Friday, May 8, 2009

Blood, Sweat and Cement

For as long as i can remember, there is only one thing I've ever really wanted to do as a "grown-up". Some may call it "low ambition" but I wouldn't call it that at all. I see it for what it is and not what it looks like on paper when compared to the money making careers around today. I'm talking about the the city workers who perform street maintenance and also the Caltrans workers who repair and lay cement on the freeways.

Their work is really taken for granted. When we race down Interstate 5, do we ever think to ourselves "wow, at 90mph and for 6-7 hours, we've got a perfectly layed concrete road all the way there. No matter where we want to go, the road is paved, lined and waiting for us. There is a reason for my deep appreciation for the road.

I've always wanted to be a street worker.... not a street walker... i wanted to work on the street maintenance crew. To fill pot holes, to wear the orange shirt or orange vest, to push that big push broom, drink water out of the Igloo water jug. I've always wanted to be one the guys standing there in a cloud of dust as someone tears through the ground with a jack hammer, wave the cars along slowly with a little "slowly" sign, to paint the lines, lay down the little reflectors. It's an honorable job and one that doesn't get the appreciation it deserves.

Today, the "cool" jobs are in the medical field or finance. The "powerful" people, and money makers are sitting inside tapping away on computer keyboards and making phone calls. They have appointments, they bullshit people and make deals. These jobs do make money but they aren't what I call "work". They're careers for sure, they make a living and may very well be what that person has always wanted to do. To me though, unless it's a physical, strenuous, dirty job... it isn't work.

To me, what an honorable day's work consists of, is changing into a uniform, clocking in, getting an assignment, riding out to a work site and sweating through the day, going home achy and tired and being able to pass by the work site the next day and see all the cars taking advantage the all your day's work.

A few days ago, i had the pleasure of attending a tour of South San Francisco's Corporation Yard. A building which houses the city departments in charge of sewer repairs, street lights, street cleaning, street signs and street maintenance. This visit reminded me of my old ambition. A desire I don't think I'll ever get to satisfy.

Where did i get this idea that an honest living requires blood and sweat. I guess i can attribute these values to the TV i watched growing up. I remember Fred Flintstone working the quarry, and whether the episode showed him at work or not, we knew he was working at the quarry that day because it was in the intro to the cartoon. I never related much with Mr. Slate, it was Fred and Barney I respected for their hard work. Maybe you remember in the movie Annie, when Annie asked "How will EARN MY KEEP?". To this day, I still feel that a night after a physically hard day's work is so much more enjoyable when you know you've earned that rest with your sweat and strain. When your muscles ache and skin is sunburned.

There are some smells that don't seem to wash off. At my job, you often get transmission oil in your hair. Grease washes out, engine oil... that washes out too. Tranny fluid.... almost impossible to remove, I cannot tell you why. So when you go home and shower, and you feel fresh, there are some smells that will always remind you of the day's work. On the street, those fellas have a certain smell. It's these smells that separate the working men, the "Paul Bunyans" from the hedge fund guy or the computer analyst. I maintain, when you work so hard that you can still smell your job after a hot shower... you're a laborer.

Yes some people are good with their brains. They use their intellect to bargain and bullshit. They can use their mind to work statistics, formulas and numbers. Then there are the boys who use their brawn, their muscles and stamina. That to me is honorable and respectable and i envy the job they get to do everyday. I am lucky enough to work with my hands and i too have a physically challenging job but street maintenance is something I've always wanted to do. Unfortunately, as a woman, it isn't likely I'll ever get to enjoy a evening rest after a long day out with the cones, the back hoe, the bob cat, the gravel, the shovels and the ORANGE SHIRT.

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