I've been in training with the US Census all week. Eight-hour days in a church community room with 50 other trainees, all of us looking forward to getting outside.
The Census bureau hired 1100 enumerators (like me), 80 supervisors, and 11 managers in the Little Rock area. Many of us are redundant and we know that the Bureau plans to weed out some people. The competition makes it hard to be friendly with one another. But this is Arkansas, where nobody is a stranger and friendliness rules. So we ended the week more like players on the same team than competitors.
After spending the first day being annoyed at all the dumb questions, side tracks and time-wasting, I decided that friendliness would be better for me, too. So I started asking people about themselves. The trick not only made me much happier but also makes the job easier. I mean, Arkansans just aren't going to answer my Census questions if I'm not willing to invest a few seconds making friendly conversation before getting down to business with them. So, I practiced behaving like a native for the last couple of days. It was fun.
Most of my co-workers have day jobs (like I do) but are still underemployed or just want to earn a bit extra. I didn't meet anybody whose here for the experience or because they want to write about it or because they are amateur genealogists - like me - who feel obliged to help future generations trace their ancestors, like the Census enumerators of the past have done for me. A few people are serving in the military. Some are in school. Some are retirees. Everybody needs the money.
Even though the job pays only $12.75 per hour plus mileage, its often more money than people can earn in their regular jobs. My supervisor is a gunsmith who can't find enough work to support himself. I met more than one person wiped out financially by a recent divorce. One fellow is a zookeeper who earns only $12 per hour after twenty years experience and nine years handling exotic birds for the Little Rock Zoo. Can you imagine: All that expertise and only $12 per hour in pay? I'm shocked.
Mick and I took Honey to the Little Rock Zoo just a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the place but had no idea that its workers are treated so poorly. Makes me wonder what else I'm missing.
In fact, the whole Census experience attracts me because it will send me out looking for people who are living under the radar. In our first day of field practice, they sent me to a part of Little Rock I had never seen - a place where one in five houses is abandoned and the rest are standing only by sheer force of will. It was sobering. And yet it feels good to be looking these folks in the eye, seeing them, not pretending that they don't exist. I'm proud of our government for taking all this effort to count everybody, not just the ones who normally count.
Apparently, the Census bureau hired 650,000 people around the country to check out 48 million addresses nationwide. Here's an Associated Press article about the process, including the training I've just completed. Please, for my sake, if you see Census workers in your neighborhood give them a friendly Arkansas greeting for me.
Here are my pictures of Honey for this post. Ironically, these shots were taken during our aforementioned visit to the LR Zoo. Honey was astonished to see an elephant, a tiger, a monkey. I think she didn't believe that they really exist before seeing them in person. And she was especially astounded to watch an elephant eating an apple - one of her favorite snacks. For weeks afterward, everybody was told, "Elephant, Apple!"
Mick and I continue to enjoy living here. It has started to feel like home. As we get more and more engaged in life here, we have less and less free time. I guess that process is inevitable.
I offered to teach a class at the local Buddhist center (like I used to do in Berkeley), and 40 people signed up. Wow! We are in week five and most of the students are still hanging in there, so I guess they like the class. My accounting job reverted to part-time after tax season ended. Even so, between the class and the new Census job, I feel very pressed for time. But happy.
I miss my friends. And, as always, I long to hear what's up with you. Ciao!