First & Worst Jobs: Readers weigh in on the good, bad and ugly in work experiences

Published on Saturday, 19 July 2014 22:55 - Written by Brian Pearson

The view from the cul-de-sac atop an Austin hill at the end of a quiet street provided little entertainment as the nights dragged on longer than a scratched cornea.

Someone had decided the street needed a nightly security guard to prevent marauders from swiping materials from the handful of home-construction sites along the quarter-mile-long street.

The ironically named street – Pleasant Cove – provided a cornucopia of boredom.

And working it as a security guard was the worst job I’ve ever had.

There was no guard shack. No television. I sat in a car all night, mostly staring out into the darkness, with only the poor overhead lighting in a car to read a book. I daydreamed and listened to the radio.

Occasionally, I’d get out and walk around, checking out the houses under construction and smacking around rocks with a baseball bat, which served as my only means of protection from potential marauders.

Unpleasant Cove wasn’t my only security-guard assignment in that summer of 1984, but it was the worst. The other places I guarded – always on the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift - weren’t much better.

This past week, Tyler-area residents were asked to describe their first and worst jobs.

And here is what they said:


Barbara Bass, Tyler

First and worst: My first job was with an optometrist and optical company. I would have to call it worst and best. Because the owner was so difficult to work for, he motivated me to finish my accounting degree.

Brian Brandt, Tyler

First: When I was in seventh grade, I started sweeping floors at my local elementary school. For two hours every evening, I largely had the place to myself to clean and lock up.

Worst: The summer of my ninth-grade year, I did odd jobs for a local engineer. On one project, I was evaluating the water level of a cooling pond at a Goodyear plant … until the two gentlemen I worked with sunk the boat.


Dave Berry, Tyler

First: I grew up on a farm, so my first jobs were a combination of plowing, mowing, driving the wheat truck and bucking bales. I may have earned a little, but those jobs were part of growing up, not paying propositions. My first real paycheck came while working for the cemetery association mowing the Cross Plains Cemetery. The names on the graves were family and neighbors, so I worked to avoid chipping any of the stones. But weed whackers weren’t invented, so close trimming was done with hand shears, working up lots of blisters.

Worst: My worst job had to be the single day I spent on a crew building bridges for the new Interstate 70 across Kansas. I wrote of that experience in a recent column: “I have only bailed out early on one job in my life. It was the summer of ’69 and I grabbed a job that sounded great on paper – bridge construction. I would have to go a long way to find a job in Russell County, Kansas, that paid that well. But after my first day, I knew I had made a mistake. It was 110 in the shade, and we were a long way from shade. Calf-deep in concrete, I was assigned to stand amid the rebar mesh, awaiting the arrival of the next bucket of slurry being hoisted by a clanking truck-mounted crane onto the half-built span. If the operator stopped the heavy bucket’s swing at the right spot, I grabbed the handle and dumped the load. If he didn’t, it either knocked me over or broke my legs. I left after one day with both legs intact.”

The next day I went to work breaking down and repairing truck tires in a Goodyear repair shop. It was heaven compared to working on that bridge.


Yolanda Durham, Tyler

First: I was a water girl at El Chico’s at the Tyler mall.

Worst: A meat-packing plant. My hands were frozen solid handling cutlets and meat patties.


Beth Walker, Lindale

First: Beth Walker My first job was at JC Penney on Lovers Lane in Dallas, and I was the gift wrap girl! I LOVED that job. I was 16 and went to work every day at 1 p.m. through the distributive education program. I went on to be a part of the first mall in Dallas, North Park Mall, when JC Penney moved there. I was promoted up to the personnel department and helped with our shoe department manager, Larry and his fun promotions. One in particular was “Go-Go boots” (I’m showing my age now) Verlenne Hipskind Monroe and I got to pick out our outfits from the Junior department, and wear the Go-Go boots and dance on a little stage in the shoe department! I got so tired of hearing the Rolling Stones sing “Hey! You! Get Off a my Cloud,” but man, did we sell the boots!

Worst: Selling encyclopedias door to door. I didn’t last long with that one.


Susan Seaberry Wells, Tyler

First: Worked at Montgomery Ward in … in the jewelry department after Christmas. I stayed on and worked through college in HR as a trainer. I loved it. I met and worked with the best people and learned a work ethic that I have used for all these years. These people did it right They were honest and worked day in day out with a great attitude I am still in contact with my store manager What a great role model he was and is.


Mark Burton, Tyler

First: My first real job was in a plant in east Tennessee that made plastic bags. It ran 24-7, and I worked 12 hour shifts, including all nighters. After a couple of months, my mom decided a 16-year-old growing boy needed his sleep, and she told me to quit. OK, Mom!

 Worst: A government job. Decent money out of college, but what a managerial mess. I was a Department of Energy environmental contractor in Tennessee. Who knew technically sound science guys do not make good people managers?


Lisa Godfrey, Tyler

First job: Ron’s Crispy Fried Chicken in Alvin. Greasy, and you had to wear little bitty white skirts. It was the ’70s, you know!

Worst job: Shipley’s Donut shop in Pearland, because I had to be at work at 5 a.m. Being a new mom, that was hard! One good thing was that my husband would hold up our older child (2-year-old) in the drive through so I could give him donut holes. 


Matt Leatherwood, Euless

First job: Dishwasher at a truck stop.

Worst job: My worst job (and best because it convinced me to go back to college) was as a fiberglass tub-shower trimmer at a plastics and fiberglass plant. Cold showers every night to keep the pores from opening up. Like sleeping on a bed of nails every night. 


Lacey Rice Lafayette, Tyler

First: When I was 16, I was a cashier at Brookshire Brothers in my hometown of Smithville. I eventually got promoted to office manager. It was a pretty good job for a teenager.

Worst: I worked as a stocker for (a shoe store) here in Tyler. I worked for about three days and quit. It was so monotonous and boring. This was probably my first clue that I needed interaction with folks and had to have a fun and exciting job.


Lorri Allen, Tyler

First and worst: Janitor. Enough said.


Anne Elliott Payne, Tyler

First: My first job was at Rich’s Designer Desserts by Times Square. Had to make waffle cones sometimes and smelled like pancakes afterward.

Worst: At a nonprofit, and it was bad because I had a really mean boss. Overall, I’ve been really lucky!


Meredith Hogue Watson, Jacksonville

First: Cashier and video rental department at the Brookshire Brothers in Rusk.

Worst: Working the service customer desk at Wal-Mart.


Judith Warnick Highsmith, Tyler

First: With a small company called Star of Texas Drilling Mud Additives in Fort Worth, after I graduated high school. My Mom wouldn’t allow me to work until then, except to babysit. The owner, who was my boss, was a real dog of a guy which taught me to never be caught unaware!

Worst: In a company in California. The founders were kicked out by venture capitalists (They don’t call them vulture capitalists for nothing) followed by a couple of really unethical guys buying out those venture capitalists. As vice president of sales and marketing, I struggled to continue to do business without eroding my own ethical reputation with my national account customers, so what I remember are epic battles in the board room! That was a factor in starting my own company.


Debbie Lee Townsend, Hawkins

First:  I was a tomato looker! I worked on an assembly line culling tomatoes. I was about 15 1/2, and it was my first real job where I got my first real paycheck.

Worst: I have worked at so many jobs it is difficult to figure out what was my worst job ever. I guess I would have to say that every job I’ve ever had where I was asked to do the things that did not meet my moral and ethical standards was the worst job ever. That is probably why the best job ever is the job I have now: working for myself. 


Hattie Kirkwood Kemp, Tyler

First and worst: After graduating from Eustace High School in May 1972, I needed a summer job before matriculating at Henderson County Junior College, now Trinity Valley Community College, in Athens. I accepted my first job, which also happens to be my worst job, in Athens at Hollywood Vassarette, a plant that manufactured upscale ladies’ lingerie.

Plant workers produced bras, panties, girdles, nightgowns and robes, all of which were constructed in a piecemeal fashion and transported from worker to worker via boxes on conveyer belts.

I was assigned to work in the girdle department and given the job of attaching garters to women’s girdles.

Don’t you know that I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I knew that my official job title was a garter gripper! Not!

During the entire summer of 40-hour weeks, I worked as quickly and efficiently as possible - for time is money and quotas must be met - attaching tens of thousands of garters to thousands of flat panels of elasticized fabric, which would eventually become girdles at the end of the assembly line.

Although the work was not hard, the working environment was not ideal with a high decibel level and the air filled with textile lint. Line workers had to be aware at all times where they placed their fingers to avoid getting them caught in the power-sewing machines. Once a machine started sewing, it would not stop until a patterned sequence was completed.

This former garter gripper is proud to report she never sewed through any of her fingers during the Summer of Girdles. 


John Sykes, Tyler

First: Shoeshine boy in a barber shop. I learned so much about working for yourself and self-discipline. I also learned a bunch of other stuff I shouldn’t repeat.


Robin Boney, Tyler

First (My sister) Allison and I had our first jobs at MA Simms. It was a family.

Worst: The one where my was a boss a pot head. He would come in from a “cigarette” break and reek of weed. When I secretly landed another job and had to take a drug test, I was afraid I wouldn’t pass because of the contact high he gave the entire staff every day.


Allison McKinney, Tyler

First: wrapping packages at MA Simms during Christmas.

Worst: selling cars.


Brian Pearson, Flint

Worst: Security guard (see above).

First: At age 15, I got a job cleaning a grocery store meat department after school. While that might sound terrible – perhaps a worst job – it wasn’t bad at all. There was a sense of satisfaction in getting the department clean and shiny for the butchers coming in the next morning. After I learned how to do that, I was pretty much on my own, without some boss breathing down my neck. This job came amid the series of “Rocky” movies, and there was a side of beef hanging in a refrigerator. It was perfect for going all Rocky Balboa on it when no one was looking. Also, the management didn’t care if we grabbed a pastry out of the bakery or got some fixings for free sandwiches. One time we had a tomato fight in the back store room. The only hiccup was getting carried away one time with the cleaning, and the store had to be evacuated after I used a ridiculous amount of ammonia on the floor.