Walking the Tracks

WalkingTracks_CITDGuess you could say my early “career track” was a bit wobbly, if predictable.

Predictable: Show of hands if your first job was “paperboy.” Thought so.

Busboy? Check. Fast-food cook? Yup. Schlepping metal toy parts in a factory? Sure, why not.

But once college started, things got wacky: Paper baler at a Lutheran publishing house? Art department aide?

And once the school year was done, looking for a summer job went front and center with the Family Project.

Dad was insistent.

Money was needed to keep us in school—he wasn’t going to do much in the way of subsidizing it. We weren’t allowed to slack, even during the summer.

And while I’ve always been half-hearted about working for anybody, I do understand the utility of having a couple bucks in the wallet.

So that summer of 1980 I was probably turning Minnetonka—and even downtown Minneapolis—upside down looking for a job.StribID

The previous summer I’d worked in the Circulation department at the Star Tribune, missing Charlie Kaufman’s similar stint there by a decade or so. My 1979 W-2 reveals total Strib earnings of $221.08, which barely kept me in beer and pencils. Likely it served to keep me in Penguin Classics, which I read between breaks or after shift, or while waiting for the 51 bus home.

Once back at the lake, I tried to reconnect with old high school buddies. Casco Point friend Dan Rogers, a year ahead of me, was likely home from his first year studying aviation at University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. Fellow high school student paper columnist Theron “Terry” Hollingsworth and I had promised to stay in touch while I was in White Bear Lake.

It was probably in the early ’80s that Terry and I came up with “walking the tracks.”

Getting from Navarre to Mound of course went further back to carless junior high school days, when Jeff Taylor and I met in Spring Park, walking the rails to do homework together at the Westonka public library.

But once Terry and I were college-age, we added a new twist to the “walk-and-talk-along-the-railroad-tracks”—popping for a fifth of blackberry brandy at the Navarre liquor store, then passing the bottle on our leisurely trek into Mound.

Now you can see the appeal of walking-and-talking the tracks.

Spring Park tracksTerry and I used the nearly 3-mile walk to catch up on things, analyze girlfriends old and new, and generally muse about our futures. We’d surreptitiously take pulls on the bottle and shuffle past what was then the Advance Machine Co. building in Spring Park. The factory hugged the shoreline and always made that part of town look somewhat post-apocalyptic. Sometimes we’d run into classmates who lived in the ’hood. Sometimes we’d stop for a bite at the A&W, walking on after filling up on chili dogs and root beer.

Although there’s no record in diary, journal or calendar-planner, it was probably in the summer of 1980 that another (now forgotten) high school alum and I landed a machine shop gig in Long Lake, just north of Mound.

From our first day we realized it was going to be dull, dirty, hot and sweaty work. And spotting a dead rat in a corner was all it took for us to go permanently AWOL over lunch break.

So we walked the train tracks behind the building east to Wayzata, afternoon cicadas buzzing in our ears and our nostrils filled with the scent of dusty gravel and the surrounding dank woodlands.

In Wayzata I stopped to phone home.

You quit your job?!” Mom reacted after I gave her the news.

“Yeah, but there’re some jobs in the paper and we’re heading downtown now.” I remember feeling confident that everything would work out in the end, no matter how the Family Project felt about the situation.Tracks into Mound

Once in Minneapolis, we did get a job with a coupon book promoter. Managed by an overweight, baby-faced Southern guy named “Tiny,” we were given call lists and worked the shift dialing phones, selling as many coupon books as possible.

Most of my summer was spent in that call room, or sneaking away on breaks to read my latest Penguin: Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Daudet’s Letters From My Windmill or Turgenev’s First Love.

Tiny would stop over to chat, curious about my latest book. I tried to not get flustered when failing to make enough sales, and he seemed to cut me some slack.

It was all about my itinerant education: my real job—I felt—was to read, write and learn things.

So when the coupon book gig suddenly folded, a “Closed For Business” sign taped to the door one day, we may’ve been a bit surprised.

But I was still finding a way to get back on track, wherever it was all leading.

~ by completelyinthedark on June 27, 2014.

One Response to “Walking the Tracks”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Still “walking the tracks” after all these years. Look for all-new post next Friday!


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