One of my favorite Arlo Guthrie recordings is "Woody's Rag / Hard Work" from his album "Son Of The Wind". I've had a lot of jobs. A lot of hard jobs. No woman drove me to taking any of them on. Just a desire to learn, earn a living, have shelter with heat and air conditioning, eat well, stay clean, have some fun. I never ended up locked in any jail, somehow, throughout my life either and never became or recovered from drinking to excess, but other than that, the song is a pretty good reflection of time I was working as a general laborer. This post is about those many years employed in so many jobs of hard work.
While still in high school, I worked as a convenience store clerk, gas station attendant, busboy and lumberyard worker. I also taught private guitar and banjo lessons to a few people. None of those jobs were terribly difficult or heavy labor except fixing eighteen-wheeler tires using nothing but hand tools, but even that came easy after learning how to leverage the tools properly. My first heavy-labor job wouldn't come until after graduating high school.
Dad hustled me out of bed one fine morning shortly after my eighteenth birthday, loaded me into his company vehicle and we drove to a drilling sight just a few miles outside town. Donning gloves and hardhat, I looked up at the rig tower. Every bit of the drill string, including every one of its collars, were standing there ready for tripping back into the hole. And so, I began working as worm roughneck on a wildcatter rig searching for sources of shallow natural gas across north Texas scrublands from Jacksboro to Windthorst.
The work was hard and dangerous, but the pay was good. Somehow surviving without getting my head bashed in by heavy swinging tools or fingers sliced off by swiftly moving steel machinery, I lasted through summer before deciding there must be much better ways to earn a living.
And so began more than a decade of hard work as a general laborer.
After twisting off from the rig, I headed north to work in a small-town grain elevator. The work there was safer and lighter, but the problem with that job were my allergies. Grain chaff dust drove me away from that one within a week. Fortunately, the elevator owner/operator was a kind man and understood my plight. I think he put in a good word with my next employer.
I went to work in a slaughter and ice house. Crushed ice for a while then helped out slaughtering cattle and hogs. That was okay work. Learned how to do my own slaughtering, if I ever decide to do that. Haven't had any need (or ample freezer space) to do it, yet. Doubt I ever will, even deer or elk, especially with chronic wasting disease floating around amongst the cervids these days. After twisting off from that job I spent a year getting started earning college credits, then I worked as carpenter's helper and a general laborer at a gas transmission plant pumping and storing gas extracted from wells I helped drill in north Texas a few years earlier.
Before returning to college to study music with focus on performance classical guitar, I spent a summer driving an eighteen-wheel semi truck and fall/winter as a roustabout for the company I once roughnecked for.
After working a few gigs as assistant cook and waiter, dormitory janitor and campus hotel clerk, I learned to weld and went to work as a weldor in steel structure construction building boat docks and ramps and such for an outfit operating on Possum Kingdom Lake. I loved being on the lake every day working at that job, even in winter time. It was a beautiful location, the work was pleasant, and the bossman was a nice fellow, but the pay sucked. So, after a short gig at a machine shop, I focused on college studies more intensely until personal computers started popping up on the retail market, switched my major to computer science and mathematics, did some computerized topographical work helping with construction of a large reservoir project in east Texas while also doing occasional steel construction work for my father as he built out his rural home.
Upon graduation from college, thirteen years of working for others as a general laborer finally came to an end when I went to work for a couple of small companies followed by several large corporations then at a dot-com startup that went belly up. Laid off for a year, I did the singer/songwriter thing along the frontrange of the Rockies before landing a job at a state government agency. Was able to stay on that job through a couple of governors before starting my own company at age fifty–the most rewarding phase of almost forty five years in the workforce.
The interesting thing about this career journey has been how much experiences from thirteen years working as a general laborer helped my professional career progress along unexpected paths. It seemed every bit of knowledge gained during those hard labor years had some sort of positive impact on every year of my professional career, providing insight none of my professional colleagues who went straight from high school to college to professional career could leverage to their advantage. A politician I am beginning to pay closer attention to alluded to this phenomenon in her comments regarding her recent cross-examination of a former lawyer of the doofus currently squatting in the Whitehouse watching gobs of boobtube while consuming gobs of fast food between amusing sessions brainlessly running his gob without first engaging his feeble brain.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted this bit of insight regarding her past work experience as a bartender helping her in her current career as a professional politician asking Cohen about Trump's finances and asset value declarations:
"Bartending + waitressing (especially in NYC) means you talk to 1000s of people over the years. Forces you to get great at reading people + hones a razor-sharp BS detector.
Just goes to show that what some consider to be “unskilled labor” can actually be anything but. 😉"
Wise words, especially for a politician, and I like the closing winky too.