While folks at the younger end of the demographic spectrum are always on the lookout for new ideas of jobs they might pursue when they grow up, those of us nearing the other end of the workplace teeter-totter get a lot of satisfaction from being reminded of jobs we’re fortunate we never had to do.
And not just the kind of stuff on the Discovery Channel’s “Worst Jobs” series from a couple of years back. Those always struck me as shooting fish in a barrel, job-wise: obvious surface gore and yuck, but not much enlightenment on day-to-day reality of certain emotional situations.
This week alone, I came across two genuinely fearsome jobs on public television’s award-winning series “Nova.” One show was about a team of scientists who track a group of giant Burmese pythons that have invaded a section of the Florida Everglades.
Some of the snakes, which average 18 feet in length (and nope, there’s not a decimal point between the “1” and the “8”), have electronic tagging devices attached. It’s the scientists’ job to track these snakes by radio, hold them down to make sure their tag is still working right, and incidentally give the snake a brief health and dental exam in the process.
Dental. Exam. And did I mention these rascals are 18 feet long?
A different team of scientists were on an archeological dig in Nepal, studying the remains of villagers from a thousand years ago. These hardy Himalayans lived in caves cut into the sheer face of mountains, which today involve a 200- to 300-foot climb in midair. The archaeology project raises fascinating questions, but I get queasy standing on a step-ladder in our back yard. I can’t imagine climbing into thin Nepalese air, day after workday, and even worse, spending your entire window of daylight dreading the climb back down.
By contrast, these make some of my worst newspaper workplace memories seem like a trip to Six Flags by comparison: say, enduring four-hour editorial planning meetings with a handful of bosses older than God who smoked horrific cigars and spoke as indecipherably as Bear Bryant. At one point, I took a break from newspapering and worked as a commercial photographer—with mixed results. The money was decent, but one assignment in particular gave me second thoughts about leaving behind the inimitable smell of printing press ink.
To make a long story short, one morning at daylight I found myself in a remote Mississippi town, crouched with all my camera equipment in the bucket of a cherry-picker crane some 150 feet above one of the country’s largest nuclear power plants.
To make things even more interesting, the predicted fair weather for the day had turned into a historic sleet storm, and it was impossible to keep the lens wiped fast enough to get any usable pictures.
For all I knew, there may have been a python hiding under the old tarps scattered on the floor of the platform, but the fabric kept out a little bit of cold air so I couldn’t bring myself to check. These were the days before cell phones, so the only way I could get the crane operator’s attention to request being brought back to earth was a lot of waving and shouting. On the ground I had a conference with the client and the crane operator and we decided to tackle this assignment another day. Strangely, I never heard back from the power-plant people. Maybe it was connected with me changing my phone number, but I can’t be sure.
But, jobs aside: Doesn’t this printing-press ink smell great?
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.