My First Taste of California

When I was in college, the spring of my sophomore year, I saw a poster for a summer job – “Earn $3000 in just three months.” Back in 1975, that was a lot of money.

I went to the evening meeting on campus and found myself in a room with a dozen other “applicants.”

After the two guys gave their pitch, they started closing the deal with the twelve of us, beginning with the most enthusiastic one. I was dead last. I watched student after student sign up to go to Nashville for a week of training, only to be shipped to another state for twelve-hour days of door-to-door book selling.

It was a pyramid scheme, of sorts, but I didn’t know it at the time. Each student the two guys brought with them into the field would be another source of income for them. In other words, they got a tiny commission for each book any of their recruits sold.

A couple of people had walked out of the meeting, but I was too much of a chicken to do that. In the end, I wanted to go back to my dorm room and go to bed, so I signed the contract, stating that I would go to Nashville and then sell books door to door.

There were a couple more meetings for us recruits. That’s where I met Elaine, a year behind me at ISU. We became fast friends. But Elaine had a car to bring, and I didn’t, so I was assigned a different roommate and a different town. The sales manager led the caravan to the Bay Area.  He went to churches and asked about little old ladies who could rent us rooms on the cheap. The Southwestern Company also sold Bibles, so the manager had an in with the church ladies.

I sold glorifed dictionaries, a two-volume set to help students witih every subject. It was a concise, complete set, blah, blah blah. I don’t know why I did well, but I did.

Maybe it was the red hot pants that I wore, or the quick smile I would give to anyone who opened the door to me. I entered lots of strange homes and gave my pitch to anyone who would listen. People gave me good checks, bad checks, cash, and IOUs for the books, which would be delivered at summer’s end.

I walked off several pounds that summer. People offered me drinks and food and even let me use their bathrooms. Some of the houses were absolutely disgusting. Some people thought I was casing the joint for a later robbery. I asked to park my bike at one woman’s house for the day, and she turned it into the police station. When I got back at 8:00 at night, she told me what she’d done, and I started crying.

“How am I supposed to get home?”

Her husband drove me to the police station, and the police drove me back to the little old lady’s house, since it was dark by then.

While my girlfriends were relaxing, living with their parents, doing 9 to 5 jobs and meeting guys and dating them, I was schlepping my sample case across wet lawns, rock gardens, and cement. I learned how to rattle a gate before I opened it so as not to startle large dogs that might come running. I put my foot up against screen doors in case scary dogs came running to the door when I rang the bell.

I learned how to fend off perverts while wearing my red shortie shorts.. One old man answered the door and reached out his hands to grab me. I ran away from that house.

We gathered on Sundays for the big rah-rah-we-can-do-it meetings, then ate a huge buffet, paid for by the sales manager. He got us to Yosemite, Big Sur, and San Francisco. I was in love with California. I knew someday I’d be back.

It took ten more years, but I got to San Diego when future husband took a job there, and then to the Bay Area, when he got transferred.

I’m meeting my East-coast daughter in Newark tomorrow for lunch before she and hubby go to a wedding. Newark, CA, that’s where a woman turned me into the police for speaking to her children as they played in the street.

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