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Patty Leon: Plantains, propane and papers: What I’ve learned from 41 years of work
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Patty Leon, Columnist.

I’ve held various jobs since I started working at the age of 16. My first job was at a burger place, although not a McDonald’s or Burger King. It was a new franchise called Monster Burger and, unfortunately, management ran that place right into the ground in less than a year.

I love animals, and as a teenager I was a veterinarian technician at a clinic in North Miami.

Although I loved helping the dogs and cats that came through the clinic, the abuse, neglect and animals hit by cars were too much for my emotional state at that time. I often came home crying, didn’t eat well, and truly felt like yelling at people who would bring in perfectly healthy animals and have them put to sleep because — fill in the blank! I was a cashier, table server and food prep person at Taco Viva, a huge franchise way back in the day. The restaurant served beer and wine, but I was underage, so the other servers or my manager would have to get those for me. I worked the closing shift most nights, and my mom would wait for me in the parking lot and drive me home. I’d get up the next morning, go to school, go home and do my homework, then get ready for the next shift. While living in Miami Beach, in my late teens and early 20s, I was a retail store manager at what is now known as Rite Aid pharmacy; back then it was called Gray Drugs.

When I lived near Coral Gables (the fancy, rich section of Miami), I worked at Fowler’s Seafood. I did a little bit of everything there: delivery driver, cook, fish monger — learned excellent knife skills doing that — cashier and customer service clerk. A few years later, I was a receptionist for a Colombian plantain importer in Coral Gables named Turbana Banana.

After completing an electronic engineering program, I was hired with Florida, Power & Light as a cable splicer apprentice. A lot of the electrical lines in South Florida are run underground because of the repetitive nature of the annual hurricanes and numerous thunderstorms, which knock down above-ground power lines. When FP& L had a massive layoff, I was one of the unfortunate workers who had less than two years with the company, so I took my skills and got a job with People’s Gas, now called TECO People’s Gas, a natural gas and propane company. The work was similar to the electrical work I did, but I was connecting natural gas or propane instead of electricity.

I made a lot of money in the electric and gas business. We had tons of overtime work, thanks to the hurricanes. Services had to be restored; ruptured or leaking gas lines needed to be repaired. But this was hard, rigorous work in the beating sun with 100-pound jack hammers, cranes and heavy tools. It was fine when I was young but getting harder as I aged. When the office manager retired, I asked if they would transfer me to that position. They did, so I learned the job and kept working there a while longer.

Later, I started a career at the American Red Cross of South Florida’s Greater Miami and the Keys Chapter. I began working part-time teaching first aid and CPR classes and worked my way up to a full-time position, where I trained others to be instructors. Later I was promoted to Disaster Program Services Coordinator for the entire Florida Keys.

In 2006, I moved to Allenhurst and started my career with the Courier as a receptionist. I’ve worn every hat imaginable here at this job. I have learned a lot, not just here but in all my careers.

Every job was different in many ways and alike in many ways, too. Each job I took — yes, took, because if it didn’t feel like the right fit for me, I would decline the hire offer and keep searching — I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I learned, grew and elevated myself. I dove into every experience and soaked up as much knowledge as I could to get to the next step. If I didn’t know something, I asked questions.

For the past 41 years, I’ve worked in a variety of places, all of which I have enjoyed, learned from and grown with. I say all this to point out a few things.

It’s OK to expect your employers to treat you right and fairly, but have earned that respect and treatment? Yes, you deserve to earn a fair wage, but have you shown you deserve it?

Far too many people these days expect to have everything given to them on day one, without putting in the time or work needed to earn it!

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