Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Time With the Feds.

Approximately nine years ago I found myself unhappy with my current career path, and without a definite plan for the future. I intended to go back to school for a professional certificate in the fall, but didn't really know what to do to keep myself busy until then. Throughout the preceding years I had worked in a number of marginally interesting jobs for small compensation, and I wanted to shake things up a bit. I went down to the employment center in Larryville (near the doughboy statue) and met with one of its staff. I grabbed a quick bite to eat at the hot dog shop across the way before I went in. Unfortunately I caught a touch of food poisoning which began to hit me as I was talking with the job counselor.

Still I was able to keep it together enough to entertain several possibilities. It just so happened that the 2000 US Census was in its enumeration phase. There was a representative of the Pittsburgh office administering entry tests to see who might be qualified to work for "Old Glory". I've always been a proficient test-taker, and I did well despite the violent pangs in my stomach. I was offered a low-level temporary position downtown. Every day I walked from home at 47th and Hatfield to the high rise that is now the Westin Convention Center. I did a variety of office-type jobs, and always volunteered to get out in the field for some variety. Tracking down addresses that had forwarded no response to the mailed surveys could sometimes be challenging.

One day several Garfield teens tried to jack my car while I was idling in front of their rowhomes, trying to find a specific house. I was taken aback as they tried to enter through both doors of my beat-up GEO metro. The situation was so absurd that all I could think to do was to flash the closest one my federal employment badge (featuring a big ol' American flag) and smirk at them. That calmed them down, and they hastily retreated to a porch. I asked after them as I finally delivered a follow-up survey several houses down. They had become remarkably docile and polite. And it made for a pretty fun story back at the office. My supervisors especially paid close attention and decided that I should sit for a management test.

My training in psychology prepared me well for the exam. I was told that I got the highest score in the entire region. All it amounted to for me was that I knew what they were looking for. I answered the questions to fit their profile. But the project was so far underway that they couldn't offer me a high position. Still, what they gave me was a vast improvement over enumeration and data entry. I was made the crew leader for all of Lawrenceville. That meant that it would be left solely up to me to take the population count of the area. I had 23 employees working for me, and I was responsible for training and managing them. I reached my personal quota of 100% of the inhabitants accounted for. It turns out that the area was growing!

The best thing about that job was that I could set my own hours and work wherever I wanted to. For awhile I just had people drop off their completed surveys at my house. Then I decided I needed to have a more professional presence, and so I talked one of the local businesses into letting me set up on their second floor. I ran the count from Nooner's bar, which was located on Penn Avenue near Main Street. It was technically in Bloomfield. It's ironic that years later I would be spending a lot of time in my former "office"*. New owners purchased the place and transformed it into a hip destination called the Brillobox. Eventually the Census was concluded and I moved on. But I'm glad to have had the chance to help build the numbers for my favorite city neighborhood. It's been good to me ever since.

* Which I've recently learned was actually the "woman's floor" of the bar.

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