“Got any nails?”

A man was standing out in front of our house the other day, and I knew exactly why he was there. The truck pulling a trailer filled with extension ladders said it all before he even spoke. He and his small crew were out looking for work trimming palm trees.

He had rung our doorbell, but I had disconnected that a long time ago so the sound wouldn’t wake up napping grandchildren. So I walked out front and we began talking about my four palms badly in need of a trim. After he made an offer, I said, “Can you do it today?” He quickly replied yes, and we shook on the deal.

Now my front yard palms are well over twenty feet tall, requiring a much bigger ladder and a lot more courage to climb than I possess to maintain. I was really interested to see how they would get up there. The three man team had clearly worked together for a while. One guy set up the ladder and climbed to the top. The second disposed of the branches he cut off. The third owned the company and he watched while they did the work.

Back to guy number one. After leaning what looked like a twenty-four foot ladder against the tallest tree, he started up a chainsaw, hung it from his belt, and started climbing as it idled. At the top, he belted himself to the tree, and then quickly trimmed the tree to a neat “ten and two” (think clock). I thought the guy at the bottom would load up the trailer with branches. Nope. He just dragged them off into the adjoining vacant lot. I don’t know it you’re supposed to do that, but I didn’t ask any questions.

While all this is going on, my across the street neighbor is hauling some trash out to the curb. The third guy picked up a piece of plywood and proceeded to use it to repair a hole in the bed of his trailer. He yelled to me, “Got any nails?” I did and brought a box over to him. With a smile, he said, “My man!” and took a handful to fix his trailer.

When he was done with the trailer repair, he sat on my front porch with me. He asked for a Coke. All we had was Lacroix. He was thankful. I offered three, but he said the other guys wouldn’t like it. He asked me how long I had been in the house. I’ve been here twenty three years, but he has lived in Flagler County his whole life, sixty-one years, the same age as me.

He then told me about his first job in Flagler County when he was sixteen. Back then there were few roads through what is now our city. He and two friends were looking for work and came across a construction site. His friends were bolder than he was and went right to the foreman. When they asked for jobs, he asked, “What can you do?” They both said, “We’re operators.” He handed each a spade and showed them where to start digging. Then he asked this man, “What can you do?” He looked at his friends and said, “I’m not an operator!” The boss pointed to a truck and said, “Can you drive that?” He said, “Yes.” “Ok, pull it around here.” He did and that was his job. His friends all had blistered hands while he got to drive the truck.

My palm trees were trimmed and my yard was all cleaned up in about 30 minutes. The trees looked great! What a difference. And what a nice afternoon talking with a few guys just out making a living.

Working concessions in Phila.

vet16_top

My view for each game for most of the games I worked at the Vet.

It wasn’t my first job. (My first job was church janitor.) It wasn’t my best job. (I kind of like preaching.) But it was a cool job: concessions at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

One of the perks of being a Douthwaite in South Phila? My uncle Jack Nilon had the concessions at Veteran’s Stadium, home of the Phillies and Eagles in the early 1970’s when I was in high school and college. My Aunt Catharine, whom we called “Aunt Smim,” pretty much ran the place and made sure I had a job there every summer through late high school and college. She also made sure I got to work one of the best concessions stands, right behind home plate on a level where I could watch most of the games. If we were busy, I could at least see the scoreboards and know what was going on. Those were good years for the Phils, who hosted the All Star game in 1976 and won the World Series in 1980. (Names from that year: Mike Schimdt, Steve Carlson, Tug McGraw, Bob Boone, Greg Luzinski, Gary Maddox, Pete Rose, Larry Bowa.)

I worked as a cashier, standing at a register just outside the booth where a host of other workers boiled and “bunned” the hot dogs, wrapped up hamburgers, and poured drinks. These were the days before some of the upscale food you pay big bucks for at professional sports complexes. Some games were really busy; others I spent most of my time watching the game.

Even though more than forty years have passed, I still have vivid memories of these days:

  • A gentleman carrying a cardboard tray with six beers ($6 each back then) set them down on a fold out table to pay. The table collapsed, dowsing his pants with all that beer! It was impossible for us not to laugh, so we (we always had two cashiers outside each stand) got in big trouble because we did.
  • Before the stand opened each night, I would help wrap hot dogs to stay ahead of the initial lines when the gates opened. Yes, we would deliberately wrap up empty buns, just to see the reaction when people went to put mustard or ketchup on their hot dog. At least it was funny back then.
  • We got to eat whatever we wanted. The problem was, once you had a hot dog, some chips and a soda, you didn’t want all that much. Hey, keep in mind, this was the 70’s. They didn’t wear gloves to handle food. I couldn’t tell you how often new water was put in the hot dog boilers. Bones in a hamburger? Hey, I’m just the cashier.
  • It was cool to be there for the All Star game as the nation celebrated the bicentennial in 1976. It as really cool to go to one of the World Series games in 1980. (I think I went to game 2.) I didn’t work any of the games, but I used my ID to get in and watch one of the games against the Kansas City Royals.
  • I got to work a few other events during that time. I worked a few Eagles games when I was home from college. I also got to work a few Army-Navy games when they played at JFK Stadium. Boy that was an old dump of a stadium. You got into some of the concession stands by crawling through a hole in the wall to unlock the door from the inside. In the late 70’s, I think I worked a few Peter Frampton concerts there, too. One occasion, I was summoned from the concession and taken to an office because there was some kind of threat against my uncle. I don’t remember how that all turned out, but obviously, everything turned out OK.
  • My Uncle Jack always had a bottle of Mylanta on his desk. Apparently, it was a stressful business. He took frequent sips from it. Yuk.
  • Some of my friends also got jobs working concessions. On one occasion, as my Uncle Jack commented on his sizable schnoz to one of my friends, he said, “How’d you like to have this nose full of nickels?”
  • I got in big trouble one summer. The Phils didn’t win the World Series every year, so some years, attendance was low and business was slow. One game, my cashier partner and I were taking turns bouncing a rubber ball against a wall and catching it. One of us missed a catch and it bounced past a customer who complained to someone. We got called onto the carpet, were chewed out, and then had to work a concession stand out in centerfield for a few weeks. Lesson learned. We didn’t do that anymore.

When I applied for a job at Subway in Ft. Wayne, during my seminary days, I think I put my concession – “food service” – experience on my application. I got the job. And it got me through seminary. Thanks, Uncle Jack.!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch date

Today, after tying up some loose ends at church, I headed out to Gainesville to meet my daughter for lunch. Time’s flown by; I hadn’t seen her since Christmas! We sat, ate, and talked at a burger place (Cafe Gardens) near the University of Florida campus for a couple of hours. She’s twenty-two, about to graduate from college, and is actively looking for a job during her last semester. An exciting, uncertain, and hopeful time, both looking forward to being on your own, and yet wondering if you are really ready for that.

Could I possibly remember being that age and in that situation? Actually, I remember it vividly. I typed up dozens of cover letters to go with resumes, and sought out computer programming jobs anywhere and everywhere. I struggled to stay focused on the last few classes I had to finish up and enjoyed being among the seniors in the frat house. I was so ready and so anxious to be out on my own. My job search didn’t come to an end until about six weeks after my last final. Those were a long six weeks at home, but eventually the interviews and then the offer came and I was off.

Unashamedly biased, I know my kids have much more going for them than I did, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll end up. I can’t imagine anyone not being drawn to their talents, creativity, and character. I have a lot of hope for the future when I see them about to step into theirs.