Saturday, October 04, 2014

Jobs. Dirty and Otherwise.

I sold cars for about a year.
I about starved to death doing it, I clearly was not God's gift to the dealership and found myself to be best at two things: keeping my treat-drawer full for co-workers and cruising around the lot in golf carts. Not to say I was lazy. That wasn't the case. I know how to sell, I know customer service. I just don't know cars. Somewhere up in the Debbieland that is my brain, the crucial love gene for cars is missing. I probably should have applied with Peterbuilt. Those things I could sell because I really, really love big trucks. But try as I might.....and it's a continuing joke with my adopted work-son from the GMC/Buick experience, I just really, truly can't tell cars apart. They all look alike to me. I would ride around the lot all day, quizzing myself......ok, what kind of truck is that? What year? Work son would come out with me...."What's that?" he'd ask, pointing to a shiny new whatever on the lot. He'd get a blank stare.
He'd laugh. "But I bet if I showed you a painting, you could tell me the names of all the colors of blue in it, right?" Yep. He was right. I love paintings. I just don't love cars.
So there I wandered. Clueless. I couldn't tell my Verano from my Lacrosse. Couldn't see the difference between an Enclave and an Equinox. It probably wouldn't come as a surprise to learn, those things are kinda important when you're selling cars. I would hate for anyone to ever know how many times I walked out into the lot with a clicker, trying to find a specific vehicle to show a customer, frustrated because I couldn't get anything to wink at me......only to find I was three rows over from the model for which I was searching. I'd grab one of the guys and ask if they knew where the Ivory Acadia with the DVD player was.....and they'd point to the other side of the lot.
What I did love about selling cars was the customers.
I've always loved customers.
Two important geographical influences come into play here: a John Deere plant was located just a couple miles down the road. And I live in an agricultural state. Lots of my customers were factory workers and farmers.
I sold a really nice GMC Sierra to a super-nice kid who worked at Deere. Thankfully, he came in knowing exactly what he wanted. Even more thankfully, I was able to find it on the lot. Even MORE thankfully I was able to climb up into the thing 'cause it was a big, big boy. And best of all: his credit was excellent. BAM. So I sold this truck to him and as we're going about the whole paperwork process I ask him about his work.
His sweet face lit up like I'd plugged him into the wall. He came alive.
I'll interject here: I have lots of factory workers in my family. They build tires, they build cotton pickers. I've shared holiday meals and Sunday afternoon gatherings at Grandma's with them for years and I don't ever....not ever....recall seeing one of their faces light up over their work. I heard talk about the union. I heard talk about lay-offs. I heard talk about overtime and cruel managers. I never saw their faces light up like this kids. I was completely captivated by it and had to ask him more, trying to find out what it was that made him light up so.
Here is what I learned: he had great pride in what he was doing. He explained the entire production process to me, how each stage of production has a set of tasks to complete and when each is done, before the machine moves on down the line to the next stage, the department tags the piece with their team number as having been completed.
The tags were a big deal. He told me his department's tag number.
Told me what had to happen before it was tagged and where their tag was placed in the whole grand scheme of completing the cotton picker before it loads up on a truck and ships off to cotton country.
And he told me......"You can go see one, if you want! They've got them on display out front of the plant." He gave me his tag number and told me where to look.
So one sunny Sunday afternoon I drove over to the plant to check it out. Sure enough, out front was a line of massive pieces of equipment in ( for everyone around here, anyway) our favorite John Deere green. This particular plant builds cotton pickers. Just the tires alone on the things were taller than me. Big, big machines.
And I found his teams tag, right where he told me to look.
They work on the electrical harnesses in his department.

I felt like a mom who went to Junior High Open House and found her kid's essay on the bulletin board for all the visiting parents to say. Damn, but all of a sudden I was just so proud of this kid and his small part in building this big machine. I took about a hundred pictures and couldn't wait to talk to him and tell him I'd seen his work when he came in to get his truck serviced in a few weeks.

Beyond charmed by the pride this young guy took in his work, I was encouraged by it, too.
If you follow Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, you know he's launched efforts to bring some national attention to the need for skilled labor; to bring a sense of pride back to factory floors and other places where "dirty jobs" have taken their hits over the years as high schools, for whatever reason, began encouraging kids to go the college route in preparation for a white-collar world. Somewhere along the way, pride in labor lost it's shine.
Well, I love the effort. And I loved this kid.
I've had to dress up for lots of the work I've done over the years, but my blood is factory-floor-oily and gravel-road-grimy right down to the tiniest vein that runs under my skin. I come from a long line of people who got their hands dirty for a living. My great-aunts worked 10-hour days picking bad pieces from conveyor belts of corn kernels in a canning town; my uncles threw tires; my grandfather was on the railroad. My uncle worked in the coal mines. Hard work is who I am. I knew who this kid was: this kid was my people.
I love it that he is so young and that he glows with so much pride over a job.....a labor job.....well done. I wish I could say I did as well in the car biz. I smile when I think back to it. I'd do it all again, despite the fact I was so very miserably mediocre at it, just to get to meet those farm and factory boy customers again. They inspired me. He inspired me. And I hope he's loving driving that new truck.

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