Thursday, August 29, 2002
Photos (clockwise from left): Cathy Gable, Doula; Juan Milan, Manure Manager; Tony Tennyson, Unexploded Ordnance Remover; Don Chartier, Beer taster.
We believe it was the philosopher Bertrand Russell who once said, "One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one''s work is terribly important."
Taking these words to heart, we have embraced the idea that the subject of jobs-other people''s jobs, anyway-can be kind of kicky and fun. Hence, in celebration of Labor Day, we offer this lighthearted (not nervous-breakdown-ish in the least) look at various occupations in our milieu: the good, the bad, the gnarly.
And did we get a schooling.
Many of the jobs we thought of as "bad" actually turned out to be "good," and many of the jobs we thought of as "good" actually turned out to be "bad," according to the people who actually do them. This made us ask ourselves: what, then, makes a good job, and what makes a bad one?
It seems the good jobs involve autonomy, variety and something pleasurable: the satisfaction of carving a perfect line through The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, for example. The bad ones involve a sense of powerlessness, the feeling that one is beleaguered, and unpleasant sensations or emotions. Like inspecting prisoners'' shoes at the jail.
But what if an unpleasant sensation -say, a bad smell-is coupled with autonomy?
Surprise! In our unofficial study, autonomy and other intangible positives win out over danger or discomfort a surprising proportion of the time.
This is something employers forget, if they ever knew it. In the great engine of the economy we''ve all come to know and fear, it is product-and specifically, product that is worth more than the labor that made it-that counts. Worker satisfaction takes a distant back seat to this imperative. (Remember, you read it here first.)
As if to shore up the Weekly''s blue-collar research, last week National Public Radio reported that in a survey of worker satisfaction, a majority of people responded that the greatest satisfaction they enjoyed all day derived from arriving at and leaving the workplace. Now that is a sad commentary indeed.
We could really uncork a rant on the subject of employment in the capitalist construct, but we''re so damn grateful to get a day off this week that we don''t really feel like criticizing anyone unduly. And who has time to think about this stuff anyway, what with work and traffic and family obligations and rising health care costs? We''ve all got enough troubles already, right? Right!
So please, read on and enjoy the pleasures and misery of others, even if you cannot enjoy your own.
When drinking beer before noon is all in a day''s work.
Don Chartier is a man dedicated to his craft. While other professionals are stumbling to the office coffee pot for a cup of motivation each morning, Chartier, head brewer at Spanish Peaks Brewery in King City, is dutifully drawing samples from 12 massive tanks of fermenting beer and not just tasting them, but drinking them.
This is not a selfish act. This is in service to a higher goal.
"It''s better doing tastings in the mornings because your palate hasn''t been beaten down from a day of eating and drinking coffee," Chartier explains.
And there''s no spitting at Spanish Peaks, only swallowing.
"One of the beautiful things about the beer industry is a lot of the flavor profiles of beer can only be tasted on the back of the tongue," he says. "So there''s no spitting out beer."
Chartier and brewmaster Alan Taylor (whose title indicates that he holds an actual degree in beer-making), preside over the brewing of four Spanish Peaks libations: Monterey Pale Ale, Black Dog, Honey Raspberry and Monterey Lager. After the initial grain-brewing process, which takes about eight hours, a four-day period ensues during which the yeast converts the sugars to alcohol. Daily tastings ensure that "off flavors" aren''t contaminating hundreds of gallons of suds. Then two or three days of chilling later, the yeast has dropped to the bottom, leaving delicious, foamy goodness to be tasted, of course-then filtered, bottled and shipped off to happy Spanish Peaks customers everywhere. Once a week, Chartier says, he and Taylor sit down and sample the entire week''s product.
Unbelievably, Chartier does not name his tasting duties among the reasons for having stuck with beer-making. Says the Oregon transplant, who got his start seven years ago stacking boxes on the line for Bridgeport Brewing, "I stepped in not knowing what I was doing. It fascinated me, the process and the people. That''s what kept me in the industry. I''ve met more good people in this industry than anywhere else. It''s just a real community feel."
Yet in some respects, every job is just a job. "My beer drinking has actually fallen off quite a bit in the past couple of years," Chartier confesses. "Since I''ve gotten down here, my wine drinking has picked up quite a bit."
The pokey hath perfumes to woo the devil.
Ah yes, it''s the smells, the delicious smells a human body-a human foot, the toenails, the inner arm and the "upper back leg area"-can produce! The body odor, the little snacks, treats and such that some characters stash away in their clothing. And who can forget the surprise of finding "secrets" pertaining to gender identity in the private places of the recently arrested?
Who? Who are the lucky ones, the lucky ones whose job it is to render said humans safe for detention? It''s the deputies and jailers who work in the local hoosegows, that''s who!
"It''s an interesting job. It''s all what you make of it," says one former county jailer. "If you like toejam, that''s the place to work."
If you''ve ever been thrown in the clink, you''ll know the jailers have to be sure you are not smuggling any drugs, weapons, pets or other creatures with you behind bars. That means prisoners are made to strip down and be "inspected," along with their clothing.
"Some of these people, believe it or not, are not the cleanest people," says the jailer.
It''s not that everyone is a mess. Some just stink because they''ve been careening around town on a two-week bender. Others might have fired the maid and kinda let the laundry pile up a bit. Either way, the incoming guest at the gaol is made to disrobe, and his or her gear is gone through whether the soon-to-be-incarcerated is wearing a dinner jacket or a paper bag.
"You can run into some really ugly things," says another in the know. "Some people are just not in good condition."
Sometimes it''s the things the jailers find, sometimes it''s just the pungent whiffs. When the receiving area at the Monterey city jail was found to be a bit cramped, one idea to make more room was to take the doors off the closet where prisoner belongings are stored. That went over like a pregnant high jumper. According to one insider, the jailers cried, "No, no no! Don''t take the doors off!"
Though the visitors come in no matter what, the doors at least, keep bad air at bay.
Happy Labor Day from a pregnant woman''s best friend.
Five years ago I was in Community Hospital at 4am, feeling like my hips were being crushed under a truck. My legs cramped so hard I couldn''t stand, and it had been 18 hours since I''d had anything to eat or drink. Dignity quickly evaporated as I slumped in a rocking chair and begged for pain medication.
In the timeless quality of my pain, I was only partly conscious, but I could feel Cathy Gable''s hands relieving the pressure on my hips, and I could hear her softly encouraging me.
Gable is a doula, or support person for women during pregnancy and labor, and considers it an honor to be one.
"It feels like a privilege when people ask me to be at their birth," she says. "It''s always amazing to me."
Gable, chair and a founder of Doulas of Monterey County (DOMCO), trains doulas to act as advocates for women, who are often so overwhelmed by labor that they can''t communicate their needs effectively to the medical staff.
In a series of meetings throughout the pregnancy, Gable prepares a couple for the types of choices they will need to make during labor and delivery. She insists that a couple''s wishes be respected as much as possible.
"It doesn''t make sense to give a woman the message that she doesn''t know what to do, tell her what to do, then hand her a brand new baby and tell her to take care of it," Gable says. "It''s a set-up that introduces a lack of trust in her own instincts."
Ultimately, in the case of my own labor, I spit out the word "epidural," a procedure that I had completely ruled out pre-labor. Gable talked me through the risks of an epidural, which causes temporary paralysis from the waist down, but encouraged me to make my own decision. Although Gable supports women in finding pain management alternatives, she passes no judgment on those who use medication.
"If a woman ends up having an intervention [she didn''t want originally] but feels supported, psychologically the outcome is okay," she says. "We want women to have control and be a partner in the process."
For more information about DOMCO, visit www.domco.org.
Dispensing with the exhaust from 800 milk cows.
For the past 16 years, Juan Milan has shoveled, scraped, spread and dried tons of manure a day. This is part of life at Moon Glow Dairy in Moss Landing, home to about 800 dairy cows and one Supervisor Lou Calcagno.
"It''s a little bit stinky," Milan admits in Spanish, shrugging his shoulders, "but it''s a job. It''s much better than working in the fields."
Milan also feeds the cows, and once in a while he gets to help with the bambinos-the calves. This, he says, he much prefers to scooping poop.
"Because the cows don''t smell like the manure does," he says, covering his nose.
Neither do the cows'' eats. Day-old broccoli and cauliflower stench far overpower the earthy smell of healthy manure. From my visit, I''d say the food smells worse going in than coming out.
These voracious bovines eat 250 tons of food a day-that''s about 10 truckloads of apple peels, artichokes, carrots, lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli with extra vitamins and minerals mixed in.
In turn, the cows produce more than 10,000 tons of manure a year, or about 27 tons a day.
Milan''s gig only sounds like a shitty job. It''s quite noble, really, when you stop and think about the whole dust-to-dust, circle-of-life purpose the manure serves.
Each day Milan''s co-worker Santiago Romero gets the ball of dung rolling. He scrapes the manure out of the animal''s free-stall housing (cows can enter and leave as they please) and into the manure pond. The water drains out the bottom, into the farm''s sprinkler system, and the poop rises. Every six or eight months, Milan hauls it out of the pond and spreads it over two fields to dry for a month. Once it''s dry, Juan shovels the manure into another field and piles it into hot mountains-it has to reach 160 degrees to kill the pathogenic organisms that live in it.
Finally, Milan combs it into long, thin mountain ranges of fine particles called windrows. Soon these windrows will be used to fertilize the Salinas Valley. And by this time, the manure pond is just about ripe for shoveling.
It''s a dirty job, but someone''s got to do it.
"It''s a good job," Milan says. "I''ve been working at the dairy for many years. I''m very lucky."
RaceCar Driving Instructor
Drive fast and watch the oak tree.
Jeff Rodrigues has learned, and he can teach, exactly what it takes to conquer The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca Raceway-one of the most notorious stretches of track in American motor sports, where, at the top of a climb so steep that a driver is looking at nothing but sky, the road turns 75 degrees to the left and then 90 degrees to the right while dropping 80 feet over the course of 100 yards.
The trick is deceptively simple-and it requires trust and courage rather than car-handling skill, Rodrigues says. After pouring over the crest into the hard left, "you just point at the oak tree and open the throttle," he says. "You''ve just gotta know which oak tree."
Laguna Seca has been Jeff Rodrigues'' office for 12 years. An instructor with the Skip Barber Racing School and the Jim Russel Racing School before that, Rodrigues has negotiated The Corkscrew more times than almost anyone.
Most workdays, he straps into a little Formula Dodge, an open-wheeled one-seater modeled on the monstrously fast Formula One racers. (It''s powered by a little two-liter, four-cylinder Neon engine, but Rodrigues says with 125 horsepower, it easily beats the Vipers around the track-and it''s his favorite car to drive.) All day long, he shows clients from all over the country how to do what their heroes do.
Rodrigues sounds like he''s still happily baffled by his good fortune. "I know some people set goals and work hard to achieve them, but this happened by accident," he says.
Growing up in Houston, he says, he worked a series of jobs-as a welder, as a roofer, and finally as a mechanic. And then, at the age of 25, he decided to take a big leap. "Like a lot of people, I just decided to pack up and come to California." He landed a job turning wrenches for Jim Russel and started driving in the school''s competitive series. He wound up second in his class. That''s when he got his break.
"They asked me to get paid to do something that''s a lot better than roofing in Houston in the middle of the summer," he says.
Boys who go boom.
Well, color me stupid. I''d thought that spending 10 hours a day running a magnetometer over weed-stubbled ground in search of live mortars that could detonate at any moment would be stressful. That tiptoeing daily through Death''s tulips would take its toll, that the men entrusted with the sober task of making the very earth safe for human presence would have haunted eyes and tired faces. Shows what I know.
"Blowing stuff up is what we strive for," Tony Tennyson says merrily. Tennyson-former Navy man, 25-year veteran of ordnance cleanup, card-carrying member of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club-is bouncing a new Dodge Dakota over a dirt road on the wrong side of a gate marked DANGER/EXPLOSIVES. "It''s kind of like a hairdresser," he continues thoughtfully. "Someone comes in who already looks good and it''s no fun. Someone comes in looking like hell-pardon my French-and it''s like, ''Okay, a challenge!''"
At the ridge firebreak where the seven-member Crew #4 is working, Tennyson points out some landmarks.
"See this?" he says, slowing down and getting out next to a shot-up Vietnam-era personnel carrier just off the road. "This was a practice target. The soldiers would be up there somewhere"-he points to a higher ridge-"and they''d try to hit this thing. This ground right around here is just saturated with ordnance. Watch out for snakes."
A row of decaying targets near the firebreak explains why in four days, Crew #4 has detected upward of 17 mortars in a very small area-and this is the second sweep. Using the beeping-alien noises of the magnetometers as guides, the crew has gingerly dug up the dirt on top of the unexploded ammunition, leaving each mortar exposed in a hole. Next Tuesday or Wednesday-demo days, as they''re called-the crew will set up detonation devices in those holes, retreat to a safe distance, and let the fun begin.
For today, though, the large sunburned crewmembers amble unworriedly over the pockmarked ground jagged with sawed-off manzanita roots. When a loud pop and a hiss breaks the afternoon heat, they turn around mildly and laugh as the supervisor quietly swears.
It''s just another flat tire, another day making the very earth safe for human presence.
Snuggling with octopi in the name of science.
Throughout a typical day, aquarist Scott Greenwald will walk miles around the Monterey Bay Aquarium as he checks on sea critters, many of whom reside behind the scenes. Some are recovering from illnesses, some are reserve animals, and some need to be fed in a calmer environment than the active tanks on display to the public.
Greenwald grins as he visits a shy female octopus a local shrimp fisherman caught in a net. The octopus is hiding in a corner of the tank surrounded by Astroturf-"it breaks the suction since they tend to climb out," he explains.
Greenwald offers the octopus a shrimp and the chance for a cuddle.
"They love to be handled," he says. "And we give them puzzle boxes to play with."
Outside the main building, a trail of water leads to where a semi truck unloaded last night''s transport of yellowfin tuna from Mexico. The fish-never before exhibited in the U.S.-were carried from the truck on soft stretchers and placed in a large swimming pool with cushioned sides.
"They can swim up to 40 mph and easily kill themselves crashing against the tank sides," says Greenwald. "We designed a visual barrier of bubbles in the Outer Bay exhibit."
Yesterday Greenwald performed a hysterectomy on a lingcod.
"Look at her, she''s doing great," he coos at the fish. "Her eggs were rotting inside her."
Besides caring for the animals, Greenwald''s major priority is that the tanks are spotless for the viewing public.
"This algae is unacceptable," he says, pointing to miniscule specks in a tank of cuttlefish. "We want it to look crisp and have your eyes go nowhere but to the focus."
Sitting on a counter is a bucket full of fingernail-sized baby seahorses from one of Greenwald''s "temp shows"-exhibits that showcase creatures not found in the Monterey Bay. Currently Greenwald''s planning a 2004 shark exhibit.
"This job allows me to take my own inspiration and be as creative as possible," he says. "It''s like the Aquarium gives you a clean canvas and says, ''Go ahead and paint.''"
Deciding which animals will live another day.
Barbara Carvalho doesn''t sugar-coat the situation. "It''s a caca job," she says with a little laugh. Then, sobering, "It''s extremely difficult."
Since the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals abandoned its no-kill policy about six months ago, Carvalho, shelter manager at the Highway 68 facility, has taken on a new duty: deciding which animals will leave the adoption area and be euthanized in order to make room for new animals. Lately, Carvalho says, it''s about five or six a day.
"It''s just becoming overwhelming of late," she says. "So we try to make sure: what are their chances that they''re highly adoptable?"
On the mornings that she walks through and reluctantly plays God, Carvalho says she looks for several things: age, particularly in the case of felines; the length of stay (if no one shows an interest in adopting an animal after two months, that''s a bad sign); and mental soundness. Some dogs just can''t take the environment.
Carvalho wouldn''t dream of forcing the animals'' caretakers to make life-and-death decisions about their charges.
"It''s not fair to assign this task to people who interact with them every day," she says. "So that''s where I step in. I try to look at the animal in a different manner."
Carvalho, who has four dogs and a cat, stunned her family when she accepted the position four years ago.
"I thought I could never make it in this job. There''s a lot of bad, but the good is so good," she says. "It''s so good. I try to remind myself that the reason I''m here is, this dog may be euthanized today, it may be euthanized tomorrow, but while it''s here I want it to have the best care. If it''s going to go down, I want it to be held, stroked when it happens, told that we love it."
Carvalho doesn''t know where that strength comes from. "But something happens, the passion for the animals rises above you. Do I cry? Absolutely. I cry with the best of them. But you have to, because otherwise you shut down. And that''s not right."
Think farming flowers is a walk in the park? Think again, pal.
George Gatanaga says between 70 and 80 local flower farmers used to set up shop in Salinas alone.
"Now it''s probably less than half that," he says.
Gatanaga has a way of talking about flower farming that dispels any fantasy that growing roses for a living is, well, rosy.
Gatanaga''s parents opened the Gatanaga Nursery in South Salinas 33 years ago. At that time, there were about 10 flower farmers per road, he says. The fertile Valley soil and the mild weather proved ideal for growing flowers.
"But things obviously change with time," he says. "Land gets used, some soil-related diseases cannot be controlled... labor costs, chemical costs, all of the production costs have gone up."
Indeed, it''s been a veritable explosion-with the notable exception of consumers'' costs for the end product.
"Well, flower prices haven''t gone up on the same note because you can grow flowers so much cheaper in South America," he says. There, labor costs are about $5 a day compared to California''s $6.75 hourly minimum wage. "How do you compete with that?" Gatanaga asks.
"Also, it''s the next generation here, they have college educations now, they just feel that they can probably do something better. So I guess it''s not a really good thing to be working in."
I''m crushed. So are my rose-colored glasses. What about working the land, surrounded by a sea of colors, holding down a job that actually forces you to take time and smell the roses?
Gatanaga kindly indulges my romantic fantasy.
"There''s a certain family pride, a tradition," he says. "Flowers can be stress-free. You can wake up in the morning and walk to your greenhouse and see different flowers growing, versus going into a job, sitting down at a desk and either shuffling paperwork or sitting down at a computer. We''re outdoors, the hours are long, but you don''t do the same thing. There''s always something different. And it''s a challenge."
Underground in America''s Last Hometown.
Vince Gentry backs up the 16-ton HydroJet truck, carefully avoiding a fence and two trees as co-worker Mike Aliotti uses a steel hook to pry open the manhole Gentry''s aiming for.
I''m grateful to be standing several yards away from the manhole Aliotti pops open, preferring to be in the line of fire from the Pacific Grove Municipal driving range rather than inhaling an aroma much like that inside a Porta-Potty on a hot day.
Gentry''s supervising a maintenance call on four sewer lines. If 1,500 gallons of water prove ineffective to jet out debris, he''ll use the larger combo truck that both flushes and vacuums sewer lines.
I''m lucky that the crew is letting me hang with them, since the team is justifiably a little wary of recent press coverage.
"We''re caught in the middle and it can be stressful," Gentry says. "The Health Department will tell us to clean up a hazardous spill with bleach, while Fish and Game will say we can''t use it."
When one of the 100-year-old sewer lines breaks, and materials headed for a waste treatment plant end up above ground, storm drains carry the bad stuff straight into the sea.
Add to that people who dump hazardous waste directly into the storm drains, plus put clogging materials in the toilet, and there''s a large potential for an uprising of waste.
"Grease down the drain will clog a pipe like a heart attack," Gentry says. "And even if you wash your car with biodegradable soap, it won''t break down in the ocean."
Aliotti is turning the throttle on the back of the truck while Gentry feeds the 750-foot hose down the sewer line. He uses a pitchfork to spear some cleaning rags that come through the line. It''s not the oddest thing he''s found.
"We''ve found matchbox cars, marbles, money, diapers, watches," Gentry says. "My biggest complaint is, ''Don''t use the sewer lines as a personal garbage can.''"
For Gentry, his 15 years with the wastewater division has been mostly positive, and given him a chance to be outside while serving the public.
"It''s an adventure," Gentry says. "Every day is different."