Thoughts on my way home.

by Berck

[ed note: This wanders, perhaps a bit more than usual. I’d been awake a long time.]

I worked 5 legs today. It’s possible that’s why I’m so tired. It’s 10pm in Chicago and 11pm in Colorado Springs. I’m somewhere between the two. I woke up this morning in Roanake at 4am, but it was 2am back home. I try not to think about things like that though—if I do, they seem all that much more tiring. The job can be astoundingly consuming. Thankfully I’m able to sit in the back for this, my 6th flight of the day. I should have been able to come home on the flight that left at 6pm, but the flight was overbooked and a pilot for the airline operating the flight wanted the jumpseat. We all, of course, have priority on our own airline.

I suspect that one of the reasons I like the job is because it’s so entirely consuming. I tend to be unable to separate employment from the rest of life–something, I suspect, that’s true for most people. I watch folks who, for instance, stand in the O’Hare concourse holding a tray of free popcorn samples for hours on end. It strikes me as one of the most boring, demeaning and thankless jobs in the country. At least a janitor or sanitation worker is accomplishing something and can (I assume) derive some satisfaction from that. The worker holding a tray of free samples (rarely the same person from day to day) is sometimes loudly attempting to attract takers, but is usually just standing there, watching the samples disappear.

It’s jobs like these that are, I think, at the heart of what’s wrong with capitalism. You might say about the folks doing these jobs, “They have a job! There are worse jobs they could have. And look at how good capitalism is, it’s *created* a job that otherwise wouldn’t exist.” But the job it’s created is meaningless, and I think the job must have serious negative consequences for person doing it. Standing around for 8 hours a day proffering free samples cannot possibly result in a healthy mental state for the person doing it. In an agrarian society, at least, most people are working merely to sustain themselves. It’s often argued that the mark of a well-developed society is just that—the division of labor so that some people can make the food to support the rest of us. I think, though, that instead while it allows some of us to do things we enjoy doing (like me), it forces others to do things that devalue humanity as a whole.

I’m not sure what I would do if I were forced to work in retail. I suppose there’s probably always some other option, and I think I’d try to find it. I don’t think that others lack the ability or the motivation to find other work, but rather that the nature of our society has somehow erased whatever fundamentally human bit of our makeup that prevents us from being willing to accept such things.

This is, of course, just a hypothesis and I could be wrong on any number of levels. Maybe other people are innately different enough from me that they actually enjoy such work. Maybe other people really are able to separate employment from the rest (the other two thirds) of their lives. Maybe their able to do such things for a short time and not be damaged by them. I don’t think any of that’s the case, though.

If I could have any other job in the world, besides flying planes, I’m not sure I could think of one that I’d rather do. I’m not even sure what I’d pick as a second choice. I don’t see voluntarily doing anything else, and I think that sort of involuntary commitment (I do it because I can’t help *not* doing it and can’t think of something I’d rather do) is necessary. I suspect that’s probably true of many who continue to fly the line, particularly today. Some people luck into an excellent, well-paying career in this industry, but most don’t. I’ve talked to so many pilots who’ve bounced from one bankrupt airline to another, having to start at the bottom each time. Did they make bad choices? Certainly not—they were simply unlucky. It’s astoundingly physically and mentally demanding. It’s nearly impossible to raise a family in the traditional sense and do a good job of it. Professional pilots who fly in this country are theoretically sacrificing an awful lot to do the job they do, but I think that’s probably because they can’t help it.

7 Responses to “Thoughts on my way home.”

  1. Kelsey Says:

    You have to separate “job” from “career.” For many of us, myself included, a job is what we do to support ourselves as we work toward advancing our careers. For all you know, the dude with the popcorn is a writer who is working on his first book and is doing the popcorn gig just to pay the bills.

    And on the flipside, I have often taken non-paying acting jobs which hypothetically advance my career.

    You are fortunate to be able to make money doing what you love to do, however, many of us just need to make money in order to survive and what we do to make that money has nothing to do with what we’ve trained for, gone to school for, or have a passion for.

    Additionally, though my job is fairly low on the capitalist foodchain, I am so thankful to have it. I heard on NPR that 1 out of every 12 New Yorkers is unemployed: a ratio unseen since post 9-11 attacks where unemployment went up to 10%.

    Also, nobody held a gun to popcorn man’s head and forced him to do what he does- he does it out of free will. If he wants a better job- he’ll need to work for it and take the necessary steps to improve his situation.

    I have a hunch that he is also happy to be employed.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Perhaps your genetic makeup enables you to do the humanizing job of flying a big machine in the sky while those of us with an inferior genetic makeup are able only to be employed in the retail arena. And further still enable us to actually enjoy a retail job (clearly retail cannot be a career).
    I think you make a mistake in saying that the free food guy is in someway in a horrible position. And I don’t think he needs to be doing that in order to further some “real” or “better” career. Some people enjoy shoveling monkey poop at the zoo. While I would not derive satisfaction or enjoyment of that job, I can’t imagine belittling them or pitying them. Rather, I will always either envy or be pleased for someone who enjoys what he does to support himself. Or in fact volunteers to do with no thought of recompense.
    But, that’s another aspect of humanity that I enjoy. We differ.

  3. Berck Says:

    Hrm. I think you both missed my point entirely. I’ll chalk it up to being very tired and not having done a very good job of expressing myself. I’ll think about it and see if I can do a better job.

  4. Nathan Says:

    Maybe you should pay their bills for them so that they don’t have to work in such demeaning positions.

  5. Jonah Says:

    Ha! Selling books is retail, isn’t it? I’ve always dreaded retail…except selling books–I like the idea of that.

  6. Rachel Says:

    I get that a lot. The bit about selling books not being retail, or the only sort of retail someone would do. I guarantee ya, folks, it’s still retail. We still have kids pee on the carpet, bathrooms backup and overflow, stupid people ask questions like, “Hi, I’m looking for Dante’s Inferno, but I don’t know the author’s name?” or “Do you have my textbooks for Pysch 101?”
    But, ya know, even that nonsense is part of the fun, and it’s minimal at best.
    Honestly, I can’t imagine having to wear stockings to a “real” job or wear makeup every day. So, yeah, it’s pretty good.

  7. Jonah Says:

    Yuck! Stockings!

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