October 1, 2015 / 5:46 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. political pundits' careers began with paper routes, stocking shelves

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Turn on your TV set and who do you see?

These days, it is very likely a political pundit, weighing in on the 2016 presidential campaign. They have become stars in their own right.

But they were not always famous. We asked James Carville, Chris Matthews, Clarence Page and Chuck Todd, a few of the country’s leading political experts, about their first jobs.

James Carville

Political strategist; panelist, CNN’s “The Situation Room”

First job: Construction worker

“My high school job was putting insulation in attics, in Louisiana in the summer. It must have been 95 degrees every day, and the insulation used to get all over me. It was not fun. But I didn’t know any different. It wasn’t like I was spending summers on Cape Cod.

“At the time, back in 1960, it was a lot of money - a few bucks an hour. It was probably equivalent to $25 an hour today. I never had that kind of money before, and I didn’t want to give it up. I didn’t put that money aside for college, though - I probably spent it all on girls and beer.

“I knew that manual labor wasn’t the career for me. I didn’t really need an attic insulation job to tell me that. My only focus at the time was the next hot girl and the next cold beer - in that order.”

Chris Matthews

Host, “MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews”

First job: Newspaper delivery boy

“Back in 1959, I had a little 5-mile, 50-paper route for the Philadelphia Bulletin. I was basically a contractor, because the Bulletin didn’t give me a nickel. I had to go out and collect. If I didn’t collect, I didn’t get anything.

“The daily paper cost five cents, and my cut was a penny and two-thirds for every one I delivered. The Sunday edition cost 20 cents, and I got a nickel. But the worst day was Tuesday: All the local department stores like Wanamaker’s and Gimbels would take out ad space, since Wednesday was the big shopping day back then, and so the papers were just huge.

“I’m making it sound like a Dickensian workhouse. But I really was on my own out there, riding around on my bike every day, no matter what. I remember when I went around to collect, people were usually watching ‘American Bandstand.’ That’s how old I am.”

Clarence Page

Columnist, Chicago Tribune; panelist, “The McLaughlin Group”

First job: Busboy

“My mother Maggie had a restaurant back in Ohio, and for a kid, that means you’re going to start working from a very early age. I was only 12, busing tables, working in the kitchen, even taking orders in my cute little jacket.

“The place was called Page Manor Cookteria, and it served family-style soul food like fried chicken. The most expensive item on the menu was a T-bone steak, which cost $5. Back in the ‘50s, you could have a heck of a day with $5. As a point of reference, going to the movies cost just 75 cents.

“Family restaurants don’t always obey minimum-wage laws, so I think I got around a dollar a night. My mother was a terrific cook and guarded her recipes like the CIA. She was especially known for her dinner rolls, a recipe she took to her grave. Later on I found out she just used a whole lot of butter.”

Chuck Todd

Moderator, “Meet the Press”; Political director, NBC News

First job: Grocery bagger

“As soon as I turned 16, I started as a bagboy at a Publix grocery store in Miami, at 107th Avenue and Kendall Drive. I made $3.35 an hour. I did that for about a month, and then I was promoted to the stockroom.

“First I was in charge of the beer-and-soda aisle, and then the dairy aisle. When you had a ‘beat’ like that, then you could get out of the worst duties like mopping up bathrooms, or cleaning up vomit on aisle three.

“At first my earnings went to paying back my dad for my first car, an ‘81 Buick Skylark that cost $600. When my dad died within six months of my taking that job, that store became a place of refuge for me. It was like going to work with a whole bunch of big brothers.

“That Publix was the grocery store that Janet Reno used to shop at. Once I had to go in the back to get her fresher milk.”

Editing by Lauren Young and Cynthia Osterman

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