I am doing the most bloggery of all blogger things: Taking up valuable space in a restaurant. I’m at this particular one for a couple of reasons, but the main one is there’s construction going on next door. A few weeks ago they took down a building and now they’re, I don’t know, doing whatever you do next. Grading, maybe? Except they’re still taking out chunks of stuff, so I don’t know. I didn’t get to take demolition classes in school.
Which brings me to my point.
You should see this guy work the backhoe. It is really amazing. Here’s one guy, just a normal sized guy, MOVING THE EARTH. He works the digger with the same fluidity you or I might spoon our soup. Well, you might spoon your soup. I’m not so much what they call graceful. This guy has to be aware of everyone around him so no one ends up as the cherry on top of a dirt sundae. The area he’s excavating is fairly tight. The restaurant is on one side–he’s no more than twenty feet from me–and there’s another business on the other side with parking in front. You want to try digging out a concrete foundation when there’s a BMW five feet from you? I didn’t think so.
When they took the building down, there was a guy working what I believe to be called a Picky Thing. His job was to pull out all the valuable stuff from the rubble. Wire, copper, anything that could be reused or sold. Now, you may be really good at that game in the arcade where you have to maneuver the claw over the stuffed monkey your kid wants, but try doing that with a claw as big as a Toyota. And the monkey is actually a piece of copper the width of a wire hanger.
My husband thinks the guy driving the backhoe must have a great sense of satisfaction in his job. It’s very measurable. You start the day with a hill, you end it with a plane. You start the day with a house, you end it with a dump truck full of concrete and plaster. It’s not like he’s doing mindless work. He’s got to calculate distance, angles, how much force to use, and he’s got to watch out for all the other construction guys who, as far as I can tell, just stand around and marvel at this guy’s ability. Right now he’s using the front part (Is that a skid loader? I don’t know what it’s called) to break up more dirt and concrete from what was the parking lot. There’s a guy directing him, using hand motions similar to the ones used when guiding a jet to its terminal. The guy driving the backhoe can’t really see what he’s doing. It appears he’s going by touch and by this guy’s signals. Oh, and he’s got to make sure he doesn’t scoop up the guy who’s guiding him. I have a feeling that would piss him off.
My husband and I are sort of envious of this guy’s job. Not sort of. We are. He can be outside, his goals are clear, his job does something. Chuck and I would have never have had the opportunity to learn to do what he does. We were of a socioeconomic level that made it impossible to learn a skill. We were taught to think. You know the saying about liberal arts majors: I think, therefore I’m a liberal arts major. If we had even mentioned wanting to learn to use a backhoe, lathe, or a blowtorch, we’d have been subjected to a long speech about being engineers or architects. I don’t think our parents would have said that, necessarily. I think there’s no way in hell the smart, middle class white kids we were would have been allowed to linger in the vo-tech building.
What this guy does is highly skilled. It’s important. And while he probably doesn’t live on one of the big houses on Belvedere, I’m guessing he makes a decent wage. Were Chuck and I to do it over, we’d probably learn to DO something. The problem is that we don’t value jobs that DO something. As Ken Robinson says, we’re educating kids from the waist up. We keep talking about growing the economy, adding jobs, having a bright future, but we don’t want to train the crane operators, welders, and truck drivers who will make all that possible.
I get a little upset when I hear the motto of Memphis City Schools: Every Child. Every Day. College Bound. Not every child needs to go to college. Every child should have the opportunity to go. No one should not be able to go because of money. But not everyone needs to go to a liberal arts college. Right now I’m thinking of something I once heard. It takes a PhD to clog a toilet and a GED to unclog it. So who’s really smarter?