Saturday, June 18, 2005

The college days…

I returned to college in 1979. I hadn’t really spent much time there prior to that. Oh, I did the requisite segue from High School to college. Initially I attended Mohawk Valley Community College with a major in electrical technology. With my astute reasoning powers of the day I deduced that since I’d been building all sorts of things electrical in high school, like band lighting systems and recovering TV’s and radios from the dump, I be a natural for that career.

As you all know, it didn’t turn out that way. I was terminally bored, and found the seemingly endless party opportunities far more interesting. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, it was more a case of I was ahead of the class in enough areas that I convinced myself I didn’t need to study. Needless to say I was wrong. So after two rather mediocre semesters I dropped out.

Naturally in my perfect reasoning I’d deduced that the troubles in Vietnam would long be over before I’d have anything to worry about… wrong again…

So after a summer spent in blissful enjoyment and losing two jobs in the process I enlisted.

When I got back home from my military service in 1973 I initially filed for unemployment, and signed up at Herkimer County Community College in their business curriculum. Now I figured I had it made, no real job, and with unemployment and GI Bill money coming in I’d be living the good life. That lasted all of about 1 semester.

Near the end of that fall semester I got a job offer to be an assistant parts buyer for a chain of auto parts stores. Pretty cool gig for a 21 year old, whose main interest, other than women, was cars. On top of that they offered me the incredible (to me, in 1973) annual salary of $9,600/year!! Once again I went for the cash; school was something “I” didn’t need!

Several job changes and a small business later I found myself working at that Dodge dealership after I closed up the garage. The job was fine, but let me tell you something, once you’ve worked for yourself, it’s very, very, hard to work as an employee again. I just wasn’t happy.

By the holidays that year I knew I needed to make a change, to do something different. College seemed like the right plan at this particular time. So I investigated, found I still had quite a bit of GI Bill left, was eligible for student loans, and could complete my associates degree in about a year if I took an ‘overload’ and a summer class or two.

So I went back to school. I was 27 then, nearly a decade older than my fellow students, but I seemed to fit in, and got busy.

That first year, I just went to school, concentrated on classes and did the odd weekend job to make gas and book money. Most of the rest of my income was replaced by the GI Bill checks and the loans (I wasn’t making all that much back then).

As that year came to a close, I made the decision to continue and see if I could get through the next two years and get my Bachelors degree.

I can remember being very nervous as I headed into that first year at SUNY College of Technology, not knowing if I could ‘cut it’, if the money, or my resolve, would hold out.

It turned out to be an incredible time for me. I was doing well in school. Learning, it turned out was not that hard once I found something I was interested in! I was majoring in Business Administration and working on ‘concentrations’ (their term for a minor) in Accounting and Finance, I was soaking up this information like a sponge. The classes were fun and the fact that I was getting very good grades was even more fun!

But, like with most things in life, money seemed to be in ever shorter supply. Gas prices were rising, and ‘Bertha’ was not exactly a gas miser type of vehicle. That 80 mile round trip commute was quickly cutting into the allocated funds.

So I started picking up jobs, where ever I could, to put some dollars back in the household ‘pot’.

I worked that Winter break on a firewood crew, for Don Templar. We’d hit the wood lot at day break and work until dark, every day. Back breaking work, as another fellow and I drove the wood wagon into the woods, loaded the cut ‘rounds’ by hand, drove it back to the staging area, unloaded it, again by hand and repeated the trip. The two of us attempting to keep pace with the guys on the chainsaws, all day, every day, from dawn ‘til dusk, one break in the morning, a half hour for lunch, one break in the afternoon.

I remember it would be so cold in the mornings, often 15, 20 or more degrees below zero, without the wind chill, and I’d have on thermal underwear, two layers of clothes, a down vest, and a jacket. By morning break I’d be down to the vest, by lunch to just my two layers of clothes, by afternoon break to one layer, and often just that thermal shirt on top.

But it was good, honest hard work, and Don paid me a fair wage, at a time I really needed it.

After the break, I landed a job as the advertising manager for an automotive chain store. I knew the guy was paying me about half what the job was worth, but, he was letting me work around my school schedule, and I could do some work from home evenings and weekends (my first ‘telecommute gig). For a while at least, then he began to think I was ‘cheating’ him on my hours, we had a rather heated discussion at the end of which I told him I would never take any work home again. That later backfired on him, but that’s another story.

As spring was ending and summer approached, my neighbor Mitch and I were talking one day and it turned out one of the guys he worked with wanted to get his car painted.

Well, in less than 10 minutes we’d worked out a deal, and decided we’d paint a few cars in his garage that summer. We painted more than a few, between one and two a week, for the whole summer, until it got too cold in the fall to do any more. I actually made more money doing that, with Mitch, than I did at the ‘regular’ job. I sometimes think we should have just opened up a legitimate shop, but, then I realize it would have taken the fun out of it!

I look back on these times, with great fondness. I know I was struggling financially, and the mental strain of it all was sometimes more than I thought I could bear. These ‘car painting’ days with Mitch however were always fun.

This post, was primarily a lead up to one about our adventures in his garage that, and the subsequent summer. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you’ve enjoyed the other ‘memories’ posts, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy the next one on Monday as well!

Thanks again for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts and comments before you go!


Spirit Of Owl said...

LOL I went back to college late on, after my stint as a rockstar fizzled out. :) A lot of the students were younger than me, but I certainly wasn't the only mature student there!

Student poverty is one thing for young adults, but for older students with families it is a terrible and unjust thing to endure. Sure further and higher education is a priviledge, but it shouldn't be reserved for the priviledged.

Still, clearly the tribulations make for good stories, eh? Maybe you'll get recompense by selling a few in story form. ;)

Thanks for another great post Bill.

Bill said...

Spirit of Owl: Thanks... both for the 'witness' to the challenges, and for your wishes that soemone, someday, pay me for a few of the stories!!

I know it all made me stronger, and in the end, prepared me for what was to come down the line.

I wouldn't change a thing :)

Firehawk said...


I'm just glad I got my college experience in the 90's, when it was still fairly easy to raise the money for a state school. Tuition has steadily increased while grant money has been cut in the years since. I was able to have a fairly easy time of it, without piling up a giant debt (finally paid off, thank you very much). If I'd faced the same proposition today, it's clear that I'd have to hustle a lot harder for the money.

I think most of what I learned at college wasn't in class. The classes were just "hints" of where I could go with my thoughts. My main trouble wasn't student poverty, but the barrens beyond the diploma. Making an English degree pay isn't an easy thing. My dreams of being a bestselling author have proven more difficult than I initially anticipated.

Another good post, Bill. Keep 'em coming.

Master of None said...

I'm always impressed by people who have the determination to go back to school. I did mine in cookie cutter fashion, 4 years for undergrad, 1 full year for a masters degree. Looking forward to Monday.

Bill said...

Firehawk, I didn't learn until much later that what I really learned in school, was how to learn. How to let my mind take to answers I didn't know I had. I too have paid off all the bills, and frankly, they were worth every penny.

For what it's worth, my dream of becoming a marketing superstar didn't quite pan out either :)

Master of None: and I've always been impressed by those folks who just 'did it' straight out. The one regret I have about school is that I gave up before I finished my Masters. I only had three courses left, but time, and money had become too short. When I found the time to go back, eight years had passed and I would have had to start all over.

THanks again for stopping by, and sharing your thoughts.

Comfort Addict said...

I went to college right after high school and got Bachelor's and Master's degrees in music. I tried music for several years with varying degrees of success. In 1986 (yes, it was a girlfriend who wanted me to get a "real" job), I decided to go back to school.

The school was the old Control Data Institute. It was a six-month crash course, 7 - 4, Monday through Friday, in computer programming. Everyone there was in a situation similar to mine and very serious about their studies.

When I got done, I got my first job in IT. Nearly 20 years later, I'm still doing it. However, I still perform music professionally. I don't consider any of my music education wasted. In fact, I find that many computer people I know were first musicians!

Thanks for this post.

Karyn Lyndon said...

Gee, I'm glad I waited till Monday to read I don't have to wait for the end...

Bill said...

Hi Karyn... no you don't :)

In fact I just finished posting it!