When I was a young boy, perhaps around 8 years old, I was fascinated by a garbage collector. Every week, when I heard the garbage truck coming down our street in the morning, I went to my bedroom window to watch the master at work. This was long before the days of trucks with mechanical arms that pick up and empty cans without the driver even leaving the cab. The master that I spied on was able to pick up and empty 2 cans at once, without any obvious exertion. He picked up the cans with each hand facing up and then with a flick of his wrist and vertical extension of his arms, in one beautiful motion he had both cans resting on his arms, dumping their contents into the truck. It was like a ballet move, and he never spilled any contents. Then he whistled for the driver to move to the next stop as he stepped onto the rear step of the truck and grabbed the handle. Pure beauty!
I never knew this man’s name and never told him how much I admired him. However, he left a lasting impression on me and became one of the models that I have in my mind when I think of excellence and pride in work.
I think that this garbage man was one of the abstract reasons why I became a saddle maker. I’ve always been attracted to people who do “normal” or even “mundane” jobs with great pride and excellence. This is what appealed to me about Wayne Clark, my boss at Tip Top Shoe Repair. He had the same quiet pride and excellence as the master garbage man.
I love people who love doing their job and who do it with elegance and dignity, regardless of what they do. It really doesn’t matter to me if it is a fast food worker or a Nobel Laureate, as long as I sense something special. As I was thinking about this post, I heard a wonderful story on “to the best of our Knowledge” about a master cheese maker in Spain. This cheese maker clearly has those special qualities that I sensed in the garbage man and Wayne.
Maybe it is because of the master garbage man that I am so confused about the priorities that our society seems to have when it comes to professions. If we measure “value” or “worth” by salary, we clearly value our athletes much more than our teachers, artists, musicians, and writers. The photo above was from the Morningside Cane Boil festival, which took place yesterday at the same time as the UF/FSU football game. If you are not from a small college town, especially in the south, you might not realize that football is essentially a religion. Our coach earns more money than our university president. The huge variety of assistant coaches make more than most professors, even those of us in popular STEM fields. People in humanities and the arts are even further behind the coaches and are regularly losing their jobs in these difficult economic times.
It is hard to complain about the salaries of football coaches, because even in losing seasons about 90,000 fans pay to watch them play every game, and ESPN and other stations pay huge sums of money to the university to broadcast the games. About 800 people attended the Cane Boil, a big crowd for these sorts of events.
I had a great time visiting with many people at the Cane Festival and working on the hand made and hand stitched portfolio shown above. We were all enriched at Morningside while our team lost…
As a society, we clearly value our college and professional athletes more than our artists. I read a nice opinion piece in the New York Times today by Gary Gutting. He discusses the lack of economic opportunity for people in the arts and humanities, especially those who want to create art. Gutting notes that the state of Minnesota has provided over $500 million to build a new football stadium for the Vikings, while the Minnesota Orchestra is about to shutdown because of a $6 million debt.
Money clearly isn’t everything or even the main thing. However, we get what we pay for. It might be a $12 belt made in China or a multimillion dollar college football coach. We all need to ask ourselves “what’s it worth” when we make our consumer votes.