John Stossel: First Jobs

I stuck pieces of plastic and metal together at an Evanston, Ill., assembly line. We produced photocopiers for a company called American Photocopy.

I hated the work. It was hot and boring. But it was useful. It taught me to get good grades in school so I might have other choices.

Canada Dry

Canada Dry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first job was working as a “helper” on a Canada Dry truck. Although the company was union, in the summer there usually weren’t enough union guys available to help deliver the hundreds of cases of soda pop, especially on hot days.

There was a “shape up” at 6:30AM which determined if I would be a helper that day, or not. That meant I had to get up at 5:30AM to get ready and then drive over to the plant about 15 miles away. I had just gotten my driver’s license (so I was just 16) and mother let me borrow her car.

I learned so many things. It was my entry into the “real world” of hard work, paychecks, showing up on time, and learning to put up with other people’s agendas and schedules.

I remember the first day on the job. The driver had figured out the system. He was paid by the route, not by the hour, and so the faster he could deliver the cases, the sooner he could quit for the day.

He drove like crazy. He went to the first stop where we were to drop about 100 cases. Remember, these were glass bottles in wooden cases and weighed a lot – perhaps 20 pounds, maybe more. He stood on top of the truck (the cases were stacked up against the sides of the truck, not inside like they are now), and threw the cases off the top of the truck to me. I was expected to catch them before they hit the ground, and then stack them.

It wasn’t the first case that surprised me. It was the second! It was already in the air when I finished stacking the first one! We dumped those 100 cases in about 20 minutes – one of the most frightening 20 minutes of my life!

I learned how theft worked. I earned $20 per day. By the end of the first week I had worked five days and I expected to see $100 in my paycheck. I even dreamed out it. $100 was a lot of money in 1956, especially to a teenager who filled up mom’s car with gas that cost only $.25 a gallon!

Imagine my surprise when I got my first paycheck: it had “change” inside. I could hear the coins rattling around. I opened the envelope and found that someone had gotten into my paycheck before me: the government! My “net” check was something like $91 and change.

That was a revelation to me. And the beginning of a lifetime of growing awareness and activism against the state which was, and still is, continuing to take things from me.

So, no, John, I didn’t my first job. I loved it. It was my first introduction to life!

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