The End of an Era

Well, I don’t usually mix work and writing, but between me, you, and the other thirty people who read this blog, I don’t think I’ve got a whole lot to worry about. After nine years of county employment, working with my local soil and water district, I’ve jumped governmental ships and taken a job with the state. It’s been a whirlwind transitioning to a new job, and I’ve barely been able to write at all in the last few months. I’m struggling just to muster up enough words to put together a blog post each week. Once things settle down, I hope I’ll be able to get back into the rhythm of writing and reading more (sorry to all you fellow bloggers whose blogs I’ve been neglecting to visit). 

Not to conflate the two, but with my new job starting and with WWIII starting in Europe, everything seems a little surreal. About fifteen years ago, I went to Ukraine on a mission trip in college. Flew into Kyiv, then volunteered for a week doing construction work at an orphanage in Bucha, a small village outside of Kyiv. The orphanage was actually in an old Soviet work camp. Sadly, my memories have faded immensely in fifteen years, but I remember a few things:

  1. The Russian and Ukrainian languages sound a lot alike, but our translator said Ukrainians took pride in speaking Ukrainian, not Russian, and Ukrainians take offense when foreigners confuse the two. 
  2. Ukrainian women are all supermodels, and Ukrainian men are all clones of the Marlboro Man (they still smoked a lot over there) minus the cowboy attire.
  3. Apparently, Ukrainians don’t require drivers’ ed. The whole population drove with reckless abandon, making four-lane highways out of two-lane roads. 

Needless to say, it doesn’t surprise me that people who take such pride in speaking their native tongue, who are, on a whole, rugged and physically fit, who drive unflappably in the face of head-on collisions, would be mounting such a stout defense. Yesterday, I saw photos of a destroyed convoy of Russian military vehicles smoldering in the streets of Bucha. It’s hard to believe that the quiet little village I visited fifteen years ago is now a dystopian battleground. It’s hard to believe a maniac is threatening to use nuclear weapons (sadly, it’s not hard to believe our former president is praising him as a “genius”). I don’t know what will happen, but I don’t think there’s any going back now. Seems like the end of an era. 

Streets of Bucha

Imagining a Better Place

After thoughtful consideration, I think I’ve discovered my new dream job. When I grow up, I’d like to be the old man who sits by the trash compactor. I’m not sure what the job qualifications are, but I believe I’d be qualified. Basically, the old man just sits in a lawn chair under a beach umbrella, talks to people as they’re heaving trash bags into the compactor, and presses the compactor button every so often. Sometimes when he tires of talking, he just grunts. This seems like a pleasant way to spend your days if you ask me. I bet when it gets slow, he could just sit under his beach umbrella and read a book, maybe Pride and Prejudice or some other Victorian classic, while swatting flies.

Out in the country, we don’t have roadside trash pickup. Instead, everyone hauls their own household waste to the local dump, where it’s collected, compacted, and sent to the county landfill (which is a major step forward from the olden days when everyone hauled their trash to the local gully and let it wash downstream).

Being the trash-compactor-button-pusher may not seem very ambitious, but growing up my dream job was hobo, so I’ve made some progress.  I grew up in a railroad town, where CSX had a major freight hub, and where hobos were somewhat mythical creatures. Every boy wanted to meet a real life hobo, to pick their brain on the best way to build a campfire and hear about the amenities of freight cars. 

I can truthfully say I’ve not only met, but had lunch with a real life hobo. His name was Mark, and about once a year, he would show up at my dad’s church, having just hopped off a freight train. My dad was a Baptist preacher (still is a Baptist preacher), and he would take Mark to the Hardees not too far from our church to buy him lunch. Once or twice I got to accompany them, and I’d sit in a booth and listen to Mark tell stories of all the places he had been and people he had met. He seemed like a character straight out of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  

Perhaps a more apt description, though, would be Otis from the Andy Griffith Show–he even wore suspenders like Otis. Certainly, he had the waft off a major drinking problem, though at the time I thought he just smelled like a hobo. At night, he would sleep in the lobby of the post office until the police would shew him off and he’d hop a freight train and move on to another town down the line, only to show up again a year or so later with more stories to tell. 

Even now, it’s hard for me not to romanticize Mark. I’ve always been susceptible to romanticizing, from trash compacting, to hoboing, to farming. But isn’t it nice to sometimes imagine a place where our fields always yield bumper crops, our hobos are harmless and held in high-esteem, our drunks walk to jail to lock themselves up, and our Sheriff doesn’t carry a gun because the craziest of our crazies, our Earnest T. Basses, merely throw rocks through windows–and don’t storm through them to wave rebel flags in the halls of Congress and plant pipe bombs outside the United States Capitol.