As summer jobs go, it was a classic. She’d got a job at the Dairy Queen. Most of her shifts had something of a carnival atmosphere where entire families, sunburnt from a day at the beach, or besotted teenagers on a first date, waited on her attention. Most nights the staffing was no match-up for the endless line of customers and she was exhausted at the end of her shift.

She learned how to make that little curlicue at the top of the cone. She mastered the chocolate dip process. There’s a knack to not getting the chocolate coating on the cone. Apparently, it’s all in the wrist. Even now, decades later, she takes a proprietary interest in how someone executes a simple soft-serve cone. She learned what to do when a child dropped the cone that had just been placed in his hand. She learned a lot about summer fast food, but most of all, she says, she learned how to deal with people. People in the midst of complex negotiations about cones, shakes, Flurries, and burgers.  People with crying children. Indecisive people. Confused people. People with exacting expectations. She went on to become an ER doctor. She says it all traces back to those days when she was navigating the crush of people who visited the Dairy Queen that summer.

Summer jobs!  Remember how exciting it was to get that first summer job? It was nothing at all like school and then there was that slip of paper that you could take to the bank. I canvassed a batch of friends for stories about their summer jobs. There were the predictable ones like caddying at the local golf courses, or working at a department store.  But then there were the ones that qualified as high adventure. Fighting forest fires, tree planting in remote locations, doing the joe-jobs at logging camps, candy-striping at the local hospital – those jobs offered a whole new perspective on the world.

Photo by Brooke Cagle

My parents insisted we work as soon as we were able.  My brothers were chimney sweeps and my sister and I worked the looms making textiles for the gentry.  No, wait … that’s a scene from Dickens – I often confuse my childhood with scenes from Dickens. Actually, Neil, my older brother, had a dream job. He worked for Super-Valu as a buggy boy. I think he made a stupendous $17 an hour performing the highly skilled job of corralling shopping carts in the parking lot. This was in the late 70s so in today’s dollars, I estimate that’s equivalent to about $465 dollars hourly. I could be wrong, but one thing is certain: he was the richest of the four of us kids. One summer I got a job with Tourism BC. It was a peach of a job as it involved dispensing tourist information while crossing from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo twice daily.  We sat next to the Greyhound bus drivers who largely seemed to be law students and we told people how to get to Banff.  Banff, Banff, Banff, and sometimes, Jasper. For a couple of summers, I worked as a dental assistant for a local dental practice. In the years since, I’ve managed to impress many a dentist with my knowledge of mesial, buccal, lingual and occlusal surfaces. It should also be noted that I am an excellent flosser.

Sooner or later, we all narrow the focus. We become property managers, insurance sales people, and pharmaceutical representatives. Those early experiences, however, often make up the bedrock of who we become. I’ve met a few people who never held summer jobs. These princes and princesses were either told to focus on their academics or on simply having fun.  Bad advice, in my books. One trick ponies often end up in the glue factory.  What good are you if you can’t manage burgers for a mob? Or have ground level knowledge of reforestation?  It’s no surprise that the hurley burley that is a Dairy Queen in summer can prove to be an excellent introduction to the Emergency Room. And I’ll take the doctor who knows how to make a curlicue on a cone over one that lay by the pool all summer, any day.

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Any tales from behind the wheel, home or abroad?

Although I lived in California for several years, I never got completely comfortable driving with the extraordinary number of merging, lane-changing, self-entitled drivers on the California freeways.  I was warned, however, never to instigate any arguments in traffic. Hmmm. Why? I wondered. The answer? Guns! You could never be sure that you wouldn’t get shot. It turns out that the prevalence of guns helps to reduce the number of road rage incidents. Unfortunately what incidents there are can turn deadly quickly. For the first time in my life I started to be polite and calm behind the wheel. 

Randy Berswick

I spent most of the 80s working as a commercial truck driver. I remember a hot Friday afternoon, sitting in stop-and-crawl traffic out of Oakland heading for Sacramento. I looked down on a black Mercedes in the lane beside me, and through the open sunroof I noticed that the female driver was topless. Clearly the air conditioning wasn’t working. Made my day! 

Glen Taylor

A short time ago a police officer threatened to give me a ticket for having a plastic protector on my license plate. Apparently it is illegal because the reflection of the plastic makes it more difficult for them to see. Who knew…?!

Avrum Miller

I’d always heard it was illegal to lock your car doors in Churchill, Manitoba so that people could escape from the polar bears that come into town.  I’ve only recently learned that this isn’t a law but sort of a local custom.  Using similar logic, I leave my car doors unlocked here in Vancouver as my car has been broken into so many times.

Name withheld 

We were once driving along the turnpike in New Jersey when we noticed the people in the cars alongside us were shaking their fists at us and seemed to be yelling.  It was only then that we noticed that it was a funeral cortege en route to a cemetery and we had broken the uninterrupted line of vehicles carrying the mourners.  The black cars and the hearse should have been our clue, but funeral corteges also usually run with all of their headlights on.  We had failed to notice and we felt so badly about it.

C. Allen

The driver  tooted his horn for me to pull forward where I’d be blocking a T-intersection. I shook my head. He honked. I gave him the finger. Later, my husband admonished: “You could be fined for that!” 

I fretted. Finally, I made a call.

Bored cop: “So you’d like to press charges against this guy for making an obscene gesture.”

Me: “No officer, I made an obscene gesture. But is it true that I could be fined for that?”

Long pause. Finally, the cop gasped, “Lady, you just made my day! You were doing the right thing, and no policeman would ever fine you for your gesture! 

Lorna Blake

I’m not surprised if you got a ticket while driving in New York City.  If you live in the tri-state area, you’ve got to know a bunch of road rules that vary from state to state. The minute you cross over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey several of the rules change. Heads up!

Andy Smith

On a trip driving around Italy, we luckily chatted with a bus driver as we approached the city of Florence. He warned us that driving our rental car into Florence without a special permit would subject us to a hefty fine. Without that info, we would have blithely driven into the city center in search of our hotel and would have been ticketed for sure. There are signs warning of the no driving laws, but not being very fluent in Italian we would have missed them. Cars were to be parked in parkades outside the city, and then you took public transit or taxis into Florence, which is a heritage site and so is protected from traffic as much as possible. Big thanks to that bus driver, and I have to say, walking around Florence with very little traffic to deal with as a pedestrian was a treat.

Susanne de Pencier 

A group of us officers had set up a laser speed monitoring operation. A gentleman with a new combination radar and laser detector on his dash has just been waved over for a ticket.

He demands to know what sort of device had been used to measure his speed because his top of the line  device has failed to warn him. 

Your vehicle’s speed was measured with the device mounted on that tripod right over there.

The speeding ticket was written while the driver fumed about spending a lot of cash on a detector that completely failed to protect him as the advertising said it would.

“Can you point that thing at my car?” for me he asked.

The laser was pointed directly at the driver’s detector. It was a repeat performance – no lights, no sound.

The driver tried everything to coax a response from his device.

“I’m returning this piece of junk back!. They’d better give me my money back!”  We all watched him depart wondering how successful he would be.

Famous last words?

Our colleague turned to the rest of us and, completely deadpan, said “He didn’t ask me to push the button….”

Tim Schewe

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