Lesson from a Blue Collar Job

Two years ago I took a job working the ramp for an airline, which is a pretty physical, 'blue collar' job. I had done the job in Charleston several years prior on a very part-time basis, but this go-around it was more involved and at a bigger station in the big city. Immediately, it became clear to me that the people I was working with had come from a very different background than I had, which was, and still is, very eye opening. On my most recent shift I had a particularly interesting conversation with three other guys, all a bit younger than me and each in various stages of life. We were talking about high school and what it was like with school, teachers and girls, and the contrast between their lives and mine was so stark it was worth noting, and gleaming a little life lesson from.

Wing walking, 2016

I wrote in the last post that I grew up in the South, in the mid-sized city of Charleston, SC. I told them I had spent most of my childhood in the suburbs. They interpreted this as I had grown up in a rich household, which wasn't really true. I told them my first home was a trailer and then we had moved to a little bit of a nicer neighborhood, and then one more time to an even nicer spot, but never anything opulent or fancy -- we were middle-class, which in the big city can mean a whole range of things, I guess.

But maybe what struck me the most about all of their stories was that each one said they were written off in high school as having no future, destined to work in a factory or some other blue collar position for the rest of their lives. It was so different where I came from, when I was told that, if you work hard enough, you can really do anything. College was an expectation amongst my friends, and even community college felt like a concession verses a four-year university (though I ended up taking quite a few classes at community college and count them as my favorite part of my education). Again, this wasn't a wealth decision (I got student loans for most of my education), but cultural. 

Bin stacking, 2024

It all begs the question: how different might their lives have been if they had grown up where I did? And vice versa -- where would I be had I grown up in the bad parts of Los Angeles, where prostitutes and drug dealers lined the streets next to my bus stop? (A true story. One of these guys said growing up in South Central was like living a real life Grand Theft Auto video game!) 

Of course here we are, working the same job at the same time, but I have a four-year degree under my belt and am working this job by choice, not because someone wrote me off as unable to succeed. And should I choose to move 'upstairs' and work a corporate desk job (though you might know how I feel about working in the corporate world), it wouldn't be difficult for me -- in fact, many people have told me that is what I will end up doing, mostly because of the color of my skin...which is another layer to the whole thing.

All of it reminds me that we have no control over where we were born and into which family we were reared, and when you have that realization, it is a lot easier to have empathy for just about everyone around you. It's what the second verse of this song (starting at 1:30) is about, which was written while we lived in a less-than-desirable part of Los Angeles after leaving the South for the second time.

Even though I loved growing up in Charleston, and count myself quite lucky to have been there, I told these guys that I'm glad we are raising our kids in a big city where they will be exposed to far more than I ever was. These experiences make us more well-rounded people, able to empathize and show love to a wider variety of people who come from all walks of life. And in the end, it's our love for others that just might make the difference.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)


"Laundromat (The Lucky Ones)"

And it doesn’t make sense but I think we’re the lucky ones

In our tiny apartments with no laundry hookups

But when I’m at the laundromat I sure get a lot of writing done

So I’ll say that I am the lucky one

Yeah I know you got your big house in the suburbs

But tell me why do you need two different living rooms

When there’s just one place to go you get a lot more living done…together

So I’ll say that we are the lucky ones

The word “opulence” has been floating through my mind lately

And I’ll admit I do enjoy some luxury

But we can’t neglect the benefits of simplicity

Like a healthy soul for you and me

But that’s easy for me to say ‘cause I live in a wealthy place

It’s not hard to complain when you have everything

At your fingertips and excess is not a counterfeit dream

Hey you hear that helicopter flying overhead

They’re looking for a bad guy and I hope they get him

Yeah you might say that we live in a place that’s dangerous

Maybe so, but it’s not us so we are the lucky ones

‘Cause that ‘bad guy’ could’ve been easily you or me

If we lived where he did or shared his family

When you think with empathy it’s hard to pass judgement on

Those of us not born as the lucky ones

Maybe we were born for more than all this stuff

Fancy cars and a house that’s more than big enough

Could it be we were meant to live for the kingdom come?

Instead of money and accumulation

So give me far less stuff and you can call me the lucky one