Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Coming Out Of Dishwashing Retirement (photo by Mike Brenneman)

The latest turn in our economy has forced a lot of people to do things they normally would not to earn a living. For yours truly, I’ve recently come out of retirement as a dishwasher.

About two years ago I gained full-time employment with Western State College, which meant a close (I thought) to a 15 year career in restaurants, where I primarily washed dishes. The job also allowed me to move back home to the Gunnison Valley from Salt Lake City, Utah where I was temporarily living in a basement and washing dishes for minimum wage.

Starting July 1st at the close to the state’s fiscal year, I’ve been one of the many victims of the sour economy and reduced state appropriations for higher education, and my full-time job was cut to half-time, leaving a void in my bank account needing to be filled. Leaving the Gunnison Valley again really isn’t an option I wanted to pursue, I’ve done that three times and each time I found myself pining to return to this sacred place and our unique community.

At first my thoughts were to escape to living in a tent and simply working my half-time job. That worked in my twenties but now in my thirties I appreciate my writing desk, a shower, a place to keep my bikes, and all the other comforts of having a roof over my head too much to make that sacrifice.

I quickly found myself speaking with my previous employer in Crested Butte, inquiring if they were in need of some dishwashing help. Of course they were, in July in Crested Butte a reliable dishwasher is always needed. So there I was back at my old stomping grounds in the dish pit.

I was somewhat nostalgic about the return. I still have many dear friends that work at this restaurant and the owners have always treated me extremely well. Many times I would leave for the winter on rock climbing excursions and return to beg for my job back come summer. They have always found work for me, and for this return I was extremely grateful given the state of the economy.

Like many people do these days when something significant happens in their life, before I went back for my first shift I made a Facebook post to the effect of, “I’m coming out of dishwashing retirement…hope I can keep it Zen with the Donita’s crew.”

The nostalgia lasted a whole five minutes. Quickly I found myself bummed out at the reality of my situation. I’d returned to the same position I held for my very first job at 16. I’ve got a college degree, many articles published in respected publications and websites, and a few years of experience under my belt working in public relations in higher education. This was failure right?

My depression over the dishwashing situation was the result of some real fears, but the greatest fear that I’ve failed with my professional career is unfounded. Things are different here in the Gunnison Valley; we cannot measure our success strictly by what we do for a living. Here, even though most of us are overeducated for our occupations, we do what we have to do. I’ve worked with Ivy League graduated in restaurants in Crested Butte, or those with PhDs who abandoned lucrative careers to live in the majestic Gunnison Valley. We are successful if we are healthy and if our spirits are fed. That’s why the Gunnison Valley is home, and why I would rather wash dishes here than have a “successful” career elsewhere

Now that I’m a month into coming out of retirement, I’m doing my best to accept the struggle of being a dish diver, to “keep it Zen” and try to not lose my cool when the dishes start piling up like they will this busy time of year. I’m also trying to separate what I do to make money and who I truly am.

So cheers to everyone in this valley who does what they have to do to survive and continue to live here. Most of us are overqualified for what we do, but we love it here. And besides soon enough the off-season will be here and all the hard work of the summer will pay off for recreation down the line.

Below is a link to Pete Jordan's book "Dishwashwer" on Amazon. He's the guy who attempted to wash dishes in all 50 states and even appeared on Letterman. He also was a zine-ster. The book should be pretty cheap, and I get hooked up if someone buys a copy.

Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States (P.S.)

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