There are countless ways to make a living in America, and for many people, typing at a desk or working retail just isn’t the right fit. All summer, NPR has been meeting young people who have landed jobs with some wacky job descriptions.
The Aquatic Mailman
Leaping from boat to mailbox in a single bound
Historic mansions dot the 20 miles of shoreline in Lake Geneva, Wis. — where many residents have their mail delivered to their docks. Sightseeing cruises give tourists a chance to view the architecture while watching “mail jumpers” like Garrett Robers, 21, leap onto piers, sprint to mailboxes and jump back onto the boat before it pulls away.
Required skills: Agility, fearlessness and the desire to entertain
Best thing about the job: “Being able to show people a part of the lake and bring them back to a part of history that was really unique. … It’s just really fun. And if you can put on an entertaining tour, it makes the whole time enjoyable.”
Number one downside: Dangerous conditions, such as slippery surfaces and obstacles in the mail jumper’s path. Robers says high waves once sandwiched him between the 75-foot boat and a dock: “Luckily, I didn’t break anything. It easily could have turned out a lot worse. … That’s just part of the job description, I guess — you have to be willing to go through that.”
Only athletes need apply
James Craig is a former linebacker and defensive back at East Carolina University. Last year, as some of his teammates were getting calls from NFL teams, he got a call from Chris Burkey, a scout for the racing team Hendrick Motorsports.
Name: James Craig, 24
How he got the job: “[When Coach Burkey called], I said … ‘I don’t know anything about racing. I’ve never changed a tire, in fact.’ And he said, ‘That’s perfect. We don’t need you to be a race fan — we need you to be an athlete.’
Why he enjoys it: “It’s perfect for a guy my age who’s single, loves to travel, loves to be an athlete. It’s kind of everything I wanted in a job.”
Number one downside: “Traveling is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s something that I really enjoy, but it’s also something that takes you away from family and friends a lot, too.”
Where the job might lead: “For now, I’m happy where I am, trying to move up in the company as much as I can and get on the best team possible. … Right now, I’m just trying to be the best pit crew guy I can be.”
Why bang the drums when you can hammer on bells?
Some 180 carillon bell towers dot the U.S., mostly at churches and college campuses. To make the bells chime, carillonneurs hammer with their fists on wooden pegs the size of broomstick handles. Brigham Young University has carillon recitals every afternoon — often performed by students who have only recently discovered the instrument.
Name: Kymberly Stone, 23
Why she enjoys it: “Up here, I’m by myself and it’s just me and my bells, just playing music I love … it’s very low-pressure.”
Best thing about the job: “Giving tours is my favorite part of my job. When kids come up here, they get so excited. I think some things don’t have value until you understand, so I’m hoping to spread understanding so we can boost its value.”
Number one downside: The physical toll: “My hands get so tired after playing for awhile.”
The Standardized Patient
Acting for the good of medical science
Gabrielle Nuki, 16, is paid to role-play a patient for a medical residency program. She might be a cocaine addict being raised by a grandparent one day, or a soccer player being told she had a terminal illness. Residents are rated on everything from how well they make eye contact to whether they checked Nuki’s spleen.
How did you get the job: “My adviser at school knew I was interested in the medical field, and she suggested I check this out — and here I am.”
Required skills: Good communication, memorization and acting skills.
Best thing about the job: “Creating a character. Each case has what’s on paper, but then you can come in and add another level. You can add your own twist to it, and make it your own to some extent.”
Where the job might lead: “I’m interested in the medical field. I want to be a doctor or surgeon or something along those lines. So this is great … to know what to do … when I’m a medical student.”
The Bat Field Technician
But you can call her “bat girl”
Deep in the woods of East Tennessee, Julia Hoeh, 27, lives a nocturnal life — working shifts that end as late as 3 a.m. She’s helping to research the effects of white nose syndrome on bats, affixing radio trackers to the bats and collecting tissue samples.
Required skills: “An ability to go with the flow and be prepared for schedule changes very frequently. … It seems any time we’re prepared to have days off is when we catch the bat we’ve been looking for.”
Other important skills: The “ability and willingness to go off-trail hiking. Lots of time outdoors at night. Which is probably one of my favorite parts of the job, but some people are scared of being outside in the dark.”
Best thing about the job: “I really enjoy working with bats and getting to see them up close, learn new things about their life cycle and their interactions in the ecosystem — their importance in the whole of the environment that they live in.”
What people don’t understand about bats: “A lot of people think of bats as just a flying mouse … they are so much different than rodents in general. … And they are just so fricking adorable.”
The T. Rex Puppeteer
He’s the dancer inside the Tyrannosaurus rex suit
Eli Presser, 30, is paid to suit up in a 75-pound Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Presser uses his legs to operate the beast, and a bike brake to open its mouth and blink its eyes — and he gets to chase and roar at museum visitors.
How he began puppeteering: “When I was 15 my mother took me to see a performance by a company in Chicago. … I went home that night and built a puppet and brought it to them the next day. From that point on I was an apprentice with the company.”
Required skills: Strength, agility, acting and improvisation ability.
Best thing about the job: “My favorite moments are when I’m wandering the museum. … We do walkabouts where T. rex will roam the museum or the grounds. It’s the same thing I get out of street performing: that sense of people encountering puppetry in places that they do not expect it.”
Where the job might lead: “Recently I started a company with a group of other puppeteers. … We’re meeting every week and designing new puppet shows, and coming up with new ideas for how to bring those shows to people.”
The Planters Peanutter
Dry roasted — and definitely nutty
Talk about landing a nutty post-college job. As a brand ambassador for Planters, Megan Kreuger, 22, drives the 27-foot-long Nutmobile to sporting events and concerts nationwide — when she’s not dressing up as Mr. Peanut himself.
How she got the job: Kreuger initially interviewed for a “hot dogger” position with the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile program. Instead, “they asked me if I was interested in the peanutter position.”
Required skills: Being personable, responsible and trustworthy; a college degree; a willingness to travel around the country.
Number one downside: “It’s hard to pack up and be in a new city every week. … The only constant, really, in your life is what you do at your actual job, and your coworkers. … You just miss consistency, but you find it in other things.”
Where the job might lead: “I’m interested in brand management. … I think I can use many of the skills I’m gaining here. … If it doesn’t help get you a job, it’ll at least get you a first interview, because people are just curious about it — they want to hear what it’s like to drive a peanut around the country.”
The Table-side Cliff Diver
Offering a side of entertainment with your dinner
You’ll find the so-called “Disneyland of Mexican restaurants” tucked into a rundown strip mall just outside of Denver. Casa Bonita is famous not for its food, but for staged gun fights, pirates — and divers. Every night, they scale a 30-foot cliff inside the restaurant … and leap.
Name: Ethan Larson, 21
Required skills: “Diving, fire juggling and ‘acting.’ I say acting in parentheses because I was hired with zero acting ability — [I] learned it all while working here.”
Best thing about the job: “When little kids tell you that you are awesome and that those dives were the coolest thing they have ever seen.”
Where the job might lead: “We have former divers working as professional divers all over the country, doing dive shows at amusement parks [and] competing in cliff diving [competitions]. I would like to be able to dive professionally for a cruise ship and travel the world that way!”