The Star-News


Put your back into it

Fri, Aug 27 2010 04:00 PM Posted By: Carlos R. Davalos

Heading into the final stretch of summer, it's hard not to get caught up in a little bit of nostalgic daydreaming. Besides, with the recent heat wave, there hasn't been much energy to do anything else but sit, think and sleep.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I work in a building with air conditioning and sometimes that cool air manages to make its way into my office.

It wasn't always that way.

My first summer job had me digging ditches. The only air conditioning I had then was the wind from passing trucks as they sped by while I dug trenches for an irrigation system at a Sorrento Valley business park.

It was hard work, digging holes in the July sun. The ground was compacted and trying to break through it was like trying to break through cement with a straw. My boss's only advice to me at the time was to start off with a digger - a long iron pole that harnessed all of the sun's heat and released it onto my bare hands and left blisters after 10 minutes of digging.

"And put your back into it," he said.

It was brilliant advice from a guy who drove around from site to site in an air-conditioned pickup drinking Big Gulps all day.

But the experience taught me valuable lessons. The first was that time does indeed stand still.

How else could you explain that after what felt like an hour of excruciating, back-breaking labor, a glance at my wristwatch showed that in fact only 10 minutes had passed and that lunch time was still four hours away?

Another lesson learned was adaptability. It didn't take long to discover that sleeping in a wheelbarrow was more comfortable than sleeping on a concrete floor during lunch, but a concrete floor in the shade was more comfortable than sleeping in a car that had been out in the sun all morning.

In hindsight, the compensation was a pittance, maybe slightly more than whatever minimum wage was 20-plus years ago.

But at the time, the paycheck that came at the end of the week felt like a small fortune. When you're barely 16 and your only expense is gas money, a couple of hundred bucks a week makes you feel like you're your own boss. A big shot.

"Mom, Dad, put your wallet away, I got dinner tonight."

But maybe the greatest lesson learned, one that probably applies to this day for a lot of us, is that you do what you have to do to get by and you make the most of it.

And work, like life, gets a little easier if you put your back into it.


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