It's the day of rest, for many. It's a day spent around a smoking grill or on the beach with friends and family. It's the day the American worker is applauded. This year, we celebrate Labor Day by collecting stories about the best and worst jobs held. Click here to tell us about your worst job ever.
What follows are stories about Sun Sentinel reporters' life lessons learned from the not-so-great jobs had.
Pretty much every night, Bob and I would take cups of bad coffee outside to chat, and, in Bob's case, suck on a Lucky Strike, the only thing that seemed to soothe the old guy's gravelly cough.
We'd lean against the grim, low-slung gray building, near Texas Avenue in Texas City, Texas, and trade stories over the din of our neighbors, a seemingly endless stretch of steam-draped lights, pipes, valves, turrets and towers, some topped by enormous open flames that belched great columns of pungent smoke into the dark sky.
Corporate logos burned through the haze on some of the towers at the petrochemical refineries about a quarter-mile away: Union Carbide, Marathon, Amoco. They were fat, and beloved for the largesse they poured into the city, and could be forgiven by most for their often eye-stinging flatulence.
"Smells like cinnamon rolls," said a passing co-worker and longtime resident, cheerfully. She continued, sternly, as if to disinfect whatever protest we might muster: "And money."
This was part of the day-to-day at the Texas City Sun newspaper, a scrappy daily that covered northern Galveston County.
I was 23, not far removed from college, about 30 miles away in Houston, and just learning the ropes of a vocation that had been in my family for three prior generations. Bob was a native of Mississippi who had been drawn to town by the Texas City Disaster, the 1947 explosion at the Port of Texas City that killed nearly 600 people.
"I heard where they needed help picking up body parts, so that's what I did," Bob would relate.
Periodically the refinery warning sirens would cut through the Dickensian gloom, but my thoughts of danger and potential health risks gradually faded.
Once, a crane accident at Marathon caused the release of tons of corrosive liquid hydrogen fluoride into the air. Thousands of people were evacuated.
"Y'all gotta go," said a Texas City cop who poked his head into the newsroom well before deadline that night, allowing a particularly piercing burst of gaseousness to enter. We thanked him, turned off the AC, drew the blinds and went back to work. The people would need a story the next day.
As the new guy I got exposed to many different kinds of stories:
Arrest reports at the "cop shop" revealed to me many new ways that humans can harm, abuse, demean and destroy each other.
I would sit a few seats away from a mother as she listened to the murderer of her son describe the youngster's final moments, while across the courtroom another moist-eyed mother watched her son, so close, yet gone forever to a world of psychosis and, soon, prison.
I had to ask a mother of two small sons if her straight-arrow husband might have been drinking a couple of nights prior, when the young coach of the local state-playoff-bound high school football team ran his car into the back of a truck on the freeway, killing him. Toxicology reports, which took longer back then, indicated he just fell asleep.
It was an uncomfortable place and an uncomfortable job. But that's the job. And it's how you learn. It that sense it was the best of times amid the worst of times.
Let Ben Crandell help you plan your week. Get the scoop on where to have fun with the boys, the girls or the kids at Go Guide.
By Rod Stafford Hagwood, fashion columnist
My worse job was when I worked at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in Nashville Tennessee. Even though I was entering my senior year in high school, my boss gave me tons and tons of responsibility in the box-office. This was the summer of 1980 when TPAC was just opening and there was considerable chaos.
I worked non-stop without a break for weeks and weeks, often staying well past midnight to make sure everything went smoothly for the opening. A few weeks after the opening gala I asked for one day off so I could go to a family event. Even though I got approval well in advance, my boss forgot and hit the roof when he found out.
He fired me over the telephone through his secretary.
To this day it is the only job I have ever been fired from. And to this day my family and friends do not go to TPAC.
If your life is like a fashion runway, follow Rod Stafford Hagwood's blog for South Florida fashion events, store openings and trends.
By Ken Kaye, weather/aviation reporter
My worst job -- because it was my toughest -- was being a busboy at the Olive & Grape, the restaurant at a Sheraton Hotel in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.
This is excluding the one hour (literally) I spent as a phone solicitor for a Wisconsin real estate company before walking off the job out of frustration and boredom.
Anyway, the Olive & Grape was a nice restaurant that not only served hotel guests but also drew patrons from the surrounding area. In other words, it was constantly busy.
I worked there during the summer after I graduated high school, back when Nixon was president. Talk about grueling. For starters, I had to clock in at 7 a.m., a nightmarish hour for a night-owl teen-ager.
Then the work itself was incredibly tedious. It involved busing tables; setting up tables; carrying huge, heavy trays stacked with dirty dishes to the kitchen; pouring coffee and water and doing whatever else the waitresses needed -- and that was a lot.
Additionally, I was required to run room service calls and roam around the hotel, hunting for dirty room service trays.
The hardest part was prioritizing -- because I constantly had at least five urgent tasks to do. Forget to provide the guy at that table over there with his coffee, and he's ticked. Forget to butter the toast for a waitress, and she's shouting.
The next hardest part was repeatedly walking from the restaurant area, which was filled with tantalizing aromas, to the kitchen, which smelled generally of dirty dishwater.
By the end of the day, about 2 p.m., I was a wet noodle. When I got home, I usually crashed in bed and napped.
As for the pay, suffice to say it wasn't much. All the tips first went to the waitresses, who then parceled out to the busboys what they deemed was fair.
Funny, though. Hard as it was, I met a lot of good people, particularly this young lady who was a busgirl. No, nothing romantic happened. But she was a good kid, teaching me the ropes to get work done more efficiently.
And there were a few perks. Mainly, the restaurant provided me with free lunch every day, and that was usually a big juicy cheeseburger, French fries and a pickle, eaten at a small corner table in the back kitchen.
Ever since then, I've had an appreciation for restaurants workers, at least those who do the job well because I know they're sweating their butts off. That's why, to this day, I'm a generous a tipper.
Follow Ken Kaye's weather reports at Storm Center.
By Michael Mayo, columnist
I'm lucky. For nearly my entire adult life, I've done something I've loved. I've been a full-time journalist and writer for 21 years.
I don't punch a clock, don't wear a tie and I've rarely had to break a sweat, except when I covered the Dolphins and was forced to endure two-a-days on the broiling old practice fields of St. Thomas University.
But I once had a job where I spilled blood.
This was in my student days in Boston, when I worked a variety of jobs to pay the bills and pad the bank account. I worked for a courier service, first as a dispatcher, then as a driver. And I held a bunch of restaurant and bar jobs.
The worst: Working the deli counter at Maven's Kosher Court, a delicatessen in Harvard Square partly owned by famed Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. I loved noshing on corned beef and pastrami, but I wasn't cut out for the fast-paced work.
One evening during the dinner rush, I was hurriedly slicing some turkey when something got in the way of the high-speed blade: my thumb.
It wasn't pretty.
"Don't bleed on my sandwich!!!" the horrified customer said as a crimson river flowed.
Think Dan Aykroyd-as- Julia Child on Saturday Night Live, and you get the picture.
Off I went to the emergency room for some stitches. A few weeks later, I hung up my apron for good.
Writing has been much easier on the hands.
Read Michael Mayo's columns or follow his blog Mayo on the Side.
By Daniel Vasquez, consumer columnist
I loved being a teller until the bank was robbed. As a veteran, I was used to irate customers tossing saving registers at me and or yelling because the line was too long.
But the robbery was the worst.
It was a busy Friday morning and the teller in the next window tried to warn me something was wrong by silently making odd faces. I was slow on the take until her customer walked away suddenly and she whispered as quietly as she could "He robbed me."
Tellers are taught not to be short in cash counts so my first thought was to run after him. When I reached the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of him jumping over a wall dividing the bank and a supermarket. I jumped over too.
That's when I saw a yellow Cadillac racing directly toward me. "I didn't consider he'd have friends," I thought as I shut my eyes and got ready to be run over. Turned out the man in the Cadillac was my bank manager. He jammed the brakes, swung the passenger door open and ordered me to hop in.
We never caught the guy. The FBI did, though, shortly after lecturing us about bank policies against chasing robbers.
Join the conversation about the latest gizmos, consumer products, news and deals on Daniel Vasquez's Consumer Talk blog.
By Brittany Wallman, reporter
I was a teen-ager, and my friend's dad hired us to paint a house he owned. It was a group home for people with some kind of trouble I'm not sure what. There were plenty of people with troubles in that town McAlester, Oklahoma.
Every day that summer, my mom dropped me off in my paint-splattered white tank top and my paint-ruined cut-off jean shorts. We painted. And painted. And painted.
Every evening, I scraped and rubbed white paint off of my legs. I stripped white paint out of my dark hair. I washed my sweat-soaked clothes.
Then more painting. And more.
Finally our brushes reached the back of the home. We painted it white. We were done!
A bright sense of relief and accomplishment washed over us. We bathed in the excitement of knowing we'd soon be handed the biggest wad of cash we'd ever earned in our lives.
And then his dad came to sign off on our many-week project.
I will never, ever as long as I live forget how I felt when he said what he did something that in a small way prepared me for life as someone else's employee:
"It needs a second coat.''
Follow along with Brittany Wallman's reports on Broward County government at Broward Politics.
Labor Day stories: When a good job goes bad
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.