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From Hell

Local notables talk about the work that made them long for school

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From big-time CEOs and politicians to educators, writers, radio and TV personalities, just about everyone has had at least one summer job from hell. Mine was loading and unloading freight at a trucking company. It was hot, dirty, backbreaking work, but as a poor college student, $9 an hour was big bucks. We asked a sampling of Charlotteans to tell us about their all-time worst summer job. Here's what they said:

Becky Carney, County Commissioner:

It was the summer of 1962, prior to my senior year in high school. I had made the cheerleading squad, and all the girls were going to the beach. My dad told me if I wanted to go, I had to earn the money. He got me a job as a soda fountain clerk at the Greyhound bus station. At the time I thought I had the world figured out. Suddenly I was having to put on a hair net, a little white uniform, with a handkerchief in the pocket spread out like a flower. I did convince the manager to let me wear my Weejuns rather than white shoes. That was my way of showing people I was normal. When I was at the register, I would stick my foot out so the customers would see my shoe and know I was cool. I waited on a lot of the truck and cab drivers, and one morning this cab driver came in cutting up with me and said, "Little lady, I want a goody." I got real nervous and went over and told my supervisor, and she said "Well, go ahead and give him one." He was talking about a Goody headache powder. I had never heard of such a thing before. So I learned a lot from that job. It was a memorable experience.

Glenn Counts, news reporter for WNBC 6:

It was my first job out of broadcast school in Flagstaff, Arizona at a very small TV station. My sole job was to turn the station's transmitter on and off. The transmitter was located on top of a mountain. You worked eight days on and eight days off. So they would take me up to the top of this mountain, and for eight days I wouldn't see another human being. The only thing there was to do was watch TV -- and all I could get was PTL. One day I'm sitting there watching Jim Bakker, and I saw something move on the floor -- it was one big-ass spider. I killed it and dumped it in the trash. I saw something move across the floor again -- another big-ass spider. I killed it and put it in the trash. I sat back down, something moved -- another spider. I started looking around, and those big-ass spiders were all over the place. It was like a horror movie. I called up my boss and said "Hey, this is it. I'm outta here. Come get me." They said, "We can't come get you until the morning." So I spent the entire night with all the lights on. I didn't sleep a wink. I could see these giant spiders crawling all over the place. Needless to say, that job didn't last too long.

Frye Gaillard, writer:

The one that was really heinous doesn't sound heinous, but it was. During my first year of college in Alabama, I spent the summer crunching numbers for a bank, and it was absolutely mind-numbing. If there's anything I'm truly bad at, it's mathematics. So eight hours a day of doing the thing I enjoyed the least wasn't fun. In high school, I worked a couple of summers on my uncle's cattle farm, and I much preferred shoveling horse manure and branding cattle to crunching numbers. At the time it seemed awful, but it was only when I worked at a bank that I realized how lucky I had been to shovel shit.

John Grooms, Editor of Creative Loafing:

Between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I worked as a janitor at a polyester fiber manufacturing plant, working swing shifts. In the long run, I got a lot out of it; I worked with young black men, this was in the late 60s, and it was a real eye-opener for me and helped broaden my view of life. But the awful part was that one day I got sick and threw up in the hall next to a part of the production process that really stank. After a minute or two, it hit me that hey, I'm the janitor -- I'm going to have to clean this up myself. So I did.

Bob Inman, author:

I was about 14, living in the small town of Elba, Alabama, and my dad bought me a lawnmower and said go forth and cut grass. In south Alabama in the summer it's 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity, and the Bermuda grass grows like crazy. So I would mow lawns all summer long in that heat. By the end of the summer I would have made just enough money to pay my dad back for the mower. But of course by then the mower was shot, and the next summer the whole thing would start all over again. There was a method to my dad's madness, though. He was just keeping me off the streets. Not that there was that much to get into trouble with in Elba, Alabama. But I eventually wised up. After about the third summer, I figured out what he was doing and I got me a job at a radio station.

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