Confessions of a Census Taker

For the last few weeks I've been driving the back roads of our area, working for the US Census. My job was checking on vacant residences and buildings that aren't actually used as residences. Often I had to use my GPS to find buildings on roads like "Sawdust Trail," "Bobcat Ridge," "Warden Ridge," and "Ax Handle Road." All of these roads are some combination of dirt and gravel, they often don't have signs identifying them, and some of them are "seasonal," meaning they disappear or become impassable in the winter and reemerge each spring. These roads tend to migrate away from low patches - if there's a puddle in the existing road that looks too deep and muddy to drive through the locals will just drive around it, forging a new curve and slowly moving the road toward higher, drier ground.

I will miss this job. I got to set my own hours, I had minimal oversight so long as I produced, and they paid me fairly for my time, and generously for mileage. I drove through some of the most beautiful country that Albany county has to offer, and met some genuinely nice people along the way. Out in the fields around these roads I saw deer, antelope, prairie dogs, and hawks with relative frequency, fox and coyote less often, and people less still. I walked around homesteads that were established before Wyoming was a state, marked by crumpled and broken fence lines and houses that were as spooky as anything in a horror movie. I also saw how brush and the elements are slowly taking those places back.

I tend to bitch about Wyoming a lot, but mostly it's the cold that makes it miserable for me. Now that my allergies have subsided (mostly) I can admit, grudgingly, that it's kind of pretty around here. This time of year it's well worth getting off the paved roads for a bit and doing some exploring. Be careful, however - I have encountered some unsavory things out in the county as well.

The mosquitoes and other biting bugs are quite savage out there, especially near standing water. Although I never saw one, my nose told me that there were skunks around, and I'm sure there are rattlesnakes in this area, too. Up near Centennial, I nearly got run over by a deer that was sleeping under the porch of a cabin. I startled her as I walked up to knock on the door and she suddenly burst from the bushes when I was about 4 feet away. Good thing I have a strong heart.

As usual, the worst things that happened to me were caused by humans. The guy on that private quarry road was no fun at all, informing me that I was trespassing as he glared menacingly down at me from his huge rock hauler. There was also the family with the Tea Party signs in the windows of their mobile home who refused to answer the census questions because they "distrust the government, just like the founding fathers intended when they wrote the Bill of Rights." (I tried to explain to them that the Census is actually mandated by the Constitution, but they weren't interested in a history lesson just then...)

I also saw abject poverty that made parts of the county feel like a third world nation. I saw families living in housing so dilapidated that it was barely adequate for summer in Wyoming, much less the cold winds to come. I took census data from several women who were far too young to have that many children already, and I met more than one elderly person whose eagerness to chat spoke clearly about the loneliness of old age. One old ranch wife insisted on inviting me into her spotless kitchen to fill out the census form, and during that seven-minute interview I had to decline three offers of food and drink. She told me that my laugh reminded her of one of her boys, back when he was still working the ranch. I hated to leave.

If such a job existed, I could happily drive about EVERY day, looking for vaguely defined spots on a map. To really excel at it, I would need a better GPS device, a vehicle with higher clearance, and cell phone service with better coverage. I would also need a big bottle of insect repellant, and some binoculars would be good, too. If you hear of such a job, let me know; it's hard to go back to cubicle life when you've had the dashboard as your desk for a while.


Sci Fi Heroine said...

Ah, yes; in the process of writing the Constitution, the Founding Fathers were DEFINITELY thinking, "Let's develop an institution nobody should trust! And let's also make the Census, just to piss citizens off!" Grargh. Well, at least you had fun.

Teh Dr. said...

You could serve subpoenas

His Sinfulness said...

Herr Doktor,

I've served a few, and it's hard always being the harbinger of doom...

Mayren said...

i smell a writing project in your spare time re: the things you observed in your time of exploration..... (i'd be interested to see what you could do with that info.)

His Sinfulness said...

Thanks for the support, Mayren, but I think I'm going to concentrate on more practical writing - I still need to finish my thesis...

MsEmJ said...

For awhile, I had this this image of census takers breaking down rebellious citizens' doors and demanding answers at gun point. Then a friend of mine who was a census taker told me that they couldn't do that. I was a little sad.

His Sinfulness said...

It's true. The census has strict rules about refusals. And guns.

Mayren said...

*cheers you on for your Thesis*
Rah Rah REE Kick em in the literary KNEE
RAh Rah RASS kick em in the ... other knee?


Linus - Linus- He's our Scholar man, if he
can't do it NO One Can!


(tosses the pom poms into the air and does cartwheels)

His Sinfulness said...

I wonder if more kids would stay in school if their were scholastic cheerleaders...?

Thanks, Mayren! :)

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