If you are a teenager in Amsterdam today, your part-time job opportunities have shifted dramatically since the days I was a teenager back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. This became even more evident to me as I began reviewing some of the part-time job experiences I and my own kids had as teen agers in this city. Very few of the money-making employment opportunities I and my four children took advantage of as Rug City adolescents still exist today, thanks to changing business models, the Internet and the shift in our community’s social and economic demographics. In today’s post, I preview the first two of my Top Ten picks for the all-time most common part-time jobs for this city’s teen work force.
Playground Worker – The teenagers who used to organize and supervise summer-time playground activities for the City Recreation Department were the most efficient and lowest paid baby sitters in the history of Amsterdam. These young men and women were literally responsible for entertaining, educating and protecting the well-being of thousands of kids from 8 AM until dusk (with a break for supper) every weekday from the beginning of July till the end of August. I can tell you from personal experience, having spent just about every day of every single summer between 1961 and 1965 at the old Guy Park Avenue School playground during my youth, that the youthful supervisors hired to handle that sand-filled recreational facilty did an outstanding job. Some were better than others at handling specific age-groups, activities and genders but each and every one of them was kind, compassionate, mature and extremely patient given the diversity of clients they were expected to deal with, including ample supplies of spoiled brats and belligerent bullies. I can remember families of three or more siblings spending every day engaged in wonderful and healthy activities and in the process making new friends and developing critical social skills. Just twenty years later, young Amsterdam parents had no such FREE program available to them within walking distance of their homes. Add up what a baby sitter or day care costs parents of today each week and you’ll understand why back then, these playground workers performed miracles for our city’s children, their parents and Amsterdam taxpayers. Years later, after raising four kids of our own, I appreciated what this Amsterdam playground supervisors did for this community more than ever.
Newspaper Carrier – I’m guessing there had to be thousands of Amsterdam boys who delivered newspapers in their early teenage years. The number of Rug City girls who could put that particular job on their lifetime resume was much much lower because for some reason, becoming a newspaper carrier in this town during the first hundred plus years the Evening Recorder was delivered door-to-door required you not to be female! My father-in-law was a carrier in the 1930’s, I did it during the 1960’s, my little brother in the 1980’s and my eldest daughter and son in the 1990’s! The routine was pretty standard. The Recorder van would drop off the papers for each carrier’s route at a designated spot between three and four PM each afternoon. The carrier would get to that spot with his/her trademark carrying bag. They were bright orange when I had one. Your bundle would be wrapped with heavy string and at the top would be a plain white slip of newsprint with the number of papers in your bundle that day. Mine would usually say “86,” getting lower when somebody moved off the route or died and higher when somebody else moved in. Some carriers, usually the rookies would sit and fold some of their papers before starting their route while the more seasoned professionals would put the entire stack in their bags, flat and then fold as they walked. The fold was famous. The papers came folded in half top to bottom. You’d then fold them in half again side-to-side and begin roll-folding them in two-inch segments toward the open seam. Once you reached that seam, you’d take the last segment and tuck its open seam into all the other folded segments, twist the other end to tighten the fold and you were ready to toss the sucker wherever you had to. Every route had customer-designated tossing instructions that were so challenging they could have qualified for Olympic medal competitions. One lady on my route made me toss her paper through a second-story porch window that she left open just wide enough to permit the paper to fit through vertically. I swear I tore a rotator cuff because of her.
Pumping Gas – It was the reason I couldn’t try out for high school basketball or football when I was a kid but it was also the reason why I always had the money I needed to buy the things my parents couldn’t afford to buy for me. I was one of a bunch of young Amsterdam adolescents back in the day who had a part-time job pumping gas. I worked for one of the nicest guys in the world. His name was Joe Montuoro and he owned the Sunoco Station that was located on the corner of West Main and Gardiner Streets in Amsterdam. The station had been there since the 1930’s started by Joe’s father Vito. Since it was located in the same West End neighborhood where I grew up, my Dad had been buying his gas there since he purchased his first car back in the 1940’s and he was also a regular participant in the poker games that used to go on several nights a week in the station’s “back room.” By the late 1960’s, Joe’s dad was gone and the card games had been suspended and Joe needed somebody to man the gas pumps while he ate dinner every night between five and six pm. That somebody started out being my older brother until he got a higher paying job unloading trucks at an Amsterdam warehouse. I took over the job in 1968, at the age of 14. The pay was $1.25 per hour. Since Joe never got back to the station exactly at six, I’d usually work till 6:30 every night of the week and then on Saturdays, when Joe’s two garage bays were backed up with oil changes, lube jobs and winterization customers, I’d work from noon to at least 3 pm. My weekly pay would usually exceed the $20 level. Payday was Saturday, always in cash. Here are the ten things I remember most about that job:
1) It introduced me to a lot of people. Though many of Joe’s customers were already friends of my family, there were twice as many who were not and I made dozens upon dozens of new acquaintances, many of whom became good friends of mine!
2) It forced me to interact with all sorts of people, greatly improving my people skills in a way that would benefit me for the rest of my life.
3) The Sunoco jackets were the bomb! I worked there five years and during that time Joe bought me two official Sunoco winter coats. Previous to that, every winter coat I ever owned had been a hand-me-down from one of my two older brothers. The last one he got me was soooo… warm I still had it when I got married several years later. It took my wife four months to figure out it was the reason my closet always seemed to smell like gasoline and she tossed it in the trash. Broke my heart!
4) It taught me how to handle money and greatly improved my math skills. Why? First of all, you served the customers while they sat in their cars. So they’d say fill it up with regular, check the oil and my washer fluid too, The gas would come to $3.45 (regular cost just 31.9 cents per gallon back then) a quart of 10-30 oil was 75 cents and the washer fluid was .50. When you were done servicing the car, you went back to the driver side window and told the customers how much they owed you. “That comes to $4.70, do you want the blue stamps ma’am?”
5) Some people just couldn’t be trusted! Joe Montuoro was one of the kindest guys in Amsterdam. If someone was down on their luck, he’d put five gallons of gas in their tank and let them pay when they had the money. He’d write it down on a slip in “the book” along with the date of the transaction and when the person paid, he’d tear the slip out of the book and throw it in the trash. One night I came back into the station to grab a rag so I could check someone’s oil to find one of Joe’s so-called “good friends” tearing his slip out of the book. When I told Joe, he just shrugged his shoulders and said “What are you going to do?” What we did was keep “the book” in a drawer instead of out in the open from then on.
6) I saw my first issue of “Playboy” there. Joe had an epic stack of “magazines” back in the closet where he kept the supply of “Sunoco Bucks” and “blue stamps.” It began to take me longer and longer to replenish my supply of stamps whenever I’d run out.
7) I learned how to change a car’s motor oil and filter, replace spark plugs, fix a flat tire, use a hygrometer, mount snow tires on a rim and identify every mechanical and power component found under the hood of a typical car from built in the 1960’s and 70’s.
8) Memorable customers included; The cheese man – A really sweet old man who because of the job he had smelled like spoiled cheese. On a cold winter night he’d open his window just a crack to pay me and the odor mixed with the blast of heat from inside his car would make my eyes water. Dusty Miller – One night this popular country & western musician was in the passenger seat of his band mate’s car on their way to play a gig. They were both dressed in full cowboy regalia so when Dusty told me to fill it up I quickly asked if he wanted me to water the horses too. The girl with the great legs – She wore mini skirts. It would take me twenty seconds to wash her passenger side window but I’d take about five minutes to do the driver’s side. The do-it-yourselfer – He would tell you he just needed to use the station’s garage bay and then pull out a box with five quarts of oil he purchased on sale at National Auto and use Joe’s tools to and pit to change his oil. One day, he came in with a gallon of house paint and a roller and proceeded to paint his own car right there in the driveway of the gas station!
9) Royal Palm Soda – Joe had one of those old classic Coca Cola vending machines with the little door and the circular slots. You’d put in a dime, press down the handle, open the door and pull out the flavor of your choice, In addition to Royal Palm I remember Bubble Up, Tab and the very first bottles of Fresca.
10) I found out I enjoyed having a job and figured out time passed much quicker if you kept yourself busy.
There’s only one gas station that I know of that still pumps gas for its customers and the hired attendant who works there is an adult who has held the post for as long as I can remember. Today’s choices for a fill-up in Amsterdam are all self-service and most also include a convenience store as part of their business model. It is behind the counters, inside those stores where the part-time jobs exist for today’s high-schoolers.
I have eight more memorable part-time job opportunities for Amsterdam teen agers to share with readers and you’ve probably held at least one of them during your own high school years. I will share them all via the next issue of my newsletter. This will be the second Amsterdam Top Ten BONUS List I’ve completed and the first one that will be distributed to only those folks who purchase a copy of my new book; Fifty Amsterdam, NY Top Ten Lists. If you purchased the book, I will be e-mailing you a copy of this complete list some time before November 1. If you’d like to order a copy of the book before then so you can receive this Bonus List plus all the additional bonus lists I’ll be distributing during the next 12 months, you can order your copy here.
I already have the e-mail addresses of all the folks who purchased the book online or directly from me. If you purchased your copy from Liberty Fresh Market or the Book Hound, please e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org ) with your e-mail address so I can send you the new Top Ten lists I continue to compile. On Saturday, October 28, I will be doing a book signing at Liberty Fresh Market on Route 30 in Amsterdam. I’d love to see you there!