I Was a Teenage Welder! Stories from Our First Jobs

Labor Day is a time to celebrate the American worker. We wondered where some of those workers (our TJM team) first joined the workforce. Here are some stories of our first jobs. Enjoy!

Matt Fischer

For my first job, I was Ocala’s Premier Cart Attendant at Target. That is an accurate, self-given title, as I was the best there was and ever will be.

This is before those fancy machines that push them for you and you just steer. Well, truthfully, we had one but it was broken. I was told to not exceed 7 carts at a time, but this was often ignored for the sake of expediency and efficiency.

Target’s parking lot was ideal for pushing carts. It had a slight slope leading to the front of the store, so if I got a nice line of carts I could get it going and hop on the front and then ride/steer that red plastic dragon right to the cart door.

I would occasionally get tipped for Tetris-ing patio furniture and garden fountains into way-too-small cars, which helped offset the pay of ~$7.25 an hour.

I was a jack of all trades, and in addition to making sure that lot was clear of any rogue carts I was often running a register, cleaning bathrooms, shoveling poop off the floor of sporting goods, or assisting (against all corporate policy) Asset Protection in apprehending a shoplifter.

I really liked the job, all said and done, I worked outside mostly and it kept me in shape, I felt valuable to the team as I was called when some wild or weird task needed to be taken care of, and if the pay was better (like waaay better) I would definitely do it again.

P.S. Return your cart to the cart corrals, people. It takes literal seconds of your time, and you probably need the extra steps anyway.

Shannon Moore

I worked at a kids’ play spot and it was not my most favorite experience. From the anxiety all of the kids gave me to the horrible smell of the shoe bins (for those who don’t know me, I HATE feet).

The manager I worked with wasn’t the greatest. I ended up breaking my wrist in high school when I worked there and instead of trading out tasks with me, I still had to clean the floors (vacuum and mop)…with one arm…while that person wrote a breakup letter to their partner.

I also didn’t get very many hours. Still going to school, I was available most any times except during school hours. However, I wasn’t given many hours, even though I was more than willing and capable.

It was a great learning experience. It was a lesson in commitment, in not quitting something even though it was a little uncomfortable/irritating. It also taught me how I felt about my self worth.  Even though I was a kid, I didn’t want to be treated so poorly.

After that job is when I started here (TJM), working after school until I graduated and came on full time. [Editor’s Note: And the rest is history BTW, Shannon now has two kids of her own, and loves their little feet.]

Lena Ruotolo 

My first job story is not very fun. I worked at a local car wash for a hot minute before it closed down. There were a few “fun” stories to come out of that place, but the best one is that I was scheduled to work from 6:00 a.m. opening to noon. My car was undergoing maintenance, so Chance was picking me up from work. At 12:30, he can’t get ahold of me.

When 1:00 p.m. rolls around, he steps inside and finds a line outside of the door. The person who was supposed to relieve me didn’t show up, manager isn’t there, and I’m supposed to be gone.

At 2:00 p.m., he calls my mom. At 2:30, the manager FINALLY gets there and tells me I can’t leave until my replacement (who they haven’t been able to reach on the phone) gets there.

By 2:45, my mother comes barging in. She argues with the manager for 15 minutes, my replacement comes in at 3:00 on the dot, and I get to go home. I worked one more shift before college started back up, and I never went back.

Rick Cundiff

My little hometown once had four garment factories. My first job was sweeping up the cutting room of one of them after school my junior and senior years of high school. The work wasn’t hard, just a couple of hours a day of sweeping up cloth scraps with a push broom. The cutters left the radio on, so I had music. Pretty much the only downside was that I got really tired of hearing “Smoke From A Distant Fire” every single afternoon for months.

In the summer, I mowed the lawn out front as well. The  pay was pretty good for the time, $50 a week. It kept gas in my car.

It also taught me the importance of doing a job right. I had to. My grandmother worked there as a pattern maker, one of the first women in the country to do so. She didn’t accept anything done halfway. While she wasn’t my official supervisor, I had to meet her standards.

Justin MacDonald

I started my first job while I was suspended from middle school. This was my first actual paycheck not related to making money through a system of bartering goods and services (I used to take a portion of my allowance from “picking up and weeding the yard” and buy a pack of toys from the thrift store, which I would then trade to the neighbor kids to actually pick up and weed the yard).

[Editor’s Note: Paging Mr. Twain. Mr. Twain to the white(wash) phone.]

Staying home during a school suspension seemed like it would have been a reward for bad behavior, so my dad made me go to work.  What was my task?  I had to clean bricks.

I was paid a nickel a brick (this number has changed over the years depending on how dramatic I want to be, but this is as close to what I can remember I was paid) to clean the mortar and grime off of antique bricks.  I had to chisel and hammer and then finish with a good pressure washing.

Seems simple enough, right?  The kicker was, I couldn’t be careless with the process of cleaning, because I had to pay $2.00 (again, I’m getting close) per brick if I broke one in my haste to gain five cents. As a 12-year-old (I know I was 12 for sure, because I was suspended on my birthday), this seemed like a grueling task.

As it normally goes with tasks my dad has given me, it taught me some valuable lessons. First, I learned how to be efficient with my time while not being careless. I learned to prioritize correctly by chiseling a large portion of bricks first and THEN doing the pressure washing. But most of all, I learned that I did NOT want to clean bricks for a living.

Shawna Ray

So surprisingly enough, my very first job was “under the table” with my best friend, and it was sketchy as heck.

I somehow found myself welding hydraulic parts together, even though I legit had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I landed this weird gig when I just turned 18 and just started driving. I was pumped, even though I didn’t get paid diddly squat.

I just remember coming home everyday looking like a raccoon. One time, my friend almost got her hand caught in a metal drilling machine, and it was terrifying seeing how it ripped her skin.

I mean it was a cool experience and all, but I wouldn’t go back and do it again. I’d say what I learned from this experience is that it’s probably not a great idea to take dangerous, under the table jobs from strangers.

[Editor’s Note: Good advice, Shawna. We’d add for the customers who bought those hydraulic parts, “lowest bid” is not always the best idea.]

Matt Maio

My first job was at a pool store. I had just turned 14. A friend of my family was the store owner’s father and said they could use some help in the afternoons.

For context, the friend of the family was an extremely grumpy Marine in his late 60s. He was sure that I would quit right away and didn’t want me to waste his time until I proved myself.

This resulted in me having to prove my worth by pulling weeds by hand in the hot Florida sun for a few weeks until all 10 or so display pools had not a single weed in sight.

[Editor’s Note: Could have used a little help from Justin on that one.]

Next mission was laying sod around a recently installed in-ground pool. This particular load of sod I believe was just a little bit of grass held together by large colonies of fire ants. Because of that, I think that to this day, I may have achieved some sort of fire ant immunity.

After the fire ant fun, I had proved myself enough that I could start doing regular things around the store like filling chlorine bottles and stocking shelves. One glorious day, I had filled a five-gallon chlorine container a bit too full, so I had to pour some out into a fresh container.

I was trying to aim from above and was looking directly above the top of the bottle that I was filling. One small drop splashed up and got me square in the eyeball. That was the first and only time I’ve had to use an eye wash station. I was partially blind for the day, so that was a really fun learning experience.

Overall I liked working there, and it was a great first job experience even just for the stories.

Kristen Berardi

I was an airbrush tattoo artist at Universal Studios Orlando for a few months. It was easy once I learned how to use the airbrush. They had stencils of all the tattoos, so the guests would just pick the design they liked and the colors they wanted, and they were always so excited once I pulled the stencil off for the big reveal.

I even brushed up on my Spanish for the Spanish-speaking guests, and they taught me different ways to say things! For example, a little girl from Colombia told me that instead of  “De nada,” they say “Con gusto!”

Sometimes when I had some down time, I’d tattoo myself, or try out some airbrush ideas in my sketchbook. I got so good at the freehand airbrushing that a guest asked me if I could do a freehand design for him, so he got a half sleeve of an intricate psychedelic nature scene around his lower leg. He loved it and tipped me graciously.

I also worked right next door to the caricature artists, who also used the airbrush compressor to color their artwork. When we all had downtime, they would ask if I wanted a caricature. I always said yes.

Disclaimer: I learned that if you know the artist, and they’re drawing you for fun, they usually don’t draw you in a flattering way at all. They are having FUN, so you gotta have a sense of humor about it. They really like to exaggerate.

I have a collection of at least 10-12 caricatures of myself from this time, all completely different styles. I made them into a book and gave it to my mom.

And yes, I would ride the rides sometimes after my shift if it wasn’t crazy and I wasn’t in a rush to get home. My favorites were “The Hulk,” and “Spiderman.”

I met a lot of fascinating people. And yes, if I could go back, I would do it again!