WORST JOB #1: The mushroom factory
I worked at the mushroom factory on Newberry Road in East Windsor, Connecticut, when I was a kid. I think I was like 13 or 14 years old – and the only reason I worked there was because my eager sister, Lisa, wanted to make some money, so I tagged along with her to apply for a summer job there.
I didn’t like the job very much. We went into dark rooms where large mushroom beds were stacked up like bunk beds from floor to ceiling. It was pitch black in there because, as most people know, mushrooms grow in the dark.
We were required to wear yellow hardhats with headlamps attached on them, and carried large plastic bins to our designed mushroom beds. The planting beds had rolling ladders attached to them. Climbing to each level, I would reach in to pick the mushrooms, roll to the next spot, and toss mushrooms into the bin.
Not liking the job much wasn’t due to the working conditions. We were picking the mushrooms out of soil amended with manure, but it didn’t smell awful at all. The soil was healthy composted soil, and only the scent filling the air was the scent of fresh mushrooms. I just found the job to be monotonous.
Unlike my sister, I had no motivation to exceed my daily picking quota. This is all she could think about – pick more, get paid more per load. Each bin fully loaded was weighed by our supervisor. My sister was, and still is, an accounting head. She always picked more than I did.
As for myself, on the other hand, I goofed off a lot at that job. I remember one day chucking mushrooms at another friend working there, trying to hit her hardhat when she wasn’t looking, and when the supervisors weren’t paying attention.
You would think as a plant person I would dig this job because it was plant related – but to me it was the pits.
WORST JOB #2: The box factory
How the heck I ever ended up working in an old brick building located in Warehouse Point, Connecticut, assembling cardboard boxes, mostly for wedding gown storage, is beyond me. I think it was my older sister again who told me about the job and dragged me along.
There was an assembly room in the back of the warehouse with rickety devices that looked like something your grandpa made from pieces of wood. You would take the flat boxes, fold the edges, and apply smelly glue, then use the old wooden tools to hold them in place to dry. I also remember attaching the clear front window panes to the top of the cardboard box for viewing the eventual wedding gown to be placed in there by a happy bride someday.
This job was so lame. There was no one else in the warehouse building working when we were there. Just a couple of teens in the back assembling boxes by hand. The rest of the building was filled with stuff, but now, I can’t remember what it was, machinery or parts, something of that nature.
When I told the supervisor I was leaving for a job in a pizza restaurant, this I remember – she responded with, “I knew you wouldn’t last.”
WORST JOB #3: The pizza kitchen
I was moving up in the world.
I applied and got a job working at a local pizza restaurant in East Windsor, Connecticut, which is still in operation today. Sofia’s pizzeria on route 5 in town. But, not as a waitress. I worked in the kitchen preparing grinders and pizzas.
One day, when a customer came to pick up an order of two pizzas, I grabbed the two stacked pizza boxes from the top of the ovens. Moving my hands a little too quickly, the smaller pizza box on the top of the bigger pizza box slid right off and dropped to the floor, flipping over as it traveled down.
Without a second thought, I picked it up, turned it right side up, placed it on top of the other pizza box, and handed it to the customer.
When the customer walked away carrying their pizzas, the lead gal in the kitchen said to me, “What are you nuts? That pizza has to be sticking to the cover!”
I was clueless. The customer was too.
Another day, I got frustrated because the head chef from the back kitchen area picked me one too many times mop the floor at the end of the day. This totally pissed me off because I felt I was asked to do this chore often. Plus, mopping was the last chore of the day, so everyone leaves and you are there alone to finish up the final cleaning requirements.
After I was done, I loudly stomped to the storage closet, threw my apron, mop, and other stuff down a stairwell, and made the only person still there, the back kitchen supervisor, know by my actions I was displeased with being asked to mop the floor again.
He came out to speak to me, and waved a spatula in my face, as he said, “You are good worker. Don’t get mad.”
My response was – “Why am I being asked to do the cleanup all the time?!”
Then I huffed out the front door of the restaurant.
When returning to work the next day, he walked up to me and said, “Today, you are going to work in the back kitchen.”
This was a special honor. The back kitchen was reserved for the cooks making the sauces and pizza dough. I learned the techniques used and got to participate in making some recipes.
However, when I returned to the front kitchen later that day, I was relentlessly teased by my coworkers. They were chanting, “Cathy and Joey up in the tree, K-I-S-S—I N G.”
I think these were probably my worst three jobs I had as a young teen. The first two as a tween actually, and the later when I was about the age to get my driver’s license.
Eventually, I got a real job working in corporate America where I stayed for a long time, until I escaped to switch careers in the plant world in my mid 30’s.
The Toughest as an Adult:
This is when I experienced the toughest, not the worst, but the toughest job I had as an adult. I got my first job working in a large and popular garden center located in Vernon, Connecticut, after completing my first horticulture courses at UCONN.
Immediately on the job, I was hit up with every single type of plant and gardening related question you could imagine by customers shopping at the store.
Questions like, “What is this bug, how do I treat my lawn, what is this disease on my plant, how do I prune this tree, what is the height of this tree, what plants bloom in spring, why can’t this grow right, Is this a weed?” It was endless.
Oh, and the classic was when they wanted me to identify a plant and they did not bring a sample of it. When I asked them to describe it, they always started with this statement, “Well, the leaves are green.”
The customer questions went on and on every day, and being fresh in my new field – of course, I did not know all the answers, even with a degree. And because I was a bit older, some customers assumed I was a long-time worker, but I was new in the field of plants.
A couple reference books were placed on a stand by me so I could at least look up a disease or insect problems since this was probably my weakest point. There are so many kinds! But seeing the plant problems hands on and learning what types of questions customers had was very rewarding because every day presented a new challenge. Every day was a new experience.
Daily, there would be some kind of body ache too. My shoulders would ache from reaching for hanging baskets time after time, my feet would hurt from being on them all day, and spring rain would make me cold one day in the outdoor areas, where summer heat would make me hot and tired the next. Advil became a best friend.
One day, my neck seized up so badly, I had to refuse putting hanging baskets on the lines in the greenhouses, and go see the chiropractor. And, I probably lifted one too many heavy things in a hurry like a small B&B shrub when one of the younger nursery guys were not available due to helping another customer or unloading a delivery of plants.
In this job, I was no longer a teen, but a middle-aged woman. All the same, determination and motivation kept me there.
Not only was there a plethora of questions, many customers were overly anxious for answers. Some days, I’m not exaggerating, customers would wait in line to speak to me. On the busiest of days, like Mother’s Day or other holidays, the store was packed.
You really see what nursery staff is all about on those days, and they work hard during a fast moving season to help the customers. They do it because they love plants. Why else would they endure the physical and mental demands of this type of job?
I could tell you so many stories, from a girl crying because she did not achieve the dream garden bed she wanted “just like in a gardening magazine.” And another time, when a priest was shopping for a shrub for his church, asked me for help. He pointed to a particular shrub to ask me what it was – and no lie, he was pointing to a shrub called, Physocarpus opulifolis ‘Diablo.’ The look on his face was priceless when I told him the shrub’s name. He hurriedly walked away.
The owner of the nursery told me one day, in a firm tone, “Stop asking me that.” I was bugging him about wanting to work in the perennials section, stating, “I think I would be better placed there for my daily responsibilities.” Perennials were my passion at that time.
He responded with, “We already have a perennial’s manager.” I suspect this is why he assigned me to the trees and shrubs area in the outdoor nursery area. Maybe he didn’t know yet where I fit in, and to be frank, neither did I. But I was so willing to learn and try. I wasn’t going to complain. I was thrilled to be working in my first plant related job.
I asked him for the plant order list of all the trees and shrubs at the nursery so I could review and study them. And, every time I had a customer interested in shrubs or trees, after my review, I would then say, “Let’s go to the perennial’s section and find a great candidate to go with these shrubs.”
After one of my customers checked out, the cashier said to me, “That was a great combination.” I think she wanted me to help her next. It was turning out my assignment by my boss was forcing me to see the bigger picture of design combinations and plants. Maybe intentional. Maybe not.
Eventually, the owner walked up to me one day, when I was watering a bench of plants to say, “You are going to learn and do landscape design.” As he abruptly walked away, the floor got watered instead of the plants because I was in shock as I stood there holding my watering wand, wondering what just happened. Upstairs I went to learn about how they did designs.
The challenges increased from there. Juggling several factors such as learning a new design program, laying out designs for customers, visiting their homes for onsite assessments, pricing quotes for install jobs, etc. I was doing all of this while still providing customer support every day on the nursery floor. Sometimes I felt like I had to be in two places at the same time.
The reason this job was the toughest though was because of the combinations of factors; having to know so much because the questions never ended and enduring the physical demands each day. Not to mention the working environment was polar opposite of where I came from – a cubicle in corporate America. Plus, I worked the weekends too.
Yet there was never a boring day. Never a stale moment. Never a question not to be answered. And never ever a time of not learning something new. I was inspired constantly.
Everyone would say how lucky I was when they learned I was working in a nursery garden center. And I was lucky. I was finally working in a field where I have a true passion.
As for those terrible teen jobs – well, you know, when you’re a kid, you’ll work anywhere!