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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My First Job


I went back to Denver at the end of July to attend my 50th high school reunion. I drove by the places of my youth which included this group of buildings located at the corner of 44th and Yates Street. I started working there in 1960 at age 14 and stayed until the 1965. Back then this was known as LOOK FURNITURE STORE.  This was my first job.
This area is located at the northwest corner of Denver near the famous Lakeside Amusement Park and former Lakeside Speedway. The old Denver Tramway crossed over Cherry Creek and made its way eventually heading north on Yates Street where it jogged two blocks west and ended at Lakeside Park at 46th and Sheridan. This was the end of the line and also the end of  Denver until just after World War II when the western suburbs began to emerge just west of Sheridan Boulevard. Before the War and even afterward to some extent, many people did not have cars. They relied on their feet and public transportation like the Denver Tramway. Little neighborhood convenience stores and theaters were the forerunners of shopping centers that popped up in the 1950s. The corner building (top photo) was originally a drug store. The gray monster to the right used to be the Coronet Theater.  The buildings that front onto Yates Street were small stores. 
Denver Tramway car at 40th and Yates C. 1910
Danny Ferguson was the owner of Look Furniture.  He created doorway passages between the buildings to interconnect the separate spaces into one very large retail space. The main entry was in the middle on Yates Street. It looks like a subsequent owner removed the doorway passages and turned the spaces and buildings into separate entities. The former main entry (below) is now an abandoned showroom of some sort. Most of the other store fronts appeared abandoned.
One of the buildings on the Yates Street was where we sold new and used appliances. In addition to helping load and unload furniture, I would dust the furniture, mop the floors, and clean used appliances so that they would look clean for resale. I got pretty good at it. When I turned 16 I got to help deliver furniture. My pay went from fifty cents and hour to a dollar an hour. I saved my earnings and used them to pay for my trip to Europe in the summer of 1963 where I got to see President Kennedy in Berlin and to run through the cobblestone streets of Salzburg Austria on a rainy Saturday night. I worked for below minimum wage. But I worked and I learned the value of money and of saving. I paid my way through college and law school. I did not do a lot of the things other kids my age did. There is a trade-off for that. Looking back I don't know if I made the right choices. But I can't change the choices I made. 

In August 1964 I had to drive a big truck to downtown Denver to deliver furniture. I had to go past the corner of Colfax at Broadway. That was a mistake. The BEATLES were staying at the Brown Palace Hotel about two blocks away. I got caught up in traffic hell. There streets were flooded with girls. Traffic was stopped in all directions. I found one photo that shows the chaos around the hotel and another that shows the crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheater located about 12 miles away at the foot of the Rockies. These photos show the way girls wore their hair back in the mid 1960s. They all looked alike.  This July when I walked into the registration at my reunion, the women all had gray hair or white hair. One woman was in a walker. You have no idea how depressed that made me feel. No way whatsoever - unless, like me, you are over 65.
I remember one day at work when I was 14 or 15. An engineer who worked at Martin Marietta had a part time job as a furniture salesman.  He was probably in his very early 40s was maybe 5'9 to 5'10. He had two sons: one my age and a younger boy. He always wore his short sleeve dress shirts with the cuff rolled up just one furl to show off his muscles. Even engineers do it.  I’m no big guy. I was maybe 5′7″ then. He was standing at the sales counter when he challenged me to arm wrestle him. I was on one side and he was on the other. We locked palms. We struggled but I won.I put him down like the engineer he was. He was so mad. I could see it in his red face. His eyes looked like he would explode. I didn’t make a big deal about beating an adult. But I loved it. 
Formerly Look Furniture Store
The movie theater was where we displayed used furniture. I remember parking a truck in the alley where we could carry newly acquired used furniture to place on the theater floors that still slanted down toward the stage. The owner hired an upholsterer who set up his re-upholstery shop on the stage. His job was to recover old sofas and chairs to give them new life. America was not as quick to throw away furniture as quickly in the 1960s as it is today. Of course, furniture back then was made in America had an inherent quality that lasted longer than much of the cheap stuff we get from Mexico and Asia today. (I gotta agree the Great Orange Man on that.)

I remember one time when I helped unload a new batch of old furniture that was either a trade in or that the company bought for resale.I opened an old chest of drawers and found a folio of pencil drawings that were made in a prisoner of war camp.  I assume the camp was in Germany because all the signs were written in German and that the prisoners were Americans and allies. The pictures showed daily life in the camp including a ‘delousing’ station where men took showers. Other pics showed sleeping and eating places. I kept the folio and looked at it periodically over the years. I stored in the basement of my first house together with boxes of photos. (Yes, I really do have boxes and boxes of photos.) I went to retrieve the folio one time only to discover it missing. I assume it was taken by a young guy I rented an apartment in the third floor of my house.  He did not have access to my house, but he had access to the basement where he could use the washer and dryer. In retrospect I should have told somebody about the pencil drawings when I first found them. They were something totally unique and probably very important to the person who brought them back from the war. Maybe the tenant's larceny was payback for mine. 
When I was 16 a recent returnee from the Army went to work at the store as a truck driver. He was probably in his early 20s. Anyone older than me was "old". I respected "old" because I was brought up that way. Except on this day I was a brat. I was up in the movie theater projection booth.  I heard him walking up the narrow stairs. The space was very small. The stairway was not lighted as I recall. The projection room was dimly lit. When he walked in I spooked him. He cried out “Oh Shit!”  He almost hit me. He should have.

Looking back maybe my first job was a pretty good thing for me despite the fact that I missed out on a lot of things kids my age got to do. I learned the value of hard work. I mean that. I learned the value of saving money.  I remember envying this studly Italian boy who lived across the hall from me in my college dormitory. He had a new car and all kinds of spending money. His dad and brother were lawyers. He became one too. Looks and wealth run in some families. Not in mine, however.  I did okay, though. I became a lawyer in a western Denver suburb not far from Lakeside Park. That was a long time ago. Today I live in Key West and I sell real estate. I still have all of my own hair even if it is gray. I can't beat a 14 year old at arm wrestling and I know enough not to try. I do pretty good at negotiating deals for my buyers and sellers, however.

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Key West, Florida, United States
I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.