EconoMicks

EconoMicks
After the movers had unloaded the last truck, while The Muse tried to reconcile the manifest with what seemed to have manifested in the new place, I sat with the crew while they rested in the shade beneath the empty truck. The conversation quickly turned to the economy. I knew they were being paid ten bucks an hour for carting what I considered heavy loads down that steep side yard or up that steeper stairway in the late summer heat. I wondered why they did this.

They quickly agreed that this was a good job. One said that he’d made the mistake of not finishing school, though he’d since studied to become certified as a physician’s assistant. While that paid more per hour, it offered no possibility of overtime so it actually paid less. Another reported that he’d completed a stint in the army then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, but that this was the best paying job he could find. He could work at Walmart, he noted, or as a prison guard, but the Walmart didn’t pay as well and the prison guard work was demeaning, dangerous, and ultimately dissatisfying.

I was surprised that everyone on the crew, save the elder Robert, had spent time working for the private prison industrial complex. One reported that the turnover there was extreme. They offered no training, low pay, and extremely high turnover. One reported that he has a friend who had managed to stay for nearly a year and a half, and so had more seniority than anyone including the warden. All agreed that they’d rather unload truck than go back to prison work, though one noted that he could have become a highly paid parole officer if he could have stomached that guard work for a couple of years.

I was delighted to be chatting with such bright, engaging ‘kids.’ I’ll take the liberty to call them kids because their average age was certainly less than half of mine. They were disciplined, determined, and damned straight. One explained that he’d wrecked his back moving a four hundred pound desk with a kid who didn’t know how to carry. The desk had slipped, leaving the guy with two slipped lower back disks and a couple of painful ones in his neck. He moved like a ballerina toe dancing on thumb tacks and could hardly sit down without wincing in paid, but I’d watched him refuse assistance when he moved that mattress inside and up that long staircase.

All agreed that they could not afford to live in Denver, and wouldn’t. They live down in The Springs instead, where rents are less than half what the city demands. They commute seventy miles each way for a ten buck an hour job instead. The moving company just built a huge new warehouse out by the airport, but, one reported, that warehouse has already filled up and he could not see a way that they would be able to abandon their old warehouse. This means job security for these guys. The Muse notes that seven thousand people move to Denver each month, but only seven hundred housing units come on the market. This must translate into great demand for storage units as people peck away seeking a place to live or settle for more modest digs that can’t contain all of their stuff.

“It’s ridiculous,” another started. “They have crews working twenty four seven just unloading incoming trucks and crating up their contents. They’re way behind, and separate loads with tape barricades until crates can be moved into place. You’d be amazed at how much stuff gets lost.” I thought of The Muse reconciling the manifest inside. We later learned that we were missing some stuff after spending the balance of the afternoon rechecking every freaking box number against the original packing list. We’ll see whether we ever see those things again.

I’d run out to the supermarket early that morning to buy some provisions for the crew. Not knowing how many would be there, I bought cokes and ginger ale (which I consider to be a beverage but learned that nobody on the crew did), and a bunch of bottles of water, a bag of ice, and a few muffins and a coffee cake thing. I’d planned to arrive appropriately early, chill everything down, and have everything ready before the crew arrived. I decided to take the terrifying freeway up to the place to save time, but shortly ran into a traffic clog resulting, we learned from the radio, from someone hitting a road repair crew’s truck parked in a work zone. Hundreds of cars and truck lined up and an instant ten mile traffic jam appeared. We were near the front of it, and I assumed the crew with their big truck were right in there with us. I managed to slip off the freeway, though that took me on a ten mile detour. We arrived about ten minutes after the truck and the frenzy quickly commenced.

I threw the beverages into my little beleaguered ice chest, displayed the pastries, and threw the balance into the freezer for quick chilling. The first break came about an hour later. These guys unloaded at a pace, but also paced themselves, lying in the shade for a few minutes every hour or so before jumping back in. The Muse and I were dizzy trying to direct boxes with little external description to rooms we had not completely decided the purpose of. A couple of hours into the effort, I realized that the kitchen could not contain all the kitchen boxes, so I asked the smallest crew member, the one with the wrecked back, if he could grab a hand truck and give me a hand. We moved all those boxes to the back deck for staging while we got to know each other.

I asked him if he was new to this work and he asked me why I asked. I told him that he seemed to run at a different rhythm than the others. He thought it curious that I would ask because he’d been working as a mover since he was fourteen when his uncle started taking him along to help. They’d be gone six weeks between home, stay a few days, then head back out again. I guess this ‘kid’ was maybe twenty, but he’d visited forty eight states, settling in Lubbock, Texas, where he’d worked three jobs, including a stint as a prison guard. “There’s always plenty of work down there,” he recalled. “I could work at a gas station evenings and still hold down a full time day job, then do something else on weekends.” This was his first day working with this crew, though. I suspect he’d been trying to fit in when I’d pointed out his different rhythm. I think that observation might have pissed him off.

I was “sir” from the crew members, though, typical of me, could not recall their names. I thanked them a thousand times and treated them with equal deference. The Muse was, of course, “mam”, which we both find a most curious expression. I once asked a waitress if she had just mammed The Muse, and she stopped short, blinking twice before replying that she certainly had. The whole effort remained rather formal, though warm. We were the customers. They remained the deferential service providers. Never the twain shall meet. I’m never very comfortable as the overseer, having read too much history of management to unselfconsciously engage, but there was no breaking that barrier. I could offer cold cokes and waters, which were gratefully received, but I could not ever stand in their shoes.

Robert, the elder of the group, regaled us with his stories about moving NFL players. He’d discovered that I was a writer and told me that I had to give him a book, properly inscribed and signed, and I promised I would. One player had given him a XXXXX large jersey, signed to Robert’s three sons. “That guy had three hundred pairs of size 22 shoes, and his maid was pouring all his booze down the drain. Boss’s orders. I could have cried looking at the price tags on those bottles. I mean, three hundred fifty bucks for a bottle and it goes down the drain?” Robert was the wise old man of the group, the most experienced, and the only one that still smoked.

I asked if there were people that just worked the warehouse. This raised a couple of chuckles. “Not everyone there should really have any contact with customers,” one said. Some are drunk all day, or show up smelling like a brewery. A few are constantly stoned. They wouldn’t present well out in the customer world.

I recalled the stories I’d read of laborers in the past where some trades were expected to not quite fit in. Sawyers spent half of every working day in the pub, but were still accepted as part of the crew. Anyone spending half their day working a two man saw from the bottom of an eight foot trench looking up deserved to spend half their day in the pub, provided they could produce perfect boards. If the product was fine, the behavior was accepted. I felt reassured that there were still places for the aberrant ones to work. That they hadn’t all been hauled off to the private prison industrial complex for segregation from the general population.

These guys, though, had been up at five, driven their requisite seventy miles to the warehouse, then made it to the worksite, our new house, by eight thirty. Then they worked until after one, requisite shade breaks notwithstanding, before heading back to the warehouse again. They’d work late, perhaps after a bite of lunch or not. I’d noticed on earlier moves that the movers didn’t eat much. They didn’t pack a lunch and I’d seen ‘em work seven hours in high heat and humidity, taking hardly more than water and occasional shade. They are in exceptional shape, save the compressed disks and gimpy legs common to heavy laborers everywhere.

To a person, they were jovial, quick with the joke or sidelong comment. I asked after that and the kid who’d started moving at fourteen explained as sweat dripped down his face. When he’d first started moving, he found the work oppressive. He complained plenty but his mentoring uncle explained that he would have to find his own satisfaction in the work because the work itself would never reach out to satisfy him all by itself. It was then that he noticed how everyone else on the crew was an endless joke machine. Every little sideways event was worthy of at least a chuckle. Then the days began to grow shorter. “Oh yea,” he insisted, “You’ve got to make a good time doing this or it’ll just kill you.”

My economic class, if I am a member of an economic class, might have forgotten about the real economy at work around us. Those reportedly unfortunate enough to have a formal career where the paycheck magically arrives every two weeks might not have connection to the world where every day, pay demands deference and self respect. Where a hundred and fifty mile commute combines with a ten buck clock time to make a living; a life. Where economic power means the authority to refuse some kinds of work and the willingness to engage in hard physical labor to avoid demeaning toil. Where one respects the prescribed break schedule then breaks their butt in-between. Where one learns the necessity of making light of difficulty lest it literally kill you.

I cannot imagine a better introduction to our new neighborhood; our new region of the country. I complained later that day as I schlepped boxes to where I had intended them to be delivered in the first place, but I recognized that The Muse and I were unreliable directors and that the people who had moved us in had more skin in our game than we’d ever asked or paid for. We did the very best we could under the circumstances with the information we had available at the time. Besides, after standing aside watching the glorious morning’s work, I needed to get a hand in
that game. I’m more than twice their age, but I still need some sweat on my brow and that well-deserved tired with an achy muscle or two by the end of any overlong day. It might have been inefficient to move some boxes twice in one day, but economy had very little to do with anything that happened there.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved










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