The weather is no longer hitting triple digits every afternoon, which is scant relief for me. Throwing in with the proverbial mad dogs and Englishmen, I spent most of my spare time toiling in the noonday (and later) sun in recent weeks on a huge backyard construction project.
I would say "I'll probably regret this when I'm 60," but I won't have to wait; I regret it now. The yard looks good, but I feel like I got run over by a concrete truck.
Working in the heat helps reconnect me to my roots, so to speak. I grew up on my granddad's farm in Winfield, and started working at my dad's sawmill when I was 12. In fact, I'm the only newspaper guy I know who has actually cut and hauled the pulpwood that paper is made from. Writing for a newspaper has taken my labors full circle.
There is a fundamental, mind-clearing honesty in manual labor that too many desk jockeys never experience. I got a college degree in large part so my manual labor is purely by choice; an awful lot of people do it because they don't think they can do anything else.
But many of the people performing manual labor or jobs considered low skilled are the backbone of our country. Their tenacity in just eking out a living is remarkable.
So, in recognition of Labor Day and in honor of these folks, here is a salute to some of the more valuable, but least applauded, workers in our midst:
- School bus drivers. Hands down, the one job that most people could not or would not do. Sure, just about anyone can physically operate the vehicle; heck, I've driven log trucks weighing three times more.
The difference: the logs don't talk, fight and get off where they shouldn't.
- School nutrition workers and paraprofessionals. In the language of regular folks rather than bureaucrats, we know them as lunchroom ladies and teacher's aides. These folks impart as much fundamental education every day as the best teacher; they just don't get paid as much.
- Administrative professionals. Secretaries and receptionists (what normal people call them) do all of the work for little of the pay, and are often the first encounter customers have with any company. The image of a multi-million-dollar organization can be made or broken based on the skills of this single worker - who often is treated by the public as if everything the company does is their fault.
- Convenience-store clerks, fast-food workers and grocery-store cashiers. How many of us can be pleasant while standing on our feet for eight or more hours a day while a steady stream of indifferent or impolite people demand to be treated like the center of the universe? A new pet peeve is customers talking on a cell phone while being checked out; the cashiers ought to be empowered to add a rudeness surcharge to such folks.
- Used-car salespeople. No, really. While these people can and do make a decent living, this profession is derided even more than door-to-door aluminum-siding salespeople. Imagine yourself standing on hot asphalt, all day long, while tire-kickers walk through, every one of them confident that you're trying to rip them off - and treating you accordingly.
- Newspaper staff. No, really, again. National surveys often show that "the media" is regarded in less esteem than even politicians or used-car salesmen. We try to keep the public informed about their community, and the thanks we get often is limited to people heaping abuse on our lowly heads for not reporting on some non-existent problem that some non-reader thinks they overheard from another customer's cell-phone conversation in the checkout line.
But at least it's easier than pulpwooding.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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