I started doing gardening work when I got my first job working for my Grandma Hyatt at the age of 10, taking care of her garden, trees, bushes and grass after my Grandpa Hyatt died.
On the first day that I worked for Grandma Hyatt, after I finished working for her, she paid me $20.00 cash for the day, that was more money than I had ever earned in one day and I realized that if I continued with gardening work I would never be without money and be able to buy the things that I wanted as I grew up.
Gardening is a great field in which to work when you’re young but as you get older, unless you have a landscaping degree or special certification to work in a supervisor position, earning more money, the work is less financially enticing and more strenuous on the body.
Even though I wasn’t excited about getting back into gardening, I knew that I had to starting working in a steady job for more than a few months and start earning a consistent paycheck.
And so I went back to gardening, hoping to find a place to stop and rest from the emotional ups and downs from the crazy job cycle I had been in and start building a steady life.
While part of me wanted excitement and creative independence I could receive from a more fulfilling job, the other part of me was scared of what would happen if I continued searching for that elusive, creatively, fulfilling job and I decided to get serious about my life.
I was hired by Mission Bay Golf Course in San Diego and would start my job as an entry level gardener; my essential job in the beginning was hard manual labor and working as the assistant for the other more experience gardeners that maintained the golf course.
The work wasn’t fun. I hated mowing the greens or the other grass on the golf course at 5 a.m. every morning because being a life long night owl, I hated waking up earlier than 7 a.m. and being up that early in the morning took a long time for me to get used to.
Golf course hours are weird; the crew I worked with started their shift at 5 a.m. every morning, so I had to wake up every morning at 3 a.m. every morning just to make it to work on time in the morning.
With my new job at the golf course, I saw a promising career, and I committed myself to doing everything that I could to be successful, even if I had to start work at the crappy hour of 5 a.m. in the morning.
I arrived half asleep every morning to find the exciting news of what jobs my boss assigned us for the day posted outside his office on a big bulletin board for everyone to see.
It’s funny how my boss was never in his office until after 9:30 a.m. every morning, probably because he was still in bed sleeping until 7:00 a.m. while we were working.
One of the jobs inevitable drawbacks was that my crew was comprised of all Mexican laborers who didn’t speak a word of English. On many occasions, I tried to carry on a conversation with one of them but was always left with blank stares and empty responses.
It’s amazing how fast you learn a new language when your job and possibly your safety depend on it.
Working with chain saws, gas powered tree trimmers, tractor lawnmowers and sharp objects can be dangerous for anyone, but when one person speaks English and the other person speaks Spanish your chances for an accident increase every day.
Once I began to get better at speaking Spanish, I slowly gained the crew’s respect and they let me into their own world by inviting me to eat lunch with them everyday, trusting me with their secrets and enlivening my day with their good humor.
Looking back, it’s amazing to think of how many things I took for granted as a kid like a warm bed, food on the table, nice clean clothes and transportation, I never thought that when I grew up I would be doing hard, sometimes back breaking work for a living.
All my life I had never really given guys like the hard working Mexican laborers that I worked with a second thought. In California Mexican laborers are everywhere, working in backbreaking, laborious jobs across the state and I never dreamed that when I grew up one day I would be working everyday by their side.
During this time in my life I experienced how special these people were, it’s true when people say that Mexican laborers are the backbone of our economy.
They do the work that everyone else doesn’t want to do and they never get paid a decent wage.
These men were hard working, loyal to the company, easy to laugh with, and held one mission in life, to provide for their families with food, clothing and shelter like everyone else.
My co-workers would never drive expensive cars, own new homes or wear fine clothes. All of the guys I worked with crossed the border everyday and drove over 20 miles to perform backbreaking work so that their families could live decent lives.
I learned a lot from my Mexican co-workers everyday and as I considered the many things throughout my life I enjoyed I became more thankful for everything that I had.
As I worked for the Golf Course I stopped searching for the elusive, creative job that would be inwardly fulfilling and I learned to find fulfillment on the job from my work and relationship with co-workers. I also stopped feeling sorry for myself because of my past failures and mistakes and learned to look to the future, instead of the past.
So with this new frame of mind I thought my job at the Golf Course might turn into a full-fledged career, and felt I could finally settle down and might begin building a life for myself.
I enjoyed the men with whom I worked with every day and taking a significant amount of my attention was Lazaro, a Mexican member of my crew and work partner when it came to different projects around the course.
Even though Lazaro was in his fifties his chiseled body, hardened from years of hard work and sweat told otherwise.
He reminded me of his age on a daily basis when he talked about his children and his grandchildren, with pride.
Age doesn’t matter to guys like Lazaro. If he had woken up and decided to quit his job for an easier lifestyle, his family would have ended up on the street. Lazaro didn’t know anything else besides labor.
He couldn’t say, “I’m fifty five years old” and decide that he wanted to retire, because he still had family to take care of in Mexico. I knew Lazaro would very likely work hard until the day he died.
Lazaro was significant in my life at that time because through his influence I learned that if I really wanted anything in my life I had to work hard to achieve what I wanted.
Lazaro’s favorite quote that he told me every week was, “You have to work like a slave, to be free.”
I used to complain about how hard my life was. But couldn’t complain in front of these guys because all they saw when they looked at me was a kid with nothing but opportunities in front of him.
I still had many good years in front of me that I could use to go to school, work, find the right woman and start a family while Lazaro and many of my co-workers were over the age of fifty and contemplating retirement and the golden years of their lives.
Even though I spent my days working at the golf course performing hard, sweaty labor the job did have its lighter moments, one of which I won’t soon forget.
One day, as I was watering the greens, in the hot sun I saw four beautiful women all in the early twenties dressed in short, skimpy outfits playing on a green a few feet ahead of me.
I stood there like a dummy with the hose in my right hand spraying water everywhere as I watched them play, I almost had a heart attack when for no obvious reason they took off their tops and proceeded to play the last few holes of their game topless.
The news of their topless golf match spread quickly as every guy on the course flocked to their green to watch them finish their game.
Of course this also stopped traffic on the street as cars pulled over to the side of the road and pedestrians stopped outside the fence surrounding the golf course to watch their game from the street.
One of my co-workers, Allen, couldn’t say anything else except “aaaawesome!” over and over again as we shadowed the exposed women with big smiles on our faces.
But unfortunately, we had to get back to our work and the police came to arrest the girls for indecent exposure because I guess, someone wasn’t enjoying the show as much as we were.
That day, I found out that the girls played their topless game to publicize their new strip club in the city called, Little Darlings.
I would say that they were successful in their venture judging from the rows of cars parked in front Little Darlings as I drove past that club every night.
Those were the kind of moments that made my day go by faster; they were much better than watering the greens all day in the hot 80 to 90 degree sun.
I also loved when the local Rotary Club came for their weekly golf game.
They always cracked me up because the Rotary Club was a group of old women who couldn’t play the game, and always complained to my boss that I was stalking them when I was only doing my job watering a nearby green or tending to the landscaping.
As fun as the job was, on occasion, it continued to have low points. For example Jeff, my boss was an overweight, balding, former golf pro, who enjoyed making his workers look like idiots as often as possible by reigning over them like a tyrannical dictator.
His favorite activity was driving out to the area of the course that we were working on at least once a week.
If the job wasn’t on schedule, he got out of his golf cart, and invaded our project, whether it was digging a trench or trimming a tree. He was determined to show us how to do it better.
This undertaking never lasted for more than a few minutes though because whenever he started to get a little dirty, he’d start coughing, and wheezing from his years of cigarette smoking and stop his demonstration.
And true to form he would say in his arrogant, bossy tone of voice, “That’s all for me Boys. Just remember all you have to do is work smarter and not harder.”
After his customary line, he got back on his golf cart and drove back to his air-conditioned office while my Mexican friends cussed him out under their breaths.
Even though everyone obeyed him as a boss, nobody respected him because he never showed that he had any talent for the job or could work as hard as we did.
I guess being a former golf pro did have advantages for him because he had a “cushy” job and was able to live off his past while we worked hard every day.
Even with the ups and downs of the job, life was fairly easy and I continued with the routine for a few months of waking up with the birds, driving to work half asleep and working 8 hours a day in the hot sun.
After working at the golf course for a while I showed my desire to move up in my job by working longer hours, taking on more responsibility and making suggestions on how I thought things could be run more smoothly at the golf course.
My boss made a point to ignore all of my suggestions and requests, he frequently made it clear that he was the boss, there was no other leader except him, and it was going to stay that way.
I enjoyed gardening and would have liked to work longer at the golf course, but knew that I would never get anywhere with Jeff as my boss. Not to mention that I also craved a normal life again with a regular job and a normal social life.
In July of that year, a local Japanese company called Pacific Engineering offered me a job in the factory where my dad worked.
It was an assembly line job, where I performed the same work as my dad did making parts for TVs, computers and other electronic devices for large Japanese corporations like Sony and Mitsubishi.
My dad had been working there for about a year after he was laid off four years earlier from Rohr Industries in Chula Vista, California.
Rohr Industries now called BF GOODWRICH, manufactured parts for the airline industry and still does to this day.
When my dad and hundreds of other blue and white collared workers were laid off in the early 1990’s, the company was having a rough time because of economic recession and was struggling to survive.
For a middle class family like mine, the words “lay off” are scary, especially if the household income depends on solely on that job.
My dad loved the work that he did at Rohr and he got paid well for it because he had put in over 20 years with the company, honed his skills, worked his way up the pay grade and became a well respected employee.
Working at Rohr was also a family tradition because my Grandpa Raglin, had worked there for over 30 years and everyone there knew them and respected them. Hence, many employees who worked at Rohr wondered if I would be the third generation Raglin to work for the company.
Unfortunately that would never happen.
When the economic prosperity went into the toilet in the early 1990’s the world changed for everyone.
People from my dad’s generation, the baby boomers, were the last group with the luxury of going to work for one company fresh out of high school, without any major college education, and had the promise of a long-term future with the company.
My father served for four years in the Navy after he graduated high school and went to college briefly before deciding upon a career in the aerospace industry with Rohr Industries.
Life in the aerospace industry wasn’t an easy one for my father and our family during the 70’s and 80’s because of the always increasing and decreasing supply and demand for new airplanes and there were lay offs but thankfully those lay offs never lasted for more than a few weeks or months.
The post World War Two sense of security was over when the 1990’s began and many people with skills and qualifications like my father were left asking themselves after they lost their jobs what next?
In the early 1990’s the job placement agencies like Man Power were full of skilled workers like my dad and had nowhere to place them because of an overflow in the labor force due to downsizing and the lack of companies that were hiring.
Three years after being laid off, my dad was still laid off but working in jobs with horrible work conditions and never giving up hope that he would get called back to Rohr and the company that he loved.
For a man with a physical labor skill, over 50 years old, in a rapidly changing job market dominated younger employees and horrible working conditions, the thought of a call back to Rohr was like a call home to Heaven.
My dad didn’t like working for Pacific Engineering Company, but it was a living…..
To me, guys like my dad and my grandpa were role models because they worked hard every single day while many guys, when laid off would stay home, like bananas in bread and do nothing.
When PEC hired me, I wasn’t happy about going into production work. I wasn’t excited about being stuck in a factory for eight hours every night, while my friends and family went out without me. But the job was an opportunity to make better money and a chance to settle down.
So with little excitement and much reservation, I started this new excursion in my life unsure of whom I would meet, what I would learn, or how I would grow.
It turned out to be the best job I would ever have in my younger years because of the people I met there who became my mentors and close friends….