One time I enumerated an address on a large parcel which had the most gorgeous 100 year old firs and cedars on it. Glorious! But at ground level, they had probably 50 old cars and pickups stashed between the trees. And maybe 5 RVs scattered behind the deteriorating singlewide and a few campers setting on concrete blocks. Lots of junk around, but also some creative, homey touches. Rainbows and dreamcatchers and potted plants. Quite a commune.
You go into these situations with your official government regalia and you don’t know how you will be received. In these days of polarizing misinformation and distrust, all you can do is be friendly and courteous and hope for the same in return. In this case they were.
I had expected some resistance or subterfuge, but the owner of the property, an aging hippie, gave me all the details of everyone living in those RVs.
One fellow was his friend and his son who were having a hard time of it and needed a place to stay.
Another woman in an artfully-adorned little trailer there was “in recovery”, and had been living there a few years. Someone else was a caregiver for another resident who was wheelchair-bound. Everyone looked much older than their years, despite the fact that they were my age or younger. Poverty, ill-health and substances take a toll on a face.
“Seemed like the right thing to do, giving them a place. We’ve got the room,” he said. His gruffness was tempered by his extended-family-style warmth. Salt of the earth.
“Absolutely,” I said.
Addresses with various RVs and trailers littering the property were sometimes daunting. At one place, a long-haired man in his 70s came barreling out from behind one, fulminating in high dudgeon about me being the 4th census taker to come by, they already did theirs once online and again in person to the last census worker. “Just what kind of a stupid organization do you work for, anyway??” he roared.
He probably thought I would respond with equal bluster to the contrary, but I had no reason to doubt his word. Instead, I cut him off mid-rant with sympathetic disgust, “I KNOW!! Makes us look like COMPLETE IDIOTS, doesn’t it??” and threw up my hands in exasperation.
He stopped in his tracks and let out a belly laugh. After that, he was helpful, friendly and kind. His wife came out, too, and they gave me the rundown on their tenants and squatters, for the third time. Salts of the earth.
Only after I was done and leaving did I see the Trump stickers all over his pickup.
Late Stage Early Boomers
Both of the above cases are the early generation of boomers come to the twilight of their years, getting by on their social security, disability and medicare. Busy dealing with dysfunctional descendants, the economic fallout of a corporate economy, aging, and their own bad luck & bad choices.
Both were sharing what they have with those that have less, sometimes gladly, sometimes grudgingly. So much in common, though they probably would not have the time of day for each other, because politically they might even come to blows.
We Did Look Like Idiots Sometimes
Different enumerators were sent out multiple times to the same addresses to verify what a previous enumerator had recorded or maybe they just didn’t input things correctly. One person might not be able locate a house, but a second person did.
Sometimes lack of data connectivity in rural areas caused us to have to backtrack a few miles to refresh our day’s address list.
Often the house numbers had been changed by the municipality since the last census, but the old numbers were still in the system. A census questionnaire may have been done for the correct new address number, but we were still being sent out to enumerate the old address — an address that no longer existed.
At the end of the day, I would be surprisingly worn out. Partly from peering at the tiny print on the iphone (why would the Census Bureau not build an app where we could increase the font size, when they know most of us are over 50 and going blind??) Partly from searching for the addresses on Google maps and in the real world. And also partly from navigating people’s personalities.
4 Replies to “Salts of the Earth”
Thanks again Alia. I read all of the newest census taking articles. My favorite was ‘High Dudgeon’. The way you surprisingly threw up your hands and said, “I KNOW!! Makes us look like COMPLETE IDIOTS, doesn’t it??” That’s about as disarming as you can get. It made me laugh just like guy you were talking to.
I’ll look forward to more.
Thanks, Bruce! I’ve got one more post about the census percolating in the back of my mind, but it may be time to write about other things…
Great anecdotes, makes me miss talking to strangers!
It’s a very strange world we live in these days.