Monday, February 18, 2013

painful words :: because the truth hurts :: read with caution

Often, I'm on the streets of Philadelphia quite early. And I'm not talkin' about 9 to 5 early. I'm talkin' a good hour or so before the sun comes up. As a photographer, I can not help but observe the world around me. Working with a camera for some years will cause you to have this affliction. You will no longer be able to enter a building, walk a hallway, ascend a set of stairs, sit in a waiting room, look at a magazine, without analyzing each situation in terms of lighting composition, etc. And the hard part about this, you did it all in one trip to the doctor's office. Yep, it's an affliction, one I hold closest to my heart.

It wasn't long ago. It had to be somewhere in the vicinity of 5:30 a.m., on Chestnut Street, while driving an observation hit me as never before. An observation that brought me here to this keyboard to share with you today.

I made a right turn, off of 20th and onto Chestnut, as the City of Philadelphia's garbage truck, that I had been riding behind, continued on 20th. Thank goodness because the odor from the back of that thing was really killing my morning enjoyment of coffee and some relaxing sounds on the radio.

I can't recall exactly what it was I was listening to that cold winter morning but the usual stations are either World Cafe WXPN  88.5 or NPR 90.1. Come to think of it, I was listening to 88.5. Playing was Depeche Mode's new track. Depeche Mode had always rocked the 80's and I was shocked to discover they are still killin' it, once again, with this new, soon to be hit, Heaven.

The coffee was eh, drinkable. It was hot, it was black but the flavor, well, let's just say I've had better. I'm not going to name names or anything but I will only tell you that I buy coffee at this specific place due to its convenience. There are probably over 100 fantastic coffee shops within a mile's radius from my house but parking my big SUV becomes the issue. At my current coffee purchasing location, I've been able to dodge the police and/or parking authority. Knock on wood.

As I cautiously held my steaming cup of joe, as my Xterra took the sharp right turn, I couldn't help but spill a steaming hot drop of caffeinated lava on my thigh. No surprise there as being delicate isn't one of my forte's.

Straightening out and continuing down Chestnut, I pass by delivery truck after delivery truck, in synchronization, unloading their hauls, whether it be bread, pastries, vegetables, meats or seafood. They work fast and undistracted, as time is of the essence. I'm sure that getting those deliveries in before the morning rush is top priority. There jobs probably depend on it.

By 16th and Chestnut I notice the P.P.A. working in full force. For those who are unfamiliar with the P.P.A., well, count your blessings. Personally, they have been a thorn in my side as long as I've been a licensed driver in this wonderful metropolis. P.P.A.? That stands for the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Yes, I mentioned them just a minute ago as I typically have to dodge their stealthy tactics when grabbing my morning coffee. I swear they are the city's ninjas. If you don't believe me, come to this city, park illegally for, um, I don't know, 30 seconds. Get out of your car, walk ten paces, turn around and I bet you one of those ninjas will have already ticketed your car. And you will not see where they came from or where they went. I digress. Hitting the red light at 16th I see the towing enforcement as I do every morning on Chestnut. You see, for a certain time period there is No Parking allowed on Chestnut. Same goes for other busy streets. Usually during certain rush hours, incoming or outgoing, that they don't allow parking for a few hours on the assigned streets.

I couldn't tell you how many tow trucks I spotted or how many cars were being taken. I have become a bit numb to this as I see it on a daily basis. What became clear to me was the work that the enforcement was doing. The temperature was well below freezing. The towing enforcement employees were harnessing the vehicles with chains that had to be colder than the ground they were laying on, face first mind you. It was painful just to watch.

As the light turned to green, I eased on the gas as I had plenty of time to get to my destination and didn't mind hitting another red light simply to observe my surroundings on that cold, quiet morning in Center City Philadelphia.

I passed 15th street noticing the city workers freshly paving the street. This has been an ongoing process for, oh, I don't know how long. It may be part of some stimulus project or something to help the city's infrastructure. What I do know is that around these parts, they've been tearing up and redoing just about every single street. Before noticing the crew with my eyes, I noticed them with my senses of touch and smell. First was my sense of smell. There is a distinct odor that comes from the steaming hot asphalt. I actually find it quite pleasant. Strange? Yep probably. Next, was my sense of touch. There is this steam roller, maybe specific for street paving, that, on top of just flattening the ground, must have a ginormous built in vibrator, to further assist in the flattening operation. Maybe all steam rollers have this feature, what do I know? The workers throw the vibrator on intermittently. It can be felt rattling your bones a hundred yards away. I wonder how that driver felt?

I wondered to myself, did this street crew begin early or work through the frigid night?

I then hit Broad Street. There I turn left towards City Hall, where William Penn resides, perched at the peak of the old structure. As I curve around the historical building, I'm hit by another red light at Market Street.

Riding along the sidewalks, in their usual fashion, are what look like miniature Zambonies. In actuality, they are street sweepers, or sidewalk sweepers, for that matter. They are unlike the typical street sweeper as the driver is completely exposed to the elements. This driver seemed to be wearing a city issued uniform jacket. Hmm. City issued? Think they splurged on getting high end thermal clothing for these employees? I don't know. I do know if it were me out there, I'd look like the little kid in The Christmas Story, overdressed by the mother.

About two minutes later, I'm merging onto i676, headed towards i95, northbound. The Ben Franklin Bridge, off to my right, looks gorgeous at this time of day. Darkness overpowers the sky but one can really sense the sun just over the horizon to the east. Given the time, that would be a perfect photo op, golden hour only moments away.

As I cruise onto i95, I can finally sit back and enjoy some long road time. The radio has me calm and collected and my coffee is now at the perfect drinking temperature.

But I don't enjoy the ride.

My observations have left me wondering. Serious thinking here my friends. Life changing thinking. No joke.

Rather than enjoy my coffee, I was disturbed. I had been washed over by this feeling of unsettlement. I often get this nagging pain in my brain to constantly be creative, an insatiable hunger that drives me forward on a daily basis. Well, on that day, I had a similar nagging at the back of my neck and it wasn't my wife my friends. No, this was something different.

The trash man.

The bread delivery truck.

The tow truck driver.

The worker driving the gigantic vibrator (ok, maybe not this one).

The street sweeper.

I thought long and hard about these individuals (minus the worker riding the giant vibrator) and more than just think of them, I was now thinking of the thousands and thousands of vehicles, jammed packed, bumper to bumper, like a highway of packed sardines, headed into the city. But what are they headed to?

Sure, we all know that 99% of these people are on their way to a job of some sort.

Now, out of those 99% who are all headed to work, how many of them are actually happy?

How many of those people woke up that morning super excited to get ready for work?

If I'm not making myself clear here, how many of those thousands and thousands of people, the garbage men, the street sweepers, the window washers, the accountants, the lawyers, the nurses, the doctors (yep, I met a couple unhappy ones) how many of them really, really love their jobs?

And you, yes you reading this right now. You have a job, were you happy to wake up and go this morning or did you dread yet another monotonous day in a cubicle where you are overworked, underappreciated and underpaid? Fact of the matter is, the number is way too high. I'd be willing to bet that out of that 100% of people on the road that cold winter morning, that more than half, yes, more than 50% of them are not passionate about their jobs. These numbers aren't taken from any survey or anything, just my gut instinct.

How many of you get up each and every blood sucking morning, get dressed, drag your feet to your front door, cursing the fact that you are about to spend the next eight hours or so, giving in to the every order of your superior? Like the old commercial from the 80's or 90's, I forget but it clearly had the guy mumbling, "Time to make the donuts," over and over again. Is that where the majority of the country is today, cringing at the fact that it's "time to make the donuts?"

Sadly, I feel that this is, in fact, the pitiful truth. What keeps everyone glued to those desks that they loathe so much? What keeps society miserable and unhappy, nauseously agreeing to their bosses requests?

Is it nature? Is it in our DNA to work, regardless of happiness, simply to put food on the table?

Is it nurture? Did our parents, and their parents, and their parents parents all dictate that normalcy is having a mundane life, behind a mundane desk, doing mundane tasks, asking no questions along the way?

My guess it's some combination of the two.


Look, I'm sure that the lesser 50% are super in love with their careers. I applaud that minority. Good for you. But for that other side, those who aren't passionate about their jobs, what the hell is going on?

Are you masochistic? Does it turn you on to be tortured day in and day out? Do you prefer misery over happiness?

I hope that answer is no.

Male or female, did your boss chop your balls off the day you were hired and lock them in his top drawer?

We live in a new day here folks. Times are a changin.' Gone is the era of the status quo. Back in the day we went to school, got a job, got married, popped out a kid and a half, bought a house in the suburbs with a white picked fence, miserably worked a job for the next 20 to 30 years, retired and died. Is that the awesome history you want your great great great grandchildren to remember you by? Pathetic isn't it? Well, today that crappy, antiquated path is no longer necessary for our personal successes. Hey, if it was your dream to follow such a path, well, bravo, more power to ya. But for those who were forced into it, because that's what the neighbors kids were doing and goddamn it, your parents' kid was not going to stray from that path, again I say, WHAT THE FUCK?!

Gary Vaynerchuk said it best in a recent keynote of his and I'm paraphrasing, 'WE ONLY GET TO PLAY THIS GAME ONCE.'

Tell me those aren't some powerful words. I mean when you really sit down and think of that statement, it can really hit home. It did with me.

I know what the big problem is here. I know that many, if not most, people who aren't happy with their jobs would leave them in a heartbeat given a better opportunity. This is not the problem. All of the unhappy have a dream of what it is that would make them the happiest. Each and every single person on this big blue marble has a passion, something that would not seem like a job when that alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. Something that when they arrived each day, they would take a deep breath of the fresh air and exhale a wind of happy relief. So why isn't every single human in the world doing what it is they are passionate about?


There's no way around it, fear is the number one motivator for us bipeds, not to leave our jobs. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. I don't know. There must be a million fear driven reasons why each and every miserable person on the planet, watches paint dry on the wall as they wait for Friday to arrive. It sucks. I know. But the truth hurts.

How often do you say T.G.I.F.? Well guess what? If you say it even once, then you need a new fucking path in this life. Excuse the vulgarities today but I just can't hold back. Someone with a passion would be thrilled to work 7 days a week. Ok, divorce may increase but you know what? So be it. If that spouse doesn't understand your love for what you do then, well, don't let the door hit them in the ass on the way out!

Look, I'm not saying this will be easy for anyone. I'm not saying to walk into the bosses office today and quit your job. On the other hand, I am saying to walk into that office, get your balls back and come up with a plan.

For the single bachelor or bachelorette, it is much easier to jump ship. For those who are married and have lots of bills to take care of, the task may require a bit more finesse.

Let me quickly focus on the married, mortgaged type because you single, living with mom and pop, types can easily take the bigger risk. That category shouldn't even be reading this today. If you are then shame on you. You are the no strings attached crew. Stop your whining and make a move.

Now, for the strapped. The married. The mortgaged. The indebted. Come up with a game plan. Write it down. Have a five year plan, a one year plan, a six month plan, a one month plan, a one week plan and a daily plan towards achieving your goals. The process may take you some time. This is where you need to persevere a bit. It's going to suck even more when you wake up for that daily grind you hate so much, knowing that there is a real concrete possibility of doing what you are passionate about. It's going to hurt. But at the same time it will drive you even harder towards that light at the end of the tunnel.

For this demographic, In my opinion, baby steps are the way to go. Make the transition delicately.

Remember, we only get to play this game once. How do you want to finish?

Am I an expert on the matter? Nope. But trust me, wholeheartedly, I know exactly what you're going through. You'll make it. I promise.


Until next time...