Monday, August 8, 2011

My Employment Journey - Jack of All Trades, Master of None

1967 Chelsea Annual ad, proves I was a waitress.

My first real job to earn a paycheck was working as a waitress at Gliedt’s Café on Highway 66 in Chelsea, Oklahoma. I worked the graveyard shift on weekends during the summer of 1965 after my sophomore year of high school. I was 16. The pay was $3 for 8 hours plus tips which usually wouldn’t have been much more than $3 if I hadn’t been working Friday and Saturday late at night. The weekend partiers from the 2 local bars and underage car drinkers came in to eat something to sober up before heading home. Occasionally the customers were drunk enough to try and impress me with a really big tip, once as much as $5 dollars, probably their entire life savings.
The best part of the weekend graveyard shift was around 3 or 4 in the morning when it quieted down to no customers. The cook and I, both sleep deprived, each selected a red leather booth seat and curled up in it. We’d nap until we heard the first early morning customers arrive for breakfast and jump up and act like we‘d been up all night. Nothing like getting paid to sleep even if only 35 cents an hour. Now I’m sure the café owner Alvin Gliedt didn’t really approve of us sleeping on the job, but he was a big easy going single guy who wore a size 50 inch belt and love to eat. He was no doubt lurking somewhere nearby keeping an eye on his investment. Alvin also had a little mobile trailer called the “Chuck Wagon” that he took to rodeos and other events to sell food. That summer I went to one such event and now wonder if that experience helped lure me into the mobile food business 20 plus years later in the 1980s in Alaska.
Gliedt’s Café’s was built with logs. The front section could comfortably seat 60 people. In the rear was a banquet room that held space for 300. It was in that banquet room that our class held our Jr. and Sr. banquets and proms, but not with me as a waitress.
After that summer job in ‘65 I moved up in the waitress world, or actually down the road to Marie’s Café also on Highway 66. My salary increased to 50 cents an hour, a whole dollar more for an 8 hour shift. During the school year a school bus took all the high school kids with money the 3 miles out to Marie’s Cafe for a quick lunch. Myself and a few other willing poor hungry souls would write down their food orders on the bus, deliver the orders to the cooks (one being Maxine Miller), serve the kids and get a free very quick meal in exchange that we ate on the bus back to school. I worked at Marie’s for two years as a waitress until heading for college in 1967 in part with the help of my big fat waitress savings account. I’d spend the tips and save the checks.
During college I had a multitude of government funded “work study” jobs for struggling low income college students. These positions included the following: August 1968,
Interviewer of Claremore, Oklahoma Rotary Club members for a Rotary Club Scrapbook; Fall 1968 through the spring of 1971 during the school year I worked 15 hours a week at the Oklahoma State University Athletic Department as the sole office assistant to the OSU Athletic Department Secretary. It was revolting to me the way football players were cow towed and catered to. They were fed steaks nightly donated by OSU football team supporters and that was just the tip of the ice burg. Getting an education never seemed a football player’s priority. It was all about winning a football game, God Help! Eventually I developed a total distaste for organized collegiate sports, especially football. After I had the good fortune to leave Oklahoma, I still find myself appalled at the heartland‘s worship of sports, especially football.
The summers of 1969 and 1970 I worked in the Roger’s County Courthouse. In 1969 I reorganized and moved all the Rogers County Court files. It was amazing what I ran across to read such as my Mom’s first divorce and my great uncle’s murder trial (for which he was acquitted). I finished out the summer of ‘69 working at the court clerk’s counter. One marriage license I remember processing was for a young man of 16 and a woman of 45 both chewing gum, slapping their jaws. It was ugly, but usually the man was 45 and the gal 16, so that was refreshing. It was my favorite “work study” job and I got paid approximately a $1.50 an hour. During the summer of 1970 I was back at the Claremore court house working for the County Extension Office after spending the first half of the summer in Monterrey, Mexico going to school. It was boring, but it was a job.
When I graduated from Oklahoma State in 1971, jobs were fairly hard to come by and I wasn’t keen on teaching after my recent negative practice teaching experiences. I moved to Tulsa and got an apartment with a former college dorm mate. Although I had a driver’s license I didn’t drive or have a car, so any job I had had to be on a bus route. I landed a job through ORU, Oral Roberts University, as a typist processing donations to ORU from around the world in a downtown Tulsa office. Donators were sent gifts such as prayer cloths or some other Biblical type nick knack depending on the amount of money they contributed to ORU. Myself and approximately 25 plus other gals processed the paperwork. I usually got stuck with the hard to read ones from Jamaica but being a fast typist was my gift (up to 100 plus word per minute back then) so I was offered overtime, which I declined because it was on Saturdays. Lunchtime was the highlight of the day because I was standing, looking for a place for lunch and not stuck in an office typing my buns off. There was a Coney island spot with no chairs that worked for me.
Meanwhile I got married and we went back to school in the spring of 1972 to work on our graduate degrees. It was then that I gained a new respect for my old “work study” jobs, because I was no longer eligible. Granted my husband’s family owned a small oil company, but they were tighter than a bark on a tree and we were expected to stand on our own two feet. I got a part-time job in one of the dorm cafeterias while continuing my Spanish studies. It truly stank. We had Moslem men (affectionately called “towel heads”) that didn’t want to eat pork and Hindus that didn‘t want to eat beef. They wanted to know exactly what the meat was we were serving and 9 times out of 10 it was what I deemed “mystery meat”. We had no idea whether it contained pork, beef, chicken or a dead rat.
When summer came in 1972 I got a job working for Oklahoma Natural Gas in the collections department. I was great at all the clerical stuff but calling people and hounding them to pay their bill was not my cup of tea. We were due a raise that fall and I will never forget or forgive President Tricky Dick Nixon for the repeated national wage freeze. How could that crook get away with that?
In January of 1973 my first husband and I moved to San Antonio when Lindy was offered a job as an electrical engineer with the Army Corp of Engineers. Meanwhile I signed on with Kelly Girl as a temporary clerk typist and was placed at Trinity University typing numbers for the Accounting Department. Again I relied on my high school typing classes for employment, not my hard earned college degree. The head accountant loved me because accuracy was my focus. I knew with money that was much more important than typing speed. It was also in San Antonio I finally had to learn to drive myself to work when Lindy attended a week conference in Atlanta. I’d go to work an hour early and leave for home an hour late to miss the worse of the big city traffic. I survived against my will and been driving every since. That fall I found a teaching position in a Catholic Junior High, but we decided San Antonio was too big and dangerous for us two Okies. We moved back to Oklahoma in the May of 1973. That summer I took off and would go to Dunkin Donuts for a cup of coffee and a donut and look at the newspaper for a job. In August of 1973 I started a 3 year position teaching Spanish I & II, American History, World History and Psychology at Kellyville High School. The school was located on the Creek Nation in Kellyville and the area was deemed underprivileged due to economics. Consequently the government forgave 90% of my college student loan while teaching there. Those were the days of teacher shortages and money was made available for teacher training with added encouragement of 90% loan forgiveness if employed for five years in an economically deprived area. It was almost like getting a free college education after it was all said and done.
After three years of being a jack of all trades in my Kellyville country school we moved to a my first and only new house in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Lindy got a promotion with Oklahoma, Gas and Electric and my sister Angie who lived with us had graduated from high school in May of 1976. The rural new 3 bedroom home on an acre lot cost a bundle, $29,000 about $10,000 more than our first one 3 years before, but it had green carpet which I despised. My furniture was red, so it was like Christmas year around at our house. The good news was I returned to Graduate School to study Spanish at Oklahoma University hoping to eventually teach college. I was sick of teaching high school and dealing with the constant discipline problems was annoying. While attending Grad School I got a graduate assistantship and I taught freshman and sophomore level Spanish courses. It was a challenge, but at least one did not have to constantly tell their students to “pay attention“ or more precisely “sit down and shut up”. Maybe that was because the classes weren’t free and one wasn’t forced to attend, like high school. Despite the rewarding experience of the graduate assistantship and 4.0 in Grad School, I was restless. My marriage wasn’t turning out the way I hoped and I decided I wanted to get out and see the world and live my life outside the rigid confines of Oklahoma.
The summer of 1977 I headed for Niagara Falls, NY to try my luck. When I got there the area was suffering 14% unemployment and I was lucky to get a job even as a waitress at the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant near the Falls. It was a great experience for me as I learned how to uncork a bottle of wine something unheard of in Oklahoma at the time. Oklahoma locals only opened Bud or Coors beer and that was as exotic as it got. Some old folks might of drank Mogen David but that brand only had a screw top to remove not a cork.. The first time I uncorked a bottle of wine, I managed to end up with the cork inside the bottle. Despite my efforts I didn’t get a tip for my deranged service and wine opening fiasco. While there I also had the good fortune to meet Chief Iron Eyes Cody. He cried a tear for pollution in TV commercials back in the seventies. Our photo was taken together and it put in the local Niagara News as the meeting of two different tribe members. After his death in 1999 at 94, I discovered the Chief was of Italian Sicilian heritage. He lived his adult life claiming he was American Indian and supported related causes. Cody and his wife Bertha, who was, in fact, an American Indian, adopted several children, all of Indian descent.
I’d always wanted to live in New York and I had my chance, but I was still married and had unfinished business and possessions in Oklahoma. After a few months in upstate New York, I drove back to tornado alley. During the winter of 1977 to 1978 I tried to follow Jack London’s chosen professions. I desk clerked a few months at the University of Oklahoma hotel in Norman whose clients were almost exclusively visiting professors. Then for a few months into 1978 I help manage a new bookshop in Oklahoma City called Books Limited. It didn‘t last much longer than the time I worked there setting it up. The owner was driving cab in OKC the next time I saw him a year later, but having a bookstore continued to be one of my many working fantasies.
In the heat of summer in August 1978 I stepped on the plane in OKC and headed north to Alaska. Little did I know what lay ahead employment wise but it was never boring. My first job was temporary cashier at the University of Alaska bookstore’s beginning of semester fall rush. The neatest part about the job was running into a former high school classmate, George Baker and his wife a high school friend, now divorced many years later. Next I was hired by the Anchorage School District for a year as a bilingual tutor. It was a low stress job tutoring a variety of ethnic minorities such as Korean, Hispanic, Polish and Alaska Native to name just a few. I covered a multitude of schools from elementary to secondary including McLaughlin Youth Detention Center. Years later one of those students would call me from the local jail for someone to talk to. Those calls stopped once I eventually changed to using my new married name. According to what I found out from one of our local lawyer bookstore customers, it was best that those calls from the troubled young man ceased due to his capacity for being dangerous. In addition to my bilingual work, I also found time and energy to work at night at the local Anchorage Book Cache and additional bilingual tutoring with the older married night students at Save High School and the Career Center.
In the summer of 1979 I returned to Oklahoma to finally get divorced. It was on my way back to Alaska after helping take a group of Alaska high school students to Valencia, Spain for summer studies. That fall I started work again with bilingual education until the first big Anchorage teacher strike. We were told that either we substituted in place of the striking teachers or be fired, so I subbed a week at Lake Otis Elementary, maybe 3rd grade. One of the students had a very difficult time reading. Later I ran into him at Fred Meyers and he told me he had learn to read. Crossing the picket line was difficult coming from a pro union family on my Dad’s side, but newly divorced I needed the job. After the strike I was hired to teach Spanish and French at Bartlett High School which was my least favorite teaching experience. The school was huge, almost as big as my home town, the class period lasted way too long, an hour and a half and only met four times a week, I was teaching a subject I didn’t know, French and there was absolutely no school discipline and it was a transient school for military families. It made my rural Oklahoma country school of Kellyville look oh so civilized. The following summer I taught an American History class to all male group of Army GIs. There were absolutely no discipline problems and it was the last time I taught history. Fall of 1980 I began teaching just Spanish at West High, but I had no sooner started than I was in a serious car wreck on October 4th. I returned to work in December 1980. My last semester to teach was spring 1982. Then I found myself returning to school to study Business Administration with the hope of one day opening a bookstore. Eventually I had my bookstore, but not until I had many other employment opportunities including bookkeeper for Down Home Guitar for six months in 1984 and clerk typist for the Engineering Group that handled the C Street Extension in the mid 1980s. During the winter of 1985 after we started our summer mobile food business the Alaskan Renaissance Café, I started a little at home typing service called Done Right Typing, an obsolete profession. It was for cash only, mostly for college students and I advertised it with posters on local bulletin boards. My favorite client was Mr. Standard Oil, a nickname for a retired single man from Spenard who last lived on Lois drive in a log cabin on an acre lot for the past 50 plus years. He returned to school after retiring, but didn‘t type. My least favorite customer was a man accused of being a pedophile. He needed his plea typed and had I known the charge I would have turned it down. I wouldn‘t let him in the house and when he paid and I our stern part wolf dog Cody accompany me to the door. Our tax preparer was impressed that I had made almost $5,000 that year. Now that I think back, so am I.
These self employment ventures kept me busy until Joe retired in 1987 at age 47 from teaching during the Alaska economic downturn of the mid 1980s. We brought a 1969 travel trailer and took a two month road trip. When we returned in October we started going to the Hess and Son auction for entertainment on Thursday nights (?) in Muldoon.
We drink their free rot gut coffee, listen to their corny jokes such as the “el manuel“ typewriter and bid on boxes of unknown items. Many included books that sold for next to nothing. We’d end up with all sorts of stuff that we’d resale at the Egan and Sullivan Flea Markets and home garage sales. What we didn’t sell we’d give away. The books we thought of value we would store in our travel trailer for our future bookstore. We cruised garage, estate and out of storage sales. One of the first bunch of older books we purchased in an out of storage sale belong to someone named “Eleanor“. She led us to researching and discovering the value of out-of-print books. We became acquainted with Eugene Short who owned the Alaskana Bookshop on Arctic and learned the value of Alaska, Polar and Yukon books and on it went. What started as a dream of a small hip bookshop similar to City Lights in San Francisco selling the latest new small press and avant-garde literature and poetry morphed into one specializing in out-of-print and book search services. We advertised the book searches in the AB Bookman prior to its demise and the Internet revolution. We’d receive a book quote usually on a post card describing the book and asking price and we would contact the customer with the info and our price.
If they were interested the customer would prepay and we would order the book. We found many books and had many happy customers, but there was one search and find that was a true pain in the butt. It was for an older edition of the Koran. The customer was a local Pakistani accountant. He paid and asked for the cheapest shipping, which was book rate and took several weeks. Despite knowing this, he came into the shop repeatedly to see if his Koran had arrived, saying he was sure of being robbed by us. When the book did arrive it was not as described and falling apart, nevertheless there was no way he would let us return it. He was a fanatic about his old Koran.
We opened our small quaint bookstore, The Alaskan Renaissance Bookshop in the heart of Spenard December 13th, 1988 the day before I turned 40. It was the end shop down from the Denali Theater where my Joe and I went on our first date just a few 7 years earlier, across from REI where Jackie’s Restaurant is now located and the current home of the extremely popular Bear Tooth Grill. The bookstore was my lifelong dream that we closed in 1993 when lost our lease. We started paying $315 a month and ended at somewhere around $500 for 550 square feet. The shop morphed into a mobile book and internet business home business from 1993 until 2002. We converted our basement into an open by appointment shop of sorts. We bought a trailer, a big outside pop up tent and Joe made 10 wooden bookcases on wheels that we could wheel in and out of the trailer to events. We sold books at the summer Saturday Market, Fur Rondy and Christmas Shows at the Egan and Sullivan Arenas to name just a few places. We rented stall space in an Antique Craft Malls. Meanwhile our Internet Sales grew and in the end we made much more money doing the sporadic shows than we ever made in my dearly beloved mini bookstore. One day at the Saturday Market was as good as a week or two in the store. However, our biggest revenue was at the store with deep sales cuts the month we closed . We also got our first and only hot check. All in all the shop was a labor of love. The bonus was the numerous memorable book buying trips back East to book barns and auctions and everywhere in between searching for that elusive out of print rare book.
When Joe’s brother passed in 2002, we decided after 14 odd years to mark the occasion with the closing of the book business. Our hands were full with our severely emotionally disturbed adopted son and his predator. Plus the handwriting was on the wall regarding books. The times were a changing with the Internet and so must we. We also had grown tired of chasing books. We went back to sporadic tutoring from 2002 to 2009; first with the Educational Talent Search Program through the university for underprivileged Jr. and Sr. high school students for 3 years. Then three years doing independent tutoring starting briefly with a private tutoring agency. From my youth, I went full circle from wanting to teach the underprivileged to being lucky enough to land a job tutoring anybody, even the affluent. Never expected it. It had to be the Creator’s sense of humor at work, but I survived and actually enjoyed it at times. Now at 62, drawing a piddling bit of social security and a minimal annuity I wonder if my working days are over. Time will only tell if I will one day again need or even be able to rely on one of my former skills of waitress, typist, teacher/tutor, sales clerk… jack of all trades, master of none.

 written March 14, 2011/March 21, 2011/ March 28, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival Memories

In the 1980s my husband Joe and I traveled around Southcentral Alaska selling food at special summer events. We sold deep fried potato skins and Buffalo NY style hot chicken wings among other eatables. Talkeetna venues included the Moose Dropping Festival, Miner’s and Trapper’s Day and the most memorable, the annual Talkeetna Blue Grass Festival. The first year we worked the Talkeenta Blue Grass Festival was in 1984 at Sheep Creek. We served homemade corndogs out of a make-shift booth. We slept in a tent and were kept awake 24/7 by partiers, so we should have learned our lesson. But the money was good and I wanted more of it. The next year, 1985 we invested in a 20’ food trailer.

Our new food trailer, summer 1985

In August, 1985 we took our spiffy new food trailer, the “Alaskan Renaissance Café” up to Dirty Ernie’s and Rosco’s annual Talkeetna 3 day blues and bluegrass festival at Goose Creek. My brother Matt, a recent AA convert, flew up from Illinois that summer to help us. Besides local musicians such as Ken Terry (RIP), Jerry Jeff Walker was the star attraction performing “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” among others favorites.

The “Hell’s Angels” were the “official security“ and ironically some of our best customers. They ordered nachos with as many jalapeños that their money allowed.
Our food trailer was the main source of water for everyone and that was before bottled water. We also were the first aid station providing baking soda to treat an abundance of bee stings. There was a unique axe throwing contest that Joe gave a shot at on his meager mini breaks. We have not seen such a contest since. There also were no health inspectors or state troopers anywhere. I always figured the authorities felt any loss of the 400 or 500 partiers there would be a gain to Alaska. 

The way into the festival site was about a quarter mile on an old tractor trail with enough ruts to crack our waste water pipe. We fixed it temporarily. Then the first day, while Joe added grease to the deep fryer, he discovered he had failed to closed the fryer drains after the last cleaning. The trailer floor flooded in cooking oil. The cleanup was difficult since water was such a premium item. Joe stayed and cleaned while I made a 15 mile trip to Sheep Creek, then Trapper Creek to get enough small bottles of oil to refill the restaurant size fryer. What a way to start. The return home to Anchorage was just as perilous. As Joe pulled the food trailer up the hill into Eagle River he heard the clopping of hooves on the pavement. He glanced in the left truck mirror to observe a moose turn away before going between the truck and trailer.

We made money and earned every cent. The first night a customer offered to trade me some marijuana for food saying I looked like an old “hippy chick“ after mentioning he had just got out of prison. I decided at that point we had to figure out a safe place for our cash proceeds. We stored the money in the freezer department of the propane refrigerator. It worked, but when we got home to Anchorage we had to spread it all over our two story house to dry. That was the last time we ventured to do the Talkeetna Bluegrass Event. The money is long gone, but the memories remain.
The rumor is this year (August 5th-7th) is the grand finale for the annual Talkeetna Music Festival some 25 plus years since we last attended. If that is true, I’m going to miss knowing that it is there to go to, whether I go or not. And if there ever was a tee-shirt for the event I always felt it should simply state, “I survived” the Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival”.