Jane Hu’s First Jobs: Newsie; Hawker of Fish & Chips

by Jane Hu

The Billfold is proud to present an ongoing feature about First Jobs, primarily focused on what they paid then and for comparison’s sake what they pay now, but also everything about them from the hilarious to the terrible. Today’s subject: Jane Hu.

Who you are, briefly: I’m a writer and grad student, though currently am finishing my MA so MORE GRAD STUDENT than freelancing, which sob. I’m currently in my PJs, don’t remember the last time I washed my hair, but who needs to when you don’t need to leave your house TO LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE. Next year, Berkeley will fund me for getting an English PhD, and hopefully I’ll get some funding from Canada down the road as well. See kids, reading pays.

Your first job: Paper girl, age 9, because what else can you trust a 9-year-old to do? But I WANTED TO WORK. And then, at the competent age of 11, I worked at a Fish & Chips shop with my BFF. It was this really sweet family-run business in Victoria, British Columbia — near Hillside mall, right next to a bakery, maybe on Shelbourne? I’d get cheesy twists at the bakery often, I remember.

What it paid then: The paper was the Times Colonist, which seemed pretty fancy at that point, because it paid BY THE PAPER. It might have been $0.25 per paper? Or maybe I’m dreaming. It’s possible it was actually more like $0.10 per paper, but that also seems ludicrous. Let’s go with a quarter per paper delivered. One time I got chased out the door by someone’s (I’m sure, very friendly) dog, and I dropped all my papers in the middle of the road. It was about 6:00 in the morning so everything was desolate. I jumped a fence (Victoria, BC!), ran home, and woke my parents up crying at their bedroom. My mother had to drive us back out to finish the route that day. I love dogs now! But I was forever scared of that particular house then.

Admission: one day, I KEPT one of the newspapers, and thereafter got a complaint notice on my next bundle. I don’t think I completely understood that me reading one of the papers meant a customer not getting theirs. Also I think I only did it for the comics? At age 9, I only pretended to understand the news. Briefly too, I delivered flyers, which was definitely NOT paid by the paper, and I was far more lax about missing houses. Delivery papers went so far that a friend and I used to make our own “magazine” — each copy individually crafted — and deliver them around to neighbours who were I’m sure very nice retired folks that probably didn’t want to be part of something called “Kidz Club.”

Fish & Chips was something like 7–8 CAD an hour, and maybe a bit more, sometimes, with tips? We participated in everything, though: battering, flying, wrapping, taking orders, manning the till. The space was really tiny, so it wasn’t eat-in; more take-out or pick-up, which worked well for us. My parents would drop me off, then pick me up. It was pretty dreamy! That was the summer I fell in love, then out, and then in love again, with coleslaw.

What it pays now, if that info is available: I’m not sure if the Fish & Chips place is still in business, but I’d suspect it would’ve gone up a dollar or so? It was family-run, so they were pretty kind to us, I think. Family-run businesses are HARD WORK. They worked so, so hard. I think that was apparent even to someone in elementary school.

I just looked up a job ad at the Times and for a 77 paper route, it’s $316. The route goes six times a week so that works out to about $0.68 per paper delivered. So I was probably right about being paid a quarter. PRETTY DECENT.

Jane Hu is a writer and student living in Montreal.

Lots more to come! Wanna play? Email me: ester@thebillfold.com.

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