Better face danger than be always in fear.
I really like this fortune. I try to live my life this way. Don’t get me wrong, I can be a very anxious and fearful person. But I try hard to not let that stop me from living my life.
Better face danger than be always in fear.
I really like this fortune. I try to live my life this way. Don’t get me wrong, I can be a very anxious and fearful person. But I try hard to not let that stop me from living my life.
Just like our greatest strengths can be weaknesses, some benefits of working were the same as the downfalls. Working for the census was adventurous and exciting yet at the same time anxiety producing. I had fears yet at the same time I had the joy of confronting my fears. I had to go to dangerous neighborhoods, yet at the same time it was sobering to see how other people lived.
There were some things I really liked about working. Working allowed me to get out of the problems of my own life and throw myself into something productive. I got paid well. I was able to contribute a paycheck to help support my family. I was able to set my own hours. I believed in the importance of the work I was doing.
I got some exercise because I did a lot of walking. I explored parts of my state that I’ve never seen before. I became familiar with the neighborhood around me.
As crazy as it sounds, this job also pulled me out of my shell especially in the time of COVID when I had every excuse not to interact with people. I met some really awesome people that I probably would hang out with as friends if we met under different circumstances.
I felt respected by the community in general. People thanked me for my service in counting the people. Other people respected me simply because it was something they could never do.
There were fun times that I just had to laugh at myself like the time I almost got into someone else’s car because I wasn’t paying attention. Then there was the time I came home from work and realized I must’ve stepped in dog crap somewhere along the way.
I met up with a lot of different families. I listened and learned about other people’s lives. I watched and observed how other people lived without judgment. People are very interesting. It was a job I could combine facts with people.
Thankfully the whole time I worked I was able to stay healthy and safe. I think the experience was worthwhile.
Working for the census was downright difficult at times. It wasn’t just the cases themselves. Although I will not downplay the fear of dealing with my anxiety. I did find myself in some really dangerous situations at times. Just doing the job during COVID was scary enough. I had to face the fear of things I could and couldn’t see such as the risk of getting sick. The uncertainty was difficult. I never knew what I was going to be dealing with on a day to day basis.
While I was working, my mom didn’t really want anything to do with me. She viewed me as high risk to getting her sick. My mom is a hypochondriac. Not that I didn’t understand her concerns. But it was still difficult and painful. She is living her last years in utter terror of leaving her house. She will stop by with her mask and sunglasses on wearing gloves or with hands full of handwipes. She won’t even pet my dog because someone infected might have touched him. She is battling crippling anxiety and insomnia. It is difficult.
The night before I had my census training, my husband and I admitted our daughter to the psychiatric hospital for the first time. It was stressful because I knew I couldn’t be there when she got home because I had to work. That is really when I let things start to slide. I allowed Arabella to stay at her friend’s house more than I would’ve liked because I felt she was safer there than home alone.
My husband was working his seasonal business that he started. At times he was gone for several days in a row. We couldn’t deal with a suicidal child at home when we were both working. Then later we struggled to get her back home.
I felt like I needed to work because the investments we were banking on to start our new business didn’t come through with COVID. We were planning on taking a small trip for our anniversary in the middle of summer, but I had to choose between the trip or doing the training for the job. Plus with our daughter, a week of sailing turned to a day or two on the boat. It was just another thing cancelled because of COVID.
I had to deal with a lot of things I was afraid of. I had to interview people in dangerous neighborhoods. Then there were dogs. Some days I had to drive for several hours. I’ve always been a nervous driver and had to face that fear. Again, not to mention COVID when I could hear people coughing. At times I felt like I was putting my life on the line.
As a census worker dealing with colitis, I was fearful when I couldn’t find a bathroom. When I was out in the middle of nowhere a lot of park or public restrooms were closed due to COVID. It was a real nightmare at times.
I had to get over the anxiety of talking to people I didn’t know. I had to overcome this fear of being out of my comfort zone by myself. It was also very intimidating doing things I’ve never done before such as purchasing a ticket for the car ferry. With every adventure comes a little apprehension.
In all of that, I still had to find the energy to go to the grocery store, cook, clean the house, and get the laundry done. It’s a big adjustment to go from not working to working 40+ hours a week.
I have to say though that it was a wonderful experience. I did earn a fair wage for the work I did. My supervisor was awesome along with all the other census workers I ran into along the way. I’m sad I didn’t have the time to write about this while it was happening, but I knew there would be later. Now.
I found myself asking how much my life was worth.
Sometimes when feeling down I found myself teetering on the fence between life and death. Will I choose hope or despair? There is a reckless courage when you find yourself in that place.
But when pressed, when my life was in danger, it showed me how much I wanted to live. I had to continue on the path to hope, healing, and growth even during the moments I wanted to say screw it all.
As my time with the census came to an end, they were looking for people willing to travel. I said I would be willing to go to the furthest north woods of Wisconsin. Yes, it could be very dangerous. It was very remote with limited cell phone coverage. Heroin is a big problem in some dead end towns. Wandering into a property illegally growing marijuana. Dangerous. Wild animals. Finding bathrooms. It was an adventure I was up for.
I awaited my instructions to travel, but they never came. Instead, I got a call about travelling to Milwaukee. Now that is a different kind of dangerous. This year alone Milwaukee surpassed the highest annual homicide rate ever recorded. Unfortunately, this year isn’t even over yet.
I turned it down.
My supervisor said that another employee went, an African American woman. She was sent to such a horrible neighborhood that she was utterly terrified and asked if she could come back home. I think I made the right call.
They were looking for census employees to go to Detroit, Kenosha, and Atlanta as well. It takes a special (or should I say crazy) person to do the census especially in dangerous unfamiliar places.
If I had the chance, would I choose to do it all over again? Absolutely! Will I work the 2030 census? Probably not.
I was walking through a bad neighborhood once again. My car was parked a block away. The road was closed and virtually impassable with huge potholes. It wasn’t like I could easily sneak around the signs although no one was currently working on the street. I knew the limitations of my car.
I passed between a port-a-pot and some teenage girls. My mumbled ‘hi’ was met with disdainful snide sneers. I went to the house on my case list. A woman answered stating that she already completed the census and would not be completing it again.
It happened, sometimes we were sent to the same houses over and over where the respondents said they already completed the questionnaire. There was even one whole new subdivision that got multiple census questionnaires due to a duplicate address error. It was sent twice, once to circ and the other time to cir for a road called Something Circle. After awhile people got angry. They filled out one and still got another. I understood. I listened, figured out the problem, and tried to resolve it for them. But these residents had a valid reason for being upset.
But some people were angry and aggressive for no apparent reason at all. I found I had the most problems with men right around 35 years of age. I couldn’t figure it out. Were they afraid I would ask information about their income?
I had several doors slammed in my face by all men. It was upsetting, but I tried not to take it personally. I even had a guy say ‘don’t know’ with a smirk to every single question to try to get a rise out of me. Later I thought I should’ve asked him if his parents were home. (He was obviously a grown man).
That day after I made my house call on the torn up street I walked past a man standing on his deck. He yelled an aggressive ‘GO!’ as I walked past him. I was instantly in fight mode. I pivoted my body around and glared at him. I gave him a dirty look that said grow up and shut up. He yelled ‘DAMN!’ as I turned and walked away.
After I walked a couple houses, I turned and glanced back to see if I had to make a run for it. But the man was gone. Later I saw that the approximate location where the man yelled at me was listed as a dangerous address. I had to keep that in mind when walking through neighborhoods not just when I visited specific houses.
Later that evening my husband applauded me for standing my ground. He said it was good to show him I wasn’t afraid. My son asked if I wanted to get shot. He thought I was being foolish. I wouldn’t have stood a chance against the man or his gun, but it felt good to do something.
I worked two 10 hour days the weekend after the Kenosha shooting. I’d assume most of you heard of the Kenosha shooting even if you don’t live in the United States. But just in case, it involved a police shooting where a white officer shot a black man. After the shooting terrible violence ensued with protests, looting, rioting, and more shootings. It was bad enough to put my state of Wisconsin on the map.
Now I don’t live near Kenosha but we could feel the after shock throughout the state and most of the country. Racial tension was high. Were you with the police or black lives? Incidentally, not too long after they were looking for census employees in Kenosha. Yeah……NO!
The weekend after the shooting I was assigned to work in a rough neighborhood also known for its shootings. Since I was working 10 hours, I started my shift pretty early on a Sunday morning. But we never started working before 9 AM. I don’t think I have been able to sleep until 9 anytime in this century but I do realize other people do. After all I do have teenagers. One of the first places I stopped at the guy said he partied too hard the night before and was too hungover to answer any questions.
The streets were virtually empty on that beautiful Sunday morning. Just me with my census bag and badge waking up the whole neighborhood pestering people with my personal questions. What is your race? As you can see, I am white. But I am not racist, although how do you know that by looking at me.
I felt looked down upon that weekend. I was a parasite asking too many personal questions too early in the morning. I was a white person working with the government, a maggot, one rung above the police but not as welcome as a postal worker. Maybe not true, but this is how I felt.
I knocked at another door. The house went from absolute silence to full on violent rage yelling once I knocked. What the hell is going on?? I distinctly heard the word ‘police’. I heard things inside being thrown around. I knew I had to get the hell out of there and quick. I didn’t even leave a missed census visit notice.
I walked to the end of the block around the corner. I had more houses on that street to visit. My plan was to swing back after a few minutes and pretend that nothing happened. I was going to pick up where I left off at the next house. When I came back I saw this huge black man raging around the house of the door I knocked on like a bull looking for whomever was waving the red flag. Me.
I was terrified. I was going to die. Time slowed down. I saw a car nearby with a woman in it. A census worker. A beacon of safety. I ran to her. She asked if I was okay, if I needed a ride somewhere, if I needed help. Perhaps a drink of water. She said she wasn’t with the census so I wandered away.
I think the man hopped in a car with his buddies. They were looking for me. I was the only person on the streets. Everyone that drove by was looking at me. He was going to find me and kill me. I was completely in a daze and out of it as I tried to find my way back to my car a couple blocks away. Time slowed down as my heart raced.
I left my cell phone in my car. I couldn’t call for help. My husband wasn’t home anyway. I called my supervisor and told him what happened. He told me to take a little break. I needed gas anyway so I went to the gas station. I couldn’t figure out how to get gas. I was convinced I was getting the wrong gas, like putting diesel into a gas tank. I panicked that my car wouldn’t work and I would get stuck there. I stopped filling my car with one type of gas and switched to another.
I couldn’t make my mind work. It was still stuck in panic mode. There was a disconnect like hearing buzzing instead of talking when the volume is on mute. Things weren’t right in my mind. It took another half an hour to reboot. Then I went back to work as if nothing had happened.
My supervisor added the address to the list of dangerous addresses. When census employees were on the job, they had a list of addresses that were dangerous. Yellow addresses were to proceed with caution. Red addresses were to cease the interview immediately. Red addresses were addresses where a person threatened a census worker. By the time I neared the end of my employment, there were 100 dangerous addresses in that neighborhood.
I never would’ve guessed everything that was going to happen in the world when I applied with the census a year ago.
It didn’t take long to get assignments in the roughest neighborhoods. If the children were outside playing, I felt like it was safe for almost anyone to walk the streets. That usually wasn’t the case on a late Friday or Saturday afternoon.
I learned really quick that I needed to strategically park my car. I couldn’t leave my car running in the driveway in that neighborhood. I would park my car and walk. If the weather was beautiful, and one address lead to another address a few houses away, at times I found myself a couple of blocks away from my car. If I needed somewhere safe to go this was problematic because my car was a couple blocks away.
I worked 10 hours that Saturday. I knocked on a door and a man answered in a wheelchair in his underwear upset because I woke him up in the middle of the day. Not a lot of people answered although a lot were nicer than that man.
Many of the houses had half addresses such as 123 1/2 Main St. I had to search in the back of people’s houses for rentals. I climbed up rickety outer staircases and at times was told to go into the middle door in the back of the house up the stairs. I always felt uncomfortable, especially when the back door was by a dark alley.
Many times I felt like I was poking around where I didn’t belong. On that particular evening, I saw four older teenage youth strutting the streets. They all wore red clothing. Were they gang members? Or did they all work at McDonald’s? I looked down at the red shirt I was wearing which gave me a little consolation that I was safe. I tried to avoid them.
There was a man on the street corner outside of his apartment yelling the lyrics of an explicit song that was playing. I tried ignoring him too. I was afraid but tried to appear calm. Thankfully I was a lot older than the man so maybe I wouldn’t catch his eye.
As I was heading towards a house on my case list, I saw a car with a bunch of teen males in it pull up to the curb. A teenage girl came out of the house. One of the guys got out of the car and started quarreling loudly with the girl. I could hear the obscenities half a block away. It was time to skip that house and turn down another street the whole time acting like I belonged there instead of being shocked by everything.
In the meantime, I interviewed people with young children huddled inside their house. It was hot and they had no A/C, but I couldn’t blame them for wanting to stay inside.
By the time I made it back to the street of the altercation, no one answered the door at that house or the houses nearby. I walked back towards my car to call it a night.
On my way I saw another census employee. We talked briefly and she wondered if we were sent to similar places around the same time to ensure the safety of other census employees in rough neighborhoods. I wondered that as well. I always felt more confident when there were others like me in neighborhoods I didn’t feel safe in.
As part of the census training, we learned about the greatest threats to us as census employees.
The greatest threat of harm was actually slipping and falling. It is very easy to get distracted especially when you are finishing up cases on your census phone while walking. Whoops! Guilty. Thankfully I didn’t fall but I did almost get into someone else’s car. I’ve also been on enough rickety staircases to last me a lifetime.
The third greatest risk of injury was due to car accidents. I could easily understand how that could happen especially when you have to find an address that is poorly marked at dusk.
Today I want to talk about the second greatest threat of injury, animals. I was more likely to be attacked by an animal than a person. I did worry at times of being assaulted or murdered although the percentage of injuries or deaths were rather small from those threats.
My supervisor told me about an employee who was swarmed by bees after knocking on an unused front door. I did come across nests rather frequently but lucked out in that regard.
I was more wary of dogs. I carried treats in my car. It was always a judgment call. How threatening does this dog appear? How old is the dog? How big is the dog? Are there signs that a dog lives there? Did the beware of dog sign hold any merit?
One day I had to make a house call in the middle of nowhere. The front door appeared to be a sliding door. When I knocked on it two Dobermans answered. They hurled their massive bodies against the sliding door and snarled at me. Next to the sliding door was an open window. It wouldn’t have taken much for the dogs to crash through the screen and maul me to death.
It shook me up a little. What if the dogs were outside when I got there and we didn’t notice each other right away?
I was wary of scary looking dogs. Thankfully most of the time the big scary looking dogs had owners nearby.
I thought that I would finally be able to get some sleep last night…
It was 10 PM and my son wasn’t home. It didn’t seem right given the circumstances. My husband said that I worry too much and went off to bed.
Earlier in the evening, we bought our son a car. My husband made a bet with our kids when they were very little. If you beat me at chess, I’ll buy you a car. My son ate and breathed chess, even joined the chess club just to beat his dad. Paul is great at chess and I’ve never once since we were together saw anyone beat him in real life…until the day my son did. Immediately I went out and bought him a match box car and put a little bow on it.
That’s when the arguments started. My son wanted a souped up sports car and my husband wanted something practical for him. Finally they were able to find something they could agree on, a 2001 Audi with a stick shift and turbo boost. It is a beautiful car with a sporty look.
After we bought the car, he wanted to drive it over to his friends to show them. We really didn’t have a problem with this. But several hours passed and he still wasn’t home which seemed odd to me for swinging by and showing his friends.
I texted my son and he said he got into a bit of a mess with the car. WTH!!?! CALL ME!!
Alex said he picked up his friends and was driving through the old neighborhood. He was showing off his turbo boost and squealed the tires near several older guys that were outside partying. They were drunk and this pissed them off. (Yes, apparently some people get drunk and crazy on a Monday night in Wisconsin).
One guy got on his 4-wheeler and chased Alex down. He cut Alex off on the road. Alex slammed on his breaks and hit the guy smashing up the 4-wheeler and the front end of his car. The guy climbed off the 4-wheeler onto the hood of the car and tried to smash the windshield with his arm. The whole time the guy was screaming that he was going to kill Alex and his friends.
To put things in perspective, there were around 4 very intoxicated middle aged men chasing 3 teenage boys that squealed their tires near where they were partying. What??!? Who does that?
Meanwhile, a couple other guys got into a pick up truck with a lead pipe. Alex and his friends got away from the 4-wheeler only to be followed to his friend’s house by the guys in a truck that were a part of this group.
One of the men in the truck hit Alex’s car with the lead pipe. He also threatened to kill the boys and chased them into his friend Jay’s house. Thankfully, Jay’s dad was home. He pushed the guy with the lead pipe out of his house while the other guy got in. Jay’s dad threatened to call the cops. The man in Jay’s house said that if he called the cops, Alex would get in trouble for hitting the 4-wheeler.
Jay’s dad called the police and the men fled. Thankfully, Alex knew where the guys lived. Apparently the guy with the lead pipe was a convicted felon. They are facing criminal charges. My son ended up with almost as much damage to his new car as what we paid for it.
Seriously, we just got him the car and in less than a few hours it is bashed in already!!!!! Thankfully, no one got hurt with the exception of the guy that tried to smash the windshield with his arm.
Needless to say, we didn’t end up going to bed until after midnight.
It started out calm the way troublesome days sometimes do without a hint or foreboding of danger in the air.
It was a clear, sunny day. It was warm, but not breezy.
We had to motor for the first hour before it was even windy enough to put up our sails.
Our destination: A beautiful resort in Door County.
We had passengers with us. Our pastor surprised his wife with an overnight stay at the resort for their anniversary. Romance. A nice quiet sail there and back, or so we thought.
We were all in for a surprise.
A storm popped up on the bay. We had the foresight to take down our sails before it hit. It wasn’t a strong storm, but it produced 10 minutes of heavy rain. It was our first storm. We huddled below as Paul steered the boat. He barely had enough time to throw on his raincoat. I discovered that I forgot mine.
It wasn’t the storm that created the most difficulties. It was the aftermath. The temperature dropped 20 degrees. The winds picked up to 20 mph. Then we had to fight against 6 foot waves.
At first it was kind of fun like being in a giant wave pool. Every tenth wave was gigantic and would crash against the bow soaking us. We laughed, listened to music, and jokingly talked about dying.
After the first hour, things weren’t fun anymore.
The coast guard came on the emergency radio warning boaters of a 22 ft sinking boat partially submerged in water near but not in our path. We were worried about getting off course. It was starting to get late in the afternoon. We used up a lot of gas motoring against the waves.
If we didn’t make the harbor, we might hit the sinking boat.
Things did get rough when we had to hit the waves sideways. Everything that wasn’t tied down flew everywhere. People bounced around like there wasn’t gravity. Even the carpet didn’t stay. The pastor dry heaved into the garbage while I was knocked to the ground.
Paul was hollering from the deck that his waterproof case on his phone gave out. We no longer had our navigation once his phone died. But Paul knew the rest of the way. We were almost there..
I laid on the floor thinking that I was going to die. It felt hopeless really. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t snap out of the panic. I made it my mission to find all of the life jackets. I had to keep my mind from shutting down.
We never have been in waters like that before although Paul calmly told the pastor’s wife that we do this kind of thing all of the time.
Three hours of rough waters and Paul got us to shore safely. I am so proud of him. It wasn’t easy.
Once we got close to shore and things settled down I noticed that Paul and the pastor’s wife were completely soaked and shivering. Almost everything was wet. I found whatever I could find that was dry to keep them warm. The pastor’s wife huddled in the spider ridden sail cover.
We were all freezing cold in July. We were all feeling sick. We weren’t able to get the bumpers out. I was able to tie a line and had to jump on the dock quickly as the motor died out when we found the nearest empty slip.
The pastor’s wife started throwing up once we got to shore. She was so sick that she wasn’t able to join us for supper.
After 3 hours of intense waves, I felt panicky like I do with turbulence on an airplane. It was an awful feeling. I also felt sad. I thought about death, how things could’ve gone terribly wrong and we could’ve died. I thought a lot about my grandma. It stirred up strange unexpected raw emotions of grief and anxiety within me that I find hard to explain. I felt empty, hollow, alone, and frightened…
For the last two weekends I battled death in the grueling waters of Door County. First under the dangerous swimming conditions for the Half Ironman. Then this weekend, 3 hours of sailing in very rough waters. I want to think that I won’t have to face this again. I didn’t enjoy my brush with death very much. But I already committed to sailing for a whole week next week with Paul and some other sailors to the tip of Door County through Death’s Door.
To be continued…