After scrimping by on savings, sharing a summer sublet, eating from the weekly food conspiracy veggie box, and figuring out that I would probably stay for a bit in Berkeley, it was clear I needed a job. Turning twenty, literate (two years of college behind me), energetic, and flexible—surely this would not be too hard. But it turned out I knew nothing about finding work.
It was clear I needed a job. Turning twenty, literate (two years of college behind me), energetic, and flexible—surely this would not be too hard. But it turned out I knew nothing about finding work.
Oh, I had odd jobs, summer jobs, part-time work–babysitting, shelving books in the library, delivering the school newspaper to the dorms, assembling kalliroscopes (a novelty item)–but not work that would have to support me.
I looked in the help-wanted ads in the paper, most of which I was unqualified for, with no degree or experience. Even the classic entry-level work for women was beyond me—no secretarial skills, no waitressing, restaurant, or retail skills. And all I had was public transportation of course. I walked the thicket of stores on Telegraph Ave near my sublet, looking for signs and inquiring within. Meagre results.
- Donut King. A failing store off the avenue willing to hire me to clean tables, but I was let go after a few days for no apparent reason.
- Shaklee health products. A pyramid scheme a friend of a friend promoted. I got a ride to the introductory meeting out in Hayward from the “friend”, but soon discovered I had less than zero ability to sell anything, and couldn’t force myself to hawk the products. The only thing I ever sold was a can of protein powder to someone had bought the product in the past, and by happenstance found out that I could obtain it.
- Encyclopedia sales. The ad was vague, but I showed up to the Berkeley address. The small anteroom of prospective applicants looked at each other warily, and when the first interviewee returned, he whispered “encyclopedias!” under his breath. On that intelligence, I left along with the rest of the waiting room.
- SIMAS brothers gas station. Rumor had it they would hire women as gas jockeys! (People didn’t pump their own gas then, and the guys who did it for you were all guys.) I made my way by bus and foot on a hot afternoon to the station on 14th Ave and 14th St in Oakland and asked a very indifferent employee about work, but never got a call back.
- Tijuana Taco. Score! Minimum wage of course but just downstairs from my apartment. I learned how to run the cash register, make burritos and tacos, bus tables, and clean up. All went well until the area supervisor visited and started commenting on “all the pretty flowers—red, blue, yellow….” What? I realized I had on the required white blouse, and also a colorful bra underneath. Stunned, I stared at him, then threw the burrito in my hand at his chest, the sexist pig.
- The US Post Office. The big time. I must have done well on the exam, because they soon called me for Christmas temporary work at the Oakland Sectional Center Facility—a huge central processing area. Another employee, Molly, had an old beater car she let me ride share in for the price of gas. It took at least 10 minutes to warm up the engine to get going–and it is not that cold in the East Bay. I swear that ships arriving in the Port from across the Pacific dumped their cargo directly onto the Post Office conveyor belts, as torrents of boxes with green customs labels tumbled onto those of us at the bottom, where we had to quickly sort them onwards. It was more fun to “throw” the first class cards and letters (remember when people sent Christmas cards?), or the second class circulars and magazines. The pay was at least double minimum wage, there was a union, and I learned how valuable becoming friends with the timekeeper could be when he took me for a long lunch at the soul food restaurant across the street.
Incredibly, I was able to live off the “bounty” of the Post Office for several months, while I volunteered at the Berkeley Free Clinic and the Women’s Health Collective. It occurred to me that accessible and respectful health care was something pretty useful. And, as I was handing out leaflets in the Safeway parking lot for the grape and lettuce boycotts, I thought perhaps it would be of more service to get a medical degree. The UFW (United Farmworkers Union) ran clinics near the fields. Why not make the most of opportunities I was fortunate to have?
So I ended up returning to school and going to work in medicine– but still find myself in parking lots from time to time, handing out leaflets.