Speaking of Shoveling Snow ... Odd Jobs Back in the Day

By ANTHONY DiSIPIO | Jan 31, 2018


The “bomb-o-genesis” snowstorm that started out as 3 to 6 inches and ended up being at least 18 inches at our place – before drifts, “BD” – was the gift that kept on giving. Five days later, I was still trying to get the snow out of the driveway, and that “icy coating” that made the trash can and me do a back somersault on trash day was not something I affectionately look back on.

I really dislike winter, always have, even as a kid. I just can’t understand why anyone would ever want to be cold or go somewhere to be cold, like people who go to the Poconos to ski in the snow. I understand that everyone is different, but I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to be cold. And, baby, it was cold the weekend after that snowstorm. Even Lucy the wonder dog didn’t want to go out and play in the snow. I figure we DiSipios came from southern Italy; we wore very little clothing, enjoying nice warm breezes off the Mediterranean.

I can’t stand having to wear all those clothes! Back in the day, “on the corner,” we would stand outside of the luncheonette no matter what the weather: leather coats with no linings, khaki work pants and no hats, unless you were lucky enough to have one of the “real” Jeff caps, not like those Kangols of today. I don’t remember anyone with gloves, either.

But the snow did, back in the day in South Philadelphia, offer an opportunity to shovel to make some money. If you wanted stuff in our neighborhood of poor people, you had to work for it, or lose a tooth. The tooth fairy was always good for a quarter. Any cash was always welcome in our neighborhood.

If you got an early start and had a friend, you might be able to make a couple of bucks shoveling sidewalks. That’s all there was to shovel in South Philadelphia, the sidewalks and the steps, not stoops. Some sidewalks were longer than others, but the going rate was the same: 50 cents. I used the old shovel from the coal chute as my tool of choice. Sure, it would get cold, but the cash in your pocket was a pretty good motivator. It was my first “job” per se, and it was the beginning of a lengthy working career.

There was no such word as “allowance” in our house. I did the shoveling in the winter, and in better weather, I used to carry orders from the Acme for people, first by hand and later with a used wagon I procured. I would stand outside the store waiting for moms with their grocery orders and ask if they needed help carrying their groceries. On a Saturday (shopping day), you could make close to five bucks in tips carrying grocery bags into the Tasker Homes Projects down 29th Street.

I had an Inquirer route for about a month: 55 papers a day, slung in a bag over my shoulder. I couldn’t get the bag to stay on the handlebars of my old bike and still ride it, so I schlepped. The worst part was trying to collect every Saturday. Most people were OK, but there were always the “catch me next week” people who used the same line every week. And I got stuck for the bills.

Then, at 15, I moved up to the “big time,” a pseudo “real” job in a business establishment: Jerry’s Ice Cream Parlor at 28th and Dickinson, where I was a “soda jerk.” I made the best banana splits in the neighborhood. I got paid an hourly wage of 50 cents an hour and I had to wash Jerry’s car on Saturdays (unpaid). Jerry even took me to a Phillies game at Connie Mack Stadium and slipped the usher 50 cents to get us seats on the third base line. The job was indoors, out of the elements.

When I didn’t get the raise I had asked for, I got a job for the summer of ’65 in center city Philadelphia at a printing firm, one of those “friend of a friend” jobs that floated around in the world of nepotism that is Philadelphia. I packed a lunch and rode the subway, just like a real working man. I made cardboard boxes. I think I still hold the Philadelphia record for boxes made in an eight-hour shift.

When I returned to school that fall my brother got me a job at a corner grocery store his childhood friend Tony Cava had opened. The corner grocery store didn’t last long as supermarkets began to take over, so my next job was working with my brother at the butcher shop. I had no skills in butchering and didn’t look at it as something I would pursue, so I was back to delivering orders and “trimming pieces” of scrap meat for use in hamburger or the shop’s famous homemade sausage.

I rode a delivery bike in all kinds of weather all over South Philadelphia. There were no fenders on the bike, so the back tire wash would soak the back of my clothes in the rain. The job paid $10 a week and tips.

As graduation from high school approached, I began going to job interviews. I had a great interview at National Cash Register, which was on the cutting edge of technology that would change over the push button registers in supermarkets to a new system that would “look up” prices on a package. The interview was very positive and I was feeling good about my prospects when the interviewer asked, “What’s your draft status?” I gulped and honestly replied, “1-A.”

“Come back and see us when you get out.”

So I spent six months working as a “floor boy” at a large men’s store in center city Philadelphia at minimum wage before my rich Uncle Sam gave me a job opportunity: 24 hours a day, seven days a week, $49 every two weeks. I didn’t have to worry about a job for four years.

Job security.

Anthony DiSipio of Manahawkin is the author of Return Address: Atlantic Ocean, a collection of his SandPaper columns, some published and some that didn’t make the cut. He can be reached at adisipio@excite.com.



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