Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Life Passages - Part 1

I retired from my job last week.  I've worked a part-time gig for more than 10 years scoring on-line TOEFL tests for Educational Testing Service.  The job served me well in my late fifties and early sixties.  It was done at home and was a totally flexible fit for my wanderlust lifestyle because I got to choose when I would work and when I would not.

Working as a TOEFL test rater was a good second profession after "retiring" (actually, laid off after 27 years) from my previous profession as a purchasing agent/subcontracts manager for BAE Systems in San Diego.   I was 54 years old and eligible for a pension when I turned 55 years old.  So I sold my house in San Diego and moved to New Mexico in March, 2005. New Mexico has a haunting beauty with deep blue skies and it is uncrowded.  The state has an interesting, diverse culture and a lower cost-of-living so it was a good place for me to retire. Now as I look back on my working career, I find that, like many folks, you don't always know what you'll end up doing.  You might have a plan, but mostly you fall into certain jobs that you never anticipated.

 I've worked a lot of different jobs.  In high school, I worked the kinds of jobs you do when you are not yet an adult.  I was a baby sitter and a house cleaner.  I enjoyed baby sitting and got about 35 cents and hour. When I was in high school, I scored a house cleaning job for my drama teacher.  Can't remember what I made, but that was a tough job.  I always appreciate what maids and house keepers have to put up with because of that dreadful experience.  I next got a job as a cashier and snack bar attendant at a drive-in movie theater.  The old guy who taught me the ropes was a bookie who eventually got busted. I only worked the summer in that gig after I graduated from high school in 1968. I was going to go to college and was lucky enough to have my parents' financial support.

I stayed at my parents' house while I attended the local "junior college" (as we used to call two year community college) as a freshman. Then I transferred to San Diego State in 1969 where I had a dramatic arts scholarship that covered my educational fees while my parents still provided me with living expenses. I took a summer job in 1970 as a counselor for children at a camp for the blind in the Malibu Mountains for a $200 honorarium.  I transferred to the University of California in San Diego located in beautiful La Jolla by the Pacific Ocean where I stayed in a dormitory and worked (for college credit) as a writing tutor for incoming freshmen.  My parents paid for my room and board and my student fees which were only $100 a quarter then (1970-71).  I did private tutoring of English writing that gave me a little  spending money.

As a senior in college, I took a job as a live-in companion for a schizophrenic girl. I thought that this job would give me some practical experience with social work plus  I received room, board and a small stipend.  I did that for one crazy year.  The experience definitely changed my mind about a career in social work.  When I graduated with a BA in December, 1972, I knew that I wanted to do something to make a difference in the world.

I applied to work for the United Farm Workers Union as a community organizer. By early 1973, I got a letter from Cesar Chavez saying I was hired and was to receive $5 a week, plus room and board, and gas for my car, if it was used for union business.

Cesar Chavez, UFW President, and John Waite,Migrant Ministry, who was in charge of San Diego boycott

I started out organizing boycotts of Safeway, lettuce and grapes in San Diego.  Then I was sent to Tucson, Arizona for 3 months to work on the Arizona Governor Recall campaign.  I registered voters and collected recall petition signatures 6 out of 7 days a week.

I worked on the Recall Governor Jack Williams campaign in the spring of 1973 in Tucson, Arizona
I returned to San Diego in the summer of 1973 and lived in a "Union House" in Logan Heights where we had Gallo Wine strikers working on the Gallo Wines boycott that summer.  We also went out to the desert and supported the lettuce strike in the California Coachella Valley against the Teamsters and growers where there were threats of violence, people were beaten and some strikers were killed.  There was always a fear that Cesar might be assassinated.  One day, I had to pick up Cesar Chavez from the San Diego Airport and I was so nervous as I was stuck in traffic so his son-in-law and bodyguard, Richard Ybarra , took over driving.  Cesar Chavez was a soft-spoken and inspirational leader who practiced non-violent direct action.  I am very proud to have known and worked for Cesar Chavez.

In December, 1973, I left the UFW and moved in with my boyfriend.  Impressed with the decisive  role of lawyers in the farm workers' movement,  I took the LSAT and applied to Law School.  I worked to support myself by doing food preparation and packing for a small manufacturing company.  My boyfriend and I bought a house in East San Diego and I was enrolled at the University of San Diego Law School by August, 1974.  I worked in the food factory five days a week and went to law school at night.  I lasted 6 weeks in law school.  It was just too much.  I had to read 50+ pages a night to be prepared to brief cases for the next day, work 8 hours doing strenuous factory work, and try to maintain a relationship with my boyfriend.  I withdrew "in good standing" and thought I would go back to law school "later in life". I took a job with Canteen Corporation as a cashier and cafeteria worker at the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper, a job I really disliked for all the weird shifts they gave me, sometimes with less than 8 hours rest.  But I needed money because I had now enrolled  in a Graphic Communications class offered by the Regional Opportunity Program at El Cajon High School.  I learned to do graphics layout, plate making and printing. I graduated in 9 months and was immediately employed with Postal Instant Press as a printer, quitting that Canteen job.  I loved doing offset printing.  I enjoyed seeing a job go from concept to finished product. I was in an entry-level job in "instant printing" but longed to learn the craft of full color printing.  I worked for the PIP Corporation for about a year but my manager was a heroin addict and he embezzled money from the store and was caught.  The Company brought him back after he promised to pay retribution and entered a treatment program,  I found out he was stealing again and that he was still using heroin when I found his drug kit in the bathroom.  He tried to fire me and he generally made my life miserable until the company "closed" the store and tried to fire all of us when they found out he was embezzling money again.  I quit.  I thought I would find a better printing job but this was 1976 and it was still rare for women to be printers.  My mom was a printer for Moore Business Forms in the 50's and early 60's,  so now I knew what a good  job she had when mostly men did printing.  I applied at the Union Tribune for a web printing job. I applied at fine printing companies where I could do full-color printing on multi-head printing presses.  No interest from anyone and I couldn't even get an offer from an instant printing company.  I tried to apply for unemployment but since I had quit, they wouldn't give it to me.  I learned later in life when I became a union representative, that I had a "constructive quit" due to impossible working conditions.  I was now living by myself in a studio apartment, the rent was due, and I had exactly $40 in the bank.

I desperately looked at the classified ads for a job.  Burroughs, an electronic manufacturing company, was hiring trainees to do electronic assembly.  It was located in an industrial park in Rancho Bernardo, about a 30 minute drive north of San Diego.  I put in my application and upon leaving, I decided I might as well apply at the rest of the companies located there.  So I submitted applications at Sony and NCR for electronic assembler positions.  NCR called me the next day and hired me for $2.77 an hour on the night shift as an Electronic Assembler Trainee.  And that is how I came to work in the electronics manufacturing industry for the next 28 years.  Totally random and driven by economic necessity.  To be continued in Part 2.

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