As a kid I used to mow lawns, tend gardens, and whenever it snowed, made the rounds of the neighborhood with snow shovel over my shoulder, clearing sidewalks and driveways, earning a dollor or two for my efforts. I was motivated not by my parents, but just the independence of having spending money in my pocket .

One of my regular jobs was joining my friend Billy who had weekend lawnscaping assignments for a Connecticut bigwig who had a lavash home away from his responsibilities in Washington D.C. I’m not sure about the bigwig’s political connections but one of his acts involved asking Billy to accompany one of Vice-President Richard Nixon’s daughters to a dance. So that’s a clue.

My door-to-door sales job selling seed packets originated from a Boy’s Life Magazine ad offering sports equipment as a sales reward. The packets were 10 cents each, and every household I called on bought at least a dollar’s worth. That’s when I decided I must be the world’s greatest salesman. “Hi, I’m Jimmy Stark. I live down the street. I’m selling seed packets to earn a baseball glove. They cost a dime. Can I show them to you?”

In college, although having a football scholarship paying for room, board, and tuition, I had a variety of part-time jobs for incidentals like dates and weekend beer. I was on call by Mayflower Moving company to help whenever they had a moving job in the area. A Friday night job I had involved being locked in a nearby grocery store, stocking shelves until being let out the following morning. The best part of that gig was cooking steaks in the incinerator while we worked. I gained weight during that employment.

I worked for the college doing landscaping. I also worked at a local country club as a bus boy. In addition, I worked on the farm of one of my classmates’ parents, erecting fencing and shoveling manure out of a barn.

But by far, the most interesting job I had in college was driving school and charter buses for the Courtesy Coach Company. Courtesy was a low budget operation—cheap–and its buses were in poor repair. I had several experiences of having to recover detached parts and carry them back to base in the back of the bus.

My regular route was taking girls to their all-girl high school. One of my pick up stops was at a gas station. As I approached, the young student would come running across the drive and would leap into the bus a split second after I opened the door. One day she slipped on the icy drive and slid under the bus. All I could see were her hands clutching the edge of the steps as she pulled herself out from under the bus.

Another of our regular routes was taking workers home from the Argonne National Laboratory. My first solo run on that route, occurred during a snow storm. The worst part that day was the terrible visibility. And my windshield wipers were not working. There was a small lever on the inside of the windshield that allowed me to manually sweep the wiper to clear the windshield of snow. but it was exhausting. Cars were skidding across the highway in front of us and I couldn’t imagine why we were not being hit. Each worker when leaving gave me a pat on the shoulder not only in appreciation of my driving skills, but mostly I think, in relief of their survival.

When finally empty of passengers and as I approached our bus terminal, I could no longer turn that wiper and rumbled off the highway into a nearby field. I abandoned the bus and walked back to school. They’d find the bus the next day, I figured.

A weekend run I always enjoyed was taking Wheaton College kids into the ghetto areas of Chicago to save souls. First, driving in the Chicago traffic was interesting, because our big bus swept all nearby traffic aside when turning corners. Secondly, Courtesy Coach asked drivers to accompany the female students when they entered the ghetto apartments as security. Now that was as interesting!

One weekend I got the assignment to join half dozen other drivers taking scholastic priests from a Catholic seminary on a picnic to a state park. When I arrived that morning, I discovered I was being assigned to drive one of our large Greyhound sized pusher buses. It was called a pusher because the flat-nosed bus had its large diesel engine in its rear. I had never driven a pusher with its air brakes and air clutch before. No problem I was told, just do a couple laps around the parking lot to get the hang of it. Oh, okay.

Soon I was fourth in line traveling down the highway, with 45 student priests singing and joking completely unaware of their novice driver. The biggest challenge I discovered was the extra width of that big bus. Instead of positioning my steering wheel just right of the center line, it felt like I was riding on the center stripe. And mid-route, when not paying attention, we hit a roadside culvert and I swear that side of the bus became airborne. Wrestling the bus back onto its wheels, I glanced at my rearview mirror and saw all 45 of my passengers were busy working their Rosery Beads.

Years later, after my stint as a Navy pilot, folks asked me why I never considered flying commercial airliners. My reply was, “I used to be a bus driver. Been there, done that.”

3 thoughts on “Jobs

  1. Very interesting and humorous. I had a couple similar experiences in high school (all night grocery stocking) and college (dish washing) . Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  2. Jim, with all of your wild experiences, when did you have time to party? Speaking of partying, I hope you are heading to Virginia this weekend to join NCC in the Cardinals quest for a national championship. Quite an exciting time in Naperville.

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