My days started at 6 a.m. Most times I was slightly hungover from whiskey and ginger-ales. Work starts at 7, but the clock there is seven minutes fast, so technically I need to clock in at 6:53. I’d have only enough time to brush my teeth and put on my work clothes: grass-stained painter’s pants, mud-caked steel toe boots and a neon green shirt that reads “Orangetown Parks and Recreation.”
Grounds crew as a summer job isn’t bad for a 20-year-old college student. It builds character, provides some spending money and most importantly, makes me appreciate my education.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday was garbage day. I’d get in my cart, drive to all the garbage cans around the park and dump the trash into bigger garbage cans. By the end of the task, garbage water and sludge stuck to my clothes for the rest of the day. I smelled of skunked beer, old fast food and soiled tissue.
After the garbage, I would do meaningless jobs like weed-whacking grass that was already cut. I pretended to look busy, but in reality my day’s work could be accomplished in two hours. The weed-whacking was the worst; every 10 seconds, rocks flung into my face at high speeds.
My boss had me rake the baseball fields. That’s when I drove a tractor-like-machine with rakes attached to the back of it to make the infields look pretty. For 15 minutes at a time, I’d drive in slow circles around the baseball field. I’d get dizzy and lightheaded. No task was more monotonous.
It wasn’t just the boring and painful work pushing me to do better in school this semester; I also learned a lot from my co-workers.
One day I dumped some wood chips on a playground with my co-worker Billy. He’s a typical American manual laborer. He wears a camouflage hat, constantly talks about NASCAR and always packs a lip. Billy told me he’s been working for the town for 36 years. My only response was “damn.” He really does like his job, but I couldn’t imagine doing this type of work for the rest of my life.
My co-worker Joe is only a year older than I am, but we related to each other very little. Joe tried going to college, and he is apparently a smart kid, but school was just not the thing for him. He’d rather work. Joe’s a seasonal worker, meaning he only works three quarters of the year and gets paid half as much as the fulltime guys. He’s just waiting for the day until someone retires or dies in parks and rec, and he can replace them.
Then there was Glen. Glen was the guy who drives around to all the other parks in town and mows the lawns. He barely talked to our co-workers, he’d take naps most of time, and he would say sarcastic phrases such as “another day in paradise.” He hated his job. Once when we were driving back to our office he let out a sigh and said, “Man, I wish I could just run away.” I told him, “Me too. I wish I was back at school.” He said he appreciated the fact I liked school. I never had to work one on one with Glen, but he was the person I connected most with. He was a constant reminder of “don’t end up like me, kid.”
I’m a tall asthmatic with not an ounce of muscle and sensitive skin; manual labor isn’t necessarily my dream job. My co-worker, Mike, would say to me all the time, “You gotta put in your dues with this type of work before, and you can do what you really want.
To any students out there just coasting through college with a “C’s get degrees” mentality, do yourself a favor and work a job you hate for a while. It’ll teach you a lesson school never will.
Email Griffin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org