Before the Door closed…

By far my longest, yet favorite, day as a census employee was spent on Washington Island in beautiful Door County. Door County is located on the thumb of Wisconsin. It is a peninsula surrounded by Lake Michigan on the east and the bay of Green Bay on the west. Washington Island is located at the top tip of Door County where the bay and the lake collide commonly known as Death’s Door for the rough waters and the shipwrecks below.

In the summer, Door County is the boater’s delight. We’ve spent many hours sailing this area and even renewed our vows on the uninhabited carless Rock Island which is on the tip of Washington Island. Door County is a top tourist destination in the summer. Along with the majestic waters and lighthouses, Door County also has excellent soil for cherry trees unlike the rest of our state. The waters, wineries, fish fries, and specialty gifts makes this spot a vacation paradise in summer. However, the winters are especially harsh making this the perfect location for a seasonal summer home.

I left home very early on the Friday of Labor Day weekend to drive up the door and catch the car ferry to Washington Island. I was hoping to beat the crowds and I did. A lot of houses in Door County are seasonal and we were hard pressed to close out as many cases as we could before the door closed. I saw two other census employees on the island that day.

I decided my favorite mode of census transportation was the car ferry. It was the only way to get my car there. It was a windy day and the water was rough. Waves splashed over the ferry to give us a free car wash. Sprays of water sprinkled onto the upper ferry’s outer deck feeling remarkably fresh. It was wonderful being on the water with the wind blowing through my hair. I felt adventurous.

The island had the regular island vibe as I drove off the ferry until I got to the inner paths which were rather desolate for a holiday weekend. At times I drove on a one lane dirt path which I was questioning if it would even be passable. Once I drove on the regular road again I had to pull over because I had sticks wedged into the undercarriage of my car that rattled annoyingly as I drove. A passerby stopped to ask if I was alright.

At times I totally lost my map and all cell service. That was problematic because we did all of the census interviews via cell phone. On the way to the island another census worker offered me paper interview forms. I brushed it off saying I was fine and later was upset with myself for not having any extra paper just in case. I had to rely heavily on the map they gave me on the car ferry. It was hard not to get turned around.

I saw a lot of wildlife on the island. As I was approaching someone’s house, I thought I saw several cats. But as I got closer, I noticed they were foxes. I never got as close to a fox in the wild as I did on that day. All the islanders were nice, but I heard rumors of recluses that didn’t like outsiders. But they never answered the door when I knocked.

I talked to one man who had a seasonal property. He said his wife was having problems with the census at home. She filled it out multiple times but they kept coming back. Then we found them while they were on vacation. I thought it was rather funny.

Labor Day weekend is the last unofficial weekend of summer for the seasonals. I did make my way back to Door County after the holiday weekend and didn’t have much luck. My guess is that a lot of seasonal people will be finding census notices in their doors come spring.

It became harder to close out cases when everything was closed down and no one was around. I had to be creative. I noticed that several places had pesticide application lawn care signs. I decided to call the company and was able to close out a lot of my remaining files because they had a database of seasonal properties. I knew most of the properties were seasonal already, but I needed more than just a thought to close them out.

Seasonal properties were problematic. The census did not allow you to put more than one property address. If you filled it out on one property, it wouldn’t be completed on the other property. Then you would get a visit from us. This was an issue for snowbirds too. Then throw in COVID and it was a big mess. But I liked those interviews a lot more than the dangerous addresses.

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