Sunday, July 8, 2012

7/9/2012 Digging Ditches in 1977 or Are You a Woman?

This was definitely the deepest ditch I ever dug.
I was in the bottom and the top was near waist high!
I had already done the top edge
but the darn ditch was so deep I had to do
the sides with a top-down chopping swing.
It seemed to me like a safety hazard
to have this mini Grand Canyon in front of
Nathan Hale high school.
I was vaguely missing my inside job
as the custodian for the Poncho and
Bathhouse theaters. What had started out
as a cool summer job in 1977 for the
City of Seattle Parks department had led
to this giant mud-pit of a predicament.
Mayor Wes Ulhman had gotten a memo from
the feds that he needed some Affirmative Action
in the city departments that were mostly male.
Those jobs at the time paid double what
the city secretarial jobs paid and
I sure liked the sound of that.
My park department supervisor told
me about the new program and I went
downtown to the City of Seattle Engineering
department, near I-90, and took the
test for a Street Maintenance Worker job.
Fancy name for ditch digger but it covered
the other fun jobs like filling in potholes
and cutting brush etc. etc.
It was September and pouring cold rain
as I went inside and sat down to fill out
forms. I looked at the other applicants
and wondered what else we would do besides
the written application. We were all around
twenty years old and the other six girls
had on dresses and high heels.
I felt low-class and stupid in my
blue jeans an boots and flannel shirt.
Until the test started. No one had told
us about that before we got there.
They had set up a mini obstacle course
outside in the supply area and we had three tasks.
It was raining cats and dogs as I shoveled a
fifty pound pile of sand into a wheelbarrow.
You might not know it, but when sand gets wet,
it gets much, much heavier.
Next, I had to steer the wheelbarrow
around orange cones set up to simulate God knows what.
Finally, it was time to do some timed brick laying.
My fingers were numb with cold as I
laid the bricks in climbing rows
from a pile on the ground.
When I finished, my fingers we smashed
and bloody but my mini-wall looked really good.
With my sodden jeans clinging to my legs
I walked towards the door as the next
applicant came out.
She was wearing a silk dress, spiked heels
and a cashmere sweater and I felt
sad for her.
So back to where I was standing in the bottom
of the mini Grand Canyon trying to finish
this huge ditch with the rest of the bull gang.
1977 was the first year women in Seattle
got to dig ditches professionally and
we were a bit of an oddity even to our coworkers.
Despite the cold I was hot and sweaty after
digging two hours and was down to my
white tee-shirt like the other four diggers.
A big maroon car slowed down and a
middle-aged white man noticed me out his window
and drove a few yards and stopped.
I looked up and noticed him slowly
backing up to where I was digging
and he came to a complete stop and gawked at me
and yelled, "Are you a woman?!"
I stood tall and pushed my big round white hard hat
back from my face and thrust out my chest a little
and gave him a big smile,
"Why yes, I am a woman!" I shouted back.
Good thing it wasn't raining that day.