Before we were writers: our first summer jobs

Summer’s officially here, and students everywhere are out getting their feet wet in the job pool, earning valuable job experience—or at least a few good stories they can tell their grandkids one day. This week at Chicks on the Case, we’re reminiscing about our early employment, from first jobs to summer internships. 

Ellen Byron


I spent the summers before freshman, sophomore, and junior year in college working as a drama counselor at Scarsdale Day Camp. Yep, you heard that right. Scarsdale, N.Y., of uber-upscale infamy, had a cheapo day camp that operated out of the town junior high school. (That’s what they called it in those days. Not the wussified “middle school.”) I was always amused by the massive number of campers we’d pull in. The locals, who dropped off their spawn in Mercedes and Caddies, liked a bargain.

Because I was hanging out with counselors who were already in college and liked to convene in the evenings at Danny’s Bar and Grill, I had a fake ID by the time I was seventeen. Completely unrelated to this was the fact that I got pulled over for speeding for the very first time during one of those summers. I dodged the ticket by showing the officer  I’d raced home to retrieve a chicken costume that a four year-old desperately needed for the camp play. I sealed the deal by holding up the paper mache chicken head from the costume. The tears I made myself shed also helped. Remember, I was a drama counselor. Emphasis on the “drama.”

Kellye Garrett


My first summer job was actually an internship. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I interned at Black Enterprise magazine. At the time I just knew I was the most grown person ever. I had to dress up in business suits (Spoiler alert: this was the last time I’ve worn a suit) and I’d take the New Jersey Transit train every day from New Jersey into Manhattan. I even had to take the subway!! I not only did this, but got into work on time! Each and every day. I also got to interview people. I sound young now at 37, so I know these poor business experts thought I sounded like a fetus back then. I also remember having to miss work one day for a pre-planned family vacation and being devastated. I just knew that Black Enterprise, which had been a successful publication for decades at that point without my assistance, just needed me. And I didn’t want to let them down. Now I know that when the intern isn’t there, people barely even notice. Aww, to be young again…

Lisa Q. Mathews

CotC Word balloons

I’m embarrassed to say that my mom got me my first summer job, the minute I turned 16. In my town, all the college kids had dibs on the available crummy jobs, so my friends and I usually hit the beach in the summers. (I know. Different era, sigh.) But not that summer, because Mom secretly talked a local boutique owner into hiring me to help her out at the town’s annual sidewalk sale. It turned into a permanent gig, and I showed up on my first day of work at the fancy boutique wearing my best dress-up uniform: a checked Levi’s shirt with snaps, a painter’s pant skirt, and Dr. Scholl’s sandals. The owner scolded me for not being “high fashion,” and my whole future salary went to buying horrible, matronly outfits at discount from her store. Oh, and she caught me being honest when a customer asked me to help her choose between two dresses. Revenge: I’ve written my first boss into my upcoming book FASHIONABLY LATE.

Marla Cooper

CotC Marla Cooper

Oh, how I miss summer jobs! There was almost zero pressure, lots of goofing off, employee discounts when I was lucky, and a paycheck every couple of weeks that far exceeded my meager allowance. Not that I ever had a super-fun job, but hey, you create your own fun, right? So I can truly say that I enjoyed the summer I worked as a hostess at a German restaurant and learned to drink coffee, as well as the summer I worked at a frozen yogurt shop and ate so much I couldn’t stand to look at it for several years.

Once I hit college, I left food service behind. I spent one summer working at the library, processing new books as they came in and doing all sorts of Dewey Decimal-related tasks. And then I landed a plum gig at the LBJ Library transcribing oral histories. Lady Bird Johnson had an office on the same floor I worked on, and when my aunt and uncle came to visit, they bumped into her on an elevator and told her they used to have a mule named LBJ. She was exceedingly gracious about that bit of information, as one would expect from a First Lady, and luckily she got off the elevator before they could tell her they were related to me.

Readers: We told you ours, now you tell us yours! First summer job? Favorite summer job? Worst summer job? We’re all ears.

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31 thoughts on “Before we were writers: our first summer jobs

  1. You guys all had great first jobs. Mine was in a no-name grocery store as a cashier. This was when you had to know all your prices (no scanners) and you actually bagged people’s groceries (not sure about where you live, but up here, customers usually end up doing that). The grocery store was very low end — they used to soak the chickens that were going off and then cook them and sell them as barbecued whole chicken. I don’t eat those grocery store cooked chickens to this day!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I loved working as a cashier! It’s fun chatting with lots of people for a minute or two at a time, and i’s nearly impossible to carry your work home with you!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I didn’t mention that I learned that skill at the fancy dress store. I continually screwed up, esp as co-workers kept butting in to make sure they were getting their commissions.


    1. Judy, that reminds me of a job I had after college. My only waitress experience. The Citicorp building had just opened and it had a branch of a London restaurant called Richeux’s of London. The menu was insanely long and we had to dress in faux Edwardian maid outfits. If someone didn’t eat the rolls we put out, we were supposed to take the basket back to the kitchen, where we dumped the uneaten rolls into a huge brown bag – to be gathered by other waiters into baskets for THEIR customers! I lasted three days and never waitressed again.


  2. My first job was when I was 15, with a work permit. My dad drove me to the interview and I walked to work and home. I was a waitress in a mom-and-pop small restaurant, which meant I also was a short-order cook, soda jerk, floor scrubber, worked the cash register, and also waited tables and the counter. I learned what sore feet were. I played a game with myself and tried to take orders without using my pad, then deliver them correctly. Eventually, I could do it! Oh, and the wife warned me never to be caught alone in the walk-in meat locker with her husband–or anywhere else. She had let the last hired help go for hanky panky with the husband. An education and a half!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I didn’t think it was horrible, of course. It was my first non-babysitting job, so it was what it was. Looking back, though, my dad would have pulled me out of there had he known!


  3. I scored a summer job as a janitor at the factory where my dad worked, making union wage (which was a buck more than minimum wage is now 30 years later — I felt rich). One of the other college girls and I would migrate out of our assigned area daily to another part of the plant where they had popcorn most afternoons. One day they staged an unannounced major emergency drill at the plant and cordoned off the area between where we were and where we were supposed to be. We ended up being listed as missing or dead in the final report, which did not please the suits. She and I got called up to the main office the next day and received a thorough dressing down. I was worried my dad might be mad or embarrassed by my goof, but he just said, “Glad to see you survived!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Vickie, I have memories like that, too. The summer before college I was a janitor in a Farmall (tractor) factory. There were 3 of us young women filling in for the older ones who were on vacation in the summer. They had all worked there since WWII and were up in years. I was working too fast and got told to slow down, since the older woman would be back in the fall and they didn’t want us to mess up the time-study. (My uncle was a time-study man there, but I didn’t use him to get the job–didn’t even know he worked there until I started.) We all crossed a picket line (it was a big decision for me) and didn’t get the job the next summer because of that. It was excellent money!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My first summer job was at Dairy Queen. I basically ate ice cream for dinner every night. I even invented my own blizzard: chocolate ice cream, M&Ms, Oreos, fudge bits, hot fudge, and cookie dough.

    Why do I suspect that no one who knows me is remotely surprised to hear this?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I spent a summer being a college aide in a mental hospital. It was a little scary, but I learned a great deal about people and their mental problems. I was also pretty naive about people and life, and this experience certainly changed that. After college, I became a high school teacher. Can’t prove it, but I think that mental hospital was very helpful!!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. (Sorry, my comment above posted again in the wrong place.) But Laura, what an incredible experience, working in a mental hospital–especially when you were so young!


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