A History of Work




Monday was Labor Day. I thought I’d celebrate by having a cookout with my family, wearing white (which I’ll keep wearing through the Fall, no doubt), taking a two hour long nap, and recounting all of my past jobs. Here it goes:

I got my first job when I was 15 and a half. I’m not sure why I was so desperate to work at a Taco Mayo that had opened a mile from my super suburban neighborhood but I showed up to the interview wearing clean JNCOs and the only shirt I had that didn’t expose my belly button. A tired and clean cut middle-aged man wearing a polo asked me a few questions and put a star at the top of my application – I was sure I had the job. And I did, of course I did. I worked something like 15 hours a week and learned all the gross secrets of working at a fast food taco joint. Like that the beans come in powder form and only become refried once you add water to the mix. One memory that stands out in particular was when I was pouring the chicken out of its plastic bag and into a metal bin at the assembly station all the chicken juice spattered back up in my face. I was a terrible employee – I just kind of stood around when we were slow and always forgot to close the cash register after taking orders. My favorite part of the job was when I got to make myself whatever I wanted to eat (nachos with queso and sour cream only) during my break.

I quit the taco place after missing a Ralph Nader conference all my friends were at so I could work. At a fast food taco place. I still regret it a little but hopefully it helped shape my somewhat driven work ethic. I think I enjoyed being a teenager (ha! right.) for a couple months before applying for a job at JC Penney’s. My sister worked at Penney’s at Sooner Fashion Mall all through college and hooked me up with an interview. I wore opaque blue tights, black platform Mary Janes, and a white belly shirt that didn’t expose my belly because I was also wearing a high-waisted black skirt. I think I was hired on the spot and told that once I passed my drug test I would be able to begin work. I said thank you and had a quiet freak-out as I drove my bright yellow 1973 VW Bug home. A drug test. Great. I passed but not without my dad first having his secretary call me pretending like she was the drug test facility saying I had traces of heroine, cocaine, and marijuana in my system and that they would need to tell my parents. I called my mom at work in incoherent tears promising up and down that I had NEVER done cocaine (!) or heroine (!) but maybe had a joint once or twice and IdidnoteveninhaleIpromise. That’s when I got the call-waiting beep and when I switched over my dad was cracking up saying “I got chya!” Good one, dad.

I worked at JC Penney’s for two years – which from 16 to 18 seems like forever. I think I quit the summer before starting college when I got a job working at my best friend’s family’s diner appropriately called The Diner. It’s a narrow shotgun style restaurant with 10 booths and 8 counter seats. I had to wake up at 5:45 AM on Saturdays and Sundays to show up for the breakfast shift which seemed like the middle of the night back then. I truly sucked at being a waitress but I loved that job. The best part about this job was the immediate gratification of working for tips – the worst was trying to scrub off the smell of diner food and being too tired to party with my friends past midnight. I think I only worked there for a summer or so and left when I decided I just wasn’t cut out for waiting tables.

I barely remember this short-lived college job making smoothies on campus corner while I was living in the dorms (which was also short-lived). What I do remember is making my own smoothies concoctions, making customers angry when I wouldn’t scrape every last bit of smoothie out of the blender, and being paranoid about getting stuck in the walk-in freezer.

I spent the majority of my college years working at Hancock Fabrics. While you would typically imagine little old ladies cutting your bolts of fabric, instead the store was staffed with a bunch of college girls sporting hair dyed to look like a skunk, septum nose piercings and a couple of visible tattoos. We spent our shifts gossiping and obsessing over new fabrics and the things we would make out of them.  The thing I love the most about this job are the real life skills I learned. I can identify the difference between silk and satin and all the fabric measuring and converting decimals to fractions and back again was good prep for design school. I loved going to the Classic 50s drive-in burger joint across the street to order grilled cheese with mustard and onions on my lunch break while listening to NPRs This American Life. 

I worked at Hancocks right up until I graduated college and got my first full-time job as a layout designer at The Oklahoma Gazette – Oklahoma’s best alt weekly publication. This was pretty much the best first job ever. I worked with my brother-in-law who pretty much taught me all the technical design skills that my fundamental art school program didn’t really cover. I made some really great friends and had so much fun at this job. It was a dream come true. And I was making a 5-figure salary (just barely) for the first time ever – I treated myself by buying a house and designer jeans.

About a year after working at the Gazette I was recruited by my sister to come work with her at Third Degree Advertising – a small 15-20 person agency here in Oklahoma City. This job was more than a dream come true. I worked here for 5 years and my favorite was the yearly ADDYS awards – it was like prom for designers. At this job I made friends who over time started to feel like family – and I was literally working with family. My sister and I loved working together and for the longest time kept our family ties a secret from clients and even some co-workers. I worked here for five years until I decided to quit and try the freelance thing.

I freelanced for a year before my sister decided to leave her position as Creative Director / VP at Third Degree to come start a company with me. Today marks three years that we’ve been doing our own thing and wow, to try and sum up what I’ve learned, created, and labored over for the last three years is a daunting task. When we started Braid Tara simply wanted to feel like a creative expert and I simply wanted to live the dream and help other creatives do the same. Done and done but we’ll keep on going.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

So there it is. A history of work – I’m not one to revisit the past very often but laying it all out here in one place has me wondering what my work choices say about me. Should I have spent less time working for $5.25 and hour and more time volunteering, interning, and making better connections? Nah, but what’s cool about taking a trip down memory lane is that I can’t imagine this list will get much longer with jobs – but it will grow in projects, launches, and offerings. I’ve just begun what feels like my life’s work.

Images by Choate House

  1. Heather

    I always think it’s interesting to see what people’s first jobs were and to see how they eventually got to where they are now.

    Also… your dad is awesome.

  2. Refried beans are the worst and your dad is the best!

  3. Jessica

    I love this post for so many reasons: Your dad is hilarious. I always wanted a VW bug. In high school, I worked at the local (truckstop) diner on the weekends and had to be there at 5:45am, so I can completely relate to that… and lastly, what you and your sister are doing now is so inspiring! To work hard and achieve everything you wanted- man, that feeling must be amazing.
    Great post!

  4. Alien Mind Girl

    What a fun post. I LOVE hearing about other people’s jobs. And also love trying new jobs… at one count I had tried well over 30. (At that point temp agencies turn you down, by the way, so it is not the smartest move)

    One of my favorite jobs was when I worked in a bar, because people were feeling social: I could ask any stranger about what they did for a living and have them tell me all about it. Although I was a crappy cocktail waitress… waitressing is not my forte, either.

  5. lindsay

    wow! I can’t believe I’ve been reading your blog for over 3 years! I totally remember when you announced you were going into business with your sis! Congrats!

  6. Hayley

    I imagine the beans being like those small foam animals that grow when placed in water. Do you ever crave Taco Mayo? Great post!

  7. So funny about your dad. Reminds me of college: I was moving from one rent apartment to another and my parents were helping me clean up in prep for moving. Dad found a stain on the carpet and said v

    • Jessica Willingham

      *** said very seriously, “Jess, what is this…? Bong water?”

      Nothing is funnier than a shared daddy/daughter pot joke 😉

  8. Carrie

    What a great idea for labor day! This was a fun trip down memory lane for me too.. You have me seriously craving some Classic 50s fried pickles and a slushie! I am way overdue for a trip back to norman. I totally remember all the ‘cool girls’ that worked at Hancocks!

    My employment history is pretty wacky and I think a summary like this would do me good.

  9. Teresa

    I would love to have seen that Hancock’s. Every fabric store I’ve been in is staffed by bitter old women who hate their lives. Also a house & designer jeans on a (barely) 5-figure salary? Are living expenses in OKC really that cheap??

  10. JC

    I like these kinds of posts, it really shows so much about you.And the food industry, I wasn’t made for it either.

  11. This was a great post!

    It’s a nice reminder, while I’m currently job-hunting in a new city, that it’s a journey to find what you are meant to do. 🙂

  12. Pingback: My annotated resume | my blog

  13. So I’m reading this months later, but now all I can think about is Classic 50’s!

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