Fruit picking was my first job out of high school. My friend Stuart and I wanted to go see the world. I asked my parents: "Stuart and I want to go see the world. You don't mind do you?" I'm not sure if they thought I was being serious or not. "No, that's fine. Have fun." As was (and still is) typical in my family, there was no other real discussion of the topic. They listened graciously to any information I volunteered, but steadfastly offered no advice. A kind of parenting zen. I didn't ask my parents for money, because I knew they didn't have any to spare. Stuart's family was a little better off, but they had made it clear that he was to raise his own money if he wanted to go traipsing about the planet. Luckily for us, a family friend owned a small citrus orchard and needed a couple of worthies to help bring in the harvest. So for the first half of that Summer, we went fruit picking.
You can make good money fruit picking, although it doesn't seem like it at first. We picked oranges at first. They're the easiest for beginners, because it's harder to damage the fruit. You have a ladder, and an apron with a pouch. You put the ladder against the tree, climb until the fruit is all around you, and fill the pouch. Then it's down the ladder with a full pouch, and unstrap the pouch from the bottom to let the oranges fall into a large wooden crate. Rinse and repeat from first light until it's too dark to see.
At first, you think it'll take all day to fill the wooden crate. You could easily lie down inside the crate, any way you chose. It takes half a dozen trips up and down the ladder just to cover the bottom of the crate. And, at first, it does take you until lunchtime to fill your first crate of the day, and Mr. Carmano, the grandfatherly guy who has hired you, shakes his head and wonders out loud about your prospects as a fruit picker. And Mike, who's been fruit picking for years, and has already filled four crates this morning, is smiling because it looks like there's going to be plenty of work for him this year. Because you don't get paid by the hour, you get paid by the crate. And right now, you're not even breaking minimum wage.
But soon, you start to get the rhythm of fruit picking. You angle the ladder so that you can climb and descend without using your hands. You acquire that peculiar twist-snap wrist movement that separates the fruit cleanly from the stem without wasted movement. You're surprised when the occasional orange doesn't seem to want to leave the tree. A second twist-snap does the job. Like all fruit pickers, you devise elaborate schemes for increasing the fruit holding capacity of your apron. None of them are even remotely sensible. Soon you can fill two crates before lunch, then three. Instead of wondering just how full the crate has to be to count, you add a couple of pouch-loads for good measure.
We probably could have earned more fruit picking that Summer, Stuart and I, but every time we went to the river to swim, we came back with an invitation to a party, and the flashing eyes of the local farmer's daughters were too much for us to resist. It didn't matter in the end. Those first earnings were a fortune to us, and the coming of the New Year turned both of our thoughts to the road. It wasn't long before we were on a bus, and then a plane.
19 hours ago