About Me

I feel the wanderlust and the call of the open highway. Which is good, because I drive cars for a living. But I'm a writer, and someday hope to once again make my living using my writing skills.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Census Taking Fool?

After several unhappy incidents recently on my driving job, I thought I might take a break and take a temp job as a Census Taker. The ads were everywhere, and it seemed like it would be an easy job to get.

I went online and found the info I needed to fill out. A few weeks later, I got a call saying that I needed to speak fluent Spanish to do this job, for I might knock on a door where no one in the household speaks English. "So the onus is on me to know how to speak their language, and not on them to be able to speak English in America?" The cheerful Census worker on the phone said, "With Obama comes change."
Whatever that means.

After a few more weeks, I got another call saying I had been hired. I was talking to someone new, and reminded him that I still did not speak Spanish. He didn't know what I was talking about, and said speaking fluent Spanish was only a requirement if you were to be working in a primarily Hispanic area. So I was given my start date, and was told it would begin with one week of training.

I arrived early on my first morning of training at the First Haitian Church of the Emancipated Episcopalian Disciples of the Messiah. It was in the worst part of town, a real ghetto area, and I was a bit concerned about parking my car there. In fact, a rather dicey looking gentleman accosted me outside my car, asking if I'd like to pay him to watch my car and see nothing happened to it. But I had a rental, it was fully insured, so I just thought "Come what may. Screw it, its a rental."

When I walked into the classroom, I was immediately shouted at by the strict, stern, tall and mean woman who would be our trainer. She appeared to be of Mediterranean descent, and had eyes that could burn through the back of your skull. "Why are you here?"

"I'm Bill, I'm here for the Census class."

"Yes, but why are you so early? My class does not begin for 15 more minutes. Did you hear what I said? MY CLASS."

"I just thought..."

"You thought? Tell you what, don't think. OK? Just do as I say and we will all get along just fine. You can start by going outside and wait there til I open the door and invite everyone in."

So I went out and stood in the hot morning sun, and little by little other classmates arrived. I warned them not to go in, but a few of them disregarded my warning. They were met with the same angry admonishments as was I, and they soon joined us back outside. Finally, at one minute til 8am, we were invited in by our teacher, Ms. Suuboco. She led the class with an iron fist, and would take no nonsense and no talking out of turn. I expected her to pull out a ruler and start smacking the back of people's hands, but instead she would just humiliate anyone who dared to defy her. She told us all to get our pencils (which she supplied us) sharpened by the next day. I went to Office Depot, Staples, Office Max, and other places hoping to find an electric pencil sharpener on display. No luck.

The next day, the first thing she said was for us to get out our sharpened pencils. I put mine out, and she immediately saw that they were not ready. "What's the matter, Bill, can't you follow simple instructions? Is it too much for you to sharpen four little pencils? Was that too much of me to ask you? Because clearly all of your classmates accomplished the task." I tried to tell her about all the places I went to sharpen the pencils, and she reached into my supply bag and took out a tiny pink plastic box. "This is a portable pencil sharpener, Bill, and that is what you should have used."

"I've never seen one of these." And that was the truth, I never had! I always used a mechanical pencil in school, the kind you twist to get new lead up. Ms. Suuboco did not believe me, and kept on saying snide remarks about my inability to do a simple task.

"Tell you what Bill, I think you should take your four pencils and your amazing new portable sharpener and go stand in the back corner of the room til you have sharpened them all. What do you think?"

"I think... I don't know what to think."

"Don't try to think, it will give you a headache. Just do as I say, right now."

I felt very embarrassed and a bit humiliated as I dragged back to do as she said. This was the first time I was told to stand in the corner since Kindergarten, though I don't remember feeling quite so ashamed about it back then. I looked out the window and watched cars drive by, and suddenly my driving job started looking really good to me once again. I began to feel the wanderlust surging through me.

After I got back to my seat, Ms. Suuboco started to call on me frequently to answer questions. But before I could even begin to answer, she'd interrupt and say, "Oh never mind, I'm sorry, we went over that material while you were standing in the corner." I felt crushed.

The class continued for the rest of the week. The teacher never let up, but in fact got a lot tougher and nastier. Not much fun at all. Once I got out into the field, I realized just how much most citizens did not want to deal with Census takers. As nice a guy as I am, and as charming as I tried to be, it was all for naught on this job. People didn't see Bill Thomas at their door, they saw The U.S. Government, and many of them threatened me and told me to get off their property quick or else. Each time a car would drive by and I'd feel the slight breeze it left behind brush across my face, I'd remember my life as a Driving Fool. Time to get back on the road again!

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