Sunday, February 14, 2010

Under the Boardwalk....

As my youngest continues to apply and hunt for her first job, I've been thinking about my first job. Many who grew up in Santa Cruz, had their first work experience at the Boardwalk or maybe the Soquel Car Wash - places we could easily get to on foot or bicycle. Kids who lived in Scotts Valley, started at Santa's Village for the same reason. These were places that needed a lot of employees so could afford to take the chance on whoever they got. Some lasted some didn't. Mark, being a car guy, did the gas station route, pretty typical in the days before self-service pumps.

I was one of the Boardwalk kids, working at Hodgie's under the Jet Star, across the main entrance from the Merry-G0-Round. My parents knew Hodgie, actually Howard Wetzel, as a teen growing up around the corner from our house on Santa Cruz's east side. Networking was as much the way to job hunt then as it is now - it's who you know. Hodgie was actually a motor cop for Santa Cruz PD before his retirement and purchase of the restaurant. I mostly worked back in the fry corner, hand-dipping corn dogs and deep-fried artichokes, going home at the end of the day reeking of fry oil. On breaks, we would occasionally walk among the tourists but more often, would head to the basement, in the coolness away from the noise of the crowds or better, above the crowds by finagling a ride on the SkyGlider from one of the Seaside Company kids in exchange for a corn dog snuck out the window when they passed by on their breaks. Riding up high, the car gliding along a cable swinging in the warm air. From up there, you could see the beach and the tiny people and for that brief expanse of time, not have to worry about filling the oil or Hodgie barking at us to quick goofin' off when one of the cooks would toss an ice cube into the vats of oil, causing the oil to burble and us to squeal.

The Boardwalk was eerie in the morning, before the crowds arrived. No lights. No ringing bells or yelling kids or carousel calliope. Just the workers, carrying supplies to the restaurants and preparing for the day. More eerie, however, is the Boardwalk at night, without lights but with thousands of people, including the obligatory screaming girls. I was working on the Fourth of July 1974 when the lights went out. At some point, in the midst of the fireworks., a blown transformer. In the panic, there was a stabbing somewhere on the Boardwalk and tourists ran for their cars. The ensuing traffic jam filled Beach Street and all roads leading from beach flats, making it impossible for the ambulance to get to Beach Street. Hodgie, gruff as he was during the work day, turned fatherly and would not allow us to leave. Initially we pulled the windows closed then relented when there was some money to be made - working from coffee cans full of change, we sold coffee, hot chocolate and any food we had already cooked. Then the windows came down and we all sat in the dark of the dining room watching the lights of the refugees disappear over the bridge. When the traffic finally dissipated around one in the morning, he let us walk together to our cars and head home. I still remember laying in bed that night, the excitement and the sore feet after fourteen hours keeping me wide awake till nearly dawn. The panic was not forgotten and the fireworks were gone from the Boardwalk until 2007.

All that excitement and that was my first job. So, where does a kid get their first job experience around here? How does my 18-year-old, with a good brain, no criminal history, a diploma AND a two-year degree, get a job when she has no work experience? Would it be easier if she were fifteen? Now that she's 18, prospective employers seem to expect her to have job experience and won't take that chance. Yet we go in stores regularly where we nearly beg for service from unpleasant kids with no social skills.

This was a problem we hadn't considered when we discouraged her from getting a job when she was in high school - we thought she needed to focus on her studies since she was taking all college classes. How does she convince an employer that she's worth the risk when she has no work references. When so many are looking for jobs, how do you make yourself stand out? How do you prove you have skills and network in a town without a Boardwalk or a Santa's Village? She's thinking she'd like to wait tables....or stock shelves....whatever it takes. When the corporate stores require on-line applications then don't allow for calling in to check on your application. what's the procedure? How does THAT work? Should she go back to school and get MORE education without a particular goal in mind? Or just keep pounding the pavement, filling out applications and wincing when an interviewer asks the inevitable question about her work history? My child is looking to start making those first-job memories.


Fred said...

I've noticed the largest area of employment, at least from the ads on Craigslist, are in the food service areas: Cooks, waitresses and such. Fast food places usually have a high turnover, and I'm not being sarcastic.

Taco Bell always has signs up about accepting apps. You don't have to make a career out of it. Just work for a few months and search for other work while you have a job. It's been said it's easier to find a job when you're already employed.

My first job was as a dishwasher at age 16 for a Denny's type place in Costa Mesa. My mother neither encouraged me, nor discouraged me from taking it. AS far as I'm concerned, having a good work history- or any work history- is probably more important than years of college.

That said, my two years worth of time at College of the Redwoods was probably helpful in applying to some jobs, although the employers were more concerned about ability to do the job than the college time.

beachcomber said...

I don't disagree, Fred. To me, what you can do far outweighs the piece of paper but it seems so many places value that paper. For whatever reason, the paper indicates you did something valuable. When I finally got my 2-year degree, it was in doing something I already knew how to do but seems I have proof that I knew it...know it...whatever.

She's having a devil of a time convincing anyone to give her an opportunity to prove she can do ANYTHING. No doubt, once she has a job, the offers will come pouring in.

songbirrd said...

The California Conservation Corps hire all the time they encourage members to continue their education and they have good opportunities and advancement and make excellent references. They get to do cool stuff and really important environmental work.

beachcomber said...

I'm not sure she had considered the CCC...I will mention it, thank you.