It starts as a joke at the bar. Someone asks us what we do, and we just can’t resist. “I’m an ice-cream taster.” A wine taster. A sports mascot. A professional poker player. A chaise-lounge tester. Ha, ha, ha. Thing is ... some folks really do get paid to hold these jobs. (OK, we made up the chaise-lounge tester. But we did find a golf-club tester.)
These folks, though, they’ve got it tough.
Sure, Chuck Thompson gets a salary to play poker at Bay 101 Card Club in San Jose, Calif., but as a “proposition player” he’s got to ante up his own money. And Cold Stone Creamery’s Ray Karam not only has to taste the ice cream, he’s got to mix it, too. That can get awful messy.
And, yes, Greg Harrington gets to taste wines all day as beverage director of B.R. Guest Restaurants, which runs nearly a dozen New York restaurants — but he spits that wine out. With 100 bottles or wine or more to taste each day, he can swirl a sip in his mouth for just moments before making up his mind — because there are always distributors waiting at the door to give him another bottle. “We could probably set up an appointment every half-hour for every hour of the day for five days and do this and do nothing else,” Harrington says.
No question it’s a great feeling to get paid to do something you love. But perhaps it is not the case, as Mae West once claimed, that “too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Do your favorite hobby every day, all day, and the glee just might subside.
“I’ve had it described to me as a kid in a candy store, every day of the year, and just to take myself seriously, I’d like to think that it’s a little more serious than that,” says Golf Magazine’s Rob Sauerhaft, who spends his day on the links reviewing equipment. “I think at the end of the day, it’s still a job.”
Playing with real money
After all, employers need these folks to make decisions that can involve real money — whether to recommend a nine-iron to 1.4 million readers, or to buy several thousand cases of wine. As such, none of them have any illusions about their role. Thompson knows the club looks to him to spice up quiet tables and keep their customers anteing up: “They just need the body in the chair.”
Still, it’s not a bad gig to get paid for what you’d do anyway. Thompson notes his current job — he was a pro poker player before — has perks like health insurance and let him apply for home loans.
Ted Giannoulas pecks up an estimated $300,000 a year to be the San Diego Chicken, one of the nation’s premier sports mascots. (“It’s a poultry sum,” he offers. “I’m just a working-class chicken.”) He also just plucked himself a sponsorship with Country Crock spreads.
Of course, you still have to be pretty darn good at a pastime — eating, drinking, playing — before someone will put you on salary.
“There aren’t really very many people that can really do it ... because it takes a lot of discipline,” Thompson says. “I’ve seen an awful lot of people try it and fail.”
But if you really have the talent — and it is a talent — that mix of work and fun can sometimes end up tasting awfully sweet. As Ray Karam notes: “I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do for a living.”