. They looked vaguely familiar. I braced myself as one came toward me. With a big smile he said, “Hey, you’re the Drive Thru Smokes Girl!”

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    About the Author More by Bethany Lee

    Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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