An American Life
My American experience was a brief but enjoyable one…
…peppered with curious encounters, lovers tiffs and no fewer than 6 different jobs, some of which I was juggling simultaneously.
Before the age of digital application forms and workers rights it was a lot easier for a British immigrant on a holiday visa to pick up work, especially if they had an enjoyable novel accent and a loveable mop of hair.
Kitchen Porter for Big Joe’s Burger Shack
I was disappointed to discover on my first shift at Big Joe’s Burger Shack that there was no ‘Big Joe’ in residence. The name had been devised by a team of marketing types at the behest of the initial investors. Despite it’s disarming name, this restaurant was a rather corporate affair, yet it also happened to be one of my most enjoyable places to work. The staff were all my age and no one minded the demeaning uniforms as long as they got paid on time.
Jobbing Caricature Artist
I was disappointed that my art skills couldn’t procure me a job in San Francisco as easily as it did in London, however, I noticed that a number of caricature artists were doing good businesses on the busy tourist-packed streets. I picked up a few basic supplies from a cheap art shop and was able to find a secluded spot to make a quick buck whenever I had a free day, I always enjoyed meeting the happy tourists who were a little confused as to why an Englishman was drawing them.
Sign Spinning Promoter
I never day-dreamed as much as I did when I was spinning that sign in Japantown. I was told by the kindly owner of the noodle shop that I was a natural which I found amusing considering that I was half-baked most of the time. During that Summer I must’ve spent 80 hours or so pointing folks in the direction of Tanaka’s Noodle Shop and I slowly perfected a number of bizarre dance moves which I used to usher tourists to a bowl of perfectly good Japanese food. My one regret is never trying a bowl for myself.
Bus Boy at Darlene’s
Darlene’s was the kind of place that was ripped straight from a pulp fiction novel from the 50s. Cigarette smoke hung at eye-line in a dingy drinking saloon which always felt like it was stuck in a perpetual night-time whatever the time of day it was. I never got to know many people in this job, I was paid in grubby dollar bills at the end of my shift and spent an hour in the shower each night trying to scrub away the stench of stale beer and cheap tobacco.
Usher at East Avenue Drive-In
1974 was a particularly good year for American cinema. Such hits as the The Godfather II, Blazing Saddles and the San Franciso set Chinatown kept audiences so enthralled that I rarely had to keep order during the shows, giving me ample time to soak up the balmy evening air and some excellent movies. My favourite film of the Summer was The Conversation, making me briefly consider moving to New York before I learned how expensive it was to live there.
Sideshow Performer for Golden Gate Park
I’d learned to juggle when I was a kid but I never thought that it would be a skill that would earn me money later in life. After bumming around the Golden Gate Park during lazy Summer days, I noticed that a few slapdash clowns were picking up the odd buck bumbling around the green spaces and I figured this was a gig that I could get in on. One trip to a budget costume shop equipped me with everything I needed and soon I was picking up lunch money tumbling and juggling fruit…