I’ve worked in a lot of different places. Bars, restaurants, construction sites, gyms, law offices, newspapers, magazines, sports leagues, beaches, movie theaters, warehouses, bike share companies — I’ve learned something at each of them. Editing our annual Best Places to Work Issue got me thinking about one in particular.
I had come home from college for the summer after freshman year expecting to work in a carpentry job I had held in high school, but the union was on strike so I was out of luck. I needed money, so I went to a temp agency and took a test, which I apparently failed. The woman behind the desk said she had just one job that was right for me. She handed me a piece of paper with an address and the name of a foreman, and told me to report the next morning at 7:30.
And that’s how I ended up spending July 1983 in a warehouse on the Boston waterfront — next to the one Martin Sheen’s character was thrown off in The Departed — taking wicker baskets out of big boxes from China and putting them into smaller boxes to send out to U.S. stores. My only companion was a guy named Warren who had grown up above his family’s funeral home in Wisconsin before dropping out of the seminary.
Warren drank a bottle of cheap red wine every afternoon while tutoring me in the nuances of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity Rainbow, which he insisted I read. We listened endlessly to WBCN. I thought it was a little weird he brought his dog with him. But the pit bull came in handy when the tide came in and chased the rats from their homes and into our warehouse. He must have caught four a day. For all this, I made $3.15 an hour before taxes.
I tell you this because of what I learned that month, and what all the winners listed in this issue know.
The work matters: Moving wicker baskets was soul-crushingly boring.
The environment matters: The dusty, rat-infested warehouse matched the nature of the work.
Co-workers matter: Warren was the best part of the gig. He was unlike anyone I’d ever met and a better explainer of Pynchon than the hot-shot professor I studied with two years later.
Pay matters: Minimum wage? For that gig? Come on.
The good news is on the 29th day of work, the foreman told us it was our last day; had we stuck around for 30 days, they’d have to pay us union wages. So I went back to the agency, where I got a job as a bike messenger for a law firm. Now that was a sweet gig.