News & Politics

Your First Summer Job

Berries and Bird Nests: You Gotta Start Somewhere

Summer jobs are a rite of passage—whether it be an internship in an air-conditioned office or hard labor outdoors. We asked people with some of the most enviable jobs in town how they spent their first working summer. Their stories confirm the adage “You’ve got to start somewhere.”

“When I was 14, my brother and I worked on our family farm in Avon, Ohio, picking strawberries for $1.50 an hour. It was hot, itchy, backbreaking work, and we couldn’t stop until we’d picked the field clean. On one hot day the strawberry field caught fire, and we cheered as we watched it burn. My father was so angry with us for letting the field burn that he made us get jobs packing tomatoes at a neighbor’s farm. That was even worse—the greenhouse was 120 degrees inside, and we stood for hours in front of a revolving table endlessly filling with tomatoes, wrapping each one and packing them into baskets. I was actually grateful to go back to school.”

Lea Berman, White House social secretary

“My best summer job was in Worcester, Massachusetts, where I went to school at Clark University. There was a federally funded program called Summers World where we put on performances and acts using assistance from paid counselors, and we’d go to low-income housing projects and have bands perform, go to mental institutions and put on puppet shows, and take kids on field trips. That was one of the best summers I’ve ever had.”

Hugh Panero, president and CEO of XM Radio

“My first summer job was in London, working for my uncle’s neighbor. I was 15. My job was to remove the original ceiling from an old Victorian house. I had to pull down four inches of plaster, and it was filled with bird’s nests and all these dead birds. I lasted about four days.”

Cathal Armstrong, chef/owner of Restaurant Eve

“I grew up in a small German town. I was about 15 years old, and summer jobs were very rare. I was able to get a job delivering goods produced by homes for the blind. . . . I was about to ride my bike through town, but little did I know that their most popular product was toilet brushes. So here I am riding around with toilet brushes dangling from my bike. Everyone got a laugh about it. But my father told me, ‘Money earned honestly doesn’t stink.’ ”

Gerd Ludwig, photographer for National Geographic