There was a time during my tenure at The Evening Sun when I drew a lot of strange looks around town. About a year ago I was sitting in a booth at a local diner and somebody walked up and said something like, “Hey, don’t you do that thing for the paper?”
“Ya, probably,” I replied, “Do you mean Punching the Clock?”
“No, that thing where you go out and work with people.” “Yup.”
It’s been nine months since I spent a day at work with someone in an effort to record the methods to their madness. I’ve covered bigger news stories both before and after doing the weekly quasi-gonzo journalism segment, and now, days from vacating my cubicle in the newsroom, it is those jaunts into the Chenango County work day I reflect on most.
My interest in a position as a rural reporter started and continues to stem from the fact that immersing myself in local developments allows me to better understand my home, my own roots.
There has been a lot to like here. I’ve enjoyed following local ideas from the conceptual stage of a trustee’s brainstorm to their realization in municipal policy. I’ve taken pleasure in helping expose negative outside forces, be they subdivision companies or power line investors, that continue to threaten a way of life distinct to our home. I’ve been inspired by meeting people in our community who do much, without reward, to make sure that bands are in the parks, theater groups on the stage and young athletes in the field. More than any other facet of my work, though, I enjoyed the weekly chance to share how someone else’s 9 to 5 wheel interlocks with others.
The majority of people that we meet we only get to know on a cursory level. Instead of ever understanding any of their motivations, we settle for a fleeting glance at what they do. We know Joe the plumber who takes coffee break at Millie’s, but little of substance about what drives him. We identify others by their outward face, their use, their connection to others.
Within that, if one looks closer, there is more. If given the opportunity to taste the flavor of a person’s most average day, you can get to their motivations and intentions. One man told me his favorite part of the work day was 5 p.m. when he went home to see his kids. Another lived for his work, describing a quality job as his own reflection. Both had their priorities where they needed to be.
During much of the time I was writing “Punching the Clock,” I didn’t fully appreciate the experience, but at some point I recognized that I was learning about the area where I grew up. In the people I wrote about I began to see home. In looking for the most eclectic mix of disciplines possible, I saw how things work in the most extreme corners of Chenango County, and how they work in the most typical workday. I was learning about the people I saw in passing every day.
I hauled garbage, tap danced, poured asphalt, milked cows, pounded an anvil, manicured 18 greens and arranged flowers. Each week, it seemed, I thought I had found the new “hardest” occupation. The people I worked with had so internalized what they did that I saw many visibly struggle with describing the steps implicit in their project. It was a lesson in the appreciation of detail in the every day.
I was impressed with how at ease Courtney Sullivan put dog owners as they left their pets at Doggie Dude Ranch. She so visibly cares.
I was surprised at the countless steps involved in keeping food running in the back door and out the front at the Sherburne Big M. Jim Fowler does it so well.
Dedication to an age-old craft is front and center at John Clay’s Five Corners Blacksmith Shop. His pleasure in making something new in an old way is refreshing.
I thought I was in shape until I delivered beer with Shawn King for Norwich Beverage. I now have a first hand appreciation for how kegs get to a basement cooler.
Working with Charlie Mastro on a Sherburne farm that’s been in his family since 1841 was experiencing the essence of Chenango County. Agriculture continues to be our backbone because of hard working guys like him.
Working a 6 a.m., Ward 6 polling station with Margaret Davis and Minnie Ellis was an experience I’ll never forget. Their simple contribution to the electoral process was a lesson in patriotism from which every young person could benefit.
Greg Brustowicz is the hardest working guy in Norwich. The afternoon we walked his 11 street paper route on the north end of the city, he carried the papers while he told me secrets on how to scare away barking dogs and hold-down multiple jobs.
I learned something different from each, and in each I saw a reflection of the community. I hope I was able to translate that to print.
It’s the people who make Chenango County what it is. Only in its residents is pride, hard work and a good sense of humor embodied. To those people who let me in their day for a while and shared that, thank you. I’ve learned a lot.