August 1, 2014 / 12:12 PM / 6 years ago

Jason Mraz's first summer job? Sweaty, hard work

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Summer jobs: The very mention brings up memories of low pay, long hours and sweaty, clueless teenagers who don’t really know what they’re doing.

Singer Jason Mraz performs on NBC's "Today" show in New York July 18, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Memories like that are still vivid for some of the nation’s greatest achievers. Since last August, Reuters has been gathering the first-job stories of successful Americans, including sports legends, business titans and media superstars.

This month, to coincide with the nation’s monthly jobs report, we spoke to a few of them about those memorable summer jobs that got them started.


First summer job: Fence builder

“My dad was a fence contractor in Mechanicsville, Virginia, so my first paying gig was building fences. It involved a lot of digging holes, cleaning up construction sites and distributing lumber. It was for $5 an hour, which, at the time, was more than minimum wage.”

“It was hard manual labor, and I certainly would rather have been at the pool with my friends rather than driving an hour to some muggy, mosquito-infested area to build a fence around a horse field. But I was getting paid, so I didn’t mind.”

“My dad was happy to have me working for him. We would just blast the stereo all day, and I would sing along to the radio or some mixtape I made. He would turn to me and say, ‘I hope you pursue that, and live your dream. I would rather you do that, than this.’”

“That stuck with me, big time. That could have been my future, and I could have easily taken over the family business. I still build fences sometimes - but now it’s around my garden, and I do it with great pride.”


First summer job: Lawn guy

“I don’t remember when ‘work’ started in my life. I caught on rather quickly that it was the only way to make money: to buy things, to take girls on dates, and to buy a car to take girls on dates.”

“My primary summer job was mowing lawns. I was the lawn guy for many of our neighbors. I mowed lawns through the intense heat of summer, through rain storms, swarms of bugs and more rain.”

“I’m 55, so I don’t mean for this to sound like ‘tales from our grandparents’ but remember, this was before anything more thirst-quenching than water, and it was before water bottles became ubiquitous.”

“What did I drink from? A Thermos? Probably a garden hose.”

“Worst of all: It was before the invention of the Walkman. Your music had to be in your head, competing with the nasty roar of a smelly one-cylinder engine muffled through a 50-cent paper filter. I grew to prefer the neighbors who spent the extra on a self-propelled mower, which were luckily becoming all the rage in the mid-70’s.”

“I first got my ‘working papers’ at age 14 (the State of New Jersey minimum age) and then I was off to the races. Real jobs - two of them - one as a busboy at our local pancake house, the other selling hardware at Sears. I always tried to convince people to spend the extra on a self-propelled mower, knowing there was a sweaty kid out there who would appreciate it.”


First summer job: Telemarketer

“Young people might not know what I’m talking about, but back in the day, people used to call you up and try to sell you things, and that was me. One product that I had to sell was the Nordic Chair, from the same company that made the NordicTrack. It was a chair you could put in your living room, but you could pull out the arms and do all sorts of exercises with pulleys.”

“It was so humiliating. You would be interrupting somebody’s dinner, and they would be screaming at you. I learned a lot about rejection, and getting back on the horse every time. I think that job was excellent training to become the White House press secretary.”

“Another thing that job taught me, is to be a lot nicer whenever a telemarketer tries to call me. They don’t relish calling your house. They’re just trying to make a living.”

“I know I didn’t sell many Nordic Chairs. I’d love to know if anyone still has one.”


First summer job: Wrestling photographer

“Back when I was in high school, I used to be a big fan of professional wrestling. This was in the days of guys like Bruno Sammartino, and the Funk Brothers, and Abdullah the Butcher. I would bring my camera with me, and take pictures of wrestling matches and try to sell them to different magazines.”

“I actually got a job with a Japanese magazine, a weekly full-color glossy, because professional wrestling was huge in Japan. They would pay for my trips and give me $500 per assignment, sending me to places like Charlotte, Atlanta, and Amarillo, Texas. I actually had to ask my mother for the travel money, and then the magazine would refund her.”

“All my high school friends were jealous, because here I was going around taking pictures of professional wrestlers, who were our big heroes back then. I did become a photographer later on, working for the Associated Press. And when I started working on TV for Telemundo, one of my first reports was on Abdullah the Butcher, who came out of the ring and tried to grab me and started bleeding all over me. It turned out to be a good story.”

Editing by Lauren Young and Bernadette Baum

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