Skating Rink DJ to Conservative Talk Radio: My #firstsevenjobs

If the drudgery must be done, let it have a good soundtrack.

The following tale of my first seven jobs has no real moral to it other than this—I do not like work for work’s sake. Spare me drudgery; give me something interesting and fun.

Yet, if the drudgery must be done, let it have a good soundtrack.

Construction Clean Up

My father is an engineer. A civil one at that. So, not only is he courteous when he needs to be, he also knows many contractors from his civil construction work. Many of those contractors build houses, lots of houses, and long before those houses are finished, they need to be cleaned, preferably by people willing to work for cash.

I was 16. I wanted a kickass stereo system for my station wagon. Oh yes, I thought, how cool my station wagon (a crimson red ‘94 Honda that looked like a suppository) would be if I only I could crank up some classic rock at mind boggling levels. So, in need of cash, I drove my station wagon on many a muggy summer morning to residential construction sites and got to work.

The work was awful: back-breaking when it was not tedious, and potentially dangerous. Rusty nails stuck up from discarded lumber. Shingles, bricks, and drywall galore needed to be hauled to the dumpster. Dust and dirt was everywhere along with old soda bottles, pizza boxes, and even condoms (I didn’t ask.)

After a while, my wheelbarrow and headphones became my best friends. Moving a ton of bricks to a dumpster didn’t seem so bad set to Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” One day a drywall contractor took a liking to me and gave me this advice. “Son,” he said, “stay in school, or else, you’ll being doing this for the rest of your life. It may be an honest day’s work, it may pay well, but it destroys your body.”

I reluctantly drove around the city of Montgomery, wondering what on earth I should do. Then I saw it in all its glory on the horizon—a large sign that said “Fun Zone.”

After I made my money and bought my station wagon stereo, I took his advice. There had to be a more enjoyable way of making money. There was, but my next job taught me some things are too good to be true.

Clothing Retail

My next job was at a retail store called Hollister. They sold overpriced West Coast-themed clothing. The job they offered me seemed easy enough at first—fold the inventory and help the customers find what they wanted—but I would soon find out it was a racket. You see, while on the clock, I was required to wear Hollister brand clothes. Even with the discount they gave me, their clothes ended up costing just about the amount of hours they were willing to give me. Their scheme wasn’t fair, and I made hardly any money compared to my construction clean up job. But I soon realized I wasn’t obliged to work for them. I quickly learned the beauty of respectfully giving an employer two weeks notice. And it’s telling: I can’t remember that job’s soundtrack.

Fun Zone

After quitting my retail gig, my parents harangued me to find another job. It was my junior year in high school, and I wanted to focus on school and sports, but they pushed me anyway. Literally, one Saturday afternoon, they pushed me out the door and said, “Don’t come back until you have some job prospects.”

Did you know that children, as innocent as they may be, often stink and are petulant for no reason?

So, I reluctantly drove around the city of Montgomery, wondering what on earth I should do. Then I saw it in all its glory on the horizon—a large sign that said “Fun Zone.” I pulled over and went inside. They hired me on the spot and asked if there were any other “good Catholic boys” from my high school who needed jobs as well. They did, so three other friends and I were soon fellow employees at the Fun Zone.

Fun Zone had a skating rink, an arcade, a rock wall, bumper cars, a rollercoaster simulator, a trampoline basketball game, and a massive “soft play” playground akin to what you may find at McDonald’s, ball pit and all. I started off as a game attendant, putting kids into harnesses for the rock wall or strapping them into bumper cars. It was easy enough at first, but then I began to notice the smell. Did you know that children, as innocent as they may be, often stink and are petulant for no reason?

I can’t tell you how many times I was told something about poop. Yes, poop. Kids pooped in the ball pit. Kids pooped on the sidewalk. Kids pooped their pants. And when they weren’t pooping their pants, they managed to find all sorts of other trouble. For instance, as I was walking to the bathroom so as not to emulate the kids’ poop parade, I noticed something in the claw machine out of the corner of my right eye. I stopped and turned and there it was—below the claw was a machine full of large stuffed animals and a toddler. He looked at me through the glass with a surprisingly sanguine ease. After thinking to myself, “For a dollar, you can win this kid!” I quickly got out the barrel key and set him free.

After paying my dues for a year and a half and getting over all the poop, I worked my way up to the position of DJ and game technician, which essentially involved me eating free food from the kitchen while playing music for the skaters. Only occasionally would management page me over the intercom to fix a jammed ticket dispenser or a faulty game board. I was golden. I have so many memories from that place. Too many to share them all here. I grew up there. Made new friends outside of school. Had my first real kiss with a woman. Learned that even though management is always right, they are not always right, and that’s okay. But, I do have a favorite memory I would like to share in detail.

Parks and Rec taught me the truth about government work. With few a exceptions, we hardly worked at all.

On Sundays, I would play music for our “old-school” skate, and without fail, every Sunday afternoon this older gentleman would put on his quad skates and roll to the center of the rink. He would look up at me in the DJ booth, his eyes challenging me to put on something good. One time, as I put on Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” he smiled at me as he heard the song’s opening guitar riff, but he did not skate around the rink. No, he only danced. In the center of the rink, he danced on skates in his own funky way. It never failed to make us both happy.

Eventually, after working there for nearly two years, Fun Zone was hit by a tornado. The building was utterly destroyed. Yet, I still had a job. At that point, we had become a family. The owners welcomed us into their home and paid us to help salvage the remains of the center. It looked like a war zone, but it was still our playground and the owners’ livelihood.

College Summers’ Back Home, Two-in-One: Parks & Recreation and Biscuits Box Office

After moving off to college in Auburn, I did not work during the school year. I decided to work summers back in Montgomery. I found two jobs—one with the city of Montgomery’s Parks and Recreation division, the other in the box office of Montgomery’s minor league baseball team, the Biscuits. I’d work the city job from 7 AM to 3 PM and the box office job from 5 PM until they didn’t need me any longer.

Parks and Rec taught me the truth about government work. With few a exceptions, we hardly worked at all. The second summer, this was especially true. Our truck was the “ball field crew” for one of the city's little leagues. So, we would chalk the ball fields and be done. It usually only took half the day, if that, but we were paid for the whole day.

When not working, we would make “windshield time,” driving around the city while listening to music. One day Prince’s “Do Me, Baby” came on the classic soul radio station. The guys in the truck knew I was a huge Prince fan, so the station was not changed. There we were, four adult men listening to a Prince bedroom song. It was odd to say the least. Near the end of the song, our driver couldn’t resist himself, saying, “Man, Prince is the only mofo who makes love to himself on the record.”  We all laughed. We laughed a lot at that job.

The Biscuits’ box office job was the complete opposite. We were inside with air conditioning but constantly working, tediously clicking seat selections on our computer screens, filling out spreadsheets, counting money, or scanning torn ticket stubs. A deluge of eager baseball fans always created a bottle-necked rush hour right before the game.

You learn a lot about people watching them wait in line and haggle with one another over where to sit. For instance, you could tell the happy couples from the unhappy ones. The happy couples smiled and almost finished one another’s sentences. There was usually no disagreement over where to sit. The unhappy couples always looked tired with one partner looking aloof and the other looking nervous. You could also always spot those looking for a relationship, the “cleat chasers” as we called them. Young women dressed to the nines who had been given free tickets from their favorite baseball player to watch the action. I suppose not everyone has to work.

Daylight Donuts

At one point, our boss (a large man who looked like a donut himself) hired immigrants from Guatemala who I’m sure were “undocumented.” To this day, they are the hardest working people I have ever seen.

After two summers of returning home from college to work, I was done with going home. I also was done waiting until the summer to work. I wanted money all the time. So, my roommate and I began working the kitchen graveyard shift at a locally owned donut shop. We made the donuts all by hand, supplying them not only for our in-store guests, but for Auburn’s on-campus vendors. They would give us how many pounds of donuts were needed, and we would make it happen in the wee hours of the morning.

At first, the hours of midnight to 8 AM were trying, but eventually my best friend and I came to enjoy the work. The Auburn skyline at 3 in the morning would often look purple. Preparing, rolling and hand-frying the dough just right became an art form, and of course, there was always a killer soundtrack to accompany our artistry. Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank N’ Thoughtful” was a common favorite for the manager, Shelby, and me.

At one point, our boss (a large man who looked like a donut himself) hired immigrants from Guatemala who I’m sure were “undocumented.” To this day, they are the hardest working people I have ever seen, and though there was a language barrier, we became chummy. However, one night they looked at my best friend and I as though we were acolytes of the devil. We had made the mistake of playing The Mars Volta’s “Day of the Baphomets” as our soundtrack that night, but they forgave us. We weren’t devils. We just liked heavy, progressive rock.

The School Board Political Campaign

Talking to a 30-something white guy who works for the AG’s office is different from talking to a 60-something black women who works in education. But again, the common ground was music.

Being a major in political science, I realized I needed some experience in campaigning, so I joined the local school board campaign to help Lori White get elected to the school board. I soon discovered, for all its supposed goodwill, how nasty politics can be. I was tasked with walking door-to-door and managing volunteers to do the same. Not only did this provide a crash course in politics at the grassroots level, it was a lesson in race relations.

Sadly, even though Montgomery is very much the birthplace of the civil rights movement, it remains divided along racial lines. It’s what MLK would have called a “negative peace.” People are not at each other’s throats, but nor are they warm friends. I learned you can’t just knock on someone’s door and start spouting a speech at them. You have to get to know them, where they are coming from first. Talking to a 30-something white guy who works for the AG’s office is different from talking to a 60-something black women who works in education. But again, the common ground was music.

I remember one afternoon, upon approaching a modest middle-class house, a woman was outside washing her car. At first, she wanted nothing to do with me and my political push cards, but there was music blasting out of her car. I started to dance in a way only someone with Polish heritage can. I complimented her on her soundtrack. It was Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September.” She laughed, stopped washing her car, and came over to talk about her other favorite artists. Then she took the pamphlet for my candidate. Did she vote for her? I have no clue, but I did learn how much she loved Maurice White. Considering that my candidate didn’t win, I imagine she didn’t vote for her.

Radio Producer, Talk Host

To paraphrase Gore Vidal, I never turn down the opportunity to have sex or appear on radio or television.

After graduating from college, I went on a few job interviews. I was already growing cynical about working directly in politics despite my B.S. in Political Science, so I interviewed for whatever was out there. Two places offered me jobs. One gig was selling credit card machines for Intuit to small businesses in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The other was essentially being a walking, talking coupon to sell Staples office supplies at warehouse prices to small businesses in the Birmingham area. As nice as my interviewers were, both jobs sounded awful.

So, jobless and with degree in hand, I moved back home to Montgomery. Finding work was tough, but a week before I was about to move to New Orleans with my father with the plan of finding a job waiting tables while working on writing in my free time, a man named Dan Morris emailed me. He wanted to know if I was interested in interning for his local radio show. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, I never turn down the opportunity to have sex or appear on radio or television, so I took the gig.

For a week, I was mostly Dan’s gopher and research assistant until one trusty morning the radio board operator looked up during a commercial break and said, “I hate to do this, but nature is calling. My stomach is killing me. Joey, can you run the board?” I said yes, and before going to the commode, the producer showed me how to turn on the microphones and put the phones on air. I was then baptized by fire, and I was hooked. How could pushing just a few buttons feel so exciting?

I am usually a wallflower, a hermit, but something about that microphone in front of me made me feel alive.

A week later Dan’s morning show was canceled, but not for long. By popular demand, he was put back on air noon-to-three every weekday, and he asked me to be his board-op and producer. I said yes. I few weeks later, the afternoon drive host, Greg Budell, asked me if I wanted to answer the phones for his show. I said yes. Not long after that, I was not only answering the phones, I was opening my big opinionated mouth on both shows for thousands to hear over our airwaves. A month or two later, Greg asked me if I wanted to host an hour as an audition to see if I could fill in for him when he went on vacation. I said yes, and if I’m remembering correctly, my first show was about watching President Obama give the State of the Union address to the nation.

Ushered in by bumper music of my choosing, Muse’s “Plug in Baby”, I began telling my story of watching the President the night before. Usually a nauseating event for me, I decided to eat my favorite food group, buffalo wings, to get me through the speech. In the midst of nomming on a wing, I remember the President saying something so infuriating that I dropped a sauce-covered wing onto my favorite t-shirt. It was ruined. “I want my shirt back, Obama. I want my shirt back!” I remember saying into the microphone as the two cute interns in the producer room across from me giggled with glee. It was silly, indeed, but it was exhilarating. I am usually a wallflower, a hermit, but something about that microphone in front of me made me feel alive.

Though I may be a libertarian working in the weird and wacky world of conservative talk radio, often disagreeing with what I hear said, my co-workers and the audience have become a second family to me.

Five years later, I still sit in front of that microphone every day on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV. The Dan Morris Show from noon to 3 is still going strong as is Happy Hour with Greg Budell and Joey Clark from 3 to 6. Though my political beliefs have changed since that first time—my love of liberty having blossomed along with my cynicism for politics and especially presidential elections—I still love what I do.

Though I may be a libertarian working in the weird and wacky world of conservative talk radio, often disagreeing with what I hear said, my co-workers and the audience have become a second family to me. And as always, with me behind the radio board, there is a good soundtrack—a mix of classic rock, soul and pop. Every day at about 2:59 PM CST the Dan Morris Show ends with the opening lines of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, and it often takes me back to memories of cleaning construction sites, chalking ball fields, flouring dough, and walking neighborhoods:

Out here in the fields
I fight for my meals
I get my back into my living

How lucky I am.