Sent to the back of the bus

I’m no Rosa Parks, but my mom really made me feel like a second class citizen when I was 14. She would not let me sit in the front seat of her car, nor the back seat. I was banished to the very back cargo area of her station wagon, with the rear window wide open, almost hanging out of the window holding on for dear life as we rode down the highway back to our house. It all started at age 14. My wants came with dollar signs, for my never ending science and go-kart projects. My projects needed funding and I saw my parents as the banker and sponsor of my projects. I had come up with what I thought was a great idea, to be their groundskeeper. I would create these great spaces in our yard and they could supply the necessary plants and wages for me. I thought that it was a grand idea, but they felt otherwise. After a few more ideas on how they could hire me to be their employee, they decided that it was time for me to find some work. At age 14, a boy could only find work in more unconventional jobs, and one of these was farm labor. We had several farms around our town and one of the local farms had a farm market where we would pick up necessary items like milk and eggs. Matthews Farm was the name and my mom knew Mr and Mrs Matthews. I went to school with their two daughters and son. My mom came home one day and said, “If you want money, you will need to earn it. I’ve talked to Mr. Matthews and he has agreed to talk to you about working on his farm.” I was actually excited about the idea, seeing that my ideas to have my parents hire me was falling on deaf ears. The next day, my mom took me to Matthews Farm Market. Mr. Matthews was in the store as we found him near the checkout counter. “How are you doing there son? he said. “Fine sir.” I replied. “So, I hear that you would like to earn some money, is that true?” he asked. “Yes sir, I sure would!” I answered excited. “Ok, I do need some help tending our chickens. I’ll pay you $1 per hour. How does that sound?” he asked. “That would be great!” I said. My mind was already a-whirl thinking of all of the projects that I would be able to fund with the money. It was summer and I knew that $40 per week was enough to get my projects funded. It was 1969 and $40 would buy a 14 year old a lot of materials back then; of course even in 1969, $1 per hour wasn’t a whole lot of money, but it seemed like a fortune to me. School had ended several weeks earlier and I’m sure that my mom was ready to get me out of the house and now that I was pestering her for money every other day. I had projects that I needed to get started and she was looking for ways to solve both problems; to stop the constant pestering and to simply keep me busy. At the dinner table that night, I told my dad about my new job and all of the money that I was going to make. “That’s uh great, glad to hear it.” he said as he chuckled under his breath. He had been raised in the country and knew all about farm labor. Again, all I could think of was all of that green that I was going to earn. “Well, Mr. Matthews said you need to be there at 7AM, so make sure to set your alarm.” my mom reminded me. “I’ll be ready.” I said ready to start my first job in my new employed status. The only thing more green was how naive I was. Tomorrow would be the introduction to the work world, a world where I would never have a break in employment for the next 50 years. “Gill, you better get a move on or you will be late for your first day of work.” my mom shouted from down in the kitchen. I threw on my jeans, an old shirt and my tennis shoes. I headed down the stairs, grabbed a pop-tart and headed to the car. I sat in the front seat as my mom backed the car up and headed down our street. Mr. Matthews’ farm was only about 10 minutes away. Instead of turning into the farm market we headed down the lane between the two huge fields towards Mr. Matthews’ house. I had never been to his home, even though I went to school with his kids. We pulled up to the house and Mr. Matthews met us on the front lawn. “Good morning Gill, are you ready to work?” Mr. Matthews asked. “You betcha!” I replied excitedly. “Ok, well I think that you would work really well with our chickens.” Chickens. I imagined cute little chicks that I would throw feed on the ground as they peeped and pecked at the ground. What a great way to earn money. “Mrs. Trotman, Gill will be finished at 4. You can pick him up then.” Mr. Matthews reminded her. “Bye mom, see you then!” I said as I was eager to start earning all of that green. Mr. Matthews told me to follow him. There were all of these long building in this area of the farm. They looked to be a hundred yards long and were about 40 feet wide. I had no idea of why we were headed there, but figured all of the cute little chicks were inside waiting for me to give them their morning breakfast. As we got closer to the chicken houses, I began to get a whiff of this strange smell. It wasn’t the smell of nice dry sawdust that I imagined the chicks frolicking in, it was more like the ammonia that my mom used to clean the house with. Maybe it was a cleaner that they used to keep everything nice and clean. Mr. Matthews opened the door to the chicken house and my eyes grew wide as my mouth dropped open. There were rows of cages as far as I could see that ran all the way to the back of the chicken house. Each cage was attached to the other cage in a long row like a freight train with box cars attached as far as the eye could see. In between each row was a 4″ burlap belt that was moving toward the front of the chicken house where we stood. As soon as I realized what I was looking at, I covered my nose and my mouth. The smell of ammonia was not used for cleaning, it was the tons and tons of chicken poop that fell into a 12″ trough between each row of cages. I covered my mouth and nose. The smell made me gag and it was so strong that my eyes started to tear up as the ammonia smell overpowered my tear ducts. These were not cute little chicks. These were full grown hens, laying eggs in a egg laying factory. The combined sound of all of their clucking was so loud that Mr. Matthews had to yell to be heard over them. “Gill, what I want you to do is to clean up after these hens. Rufus will start the grader blade in a moment and scrape all of the chicken manure from the front to the very back into a hopper that is pulled behind the tractor. We take that manure and spread it over our fields as fertilizer. I shook my head to affirm, but had no idea how to clean up after 10,000 chickens. I could see Rufus in the back of the building flip a switch. As he flipped the switch, a grader like blade 8′ wide and 12” tall was tethered in the middle to a metal cable in the front of the blade and the back of the blade. The blade was perfectly made to fit into the rectangular pit where the chicken poop had fallen. The blade scraped the chicken clean as it made it’s way down the long row. I noticed that about 1/3 of the way down, there was so much chicken poop that it started to ooze over the side onto the cement walkway which was about 2′ wide between each long row of cages. I had never seen chicken poop before. Chicken poop wasn’t nice and dry, it was soft and wet. These chickens sort of just squirted their poop into the deep trough and 10,000 chickens I quickly saw could generate a hell of a lot of poop. “Now Gill, Rufus will be the one to operate the grader blade, your job is to come in here every day and use this scraper here, and to scrape the chicken poop that oozes on the walkway back into the trough. There are 3 walkways in each hen house and we have 4 hen houses. This should keep you busy each day. Welcome to the farm!” he smiled as he handed me the scraper and left. As soon as he left I said “Shit!” and quickly realized that I wasn’t swearing, just realizing what I would be handling 8 hours per day. The scraper was your standard 5″ metal scraper on the end of a wooden handle. I slowly proceeded down my first aisle scraping the wet chicken poop back into the trough. After about 50′, I couldn’t make out the sidewalk as the chicken poop totally covered the sidewalk. I scraped and scraped. I hadn’t brought gloves and after dropping the scraper a few times, quickly realized that I was going to have to get some gloves before tomorrow. My nice clean Converse tennis shoes were now sort of a gray color, covered with chicken  crap which made it very slippery. How could these chickens have pooped all of this in one day. By this time, I was on my first row, halfway down the middle of the long chicken house. I could barely breath, the smell was making me gag. The only green I was seeing was the color in my face as I started to feel rather light headed. I was going to have to do this all day. The smell was nauseating and the noise was deafening. I finally made it to the back of one of the rows and noticed some movement towards the front of the hen house. I made my way back to the front of the hen house to start on the next row and noticed an older black lady sitting on a stool in front of one of the rows of chicken cages. There was a square tray between two of the rows where she sat and the 4″ burlap belts ended at opposite corners near the front of this tray. She sat on her stool, with all of these plastic trays and metal racks behind her. Reaching under the tray, I saw that she flipped a switch that started the burlap belts rolling forward. On these burlap belts were all of the eggs that the hens had laid the night before. The cages were slanted forward so that when a hen laid an egg, it would roll onto the belt, waiting for the operator to turn on the belt to begin the collection process. As the eggs started to move onto the tray, she quickly took the eggs and placed them into the 30 egg tray. She quickly filled up the tray, placed it in the metal rack and grabbed another 30 egg tray. Her hands moved swiftly and precisely so as to not have to turn off the power to the belt and stop the flow of eggs to the tray. She was a swift machine with the dexterity of a dealer at a Vegas blackjack table. After a few minutes she looked up at me with a grin, then returned back to her task as to remind me that daylight was burning and I wasn’t moving. I took my scraper and started on the next row. After a couple of hours, I was done with house #1, 3 more to go. After the second chicken house, Mr. Matthews came to get me and told me to take lunch. “How’s it going?” he said with a smile, knowing that I had come not expecting to do what I had just spent all morning doing. “Well, it really stinks in there, but I think I’m doing pretty good.” I said with a shrug. “Good, now go eat your lunch. Make sure to get back to work in 30 minutes.” he said as he walked back to his pickup. “Yes sir.” I said as I went to sit under a tree and eat my sack lunch. As I sat down, I realized that I hadn’t asked where the bathroom was. How the heck was I going to wash my hands. At home I didn’t always bother to wash my hands before lunch, but I hadn’t been shoveling chicken poop all morning either. I wiped my hands on the cool green grass, trying to wipe my hands as clean as possible. I made sure to hold my sandwich with the wax paper wrapper and not my hands. How could I have been so naive as to think that I was going to play with cute little chicks in nice dry sawdust open areas? Lunch seemed like it only lasted 10 minutes before everyone started heading back to their different jobs. I stood up, stretched my back and picked up my disgusting metal scraper and headed to hen house #3. At 4PM, I had just finished scraping the wet gooey chicken crap back into the last trough in hen house #4 when I opened the door to see my mom’s Ford station wagon rumbling down the dusty farm lane towards the place where she dropped me off. As she pulled to a stop, I opened the door to get in the front seat where I had sat that morning. “What is that smell?” she yelled. “Oh my Lord, you smell like you fell into a sewer and you look like you fell into a sewer. What is all over your clothes and look at your shoes. It looks like you are wearing shoes made out of crap!” she said in disgust. “It’s chicken poop.” I said rather dejected.  “Well, you are NOT going to sit in my car looking and smelling like that!” she shouted. “Where am I going to sit?” I asked. “You can open the rear tailgate and sit in the cargo area with the window totally down. Make sure you hang your feet out the window.” she commanded. I opened the tailgate, climbed in and gingerly shut the tailgate and swung my feet out the back of the car. I couldn’t even stand my own smell. My mom turned the car around and headed down the dusty road. The dust came in the back of the car and stuck to my new gray chicken poop shoes. “Oh my Lord, I have never smelled anything so bad!” my mom yelled to the back as she covered her nose and mouth with her free hand. When we returned home, I was not allowed in the house. I had to go through the garage and shed my clothes. I had to run to my room in my BVD’s and put on some clean clothes. My mom made me take my clothes and shoes outside to the garden hose and rinse everything off. I then took a shower and tried to rid myself of the strong odor as well as the poop that had worked it’s way into my un-gloved hands. That night at dinner, my dad said with a grin, “Well, how did your first day of work go?” “It’s a pretty “crappy” job dad.” I said as I was almost laying down on the table exhausted and disgusted. “Well, it will be good for you.” he said as he started to laugh. He knew what I was going to face the night before and felt sort of a kinship to another farm laborer. As the summer wore on, I slowly moved my way from chicken poop scraper to egg collector. After many weeks, I slowly acquired the skill necessary to collect eggs off of the burlap belt without having to stop it. When needed, I still had to scrape chicken poop, but I had passed the necessary initiation and didn’t quit. It was a long hot summer, but I gained a lot of respect for farmers. Now, I am a dad and have seen my kids take on their first summer jobs. They had all heard this story, but it gave me an appreciation that no matter what I do for a living, I won’t have to take shit from anyone!    

Pay attention to detail

When you hear someone use the phrase “pay attention to detail”, one usually thinks of an OCD person, at least I used to. Isn’t it interesting that we have labels that we now place on people who don’t fit our perception of ‘normal’. Anyone that has achieved anything noteworthy most certainly would have had a label placed upon them. People who fit in this category are usually not easy to work with; they upset the status quo for sure. Instead of being able to submit our work to them and go eat lunch, they say, “not good enough, what can you do to make it better?” Damn, there goes lunch. I just want to punch a clock, get the work done, then go have a beer! If you have a boss or fellow worker that “pays attention to detail” and you just want to punch the clock, you better look for a new job. You just want a paycheck? Go work for the government, there are plenty of people there that are little cogs in the big wheel of government that love becoming invisible in the huge machine that the government provides. Enough about those of you that just want a paycheck. I’m here to challenge you. I love old houses; I’m talking houses that are over 100 years old. The “attention to detail” was amazing. The interior trim wasn’t just what we call “Ranch style” trim, which to me means BORING. The trim had detail. It took time to create this molding. Look at the brick work. The modern ranch style house did not look like a house on the ranch. It looks like a box. If it has brickwork, typically it’s just your standard running bond style brick. Pediments and even the use of herringbone style brickwork is rare these days. Look at these Tudor brick chimneys at Hampton Court Palace in the UK.

As you can see, this brickwork has detail.

I just finished watching a documentary on the building of Disneyland. Disneyland was built in one year plus one day, yet the planning and “attention to detail” is amazing. Every attraction, every tree and walkway was put in a certain place by design. Walt was never satisfied with the first set of plans. He wanted those that visited to notice his “attention to detail”. He hired experts in their fields to help him build Disneyland. If he wanted something built and he didn’t know how to do it, he hired others that could help him realize his dream. He wanted his visitors to experience something that was outside of their reality, this is why he had earthen berms built all around his park to shut out the reminder of their normal lives.

Every time we create something new, be it a recipe or a new building, we have the opportunity to take the mundane and transform it into something that we and others will remember because we made sure to “pay attention to detail”.

Good enough isn’t good enough. Good enough gets you nothing extra, it gets you by. It might pay the bills, but is that what you want out of life, just to have enough to pay the bills? If you “pay attention to detail” and create something out of the ordinary, put yourself into it so that it is a reflection of who you are, you will be able to do more than just pay the bills!

Why do we like secret rooms? Is it because it is unexpected? Someone took the time to create something of intrigue, not just another room off of the hall. It took some planning to be able to hide this secret room. The room had to be concealed so that it wasn’t obvious from outside nor inside the house; unless you knew of this room and it’s secret entrance, you would never have know that it was there. It’s a lot easier to build a house without “attention to detail”. Most people are happy with a great room, nice bathroom with an en suite and kitchen with granite countertops and a few rows of stone around the front door. Our ancestors who built these incredible homes found in the older sections of most cities around America would have never been satisfied with what we are satisfied with now.

Faster is not always better, it’s just faster. Just because you can get away with the minimum doesn’t mean that you should. The way I look at it, if you put little into this life, just to get by, you will get little out of this life. If you put a $1 bill into a change machine, do you expect to get out 5 quarters?  No, you get out of it what you put into it. Life is the same way.

If you want an extraordinary life, you need to put in an extraordinary amount of effort. So, the next time that you are tempted to just put in the minimum, why not “pay attention to detail”!

Finally finished Disneyland!

I just finished a book titled ‘Disneyland: Inside Story’ by Randy Bright, a Disneyland employee since 1959, once the VP of Concept Development. The book is almost 30 years old, but was a great read. It chronicled the inception of the idea in Walt’s mind and follows him through the planning, construction and future planning of his second park in Florida. The last chapter follows Walt’s death and the challenges and triumphs the Disney team faced upon the sudden death of their leader. Walt’s idea of Disneyland came after taking his daughter’s, Diane and Sharon, on their weekly trip to the park to ride the carousel in Los Angeles. He wanted to create a park where the entire family, not just children, could enjoy themselves without the “carny” atmosphere that was typical for pretty much all amusement parks of the time. Disney had in his mind what he wanted to create and that is the place where all of his creations began.Walt_disneyland Disneyland isn’t loved by all though. Many feel that it is a candy coated version of a false reality where “there is always a happy ending”. Walt had earthen berms built around Disneyland so that guests in the park would not be jolted back into reality by the busy highways and activity beyond the park. He wanted his guests to enjoy their day within the fantasyland that his imagination had created. Many Hollywood stars as well as world leaders have and continue to visit Disneyland when in the area. Maybe they need a dose of happy endings as well! Today, we have supposed reality shows abounding on every channel on TV. Entertainment of every sort seems to blast as many holes in the earthen berms of our temporary escape from reality. The atrocities and crimes that are happening in our world are self evident; we don’t need a reminder via the entertainment industry for an hour or two that reinforces what we already know we will face the minute we leave the theater. Disneyland was only the beginning. Walt wanted a place where people could enjoy a respite from the troubles of the day on an ongoing basis. He and a few Disney employees would begin a plan called ‘Project X’.  This is what we know today as Epcot. Walt had originally wanted Epcot, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, to be a residential and commercial city that was designed in such a way that would show what a city could be like that was planned through proper design, instead of the dirty crime laden cities that are found in most of our larger cities in the U.S. Obviously this part of Walt’s dream was never realized. Epcot became simply a blueprint of that original idea. Whether or not the original idea of Epcot could have ever been realized, the dream of creating something that is better than most of the cities that all of us live in was idealistic. walt disney epcot They say that Walt had a childlike imagination. He didn’t know the meaning of the word “can’t”. One of his favorite phrases was, “Isn’t it fun to do the impossible?” All it takes is a thought such as “what if” or “I wonder” to spark an idea that with hard work and determination can result in Disneyland, the Ipad, the light bulb and thousands of other things that we enjoy today. Many many people told Walt that his ideas were impossible, but this never stopped him. He seemed to have an insatiable desire to go on to the next thing, to push the limits of technology and art so that we today can enjoy the fruits of his labor and imagination. As Walt once said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”walt disney I challenge you to have the courage to pursue them!

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