In an age of extraordinary workplace freedom and flexibility, our associate editor remembers a favorite summer that unfolded in spite of her least favorite summer job. Is it a millennial cry for more structure?
I walked to the bank the other day to deposit the paper check that one of my freelance gigs still issues. It’s summer in D.C., and crossing the threshold from the muggy, bustling street to the quiet, air conditioned lobby was jarring.
I worked as a bank teller nine years ago, during the summer of my freshman year in college. It wasn’t fun. I remember thinking, This is the rest of your life. Up to that point, my girlhood work experience had been lively, if limited: scooping ice cream, babysitting, painting brightly colored promotional beach murals on the windows of a local tanning salon. The bank had a… different rhythm. I couldn’t have known then that one day I’d have the freedom to work remotely, doing work that I enjoy. So I wondered: would all real jobs be so rigid, so boring?
It didn’t look promising. I sat at a computer without web access. I turned my cell phone off, if I even brought it with me — I know we weren’t allowed to use them. I sighed and wondered why, on slow afternoons, I couldn’t at least read a book.
And of course lunch breaks were an ordeal. Not more than one of us could be away at a time. That usually left me with the least desirable option of taking a 10 am or a 3 pm break. I’d drive to Dairy Queen and eat a vanilla cone in the parking lot, or I’d drive home, bang together a quick lunch, and sit for 15 minutes in the sun on my parents’ patio. Only now, for the first time, do I wonder why I didn’t just stay at the bank. It must have been that unbearable.
I hope I don’t sound like a brat. I don’t mean to, anyway. For one thing, I know people have tolerated summer jobs with a lot less air conditioning. And I have such fond memories of the other tellers. Everyone — they were all women in their 40s and 50s — was kind and efficient. Routine was king. I remember putting in a request, once, to leave 30 minutes early on the day of the night I was going to a concert in Cleveland, an hour away. “With a friend.”
I blushed. Even now it feels a lot easier to leave early if your coworkers don’t know it’s a date.
All of this came flooding back when I deposited that check, last week, on a hot day in June. But also: my date driving his dad’s Cadillac; lawn seats and the damp, sweet smell of summer grass; the radio station we listened to in the car on the way home.
Of course, it’s only nostalgia. But the memory feels so tightly bound with those endless days at the bank that I know the summer wouldn’t have seemed half as sweet if the work had been half as boring.