The Working Life
On the job with a bar-back, a dog-walker, an antiques dealer, a tarot card reader, and a bar musician
We go to work. Some of us rise at dawn, put on work boots, and head out the door ready for another day of dusty labor. Others put on dress shoes, fasten ties and caffeinate en route to an office tower somewhere up or down the 405. And then there is the cadre of night people, those who dress in black in the late afternoon and arrive at a restaurant or bar to work until the wee hours of morning.
The workaday world isn’t often news. The jobs most people do don’t show up in the movies, and the way most of us spend the vast majority of our waking hours – at work, earning our living a day or night at a time – is little lauded and less appreciated. In a community like the South Bay, you come to know the face of the crossing guard patrolling the intersection at the start of your daily commute, or the bar back who hustles around your favorite nightspot, often while never knowing that person’s name or what the particulars of his or her job entails.
Working, journalist Studs Terkel’s classic account of American working life, begins by quoting Bertolt Brecht:
“Who built the seven towers of Thebes?
The books are filled with the names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?…
In the evenings when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go?…”
“The Working Life” launches this week with five profiles of people at work. In coming issues, we will profile police dispatchers, construction workers, athletes, general managers, busboys, lawyers, housekeepers, a man who hunts gophers and a woman who cares for lost animals. We’ll look at ordinary as well as extraordinary jobs. What we hope to do is show where the masons go, and who the people are within the jobs they do.
The bar back: Bringing back glasses, and everything else
by Ed Pilolla
Sean Rommero is carrying a crate of clean glasses like a pizza box above his head, slicing through the crowd. The pint glasses he places in the mini fridge under the bar. The cocktail glasses go on the counter, and Rommero, a veteran bar backer, flips the glassware nonchalantly from hand-to-hand.
It’s midnight on Saturday at Café Boogaloo. A couple is making out at the end of the bar, and customers eager for a drink are maneuvering around them. The four bartenders pour liquid into glasses while Rommero hustles off to fetch a case of Corona bottles. He checks the number of lemon and lime wedges, hauls a crate of dirty glasses to the kitchen washing machine and returns with a clean crate.
“I like to get caught up so I can have a little break,” Rommero says, taking a sip of water and Red Bull. Rommero’s breaks lasts less than 15 seconds. He picks up a box of empty liquor bottles and carries them outside to the recycling bins. He returns and wipes the bar and carries another crate of glasses from the kitchen to the bar.
The bar needs more ice and Rommero, who bartends during the week, fills up a jug in the kitchen. Then he slips through swinging kitchen doors and brings the needed ice behind the bar. When a bartender asks for oranges and pineapples, Rommero is off once again.
Bar-backing is always easier at bars that only use plastic cups, he notes.
Rommero, 24, starts work on a Saturday at 8. When a girl asks him what time he gets off work, he says the truth: 4 a.m., and that usually disappoints them.
The wine glasses go in a different place than the cocktail and pint glasses. Rommero has already refilled the Jagermeister and Patron. He does a quick dance move with the bartenders while customers smile and cheer. Then he’s off into the kitchen and back again with a crate of clean glasses that he puts away while waving to friendly faces in the crowd.
After work, Rommero often climbs into his car and feels the tension in his hamstrings from eight hours of carrying and crouching. But right now it’s 12:30 p.m. and the crowd outside and inside is building. The bouncers clear a path for Rommero to slip behind the bar with more clean glasses. Rommero is smiling and sweating as he takes a quick sip of water and Red Bull before hauling more glasses from the kitchen.
The dog walker: ‘A break from real life’
by Alene Tchekmedyian
Wearing black leggings covered with dog hair and clutching a lanyard full of keys, Vanessa Hughes bounced up the front porch steps of a Redondo Beach home on a Friday to meet her first two clients of the day: Zaidee and Botcher.
As she unlocked the door and clambered in, a golden retriever Labrador mix and a yellow Labrador, both weighing about 100 pounds, wagged their tails and yelped excitedly from behind a white plastic gate in the kitchen.
“Hi, guys!” Hughes said as she unlocked the gate.
The 25-year-old has been a dog walker for Kathy’s Dog Walking Service for two years. “You get paid to play with dogs,” Hughes said. “There’s no downside to it, as long as you’re okay with picking up poop.”
After getting laid off from a construction company in 2008, Hughes worked odd jobs for about two years. The Lomita resident, who grew up with dogs, cats, reptiles and birds, posted ads on Craig’s List offering pet sitting and dog walking services, but was unsuccessful. Soon after, she discovered that Kathy’s Dog Walking Service was searching for walkers.
With experience in rescuing and fostering dogs – Hughes estimates she’s fostered about 50 dogs in the last three or four years – she was a perfect fit for Kathy Clarke’s company.
Going on four or five walks per day, five days a week, Hughes rakes in about $150 to $300 each week, she said. During the holidays, when families are on vacation and need not only walking services, but also overnight boarding for their pets, Hughes can make up to $1,000 each week. “That’s when you really love your job,” she said.
As an independent contractor, Hughes doesn’t receive benefits, but writes off gas mileage, cell phone bills and equipment. “It’s fun, they’re always so excited to see you every day,” she said, of the dogs. “I’m okay just making enough to pay my bills.”
Business, however, can be unpredictable. “You’re not guaranteed a salary not guaranteed all your clients aren’t going to cancel and quit and move away,” she said. “You have to be more free-spirited.”
On the kitchen counter at Zaidee and Botcher’s home was a notebook filled with letters back and forth between Hughes and the dogs’ owner. “I’m glad you had a relaxing weekend,” Hughes had written earlier this week. “The pups did great with Winston and Buddah. Both pooped and peed.” Winston is her rat terrier rescue, and Buddah is another client’s dog.
Hughes checked to see if the owner left any special instructions for the day in the notebook. “The gardeners may come so maybe leave the dogs in the afternoon,” the owner had written.
Clarke, who runs the business out of her Manhattan Beach home, said it’s important the walkers are in tune to the dogs’ needs. “They really do rely on you,” Clarke said, of the dog owners. “You have keys to the house, access to everything…trust is really big.”
Hughes considers the dogs she walks, and often their owners, part of her family. On days off, she’ll even bring her own dogs and meet them at the dog park. “You get attached to the dogs, and also to the owners,” she said.
With plastic poop bags stuffed in her purse, Hughes hooked a leash onto Zaidee and Botcher and headed outside.
The two fluffy dogs quickly scampered to Hughes’ car, checking to see if she brought walking buddies. She usually brings her Winston along for the walk. “There’s rarely a time where I walk them by themselves,” she said.
“No friends today,” Hughes told Zaidee and Botcher, giggling as they circled her car trying to peek inside. “I’m sorry Botchie, no Winston, no nobody.”
Hughes and the dogs walked briskly for thirty minutes, or about a mile and a half. “Because it’s overcast and cooler, they’re more on the run,” Hughes said, as she gently tugged Botcher off of a neighbor’s lawn.
Clarke noted that Hughes is conscientious and has a calm energy, allowing her to deal with all types of dogs, whether aggressive or timid. “It takes a real talent and skill to be able to do that,” Clarke said. “This is what her passion is – she wants to work with animals as her career.”
At half past noon, the panting dogs returned home. Hughes didn’t even break a sweat. “It took me a long time to build up the stamina that I have now,” Hughes said. When she first started, she’d get out of breath during her first 30-minute walk. “I thought I was going to collapse at the end of the day.”
After pouring Zaidee and Botcher water and trading doggie treats for handshakes, Hughes climbed back in her Honda hatchback, the back of which was cluttered with dog pillows and blankets covered in dog hair.
She was off to meet the day’s next clients, Redondo residents Houdini and Brandie. The miniature pinscher and Chihuahua were cuddled on a pillow when Hughes climbed up the stairs to retrieve them.
Because their sizes and walking styles are so different from those of Zaidee and Botcher, Hughes walks Houdini and Brandie alone so they don’t get trampled.
Clarke, who grew up on a farm in New Jersey with horses, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs, started the business in 2007, after 12 years in ad sales. Her first year, she was walking dogs seven days a week, often from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. “I was in the best shape of my life,” she said. “My feet killed when I got up in the morning.”
The company now employs 20 walkers, all who have experience with animals or rescue dogs. “The people who don’t, don’t last because it’s so physical,” Clarke said, adding that her walkers need to be able to detect the dogs’ low energy levels, abnormal behavior and health issues. “So many details flying into you,” she said.
For Hughes, her job often serves as an escape from everyday stress. “Once you start walking that dog, you have to relax for 30 minutes. You have no choice,” she said. “It’s kind of a break from real life.”
The time dealer
Laurence Martin plays packer, picker, plucky pre-present collector, preeminent pub-goer, poised wit thrower and padrone of El Segundo’s hip and hallowed Studio Antiques with his wife, Sally Martin.
Monday morning he got up, had to be in Inglewood by 9 a.m., looked at an estate, found a few pieces of furniture for consignment, came back to the shop and packed up some stuff for eBay customers.
His packing studio hangs off the back of the store under a plastic eave of louvered boards. June’s elusive sunlight hangs in gleeful spoonfuls while Martin hums, wrapping a hefty volume of Michelangelo artwork in cardboard sheets. “I am a master packer,” he grins, balancing on the living platform of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and packaging tape that swims beneath his high tops. From the front of the store Sally is singing “take a sad song, and make it better” while she prepares the payroll.
Another Monday. Martin doesn’t really operate by a weekly schedule – while Sally in some ways does, accommodating the bookkeeping’s necessary droll. Instead Martin operates the weave and weft thread of the store’s feng shui. He maintains its walk-ability.
Late in the afternoon Martin stands perched in the store’s nose-bleed rows, shoving several dozen eBay-posted chinaware onto their proper numbered shelf. This will make it possible to locate them later for packaging and shipping to collectors around the country.
“Now what to do with all this stuff on the floor?” Martin says in his clipped English accent, a smooth milky blue bowl from a British table setting in hand. “This is called flow blue,” he says, turning it over to show how the blue die of the design bleeds into the cream colored china much the way sediment billows up under the Pacific’s surf. “Used to be cheap, when it was made, but now it fetches something,” he says, nestling the dish into a sea of 19th century plates.
“Today a guy brought some swords in, a lady brought some antique dolls,” he says, tossing his hands in the air, silver-clad wrists tinkling like fish scales swimming upriver. “Usually it’s none to twenty people stopping by. I like to help people, help them understand what they’re selling.” If an item is worth something or nothing, Martin will tell the person, post the item online and keep it in the store for consignment.
Early in the evening, while Hyperion’s honeyed waft mingles with the jasmine and jacaranda in El Segundo’s northern fringes, Martin parades through a garage of soggy rockers, king staffed bed frames, rolls of musked wallpaper, Japanese watercolors tied together with thin red ribbon. He picks out two 1960-era Cub Scout caps, three pretty wooden lamps – cockeyed and trailing their snarled electrical cords – a faded Tlingit drum and a few unmentionable trinkets he jingles in his hand like coins. “You know when I was just starting out I would have taken all of that, but you just can’t,” he says. “Got to be able to sell it. Can’t just buy, buy, buy. There’s no money in that.”
For a guy who spends all day among ancient enamelware, well-sat parlor chairs, and time-webbed typewriters of the world’s antiquated residents, Martin is anything but nostalgic. Growing up he had an uncle who would take him to museums in London and he guesses he’s liked old stuff ever since.
Two and half years ago Martin and Sally moved from another store in El Segundo. In the move some of the cups and saucers separated. But every so often he finds a pair, reunites them.
Martin plucks along in his royal blue pants and Studio Antiques t-shirt. He can’t seem to unearth his car keys, his suede crimson cap, the elusive Michelangelo art book, but he keeps Studio Antiques swimming. He used to be an aerospace engineer but decided he didn’t want to work in a factory anymore. Here, he says, there are no fixed times; you don’t have to clock in. Studio Antiques is “a hobby that turned into a job.”
Martin stands behind the front counter of the store, the day swaying to its close. He is hearthed by chandeliers, suitcases, sunshades, stained glass windows, and a mounted mountain goat’s head taken by some scrappy huntsman in southeast Alaska. Martin leans against the counter, “If you work for yourself, you gotta make time count,” he says, his silver feather earrings catching a slight wisp of the late day light. “What time is it?” he squints peering at a ‘60s modern clock on the far wall. “Quarter to five. Time for a glass of wine,” he winks.
The tarot card reader
Walk through the bead-strewn doorway of Joy Corradetti’s store Mystical Joy on the Redondo Beach International Boardwalk and you’ll be transported from the hustle and bustle of the marina to a peaceful space painted the soothing colors of the sunset. Incense and calming flute music will greet you as a vibrant and cheerful Corradetti seems to float through the store as she adjusts various statues and crystals.
On the floor of the shop is a bright, hand-painted labyrinth.
In addition to selling incense, statues, bracelets, spiritual wares and the most wind chimes on the pier, Corradetti can often be found in the back of the shop, cocooned around a small table, deep in conversation with people seeking her advice.
“Cut the deck once,” Corradetti says. “Now focus on your question.” She shuffles the tarot cards and then lays them on the table. One by one the devotee picks cards as Corradetti explains their meaning. For Corradetti and her clients, there is no mistaking the answers the deck gives once the cards are chosen.
For Corradetti, a native of New Jersey and a 25-year Redondo Beach resident, opening her shop was the third chapter in her life. She was originally a singer; she traveled and performed across the country for over 20 years. Then, in a life-changing move, she went got her bachelors and masters degrees at California State University, Dominguez Hills and ended up working in the aerospace industry as a project manager for the El Segundo-based companies Boeing and Raytheon. After working there for 11 years, like many people in the recent economic downturn, she was laid off.
“I couldn’t find a job for two and a half years,” said Corradetti. “Eventually after looking and looking for a job I decided to take my 401K and my savings and open up this store… When it’s a very tough time financially sometimes you need to reinvent yourself. I basically said, ‘I’ll create my own job’ and that’s why I created this store.”
Since a young age, Corradetti has always been interested in the metaphysical. When she was in high school a psychic who met her mother at a “psychic party” asked to meet her oldest daughter, Corradetti, because she felt she had a strong psychic ability.
“She looked at my chart and told me I was very gifted in psychic ability,” said Corradetti. “So I took classes from her and she took an interest in me and wanted to be my mentor. She helped me realize I had this gift and she bought me my first deck of tarot cards.”
That was more than 40 years ago.
Despite an array of life changes and jobs Corradetti has remained interested in the metaphysical aspects of life.
“When I was performing I was traveling around doing hotels and resorts and when I was on my break people would buy me drinks and I would look at their hands and tell them about themselves,” said Corradetti. “I loved reading for people by the candlelight on the tables in the night clubs.”
Corradetti has always been interested in different religions and philosophies. Her shop contains statues and symbols from almost every religion. She is even an ordained minister and can perform weddings. She also teaches astrology, tarot, palmistry, numerology, feng shui, dream interpretation and chanting and meditation in her shop.
“I’ve always been a very positive thinker and wanted to make a difference, so after I was laid off I didn’t know what to do so I decided to follow this part of my dream of opening up a spiritual center,” said Corradetti. “It was difficult getting started, but I’m blessed and happy I was able to work it out. Now feel I’m going to be a part of this new progressive movement.”
In the corner of the shop is a small, dimly lit room cordoned off by a drapery of beads, lined with two soft purple couches. A few short steps from the room three smaller enclaves beckon, covered in star-lined linens and painted a dark purple. These rooms are where Corradetti teaches and does tarot card and astrology readings.
Jennifer Lippert, who discovered Corradetti’s shop during the first few months it was open, often stops in for personal readings. and late last January stopped in to work through a question and get answers from Corradetti and the tarot cards.
“I’m kind of new to this, but I was shocked what a bang for my buck I get out of it,” said Lippert. “It’s like she read my private journal that I was too afraid to write down and she put it into words.”
Corradetti sat her down in one of the reading rooms and asked her to pick from various cards. Lippert was then told to focus on her question, about a potential job change, and Corradetti helped guide her to a decision.
“What I’m seeing happening is you’re focusing on finance,” said Corradetti, while looking down at the pre-destined cards. “I feel like the money is coming to you, not a question. But I feel you may have the opportunity of two different jobs.”
Lippert looked shocked, agreed with Corradetti and kept listening.
“I’m also seeing a man coming into your life too and I feel you’re going to be very happy with him,” said Corradetti. “But I caution you. I would try to separate business from pleasure… I see you taking it to new heights, I see you learning new things… I see you making really good money and making you and other people around you happy.”
Lippert listened attentively to Corradetti’s words, interrupting sporadically for more detailed information about various cards.
“When I read I go into a channeled state,” said Corradetti. “By reading I feel I am able to council people, it’s a good feeling.”
After the reading, Lippert’s once taut body relaxed and she told Corradetti her mind was more at ease about the future.
“I’ve had a lot of different life experiences to call on to help me when I council other people,” said Corradetti. “I’m an educated gypsy, I really try to come from the most positive high place I possibly can and focus on the light and the angels.”
The Bar Musician
by Suzy Husner
The stage is warm atop Old Tony’s where the sun streams through the windows. The singer leans up to the microphone and brushes his fingers across sleek nylon strings. The audience doesn’t notice his preparatory breath, but as the notes reflect off the lacquer of his guitar and melody escapes from his lips, heads turn and moods softens. The bar musician has started another day’s work.
Every weekend Evyn Charles is perched in the top of Old Tony’s On The Pier in Redondo Beach playing a wealth of songs, from Bob Marley to Frank Sinatra. Music has always been his vocation. He’s played in touring bands, countless bar gigs, at weddings and parties. As a songwriter, he also creates original compositions for various projects, including music and lyrics for a children’s language learning video series in French and English.
When asked why he chose music for a career, Charles said, “Music chose me.”
A key to his success has been playing a lot of venues and jumping on opportunities. “I’ve played anywhere in the South Bay with a door and a bar,” he said.
It’s a smart tactic that led to his regular gig at Old Tony’s. Seven years ago he was playing at what was then New Tony’s, just across the pier, when the Old Tony’s regular Friday night entertainer didn’t show. “They said ‘Can you pack up there and come here?’” So he rushed over, set up, and played the rest of the night. “They called me the next day and said ‘Can you do every Friday?’” He’s been there ever since, and has added Thursdays and Saturdays over the years.
A professional musician is a marketer, artist, accountant, business manager and an entertainer rolled into one. “You’re looking at my whole team right here,” Charles said. Along with creating and finding new songs and honing them for presentation, his days are spent managing taxes and health insurance, networking with businesses and organizations, and tirelessly marketing his skills to book future events. And in lean times? Sure there have been some, but Charles says there is little choice but to continue singing.
“I’m so motivated to do music for a living that it’s a necessity,” he said. “I work really, really hard so I don’t have to do anything else. It’s focus. I’m so focused.”
Old Tony’s has become a musical home for him. Charles has written a special “Sunset Song” that he sings especially for Old Tony’s patrons just as the sun dips below the horizon. He continues to play a mix of classics and new hits, arranged on his classical guitar to meld smoothly with patrons’ friendly chatter. Never singing above his diners, he takes great pride in the job of entertaining them. His original song, “The Bar Musician”, sums up just how much he prides himself in this role:
“I am not changing the world or chasing the moon
But if I can lift up your spirit by carrying a tune
Then I am proud to be making a small contribution
One song at a time…”
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