During my lifetime, I have had many jobs in many fields, mostly blue collar work.
Check out a map of all the places where I have worked.
My first paying job was at the age of 15, pumping gas at a small station in Annandale, Virginia. That lasted for about a week. The station didn't have enough customers to justify hiring a kid just to pump gas and clean windshields.
My second job was working for a moving company in Shirlington, Virginia during summer vacation when I was about 17. The first day out, they had me go out with the packers and I liked that. I've always been pretty good at organizing things into storage. The second day, they switched me to hauling heavy furniture and they didn't give me a break until about 1:00 in the afternoon. My legs were shaking from exhaustion and hunger. After that, they assigned me to the warehouse where I helped an old guy in repacking poorly packed boxes. I didn't particularly like having to fix other people's sloppy work. That position lasted the rest of the summer.
There are 3 things I remember from that summer. While I didn't understand it at the time, one of the moving men, a young fellow, was openly gay and the other guys were always teasing him about "wanting some" or "getting some". It wasn't until many years later that I realized what that was all about. The second thing I remember was watching the nearby Shirley Highway (now Interstate 395) being rebuilt and all the concrete walls being put up by large numbers of hard hat construction workers. Lastly, there was a small lunch hut (about 9 feet square) across the street, where the one and only cook made some of the best burgers I've ever tasted. What made them so good was he would cook about a hundred before lunch and then keep them in a bucket of hot grease until someone bought one. Then he would grab one with a pair of tongs and pull it out dripping grease and slap it on the bun. Tasted great, but I now cringe at the unhealthy amounts of fat I must have consumed. That moving job was one I never wanted to do again.
My next attempt was at the age of 19 when I tried working as a cook for a cafeteria style steake house in Springfield, Virginia. That one only lasted one day. After an interview, I was to report the next day at 7:00 am. The cook spent 10 minutes explaining everything to me then she quit. There were 4 other people working the line but I was the only cook. At 2:00 in the afternoon, the manager gave everybody else a break for lunch, all at the same time, and told me to run the entire line and be the cashier also. At 3:00 pm, after the evening cook came on duty, I was finally given a break for lunch. I had been working constantly for 8 hours without any break or anything to eat. I wan't going to put up with that kind of treatment of new employees so that was the end of that. The manager begged me to give it another try which I refused to do. I suspect the only reason he was begging was he was now without a day cook.
My next job was going to be my lifetime goal. I applied with the phone company, I wanted to be an installer. After about 6 months of calling almost every day, they finally came up with a job to stick me in. They said to report to the loading dock at Fern street in Alexandria, Virginia, and I would be working as a shopkeeper, whatever that was. They also told me that this job was designed to last about 6 months, after which they would move me out into the field as an installer or other cable worker. That job was interesting for a while, because I got to see literally every kind of device, type of telephone, piece of equipment and all sorts of gear the phone company worked with. I drooled over all the interesting types of phone sets that the average person never saw and wanted to have everything installed in my apartment. Only on the $1.60 an hour I was getting, which was a pretty good wage back then, I couldn't afford most of the unusual phone sets I wanted. 45 years later, the massive Bell System is no longer in existance, and all those neat phones are now available on eBay, thus my current hobby. After 2 years at that job, I was going nuts and had to quit. You can see much of my current phone collection in my telephone section of this website.
My next job was as a maintenance man with the apartment complex where I lived at the time. Fairlington apartments in Alexandria, Virginia. That complex is now all condos as they were converting them while I lived there. I enjoyed that job for about a year and earned about $1.50 an hour. In general that was a fun job and very convenient because I walked to work.
Then one day my mother called and told me she had a great job for me as a maintenance engineer at a church in DC. At this time I chose to move back home to my Father's so I was able to carpool with him to my work. He worked only about 5 blocks from the Church. When I got to work the first day I found they were only willing to pay me the same as I was getting at my previous job. It was a modern church, having been totally rebuilt just a few years earlier and the work seemed interesting, so I took it. After a few months, I came to realize they didn't want a maintenance engineer, they wanted a janitor and that was not the kind of work I was interested in. Not to mention that I had to drive to work and deal with taxes for 2 states. The one interesting thing that did come from that job was one of my duties was to open the church on Sunday afternoons for "The Gay Church of Washington". At the beginning, I didn't realize I was gay but before the job terminated I had come to understand why I was different. That job ended after about 6 months.
Then my Mother got me the only job she ever found for me where I actually fit. For a bit over a year I worked at a low income apartment complex called Spring Garden Apartments, on Rt 1, just south of Alexandria, Virginia. There were two workers, an old black gentleman who mainly picked up trash and me. This complex was owned by two black men, one of which was really great and caring. I never saw the other owner, he never came around the complex, but I learned that he was more prejudice of white people than any white I ever knew was against blacks. He was also very angry that I was spending 'his' money on repairs of the complex. When I first started, about 30% of the windows in the complex were either cracked or totally broken out. I set to work replacing them all. In attempts to get me to quit, he made sure I got some of the nastiest jobs he could come up with. During one point he had me cleaning out all the storm sewers in the complex. The sewers had never been cleaned and they were filled to the street level with sand, mud, broken glass and anything else that had been dropped on the streets.
You can get an idea that this place was about as close to a slum as you can get without actually being one. Eventually, when this guy ran out of nasty jobs to give me, he forced the other partner to fire me.
After being fired from that job I went through a number of months with no job. My sister convinced me to go see the theatre arts instructor at her High School. That turned out to be a good thing for me as I spent the next 5 years working at Lake Braddock Secondary School (grades 7-12) and having a ball. The instructor was fantastic and operated the theatre like it was a real production house. We produced around 20 shows each year and made enough money to build a 20 foot control console in the control booth. In 1979 that console was worth $1,000 a foot. The drawback was what salary they could pay me was very little and only covered the last year I worked there. For the first 4 years I was a volunteer.
Eventually I had to find a paying job and ended up as a stock clerk for a regional drug store chain called Dart Drug. That was a fun job. The manager, a Mr. Cal Doyle, gave me the electrical and plumbing aisles as well as quite a few others. Mister Doyle taught me how a retail store should be run and his teachings have followed me throughout all my careers since then, including website design. Mr Doyle used 3 key points to run his store. 1) content or stock. Without content a store (or a website) is of little value. In the case of the store, you can't sell what you don't have. 2) an efficiently run front end (the cash registers). If a customer has to wait in long lines and they have any other choice to shop at, they will switch to your competition. In website design, this relates to ease of navigation. If the visitor can't find it on your website, even adequate content is of little value. 3) make it pretty, and this is way down the list of priorities. Keep the store neat or pretty up your website. People will put up with a messy store or ugly website if they can find what they want easily and get out quickly.
After a few years, Mr. Doyle convinced me to apply for a job as one of the chain's maintenance personnel where he thought I was better suited. I worked for that department for about a year and was miserable. I had to use my own vehicle and drive all over the DC metro area. Once a week I would go into the central warehouse and pickup work orders. Then I was on my own for the week. Not once did my supervisor say anything encouraging, tell me I had done a good job, or even say hello to me. He didn't even smile. Then after about a year they tried to cut my compensation for the mileage and fuel I was putting into my car. They said they thought I was driving a pickup truck and when someone realized I was driving a car they cut my milage allowance. Between fuel, oil, general maintenance and wear and tear on the car, it was costing me twice what they were compensating me for. I asked Mr Doyle to take me back as a stock clerk and cashier and he agreed.
It was during this period that I became friends with another clerk in the store who was also a volunteer fireman with the McLean Volunteer Fire Department directly across the street from the drug store. He got me interested and I joined the department where I volunteered for about 4 years. You can view some slides I shot while there in my fire department gallery.
It was also during this time that someone had told me about a part time position opening up in the brand new Reston Community Center as the resident technical director in the theatre. At this time I was living in an apartment less than half a mile from the new Community center and the job was right up my line so I applied and was accepted. I continued working at Dart Drug part time. The technical director job paid 20 hours a week, but I spent between 40 to 80 hours each week there and loving every minute. Check out a newspaper article clipping on this page. That job lasted about a year before my supervisor decided to produce a show. She wanted me to design a lighting plan but she refused to tell me what she had in mind for staging her production. After a week of this frustration I quit and went back to the drug store full time.
During my volunteer work at Lake Braddock School, we had one show which was video recorded by an early local origination cable TV group. I became interested in the TV equipment and ended up volunteering for Reston Cable TV's Channel 8. That was allot of fun and I ended up volunteering at Channel 8 in the evenings and weekends for many years. I most enjoyed handling the portable camera during the local high school football games. We taped some games on Fridays then played them back on the cable on Saturday evening. When the County eventually built a high school in Reston, we were able to broadcast the football games live from there.
The reason for sticking the preeceding paragraph in at this point, deals with my next vocational move. One evening while sitting in the studio's playback room, the cable system's General Manager walked in and asked me if I would be interested in a job as a cable technician. I jumped at the opportunity. This was pretty close to being a telephone installer which I had wanted to do way back in 1972. He needed me to start the next Monday, so the next day when I got to work at the drug store, I told Mr. Doyle about the offer and he was overjoyed I had the opportunity to do what he thought I was best suited for so he practically shoved me out the door with a pat on the back, big smiles and wished me good luck. I wish I could thank him now for all he taught me those few years.
The next 5 years with the cable company were the most enjoyable paid work I have ever done. When I began working for the Reston cable system, it was owned by a joint venture of Warner communications and American Express, we were called Warner-AMEX cable.
The Reston cable system (originally called the Reston Transmission Company) was first built in 1970 and was a premier system of its day. It was the first of its kind in many ways. It was the first cable system ever built within a metropolitan area. It was the first cable system to design and install a reverse feed from each home back to the cable company, in the form of a 4 pair telephone style cable which could be used to supply some kind of customer feedback. They never ended up using it but that idea was the predicessor of all the cable features we now have such as cable internet and pay per view. At that time we didn't have a technology which would allow cable signals to go in both directions across the cable. "Upstream" cable technology didn't come into being until the early 1980s.
One problem which existed in those days on any cable system that was inside a metropolitan area where you might find live TV stations broadcasting over the air, was interference. TV sets in those days had no shielding of the antenna leads inside the set. Today's TVs are shielded internally to prevent extraneous signals from getting into or out of the set. Anyway, that problem meant that you can't use the same channel on the cable as any off air TV station in the area because they would interference with each other. In Washington DC we had off air channels of 4, 5, 7 and 9. So there were 4 unusable channels out of 12 giving us only 8 available channels. The technology of that area only allowed us to use channels 2 through 13 on a cable system. To give more cable channels they installed 2 cables throughout the system. We called them A and B. 'A' cable had the Washington DC stations as well as a couple of local origination cable channels. The 'B' cable carried the Baltimore stations, which were otherwise not available to the citizens of Reston.
Another first was the development of a TV studio for creating local origination programing. We had second-hand black and white television equipment obtained from some TV station, but it was a full professional studio. The designers bought a panel truck and customized the inside to house the control room and equipment so that made our station mobile so we could go to special events and tape or broadcast from there. Still another first was the instillations of a third cable, refereed as 'C' cable, feeding from all the shopping centers, library, schools and other important spots in the town, in a reverse direction back to the system's headend. This allowed for live broadcasting of events from any location accessible to the 'C' cable back into the system and out across our channel 8 service.
I was hired as part of the first major upgrade to the system where they were changing out all the amplifiers on the A cable and installing individual cable runs to each apartment in the town. This upgrade would allow the use of what was called the mid-band and hyper-band channels adding 28 channels to the system. Mid-band channels are located between TV channel 6 and 7, and hyper-band is above channel 13 on the old TV spectrum. This is when we added pay movies such as HBO along with many other channels. After the upgrade was complete, I became a service tech, troubleshooting customer problems. I love helping people and teaching during the process.
It was during my time at the cable company that my father died after which I came out of the closet and shortly after met my life partner Tom in 1983.
I continued with Warner cable for several more years until there was some issue that came up with corporate where they were accusing the general manager of stealing some 30 miles of expensive coaxal cable for a private system he had built in West Virginia. I knew him quite well and didn't believe he would have done such a thing. In my opinion corporate had found some paperwork errors they couldn't explain occuring way back before they bought the system, so they weere accusing our manager, who had been with the system since its inception in 1970. I think the manager had used the same kind of cable because that was what had been used in Reston. Anyway, he was forced out and he was replaced by two women who I am to this day convinced were dyke partners (lesbians). One was the general manager the other the office manager.
They immediatly started implementing new policies. We had problems retrieving converters from houses when people moved out. She put in place a rule that if we didn't retrieve the converter we were responsible for paying for it. How they expected us to retrieve something from a locked empty house where the customer had moved and taken the converter with them was beyond us. That rule lasted a week.
Each morning when we reported to work, our supervisor would give us our daily work orders. We would sort them in an order which allowed us to drive around town in an efficient manner having to drive the least distance between jobs. We always checked to see if any of them had asked for first job of the day, or between certain hours etc, and included that request in the sort. Unless something unusual cropped up, we could normally clear out a work order every 30 to 45 minutes. It was an extremely rare day that we didn't get all our work orders done by 5:00 pm.
The new manager decided we wern't doing enough work so the order came in that we were only to be given 1 work order in the morning. When we finished that order we would radio in to get our second order and so on. Reston is split into 3 basic areas. North, central and south. Between the central and south sections is the Dulles access highway, a multi lane interstate style highway. At that time there were only two bridges across the Dulles highway. And one of them was a string of traffic lights. Before this change, we would always organize our work orders to deal with all the jobs on either the south or central sections of town in the morning, and do the other side in the afternoon. When the new rule went into effect, almost every other work order we were given over the radio was on the opposite side of town from the one we had just finished. This increased our travel time between average jobs from 3 to 5 minutes, to 20 to 30 minutes each.
By the end of the first week we were running 3 days behind on work orders. By the middle of the second week we were 4 days behind and on Thursday of the second week, the office quit answering our radio calls to give us new orders. So all 6 of us technicians spent the entire day sitting in our trucks with no work orders to do. I don't know for sure but I suspect they were on the phone constantly trying to deal with irate customers. The 3rd week we went back to the way we had been doing it for years. It took us 4 weeks to catch up on all the backlogged orders, not to mention us technicians having to deal with all the irate customers, only a few of which understood our problem.
It was about this time that I was coming down our stairs at home barefoot, when I slipped and my left foot caught several banister poles on the way down breaking several toes and putting me on crutches for several weeks. A couple of years earlier I had been in a motorcycle accident breaking both hands. Back then, after being bored for several days, I went into the office and manned a telephone answering and troubleshooting customer technical issues. I was able to help about 25% of the customers over the phone which saved a huge number of service calls and made everyone happy. I offered to do the same thing on this occasion. Once I got into the office with my crutches, I was waiting to find a phone to occupy when the office manager come out of her office, picked up a phone near me, called someone and started a conversation. She had a work order in her hand and, while continuing to talk on the phone asked me why I hadn't done this work order. I looked at it and it had one of the other technicians name on it. I said it wasn't my work order so I didn't know why it wasn't done. She started arguing with me telling me it was my work order, even though I pointed out the other person's name. She then went into a ranting rage at me demanding an answer as to why I didn't finish this order.
With the last 2 months having been work hell, I had had enough, I quit right there and walked out. She came out to my truck and begged me to stay but I was so angry and upset I went ahead and resigned. The headaches they had put us all through the last few months was not worth the pain. Later I found out that within 6 months everybody at that company had quit, even those who were close to retirement.
After a couple of months without work, a fellow I knew asked me if I would be interested in a job with the Reston Homeowners Association, RHOA (later renamed Reston Association, RA). It seems that they had recently purchased a used VAX-11-750 mini-computer. W. The company they had hired to install the wiring had done a terrible job with the connectors which kept failing. My job, among other stuff, was to figure out if a problem was caused by the cabling, then solder the connectors if needed replacing the crimp connections the contractor had installed. My friend didn't know how to solder small wires but he knew that I did. I was hired. My job also encompassed being an electrician responsible for several hundred street lights belonging to the association as well as pedestrian underpass lighting. If you walk any of the underpasses in Reston today, you can still see part of my work on the lights. When I started, a frequent problem was vandalism of the Plexiglass covers on the fixtures. We did some research and bought 5, 4x8 sheets of Lexan, an almost unbreakable plastic, and built the covers that are still in use today 25 years later. I was also the locksmith, plumber, and responsible for miscellaneous other jobs.
I found out rather quickly that if a problem developed with the computer I needed to be able to decide if the problem was with the wiring or in the software. So I ended up learning some basics of VMS, the programing language the system used. That knowledge also placed me in the position of being the company general IT person which also gave me an office in the building. You can read an article on my work with that computer in the company newsletter on this page.
I resigned after a couple of years so my partner and I could take our 2 year trailering sabbatical. That job was the last paying job I had.
After we finished our 2 year trip and settled down in Clifton, Virginia, I planed on starting a home business of editing VHS tapes using my professional VHS editing decks. However, in late 1990, we discovered I had full blown AIDS and I officially retired. Well... we only expected me to live 6 months at the time.
Approximately 6 months later, we realized I was going to live a bit longer and needed something to do to keep me occupied. During our 2 years traveling, we had visited many of the National Park sites across our nation. We had heard much about the Park Service's Harpers Ferry Center, where many of the films, museum displays, books and pamphlets one sees in the parks are created. Harpers Ferry Center also works with many parks who find outside companies to develop their museums and films. I decided that Harpers Ferry Center would be a great place to volunteer if I could find a position. They are not use to having volunteers at the center. The volunteer coordinator at Harpers Ferry found me a spot in the AV department. I spent a little over a year volunteering there, mostly dubbing video tapes to replace worn out ones at the parks. I got to spend many hours watching some great presentations. It was almost like visiting a different park each day.
Eventually the 100 mile round trip became too much so I looked for someplace closer. I ended up at Manassas National Battlefield Park, just 11 miles from home. I was accepted as a computer specialist and started off working on improving the performance and organization of the few computers the park had at that time. I developed a system I refereed to as trickle down. New computers were parched each year. Usually the people who were on their computer throughout most of the day were the ones receiving the new machines. When someone received a new computer, their old machine was wiped clean, reformatting the hard drive, and all the software was reloaded onto it. Then that machine went to someone a bit down the line. That gave the next person an upgrade, and if that computer was still good enough, it would be rebuilt and trickled down to the next person. After several years of this process, every employee in the park, except one who didn't want one, had their own computer, something that no other park in the system had at that time.
On April 25, 1995, I took in my new notebook computer to show the folks in the office this new thing called the Internet. I was explaining how domain names worked and was surprised when I pulled up the National Park Service's website. I found out the next day that the site had only been online for 2 days, which was why I was surprised. The website was basically just a single page containing a scan of the cover of the Yosimite brochure, a little about the National Park Service and an email address for the webmaster.
I sent an email to the webmaster telling them this was great, but you need more information. I mentioned I was a volunteer at one of the parks and he wrote back asking, "How would you like to get your park online?". That's when I found out I needed to learn something called html which I had never heard of before. I went down to my favorite computer store and asked the sales clerk what they had for html. Most of what was available was in books, but they had just gotten in a plugin for Microsoft Word which would allow you to save a Word document as a html page. That plugin cost $100. When I got home and tried it out I found my copy of Word was illegal, so I had to go buy a copy of Word, another $100. It worked. But within a few hours I realized it wasn't doing what I wanted it to do. I needed to know what was going on in the background.
A few days later I found the software program HomeSite version 2.0. It was a shareware program and it cost $35. I still use HomeSite for all my web development but I now use version 5.5 even though its last update was way back in 2004. The original version of this page which I am replacing now (December 29, 2013) was written with HomeSite 3.2. HomeSite went through a series of owners ending up with Adobe who never did any further development of it except to raise the price to $100. When Windows Vista came out, HomeSite didn't work in Vista. Instead of fixing it, Adobe discontinued the application and it is no longer available. The truth was that Adobe wasn't interested in HomeSite. They had acquired it when they absorbed Macromedia, the creators of Flash, which was what Adobe wanted. Adobe saw HomeSite as a competitor to their $800 Dreamweaver software, which they had also absorbed along with another company they purchased.
After a couple of months learning code and developing content, my first web page for the Park went live on July 18, 1995. This was the very first page for an individual National Park site to be posted and was less than 4 years after the first website ever to come on line. This was just a couple of days before I passed the 2,000 hour mark working at Manassas.
I spent the next 4 years as webmaster for Manassas National Battlefield Park. The site I developed for them is no longer available on the Park Service's website but I have posted most it on one of my sites http://nps-vip.net.
In January of 1997, for the work I had done on their website and with their computers, the Park Service made me an Honorary Park Ranger, the highest civilian award the Park Service can give.
Up until that time, there had been only 120 of these awards given in the history of the National Park Service.
A few of the other recipients have been...
First Lady Barbara Bush
President Bill Clinton
First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson
Hank Williams Jr.
President John F. Kennedy
John D. Rockefeller Jr.
I believe I was the first mon-famous person to receive the Honorary Park Ranger award.
Around the beginning of November of 99, my supervisor suddenly told me I could no longer work at home. I had been working at home ever since I started with them 6 years before. I had superior equipment at home and some equipment that the park didn't have. When I asked why, I was told "According to the Park Service policy on volunteers, I was to be treated just like an employee, and employees can't work at home so neither can you."
During the second week in November, I suddenly found my key to the office didn't work any more. No one had bothered to come to me and change my key. When I approached my supervisor about it, she said "you're not getting a key, you are a volunteer not an employee and volunteers can't have keys."
A week later we were called together for a Y2K meeting. Y2K (Year Two Thousand) was a major concern that when the year 2000 came we could have all kinds of computer problems because many systems only used the last 2 digits of the year to operate. Well I had been in charge of making sure the computers were up to date so I showed up. My supervisor told me "we're only going to talk about imbedded chips, not computers, so you don't need to be here". I started to get up and leave, when the person in charge of the meeting said "yes we are going to talk about computers" so I stayed. The next day, my supervisor told me "I was not to come to any more meetings unless invited". I found out she had been embarrassed when someone at the meeting asked her why a volunteer was in charge of a mission critical function.
The last time I was told not to attend meetings I hadn't been invited to, all hell broke loose as major computer problems began to crop up, when network components were unplugged by contractors during building renovations. If I had been at the meeting, I would have been able to warn the contractors about the network power requirements and the network may not have crashed. Of course I was the one who had to fix all the resulting problems.
I could deal with any one of these things by themselves, but all of them coming at the same time was effecting my health. I came down with the shingles and it took 4 months to get rid of them. After 6 years and almost 8,000 hours of volunteer time at Manassas, I was forced to quit. I found out later that I was also suffering from sleep deprivation which was not helping matters either.
A few months later a good friend asked me if I would build a website for his non-profit organization, The Friends of Manassas National Battlefield. I was happy to have something useful to do again so I accepted. That was the beginning of my web design career for non-profits. Since 1999, I have worked on over 45 different websites. For a listing of current and past websites, check out my links page.