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1965 Ford LTD

PHIL HARDWICK — The best summer job I ever had

PHIL HARDWICK

PHIL HARDWICK

It was 1965. The summer between my junior and senior year at Central High School in Jackson, Mississippi. Vietnam was heating up, civil rights events were being held and other events were in the news, but like most 17-year-old boys this one had other things on his mind: Mostly cars and girls.

We interrupt this column to mention that today’s summer jobs for teens environment is different from the past. More teens spend the summer traveling or engaging in community services. Good things for sure. However, in a survey of college admissions officers, respondents did not rank those activities highest on the list of pursuits that add the most value to applications. Among 14 choices, internships and independent research came in at number one and two, but paid employment was right there in the third spot. Then again, “…summer employment itself is at a record low with fewer than a third of American teenagers in traditional paid employment last summer.”

I learned this from a July 10, 2015 New York Times article by Ron Leiber entitled  “Why a Teenage Bank Teller May Have the Best Summer Job.” Seems that the jobs that involve face-to-face dealings with customers are the best kind of summer job experience. It also seems that just about every city has some type of Mayor’s Youth Summer Employment Program. Keeping teenagers busy and learning in the summer months is a high priority. Summer jobs news made me reflect on summers past.

Meanwhile, back to 1965. My friend Gary’s father was a manager at Lloyd Ford on South State Street. That was the time when South State and the adjacent area was a mecca for new car dealers. Sellers Cadillac, Lane-Moak Pontiac, Fowler Buick had new car showrooms on that thoroughfare of commerce. Not far away there was Dumas Milner Chevrolet. Most of those automobile dealerships have either gone out of business or moved closer to the suburbs. It was also the time of muscle cars, such as the Ford Mustang, Pontiac GTO and Chevelle SS-396. Indeed, it has been called the Golden Age of Muscle Cars.

One day, Gary’s father asked if we would be available to go to Grenada to pick up a new car at a dealership there and drive it back to Jackson for later delivery to a customer. In those days car dealers did not have hundreds of cars in stock, only a relatively few of each model. If a customer liked a model that was in stock, but it did not have the particular options or color that the customer desired, then the salesperson would check a regional list of cars and then call other dealers to locate exactly what the customer wanted. Once found, the vehicle needed to be transported or driven to Jackson. Conversely, other dealers might call for a vehicle that Lloyd Ford had in stock. It was a system that called for regular drivers who could drive on an irregular, short notice basis.

No, it was not a full time job. Some days Gary and I would just sit in the used car hut across the street and hope we would be needed. Then there were times when we drove somewhere every day of the week, occasionally to two cities in the same day.

And the cars. Oh, the cars. Naturally, we hoped to be driving Mustangs or other sporty models, but there were some rather innovative new cars that were — to us — simply spectacular. One such car was the 1965 Ford LTD. It was a car that changed the marketplace. Up until 1965, luxury was spelled Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial. The 1965 Ford LTD introduced what was known as affordable luxury. To drive one – heck, just to sit in one – was an unforgettable experience. It was the car that pitted its sound package against the Rolls Royce. The commercial that followed was that it “…rides quieter than Rolls Royce.”

Summer jobs for teens are still around, of course, but the excitement of driving, especially new cars, seems to be a thing of the past for teenagers. They are just not into driving like my generation. Not only are they driving less, they are not even getting their driver’s license at the same rate. According the to U.S. Department of Transportation and the Census Bureau, the share of young people (ages 16-19) w percent in 2011. Is it because of gas prices, insurance costs, Internet/social media or some combination of all these things?

As the summer of 1965 closed out I took another job driving. This time it was a school bus. During my senior year of high school I drove a school bus route every school day. Even got paid to do so. Same as Robin Roberts, ABC’s Good Morning America co-anchor, although her senior year was a few years after mine and was spent in Pass Christian. And for some reason I can’t imagine school buses being driven by high school seniors today.

Thus is my account of the best summer job I ever had.

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.

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