By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Swabbing Radioactive Toilets on Taco Night
In the summer of 1994, after my freshman year of college, I lived in a small town north of Omaha and found myself in need of a job. There aren't a lot of options down there (eastern Nebraska isn't quite the tourism engine that Minnesota is), and by the time I got out of school, the decent gigs were pretty much picked over. The only thing available was a slot on the night-shift janitorial crew at the nuclear power plant just south of town.
I thought it would be kind of cool--Homer Simpson was big to me at the time--and that I'd have some "mysterious guy" cred for working a semi-dangerous job. But it turned out that it wasn't cool, and instead of thinking I was mysterious, everyone I knew thought I was an idiot. They were right.
It's tough to know where to start in listing all the ways this job blew. There's the fact that I was considered sort of expendable, and not given a radiation meter. (I was told to stick close to the more senior people who had them.) There's the enormous bitterness that career nuclear janitors have for people who are just visiting their world. I can't tell you how many "let me tell you how the world works, college boy" speeches I got from people with hockey teeth. There's the horrible memory of having to swab semi-radioactive bathrooms (nicknamed "the Augean Stables" by the other college boy working with me) at two o'clock in the morning on the nights that the plant cafeteria had served tacos to a bunch of irritably-boweled engineers. There's the night our we were all sat down to prepare us for the terrifying news that a black man would be joining the crew, and given a quick rundown on how to deal with "those people."
It wasn't completely without rewards. If I hadn't had that job, I would never have seen a bullfrog the size of a small dog jump into the Missouri River just downstream from an intake pipe. Nor would I have known that there are people who think they're sticking it to the man by getting paid 90 bucks an hour to dive into a radioactive-materials storage pool and clean it. (You use up your year's worth of allowed radiation in a couple of hours.) Most of all, I guess, I never would have known the moment of all-encompassing freedom that filled every cranny of my soul on the night I got into my car and drove away from that glowing shithole for the last time.
Keith Pille, 29
Too Young and Too Purdy to Serve Beer
My first summer job is still my favorite: I toiled at a concession stand at an outdoor amphitheater in Texas. It was the best hourly wage in town at $5.25 an hour and the entertainment was phenomenal. At 16, I was able to hear the muffled music and drowned lyrics of the pop stars singing only 100 yards away. Sweat would drip down my back as I made nachos and battled the other employees for the "dropped" Lemon Chill canisters that were "cracked" and unsellable.
On days when temperatures reached upward of 100 degrees, we hoped to work in the plaza where the music was easily heard. Though the sun fried our skin, it was a better option than being steamed in the concession stand with the heat lamps and the boiling hot nacho cheese that was all too similar to orange melted plastic when it met your skin.
On good nights, there was a pop, rock, or country musician playing and the beer and margaritas flowed so abundantly that those of us who couldn't serve alcohol would flirt with the customers to try to get tips. Most of our tips were what the alcohol server would split with us, but occasionally we would find a dirty old man who tipped us because we were "too young and too purdy to serve beer." On bad nights, we were stuck with the symphony crowds who were never satisfied and rarely spoke to us. They returned nachos because there were broken chips. They never tipped and always yelled at us about the prices.
The highlight was walking around behind the stage and near the busses, where we'd occasionally meet the performers, and watching the forbidden sound checks. I saw George Clinton, Scary Spice, met Hootie and the Blowfish, and even played catch with Poison. I was in 16-year-old heaven. Occasionally, I'd be tossed out on my rear. But it was worth all of the trouble when Adam Sandler not only dedicated a song to my three friends and me, but also cleared the area of all the other employees.
I often had to take the back roads home from work: I was fearful of being stopped for any reason because I was covered in itchy spilled beer. I never called in sick to work. The thought of meeting up with Duran Duran or Phish was just too tempting. But I still hate symphony crowds.
Jessie Zapata Crookall, 25
St. Paul, Minnesota
Just Who Do You Take Us for, Tricia?