It's a late night, and I arrived just over an hour ago, in NYC. It is 30 degrees in New York and 80 degrees in Mom's apartment. So much for sustainability. I teach a class in sustainable design and use more than a tank of gas to drive to and from VT, and the landlord of the building pumps out heat with no monitors on the radiator unless someone opts to turn off the valve. He uses the worst quality, most ozone-damaging fuel oil and clearly is unconcerned about his role in planetary health. So the radiator is pumping and the window is open.
Yesterday, H and I went Christmas shopping in Manchester and Bennington. We went to the outlets and I got new orthotics from a podiatrist who owns the local hiking store. He explained metatarsal arches and looked at my feet analyzing bumps I never noticed and the curve of my instep, and my gait...and I only went in to buy some gifts. I left with gifts in hand,, and a new stride which he says will cause me pain before it gets better. He encouraged me to work into the insoles and come back in two to three weeks and he will analyze my feet again. He didn't charge me for the metatarsal support or the podiatric consult. Yet another example of the Vermont ethic... giving people more than they knew they wanted. (Oh yes, and both employees asked me how I felt and cautioned me not to overdo it, after a test drive across the street to the Northshire Bookstore. One had consulted on my gift purchase earlier, and the other was a mere bystander.)
We stopped in a craft store that we like in Manchester, chatted with two of the artists and then drove on to Bennington, to a craft store that H likes, on our way to one that I like, but as in earlier posts, everything was locked up tight at 6 p.m. on a Saturday, 2 weeks before Christmas. It is enough to make you believe that a lot of Cinderellas with pumpkin coaches live in Vermont. We had planned to have dinner at the well known Blue Benn Diner which has a remarkable menu - most of it posted on 8 x 11 sheets of paper all over the inside walls-quesadillas to cream of mushroom soup, and cider doughnuts to brisket, but alas they were also closed. We wound up at a Brew pup on the main street where we snagged two bar stools rather than wait 20 minutes for a table. There were two Christmas parties in the rooms upstairs with a band playing sing-along favorites that are part of bar culture. We watched while the bartender mixed 8 or more pints of various beers, Long Island Iced Tea, White Russians and a broad range of other mixed drinks and arranged them on trays for the waiters and waitresses to carry upstairs. A lime meant the drink was alcoholic, an orange wedge signified something that was alcohol-free, and each glass was identified as the tray was picked up. We watched tray after tray disappear up the stairs on the arms of Mel the owner's son who "incorporated" in 1994 fulfilling his post-college dream, and Deb, who has been working for more than 20 years. "Dad" filled his glass three times in an hour, but the main event was Desiree the bartender who was a whirl, mixing drinks, filling glasses, restocking her garnishes and bottles, replenishing glassware, busing tables, taking payment, and keeping up the banter with her customers at the bar. Each trip was useful for some task, and there was absolutely no down time, though in the two hours that we were there, we did see her take a sip from her own water bottle once.
There's probably a joke somewhere in "two ethnographers walk into a bar," but H and I watched dumbstruck at her finesse. We got her talking about her husband who works as a cook at the hospital and her 18 month old son. We got her talking about the time she was laid off from another job at the same time that her husband was laid off, and the EIGHT jobs they took to make ends meet. And we got her talking about her marriage and her child and the difficulties of being a new parent. And we watched someone who loved the work she is doing. "No stress" she said, as she filled yet another tray. "She's awesome" the waitress and waiter said, admiring yet another one-leg-two-armed-kick-stretch-and-reach across the kid who was replacing glasses as fast as she could fill them. "I never get my drink orders filled as fast as when she's here," Mel said.
What does any of this matter on a hot-cold late New York night after another long drive? I am thinking about what it is to do the work you love. I am thinking about what it is to have the chance to be good at what you do because it is what you do all day. I am thinking about what it is to try to do that work when you have a husband and a child who need your attention. The writer Arlie Hochschild wrote an article called "No Place Like Work" in which she described people who find work less stressful than their lives at home; described people who would rather stay at work than come home to demands that aren't so clearly defined. And I am thinking about the many people we know who never get the chance to do the jobs that reward them for the work they can do.
Oh yes, and one more thing... I am thinking about people who do what they do because it makes the people around them feel good, and it makes the people around them, able to do what they do better...OK so that's an awkward phrase, but Desiree not only was happy doing her job, but she made us happy, and she made the waiters and waitresses better at their jobs, and they made their customers happy. Not bad for a day's work.