I’ve been paid to do quite a few things to date, but one that many of you probably haven’t heard about was during the summer after I graduated high school. I needed something to do that summer that would bring in a little income, and a friend of my dad suggested that I look into security. Security sounded like fun, and I imagined that it would be a little something like the picture below.

Security-Fantasy

It turns out that being a security guard was much more accurately portrayed by this picture.

Security-Reality

Can you guess where I ended up working that summer? Yep, that’s right. The assisted living and nursing home in my hometown.

There weren’t any motorcycles involved or body armor, just my little security guard uniform and the can of pepper spray that they gave me to protect myself.

I have to admit though, this was a pretty awesome job. I was hired to protect the nurses as they got off work and make sure they got to their cars safely at night. It wasn’t a well lit parking lot, and there had been a few domestic situations rise up in the past. “Loved ones” hiding in the lot waiting for someone to get off of work to finish an earlier argument or fight. So, I donned my 6 Cell Maglite flashlite like a baseball bat and went out to protect those nurses as many nights as they’d schedule me.

It turns out, there’s not much that happens in a nursing home and assisted living facility around 9pm, but there are the rebels who stay up late that you have to deal with. The most rowdy of the bunch stayed up in the assisted living wing and worked on puzzles until the wee hours of 10pm every night. In between locking all the doors of the facility and guarding nurses as they left, there was quite a bit of downtime over an 8 hour shift. I was encouraged to spend as much time with the residents as I could afford in between tasks.

The puzzle room was where it was guys. It was the Times Square of Colonial Oaks.  The evening group called themselves the “Puzzle Crew” and they were always up to no good. Every evening I would sit down and listen to this gang of senior adults tell tales and spin yarn about days gone by. Some of them were a rather racy bunch in their day, but their stories were fantastic. Occasionally they would hustle me at pool or bring me a bowl of ice cream, but most every night, it was the puzzles that kept us busy.

That group taught me that you never start putting together a puzzle with anyone else without taking 1 or 2 pieces and hiding them first. Nobody wants to be left out when the last piece is put in, so these guys all took a few pieces without telling the others for every puzzle they made. We’d get to the end of a puzzle and there would be 10 pieces missing, and they’d all look at each other like none of them had any idea where the missing pieces were. They always said, “Well, I guess they’ll show up eventually.” and over time that’s exactly what happened. Slowly but surely they’d bring the final pieces back over a period of days to finish their work of art. It was a hoot.

The coolest part of this job though were the relationships that came out of it. That crew adopted me for the next 5 years and came to every vocal recital, performance and concert that I was involved in. If I was in it, they were there. I had a built-in cheering section for any event during my college career, and my friends in college ended up working their way into the gang as well. I’d bring a friend with me to work and have them build puzzles for a couple hours, and once you built puzzles with them, you were in. They would chart their schedule as well and be there for any of their events too.

What I Learned:

I’ll never forget my first job, and it wasn’t because of the times I chased after thieves trying to steal meds or the occasional dustup in the parking lot with an angry spouse. The “Puzzle Crew” have all passed now, but their lessons live on. They taught me that it’s not always about the job, it’s the people that can make any job amazing.