One thing that happens when you tell people you’re a meter reader, they get this look in their eyes like someone would if you said “I’ve been living in a tent at the rest stop.” People look real somberly at you, like they want to take you by the shoulders and say, “this too shall pass.”
The first time it happened it bewildered me. After a couple times, I began to see a pattern.
I didn’t realize it was like that. Before I became a meter guy, I never saw the person reading my electric meter and thought, “Wow, what a miserable existence that guy’s got going on! That’s a SERIOUSLY depressing job. He’s gotta wear that yellow vest…”
And it’s certainly not because I’m above that sort of thing; I suspect we all make assessments of people we don’t know based on all sorts of things. What they have on. What they drive. What they do.
They may not stick, these snap judgments, but I think, to some degree, we almost have to determine who this stranger is in front of us. It’s probably the survival mechanism that keeps you from hopping into windowless vans in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
But the job itself, the meter reading gig…I never saw that as some sort of sad obstacle for a person to overcome.
I wonder if this is the reaction the mail lady sees when she tells people, “I’m the mail lady.” Or the UPS guy. I guess I’ve never seen their jobs as something to be mourned either.
It’s probably in my head.
But you take last month, for example. There were a couple young guys who were hanging out behind a bar when I stopped to get a reading. It was maybe 11 am. I think they might have come out to smoke but, again, snap judgments. Maybe they were never in the bar. Maybe they worked there. I have no idea.
I had to walk right by these guys to get to the meter. In fact, because of the way the tables were packed in, I had to walk right between them. (I hate when that happens.)
I apologized for the intrusion and made a beeline for the wall to grab the reading and get out of the way so they could resume their conversation.
Then one kid turns to me and says, “I feel like your job would suck.”
He didn’t say it to provoke me; it was very matter of fact like, “looks like rain.”
I paused for a second because I wasn’t sure what to say to that. He must have realized I could be bent out of shape (I wasn’t) so he quickly added, “it just…seems like it would be really boring.”
And I suppose it is.
Or it should be.
But, I gotta tell you, when it’s beautiful outside and the breeze is blowing and the birds are singing and I’m not staring at a cubicle…
or a machine…
or a boss…
Days like those I feel pretty good about things.
I don’t suppose my mind is being stimulated much. I don’t think you could call what I do challenging. But I have a decently active imagination. I don’t feel all that deprived. I see cool landscapes and clouds and I can smell lilacs sometimes. I know every dog in town and a handful of cats. Most of them are awesome.
There’s something to be said for getting paid to exercise in the sunshine. At night, I sleep like a toddler who swam at grandma’s all day.
In the fall, it’s beautiful. The leaves are cool, the air is cool. The job is cool.
But then winter.
Winter is work.
It’s not Call of the Wild work but it can be pretty grueling on an old, fat guy who eats too much junk food and hasn’t seen the inside of a gym for the better part of two decades.
The snow gets deep and the wind gets kicking. You’re carrying WAY more weight with all the clothes and the snow boots. You have to keep taking off your gloves to punch the numbers into the handheld recorder. Sometimes, you have write things down but it’s so cold the ink freezes in your pen. You figure out quickly that you need to keep it close to your skin somehow to keep the ink warm.
For weeks, you wade through 2 or 3 feet of snow to get to the meters. Some are in back yards. Some are on detached garages or pole barns. Some are mounted on boards in the woods 100 yards behind the house and the house is 100 yards from the road and you’re on a time schedule. In the winter time, you’re humping it, sucking air while your heart hammers. It hammers a little too hard sometimes. That’s when you double over and put your hands on your hips and concentrate on slowing your breathing down.
Winter rains and snows and blows and sucks and that’s when you start questioning what the hell you’re doing and how long you’ll be able to keep it up.
Winter is when you decide, “I’m probably underachieving – whatever that means. Maybe I should have been a neurologist or a machinist or a departmental supervisor somewhere telling guys they’ve overstayed their breaks and that I need to see them finish that can of pop before they get back to their line. Maybe I should have been a veterinarian: I like dogs. I’m seasick around blood though and needles make me pass out. So probably not on the veterinarian…”
The thing is, I’ve never had what you’d call A Dream, not when it comes to work. I’ve realized my dreams in my home life, at least most of them, and most of those in spite of myself.
But a career has never drawn me. Nothing keeps me interested, not for very long. I’m fair at lots of things. I’m pretty good at one or two things. But I’m not great at anything. Nothing has jumped out at me like: THIS IS WHAT YOU WERE BORN TO DO!
I’ve always hated those guys. Guys who know what’s up by the time they’re eight. Like Mozart. Or Poe. Or Bo Jackson. I don’t hate them like I want them to fail. I don’t even think I resent or envy them. I just wish they’d share some of those magic beans. Having some sort of plan and some drive to pursue it, that must be pretty rewarding.
The closest thing to a career dream I’ve ever had was becoming an actor or a writer. But that was a LONG time ago. I’m not moving to Hollywood any time soon and I can’t imagine there’s a huge demand for old meter readers there anyway. At least I’m starting to dabble with writing for whatever that’s worth. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try to write a book someday…
I don’t have much more to say I guess. I never know where these blog posts are going until they’re done.
My endings are worse than Stephen King’s.
I think I’ll go have a beer.
Now try this: Grandma and Teddy – Short Short Story