They called me “The Trail Blazer,” Good Buddy.
This was my citizen band radio manipulation in the summer of 1977, when the hit box office “Smokey and the Bandit” sparked a CB craze and millions of kids like me dreamed of having one.
To my great surprise, my father allowed me to do this – even though I had to install a large CB radio antenna on the roof of our house.
He saw CB radio as an opportunity for me to manage my own finances – how to open a bank account, plan ahead, find a job, and save money to help me achieve my goal.
Too young to work in retail, I applied and got the only job available to me: picking golf balls on a local driving range.
Until summer came when I could start later in the day and work more hours, I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. in front of school every morning and ride my bike two miles to the shooting range.
I was handed an aluminum tool that was as long as a golf club and shaped like a tennis ball can. It had three feathers on the bottom. Pushing the tool down on a golf ball would retract the springs and trap the ball.
I was assigned a section of dewy grass the size of a soccer field and had an hour to do the job – for which I got a dollar (about $ 4 in today’s money).
Needless to say, I had to work many uncomfortable mornings to save up enough on a CB radio which, if I remember correctly, was about $ 130 at the time.
That memory came back to my mind when I read a Yahoo News report that after last summer’s terrible shortage of summer jobs, there are 1.2 million part-time jobs – more than the pre-2019 pandemic numbers.
But fewer young people are willing to take on such jobs.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about seven in ten teenagers like me took part-time jobs in 1978, but the figure was down to four in ten in the last few years before the pandemic.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School said it’s because more and more teens are doing internships or volunteering to bolster their college applications. In a way, this means that colleges punish children who choose to work.
This is unfortunate, because vacation jobs offer a treasure trove of real-world learning opportunities: how to plan and carry out projects, work with different personalities, and experience the satisfaction of trading skills and work for hard money.
When I got my first paycheck in 1977, I quickly realized that saving up for my CB radio was going to be even harder than I expected.
I was introduced to my three silent partners – federal, state, and local tax authorities – who didn’t have to coat their trainers with rope to earn part of my $ 1 hourly wage.
However, by the end of summer, I had finally saved enough to buy my CB radio. It was one of the most rewarding purchases I’ve ever made – because I’ve built my dignity with one lousy golf ball flop after another.
In the long run, dignity is the greatest reward of a vacation job. I strongly recommend taking one, Young Buddies.
(Tom Purcell is a writer and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.)