Even the signs and advertisements that proclaim “Back to School” have begun to disappear after their fervid flowering at the end of August. I’m back in the classroom and so is my latest crop of graduate students. The economy is strong, and they all have part time jobs in the architects’ offices where most of them are likely to begin their post-graduate careers. Finding an opening as an undergraduate isn’t so easy; employers aren’t as likely to be charitable about less developed skills and translucent resumes.
The undergrads haven’t been idle, most have had summer jobs. This seems to me to be an almost uniquely American experience, since few other educational systems on our earth are designed around a three-month suspension of business as usual. Of course, starting at least in High School, a summer job is a way to start accumulating cash for college, or to support a first car, or just to escape from the nest and try on a bit of adulthood like an ill fitting garment.
Downtown is seeing the retreat of summer’s occupying army of short-term employees, but for a while, every morning was the scene of their columns advancing toward the center city and its total occupation. They were all very young, very shiny, and this being San Antonio, mostly very friendly and polite, with the possible exception of the occasional sullen pierced and tatted barista.
If I walk out to the far edge of my balcony and look down I see the top deck of the parking structure that supports the grande dame hotel next door. All summer it has been the scene of three-dimensional chess being played by high school and collegiate valets sprinting from car to car, and occasionally across the streets, relaying well maintained automobiles to or from their well-maintained owners.
The elaboration of the automotive chess moves is based on a shortage of parking space, the cars have to be parked in single files three or four deep. The valets have to determine how many cars have to be jockeyed in and out of line in order to liberate the prize that has to be immediately delivered to the porte cochere. This usually entails carrying fistfuls of keys and rapid fire calculation about which one fits which car.
Long days are certainly part of some summer jobs, working for moving companies, parking cars, scooping ice cream, lifeguarding and cleaning up at public pools. I’ve noticed one of the valets seems to be darting around every time I look down, so I thought I’d keep track of his hours. He was averaging ten a day but did as much as fourteen. I hope he can afford Harvard now.
While I was walking by the parking operation, I looked up and saw that I was being hailed by a former student across the street. He trotted over rather than jay walked, and was brimming with news. His beautiful girlfriend is now his beautiful wife, she’s passed her interior design licensing exam and he’s passed his architectural exams. They’re rehabbing a historic cottage, and are about to become parents.
“I guess I have nine months to finish tiling the kitchen,” he grinned. No more summer jobs for him, it’s time to be in that most accelerated part of adulthood, getting started.
- Michael Guarino