After graduating high school, enrolling in Phoenix College, and getting my first real job, I was ready to set forth on a new and exciting journey in what I considered at the time, "the city". Even though I grew up on the border of Tempe and Mesa in Arizona, down the street from ASU, we were still kind of out there in the semi-sticks. Getting a job at the downtown Phoenix J.C. Penny's was a score. Not only did it make me some much needed coin, it put me close to Phoenix College and, it also introduced me to a whole new group of people who I didn't grow up or go to school with. It was a random collection of people from every age group, level of education, and everything in between. My job was a "Christmas gig" in the camera department. I had scored! Not only did I get to be around new cameras all day, they actually paid me to be there and talk to people about photography. It was a great start to where I wanted to go. Even in the late 70's, camera equipment wasn't cheap. So now, I got an employee discount on everything. When it went on sale, I got that discount too. And believe me, I used that employee discount as often as I could. After some register training, I was given a badge with my name on "blue" label maker tape and sent down to the basement where the camera department was. It was at the bottom of the up escalator so you got to see everybody eventually. The group I worked with was as eclectic as it gets. Bill, the "department manager" was a nice old guy with slicked back black hair, a 25 years employee pin from J.C. Penny's, and a true love for the old Cafe Figaro bar after work. I think he also went there for lunch but, don't quote me on that one. Al, another even older gentleman, reminded me of "grandpa Munster", only without the cape. He had the same attitude, but no cape. Then there was Trish. She had been hired a week or two before so, she had "seniority" on me and made sure I knew it. She was actually pretty cool but, she did have her "intense" side, which usually showed up the following day after I had called in sick because there were professional skateboarders from California in town who needed to be shown the local spots. I, (along with my friends) being a "helpful guy", felt it was my duty to do what I could to make sure they saw all the sites. If that meant I had to call in sick, that's what I had to do. It didn't happen "too often", a couple of times at most, but it was a great opportunity to photograph some of the best and most innovative skaters of the day. I had to go for the ditch! Selling cameras was fun. Because it was Christmas time, the place was hopping. Cameras of all types were going out the door. It wasn't until after the Christmas rush, that I was able to really get my hands on the 35mm's in the showcases. Minolta, Canon, Yashica, Pentax, Contax, we had them all, except Nikon, but that's another post. It reminds me of the scene from "Moscow on the Hudson" when Robin Williams, playing a soviet defector, goes to buy coffee and is overwhelmed by the selections. He begins to say .. coffee .. coffee .. coffee .. then passes out. It was like that, only with no accent or fainting. We also had a good selection of lenses, film and accessories too. I was like a kid in a candy store. It wasn't long before the "old guys and Trish" were asking "me" questions about the different cameras. I spent all my free time inspecting, working, and generally handling all of the showcase cameras. I still had my Canon TX so, working 35mm's was pretty natural to me. It got to the point, a couple of years later, where I was selling more of Canon's most expensive model, the A-1, out of J.C. Penny's basement than were being sold out of the various "professional camera stores" in the valley. The Canon rep for the area actually came down to the basement "to meet the kid who was putting in all the special orders" because he had already sold the cameras that were in stock. He became a good friend over the years and loved to tell the J.C. Penny's story years after when I would see him in a camera store while picking up film and Polaroid for my shoots.
It was a good beginning to my quest to become a "professional photographer".
And it was just going to get more interesting along the way.