The Perspective of a US Census Taker

usa flag waving on white metal pole
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Last fall I filled out an application to be a U.S Census taker. I was newly retired and had the time. But mainly, I felt it was my civic duty. In prior decades, I had been a Vietnam protester, a women’s lib advocate, an outspoken New Yorker born in the shadow of Columbia University and fully identifying with the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) of the 1970s.

Now I saw a country more divided than ever, with racial tensions heightening, and unemployment surging. Could I actually make a difference  for those whom the Census affected – the underrepresented, the marginalized, the uncounted? My 1970s self applauded!

But I soon discovered that becoming a Census taker was more than hopping in my car with a clipboard in hand and patriotic zeal in my heart. 

I had to attend a training class followed by a comprehensive nine-hour module on how to be an exemplary “enumerator”. This is the first time that technology has been used in the Census. The interview process would be prompted by questions on a government issued phone with software prompting you from one screen to the next based on answers to questions. You are capturing data that will be submitted for analysis by our government. And with over 170,000 Covid related deaths, the demographic changes in our country have been profound and dollars need to be allocated in the best way possible – for senior centers, hospitals, and schools.

After completing the module and taking a quiz covering the basic material, I was deemed ready to hit the road and be in the field. And my particular field turned out to be mostly just that. I was assigned the rural countryside of Columbia County in upstate New York.

My first case on my first day showed exactly how rural my territory was. My GPS led me to a corn field where it announced with great satisfaction that I had arrived. I stared at the wide open space, my patriotic zeal a bit dampened. I soon discovered that addresses were often incorrect, that many houses had no numbers, and that there were residents of trailer parks and RVs who wanted to remain off the grid.

But I also learned that whether rural or urban, people are more alike than they are different. And everyone has a story. I am a definitive type A personality, and I relished the opportunity to learn these stories – people’s names, their ages and origin, who they live with, and how many were under the same roof. It was like being an investigator without having the background for it.

Some of the kindest, sweetest people I met were missing teeth and eating cheese doodles for dinner. In this socially distanced, Covid world, most people seemed to want to connect, to interact with another human being. I saw how many lonely people there were out there, pandemic or no pandemic.

One woman I met was just pulling  into her dusty, dirt driveway. After I identified myself, she asked if I could wait a moment while she checked on her three kids and her mom. I discovered she was in her 40s, single, and had just moved back into her childhood home. At the end of the interview, I thought she would have asked me to stay for dinner if not for Covid.  We were probably on complete opposite sides politically, but we had connected – and all while filling out Census forms!

Then there have been times when I realized I was enumerating an actual celebrity. Once I spoke to a famous movie director/producer and did not let on that I knew who he was. It was an experience I will treasure and it never would have happened had I not been wearing my U.S Census badge!

I have also encountered those who did not take kindly to a stranger approaching their home, regardless of the clearly visible credentials. Once a hostile property owner appeared out of nowhere at a multi unit complex, telling me I was soliciting and that he was going to call the police. I calmly told him I was with the U.S Census Bureau, doing my job, and to please go ahead and call them. I stood my ground. I then heard him mutter under his breath, “f ing bitch” followed by a louder pronouncement that I had three minutes to leave the property. (I took my sweet time!)

As a 2020 Census Taker, I never know what to expect when I get into my car. But that’s the joy of it!  Everyone has a story and the hours fly by. Before I know it, I have gone through 25-30 cases and completed my required interviews. I have driven past corn fields and have heard cases that would break your heart. But I have also witnessed our nation’s diversity and resiliency, as well as our need to connect, and yes, even unite.

This is my small part in being an American and, whatever good comes from getting this Census right, I know I have contributed.

The Great Pandemic of 2020

Much has been written about this unprecedented time we are living through – scientific reports, daily briefings by governors, mayors, the President, as well as jokes and quips to make us smile.

I (Joy) can only liken this to a period in history that I never lived through. That of World War II. My parents spoke of rations, silk stocking shortages, cigarettes being hard to come by, bread lines, feelings of worthlessness, depression, real estate values plummeting. This will be our World War II, our defining moment that we will take to our graves. Our children and their children won’t forget, but at least, God willing, they will have many more years to replace this horrific time with happy memories and prosperous times. Those of us in our senior years have less time to make up our lost investments and to process our feelings of isolation, disconnection, and separation from our loved ones.

What I will take away from this is that I was fortunate to have great friends, close family members, access to the internet with Zoom, FaceTime, What’s App, Instagram, and especially a husband who has been my friend and partner through good times and bad. I will remember that as long as I have food to put on my table, good health, sufficient money in the bank, and love in my heart for God and others, I will be fine. I will do my best to hold on to these thoughts and feelings so that I never take anything for granted again and realize I can do without if I have to.

In the words of Fred Rogers, “Often when you think you’e at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” Perhaps, our new beginning will be an era of less pollution, less greed, less materialism, less hatred, less “me”.

I hope so.

 

Today’s Takeaway

-What can we do to brighten someone’s day? A card in the mail, as old school as that is, could bring a smile to the face of a nursing home resident or a widow next door.

-Turn your eyes away from cable news long enough to marvel at that robin contemplating where to nest, that perennial flower annoyed by recent April snow and insisting on bursting forth, that squirrel scurrying up the tree oblivious to a flattening curve and daily statistics. You have the time!

Stay safe!

xox Barclay and Joy

 

health workers wearing face mask
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There’s a Shortage of Dogs!!!! Surprising outcomes of a global pandemic

We are living in a world that is more akin to an episode from “The Twilight Zone” than anything in my (Joy’s) previous umpty-ump years of life!! (Just in case anyone reading this is thinking of hiring me, I’ll continue to keep my age private!)

We have wanted to write, to speak out to you, our subscribers, but we didn’t want to  wring our hands, despair, panic, add more to your anxiety.  So here’s a good news story, courtesy of COVID-19.

An oddity of this pandemic has been a shortage of adoptable dogs! (Cats too!!)  Really!  What a wonderful problem for a shelter to experience!  You might scratch your head and say, so? What it says to me is how important socialization is to all of us.  We need to be comforted, we need to nurture, we need to love and be loved.

Bloomberg and Crain’s New York Business reported on this very curious phenomenon the last week of March. A surge of applications, as reported by “Muddy Paws Rescue” and ‘Best Friends Animal Society, as much as 10 fold the normal amount, has the shelters scrambling for adoptable and/or fosterable pets in the New York City area. It’s extended to other disease epicenters such as L.A as well.

A pet fills in the gaps when we can’t be close to other humans.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore my dog all the time.  But in times of stress, sadness, confusion, anxiety, when your furry friend looks up at you with those big eyes, be happy he or she can’t get Covid-19.  Where would you be without your furries?  In the words of James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Other Takeaways (so far) of a Global Pandemic

-Little Adventures Everywhere – Who knew taking a walk around the block could be so vital?  And during these walks, we find ourselves waving to perfect strangers across the street – a wave that says, “I know what you’re going through.” We are bringing jigsaw puzzles out of closets; we are resurrecting family game nights, or days; we are appreciative of hair-washing, Netflix, and video connecting.

I’ve just been invited to a cocktail party! My (Barclay’s) sister, age 80, living in rural Vermont, exclaimed.  She and her husband were going to Zoom with friends that evening at 5pm.  We are craving human contact.  And Zoom is easy enough for even Grandmas to navigate.  Our calendars are filling up with dates for online get-togethers where PJs are just fine.

When I pray, I kick worry and anxiety out of my head – Many of us  have been spending more time on our knees.  We have been rereading Psalm 91.  Hey, we have time!  And there is a TON to pray about! Praying and worry cannot coexist. So get kneeling!

We are learning to wait better and reflect more.  Amazon is no longer a few hours away.  If we want such and such, we can’t hop in the car and treat ourselves.  Life is slower. Days are seeming like weeks.  Patience and deep breathing are keys to survival. Whenever we feel sorry for ourselves, we reflect on those heroes who are driving ambulances, caring for the sick, patrolling our streets, manning our check-out lines, taking our garbage.

Churches are going beyond their four walls.  We can listen to online sermons live or at our leisure.  Those who wouldn’t think of attending an actual service, now have the means (and the time) to sit in the back pew and take it in (virtually, that is.)

The biggest takeaway sounds trite, but is true —

We ARE in this together and We Will Get Through It.

                                                                Hold On

xox Barclay and Joy