On the occasion of my retirement this week, I thought I’d relate my long work history and the 8 very important workplace lessons I learned along the way.
My first paying job was at Mel’s Laundromat on Union Turnpike and 248th Street in Queens. Might have been around 1962. Now, everyone knows the “mat” part of “laundramat” means you do it yourself, but I got paid 25 cents a day to do it for busy or working moms who didn’t have the time or desire to hang around a hot, steamy, dumpy store while their family’s dirty clothes went round and round in the washer and dryer for more than an hour. That first work experience taught me workplace lesson number 1 –don’t ask for a raise after blowing a bubble all over your face. The boss will never take you seriously.
I quickly moved on to a much more high paying job, scoring a summer job as an assistant counselor at Great Neck Country Day Camp in tony Great Neck Long Island. At a sweet salary of $25 plus tips for the summer, that represented a big raise and I immediately began investing heavily…in Clearasil. I did so well, they hired me back at twice the money the following year and at that income level I had an endless supply of egg creams and Clark Bars. Yes. I was living the high life. That’s when I learned workplace lesson number 2–using your hard earned money to buy sugary treats makes you fat and pimply and offensive to any and all females.
By high school I gave up my starting position on the Martin Van Buren varsity soccer team to work in the linens and domestics department of the S. Klein department store in Lake Success, Long Island. It was a clear case of irony, since despite its lofty sounding location, the S. Klein chain went bankrupt, which, unknown to me then, led to workplace lesson number 3–you are now prepared to work in the auto industry.
During my college days I scored a political patronage job with the NYC Comptroller’s officer courtesy of my mother’s connections through the Eastern Queen Democratic Club. My job was to type out the checks to people who successfully sued the City of New York for car damage from potholes. The city was not a fast payer. In 1971 I wrote a check to someone who sued the city in 1957. Maybe the city believed if they waited for the payee to croak, the check would never be cashed. Hence, workplace lesson number 4–if you drag your heels long enough you might escape doing anything that requires actually working.
Once I entered the full time working world after graduating college I worked at a series crappy radio stations in Central New York and Tucson, Arizona. At the station in Tucson the general manager’s head popped through the roof right over the microphone while I was reading a newscast. “Dang!” he said in his big Texan drawl. “That ain’t right.” Yup. Workplace lesson number 5: Bosses will stick their heads where they don’t belong.
From there it was television station KGUN in Tucson where I was both the weekend weather caster and midweek nightside general assignment reporter. It could be confusing. One time when I covered a murder, as they brought the body out of the house a Tucson cop cracked, “why’s the weather guy here? Is it gonna rain on the stiff?”
Somehow that job led to being hired by CNN as one of the original producers of CNN2, which morphed into CNN Headline News, which much later, morphed in an unrecognizable channel I never watch. Over the next 20 years I would move from producer to correspondent, spot anchor and finally, Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent until I was laid off in 2001 as part of that awesome merger between Time Warner and AOL. I was actually laid off one day after interviewing the authors of a book on why employee evaluations are a total waste. When I asked why I was chosen to be laid off, the boss said, “now’s not the time.” Oh. Guess what? The boss ended up getting canned too. That led to workplace lesson number 6: Karma always wins.
A stint as national auto writer at the Associated Press and General Motors beat writer at The Detroit News followed. Two great jobs that taught me workplace lesson number 7: going to work is more fun when you don’t have to wear makeup.
And now..the end of the road. After 43 years in the workforce I’m hanging it up. I’ve spent the past 11 years at DaimlerChryslerChryslerFiatChryslerAutomobiles as the head of its digital communications team, which is a really wonderful, groundbreaking combination of broadcast, social media and video production. The job was created just for me. How lucky is that? It’s been a crazy ride through three owners, one bankruptcy and one gentle idiot who asked if we could post an item on both the “national and international Internet.” We assured him that since he asked nicely, we would accommodate that lofty request. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful team who will give most any of my nutty ideas a try and actually make them work. I will miss them terribly, but now it’s time to focus on my family, which has had to put up with my crazy hours and travel for many years, and to tackle some personal projects such as playing my drums for hours on end in order to smoke out those neighbors I haven’t yet met.
That leads to my 8th and final workplace lesson: When you’ve worked more years than most of your employee’s parents have been alive, it’s time to pack your paper clips and post it notes and, stop, smell the roses, and enjoy going to Kroger on a Tuesday, push the cart for your wife and carry home those heavy jugs of milk and orange juice. She’ll appreciate that.