An extreme outlier

There are some things I am rather hesitant to write about. Then I find this struggle within myself to describe things as they really are to give you an accurate recording of what the experience was like for me.

There was a downpour that evening as I was about to end my shift as a census enumerator. I found myself at a house in the middle of nowhere at the end of a long gravel driveway. There was a man hanging out in his garage drinking. He had a full bar out there complete with bar stools and a couch. Several guns were on display on the wall behind him.

As I approached he told me I should take off my mask because they didn’t believe in wearing masks. I hesitated. The census told us if we did not wear a mask on the job we would be fired. It wasn’t as if the guy would be calling me in to report me though. I honestly didn’t even know how I felt about having to wear a mask. I just did it because I had to. I admit that I am a big time rule follower, something I both love and hate about myself.

All these thoughts were whirling around my mind as I hesitated. I was not afraid. But I didn’t know this man. I was at his house. He had been drinking and was very blunt as I stepped out of my car into the pouring rain. Things could go very bad and I was alone with him out in the middle of nowhere.

I felt like I was being tested. If I failed the test, I would need to take it again or they would send someone else back. The guy asked me if I was some sort of liberal or something. I told him I was not and took off my mask. I tried to find the common ground between us to reach him.

I noticed the man had a puppy that was very well behaved. I asked him a few questions and complimented him about his dog. I finally passed the test. He invited me inside to sit down, but not on the couch because that was the dog’s bed. He said I could if I wanted to but I would get full of fur. He completed the questionnaire and bid me a good evening.

Thankfully with this job I worked with my people from my culture. I knew how to handle the situation whereas an outsider might have freaked out by the outliers. I don’t feel like I compromised my beliefs in any way. But I did break the rules to complete a case.

It was never as easy as walking up to a stranger’s door and having them give me their personal information. You really had to think quick on your feet and be prepared for anything. But most importantly, they needed to feel like they could connect with and trust me.

Calling all neighborhood gossips

So, tell me about your neighbors…

I always felt like the neighborhood gossip when I had to ask neighbors to fill out the census questionnaire as proxies for neighbors. It was especially uncomfortable when their neighbors were home.

It wasn’t out of the norm to have people not answer their doors when they saw me pull up bedecked in my census apparel. I decided to not take it personally when people didn’t answer. Suppose (which isn’t hard to do) that they might have COVID. I didn’t want them to answer their door if they did.

I once went up to a door that had caution tape and signs that said beware. I think it would be a great idea to mark your house if you are under quarantine. Since it wasn’t close to Halloween, I thought the people inside either had COVID or were murdered. I didn’t want anything to do with that.

However, sometimes I would be prompted to find a proxy to fill out the census on behalf of the person sitting inside of their house not answering their door. On one occasion, this happened to me while I was visiting a duplex. When I was nearing the end of the interview with the proxy, the person who I was supposed to be interviewing came outside and asked me to move my car.

I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it was to ask questions about the guy and have him show up. His door was right next to his neighbor’s door. I felt like I was talking crap about somebody and didn’t realize the person I was talking about was behind me.

I guess I really didn’t care too much because the guy was rude. I felt sorry for the person who lived next door to him though. When he found out I was asking about him and his family, he said he didn’t believe in all of that census sh!t. Now could I get my car out of his driveway. I had to stop the interview rather abruptly.

I thanked the proxy and gladly was on my way. You should’ve seen my case notes for that visit. I’ll have to say that working for the census was never boring.

It was strange because some people were very reluctant to say anything about their neighbors. Then there were other people that filled me in on a lot more than I asked.

The people I didn’t meet

I think God was watching out for me while I was working the census more than once or twice. If I had gone to the house a week earlier, I would’ve met the tenants. A man answered the door when I arrived. He stated the tenants were evicted the week before. He was hired to clean up the mess they left behind. From what little I could see behind the door, I knew I was lucky to not have met them. They tore up the floors and down the walls.

I asked the neighbors about the people that lived there. A lady said that people were coming and going at all hours of the day and night. There were little kids that lived there. She didn’t know them though.

I always feared I would have to knock on the door of a drug trafficking house or other disreputable location. What if I saw someone commit a crime? What if there were children involved? Nah, I’m sure they were responsible enough to fill out their census.

One day I drove out to a house a ways back from the road. The house looked haunted. Several windows were smashed. I thought maybe someone lived there because there was a trash bin on the side of the road for garbage day. There was something eerie about the place which made me feel fearful. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. As I was knocking on the door, a truck pulled into the driveway behind my car rather quickly. I felt rather terrified.

Thankfully, the person who got out of the truck was the owner of the house. He said he had to evict the renter because she was on drugs and almost overdosed several times. It was a really bad situation. When she got evicted she smashed the windows and trashed the place.

I just lucked out that it was garbage day. The owner was slowly starting to fix the place up again. I was able to close out the file on my first visit to that house.

Sometimes I felt thankful for the people I didn’t meet.

The in movers

This year the census date was on April fool’s day, no joke. In a perfect world, we would’ve started counting the population at this time. But global pandemic later…we were knocking on doors up to six months later.

If the location had residents that moved in after the census date, they were called in movers. However, as census workers, we were responsible to try to find census information on the people that moved out. As you can imagine, this was quite challenging at times. Most in movers did not even know if or who was living there before them. Sometimes the neighbors didn’t even know who lived there especially in big apartment complexes where people were always coming and going.

As you can imagine, I visited many apartment complexes. There were the ritzy high end apartments in the suburbs where residents had a doorbell for each apartment. Most were somewhere in between with a set of buzzers by the entrance that half the time no one responded to.

Then there were the lower end apartments. Those apartments didn’t have buzzers on the outer doors and weren’t locked. Some were dimly lit, most smelled like stale cigarette or pot smoke, and some proudly posted their pest spraying efforts.

I’ve been to places that had just been sprayed for roaches. I couldn’t help but feel crawly after leaving. I’ve seen broken beer bottles and garbage littering the hallway floors. Children live in those environments. I’ve heard people fighting behind closed doors that I was too nervous to knock on. I’ve heard people coughing inside. Where they smoking something or did they have something I didn’t want to catch?

I’ve seen small children playing on the streets outside of these apartments unattended. A 2 year old running free in the rain watched by someone who looked to be 6. A few days after I was in that neighborhood there was a shooting. I’ve seen trauma in the making and didn’t feel like there was anything I could do about it. I’ve had little children come up to my car to ask me for money.

It was heartbreaking at times. I felt afraid to be in neighborhoods that these children had to live in without anyone watching their backs.

I’ve been to sketchy run down apartments where the apartment space was occupied by a new BMW or Lexus.

I always had to be vigilant. I had to have thick skin but still be kind and caring towards other people even if they weren’t nice back.

Sometimes when people didn’t answer I would get sent to the same places again and again. So would other census takers. It was important to read the case notes carefully. People don’t respond well when you ring their bell over and over asking about the person they didn’t know who lived there before them. Sometimes people would come and go so quickly that it was almost as if they were never even there because no one knew them. I thought it was kind of sad unless they were in witness protection.

Some apartment managers were great, but most got irritated with us after awhile and were rude. At times it was nearly impossible to close out the cases. Then there were several times I had people track me down while I was at apartment complexes because they never got notified about the census. It was a mess.

Yet through it all, there were a lot of good people that lived in less than ideal circumstances. It was very eye opening. At times I almost felt guilty getting paid so well by the government. Then again you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to some places. Sometimes I never knew what kind of day it would be.

When you don’t have power

Twice I went to the same prefab home in a bad neighborhood. There were already a couple census notices cluttering the rundown stairway outside the front door. There was also a notice stating the gas and electricity was going to be shut off a week earlier.

Both days I visited, it was piping hot outside. All the windows were closed tight and the shades were drawn with the exception of a set of venetian blinds that slanted cockeyed. I knew it must’ve been hot inside without power to run a simple fan.

I knocked but no one ever answered. Inside in some back room a dog barked and barked. I updated the case notes and walked away. It troubled me. What happened to the owner of the house? Were they inside dead or did they just walk away from it all? Maybe they were at work. It wouldn’t have been as disturbing if I didn’t hear the dog inside. Was the dog going to be okay?

Sometimes the hardest part of being a census worker was the what if scenarios that ran through my mind. I know I have a tendency to worry. I mean, maybe everything was fine but it didn’t seem that way. What could I do about it anyway? Call the police. Bust the windows. Break down the doors. I had to assume everything was fine unless I knew for sure it wasn’t.

I went to one other house that had service disconnect notices on the door. It was nice looking but neglected. The lawn wasn’t mowed. In all ways it seemed vacant.

On a stormy day I visited another property in the middle of nowhere that had a sign on the door stating it was an abandoned property. The silence seemed louder than the thunder that boomed in the distance. I found it to be disconcerting and creepy. Again things weren’t taken care of. There were branches cluttering the long windy driveway. Weeds, the grass unmown and dead in patches. Were there wild animals living inside?

With the exception of the rundown prefab home, the other two houses seemed pretty nice. They weren’t that old. They just needed a little TLC. When I think of abandoned or service disconnect houses, this is not what I had in mind.

I had to wonder…what happened to the people that were living inside? I wish the walls could whisper back to me their stories…as my imagination wanders…

Come on in for a burger and beer

It was like I stepped back in time the moment my feet touched the ground.

They invited me into their living room in the garage. It was furnished with a couch set featuring tan upholstery with flowers accented with a wood frame reminiscent of the 1980’s. They had an ancient box TV that played an old John Wayne rerun.

I felt like I walked into my grandparent’s house although this couple was probably in their late 50’s. Their 20 something year old son was visiting sitting on the recliner. The man was grilling burgers outside and offered me one along with a beer.

It was a calm and relaxing atmosphere but I had important government work to do. As I was working with the woman on the census questionnaire, her husband popped in and I thought I heard him say something about not to forget Lori. Earlier they mentioned an elderly parent who lived with them.

I started to fill out Lori’s name when the woman stated that I misheard because no one by the name of Lori lived there. I laughed saying that I couldn’t fill out the census on ghosts. The woman stated that Lori was the name of her sister who died two years ago. I was mortified and started apologizing profusely. The woman said maybe it was a sign that Lori was still with them.

This year we had to collect the census data 4 to 6 months after the census date. I am surprised that I didn’t run into anyone who reported a family member that was alive during but passed away after the census date. Maybe someone did and they just didn’t tell me, I don’t know. For the census date we had to collect the info that was valid on April 1st. Yeah, April Fool’s Day and Census Day were on the same day in 2020. No joke.

These people were some pretty decent folks. I almost wished I could have deleted their info and come back another night at the end of my shift for a burger and beer. We could sit and watch old movies. We could talk, laugh, and pretend it was 1985.

They asked if I was sure I didn’t want something on the way out, water perhaps. I said I wanted everyone to be as nice as them. I smiled as I waved good-bye wishing I could have stayed for the burger and beer. But it was time to move on to the next house.

A day in the life of a census worker

It’s been over a month since I started the job of being a census enumerator. I wanted to write a lot about my experiences but have been having a hard time finding the time because I have been working 40 hours a week. Today is the first day I’ve had availability but they didn’t have enough work for me.

Just some basic info, the United States of America started counting its people in 1790 and has done so every 10 years since then. No, this is not something new although I’m surprised how many people know little about the census. I’m not doing the census to COVID track anyone. Yes I did hear this from someone. To put things in perspective, we have been doing the census long before there were automobiles.

Here is how the process works. Every day I work, I have addresses sent to my government issued smart phone. We use an iPhone 8, same phone I have so I didn’t have to do much to learn how to use it. We don’t go door to door anymore.

I interview people using the smart phone and plug all of the info into the phone. By the end of the day, I usually put on an average of 50 miles even if I am only a couple miles from home. I am paid for my mileage and a fair wage. I did have people ask if I was a volunteer.

One of the best things is that this job is very flexible. I pick my own hours. We do get paid more for working after 6 PM and on Sundays.

I have to go up to houses when sometimes every instinct inside of me is telling me to turn around and run in the other direction. I’ve been to abandoned houses in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been to places with no trespassing signs. I’ve been to houses that say beware of dog. I’ve had Dobermans snarl and lunge at me from behind a closed door. There is no doubt they would’ve torn me up if they were left outside unattended. There have been dogs outside when no one was home. I have to decide if I’m safe or not. I have to make quick judgments because my life depends on it.

I’ve been to houses of extreme hoarders. I’ve had to maneuver around piles of garbage to get to the front door. I’ve full on walked through cobwebs. I’ve climbed staircases that I wasn’t sure would hold my weight. I’ve been to the roughest part of town where there have been shootings. I’ve been to some very remote areas. I’ve traveled on a ferry to an otherwise inaccessible island. I’ve knocked on doors during thunderstorms in the pouring rain. Not to mention the whole COVID thing.

So far I’ve met many different people of various races. I’ve met the young and old, the healthy and sick. I’ve met many who don’t speak my language. I’ve had to find a way to communicate with someone who had a severe speech impediment. I talked to someone who was blind. I never know who is going to greet me on the other side of the door. I’ve been showered with appreciation treated like a hero and I’ve had the door slammed in my face a couple times.

It’s easy to focus on the bad times. The other day I had a guy that answered not sure to every question I asked with a smirk on his face. Seriously the guy had to be around 30. I wanted to ask him if his parents were home. But I kept calm, cool, and collected. If someone treats me like crap, it’s on them not me. I’m not going to let them define me or my day.

A vast majority of people are nice. I’ve been offered food, water, beer, and a chair to sit on. This is really bringing me out of my shell. I try to connect to people and they feel like they can talk to me.

I’ve met many people who have lost a spouse, parents, or close friends and family members this year who didn’t have the heart to fill out their censuses. I’ve heard about painful divorces. I listen to them and offer my condolences. So many people are suffering this year. I try to give them hope things will get better and sometimes after I leave they remain for a short time in my thoughts and prayers.

I’ve met the mom of a friend of my son. Never in a million years would’ve I guessed I would be going up to their house wearing a mask and asking his mother her age. I never thought I would be going to the bank wearing a mask asking for money either. What other things are going to happen that we never thought of as a possibility? That really says a lot since I am an anxious over thinker as it is.

We are only allowed to ask questions to respondents age 15 and up. I did ask a couple of people if they were old enough. They were in their 20’s. My gosh am I getting old! Everyone under 30 is starting to look like a teenager to me.

If no one answers the door, I leave a notice with a specific code just for them to fill out online. I am never allowed to put the form in their mailbox. This would be a crime. I am also not allowed to open any doors even if it is a screen door to knock on an inside door. If a door is broken, census workers could be blamed for it if they open it. Most people have doorbells and dogs so I’m pretty good.

The job can be stressful because you never know what to expect. I often get lost. It’s hard on my body. I am in and out of my car all day. I spend a lot of time on my feet. I crouch down a lot to fill out forms. My hands get sore from carpal tunnel being on a phone all day. And sometimes when I am out in the middle of nowhere I really have to pee.

The job is really rewarding. I believe in the importance of what I am doing. I’ve learned a lot not only about other people but about myself as well. I’ve had to face my fears. It has really brought me out of my shell during a time where it would be really easy to have an excuse to hide in it. I’ve become more assertive.

Every day is a new adventure.

Vegas, part 3

The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane were the slot machines at the airport. There were slot machines everywhere…not just in the casinos. There were slot machines in restaurants and in the hotels, pretty much everywhere except the bathrooms. TV screens with rows of sports games were open for bets in the casino. Everywhere we went was filled with bright lights, the ping ding of gaming machines, and the smell of stale cigarette smoke.

I decided that I would do something different in Vegas. I didn’t gamble. It’s not that I am opposed to it if it is done in moderation. Frankly, gambling doesn’t interest me. Plus I spent a lot of my time in LV with my daughter and her friend who were both underage.

We did walk the strip a couple of times. Las Vegas reminded me of a mix of Denver and Times Square in NYC. I know that is a descriptive cop out, especially since I am not posting any pictures today. My pictures of the strip did not turn out great and after all of the bad news I didn’t feel like being a camera toting tourist.

It was hot the whole time we were there. Hot as in 100 to 110 degrees…the highest temperatures that this Midwestern girl has ever seen. We watched the volcano at The Mirage and you could feel the heat pouring off of the fire. We saw the fountain show at the Bellagio and longed to take a dip in the water. We went to the Venetian for a nice Italian meal. They even had gondola rides, but I am saving that for when I really go to Italy.

The strip was bustling with people. I linked arms with Angel just to get through the crowds without getting separated. There were more lanes of traffic on the strip than there are in Milwaukee. Motorists in cars were honking at tourists trying to cross the street in hordes. Greasy men were handing out business cards with mostly naked women on them. Scantily clad showgirls were asking men to take pictures with them.

I saw what I was expecting to see…glaring neon lights…young ladies in short skirts and high heels…old men gambling…a few tourist parents with children in tow…young scruffy men smoking pot…a few homeless begging for spare change…men in expensive suits…hookers…foreigners.

I also saw what I wasn’t expecting to see…I thought that the prostitutes were going to be drug addicts and maybe on the seedy side. I didn’t find that to be true. We saw some prostitutes leaving a hotel room when we were on the way to our room. One of the women walked out putting on a cover up. The prostitutes (and even the showgirls) were some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Maybe things were seedier on the other side of town, I wouldn’t know.

It was nice to take in the sounds and sights of Sin City for a day or two, but this country girl could never live there.