As you could see from the pictures there was still quite a bit of setup to be done, so on Thursday we got the help of the company’s one full time employee, Mike. The three guys we had the day before had moved onto another tent and Mike came to help with the lights and to finish the wiring. I know this is all a little confusing, heck we have been pretty confused, so let me take a step back here and try to explain what I think is going on. Out of 15 tents, 4 couples are new. The other couples are returning, and they are unpacking a tent they packed last year and they know how the lot should look because they have done this before, in some cases for 5 years or more. They are compensated for this work with a $1,000 return bonus, which they receive in the beginning of the season. As newbies we were told the tent setup would be completed for us and although it wasn’t strictly required that we help, it was clear after training just sitting around was frowned upon. That’s OK. We certainly aren’t ones to sit while others are working, but we literally have no idea what to do. I compare it to trying to put a complicated kids toy together without instructions. You have all the pieces parts and a picture of what the toy should look like, but no idea how to get there. (We actually don’t have the picture. I would describe this more as helping someone move into a new apartment and set up their stuff in it, where none of the boxes are labeled, and you don’t know what rooms are what. – Lee) Lee in particular was frustrated, because this is so similar to what he used to do for a living. He setup numerous live events in his career, and has massive amounts of experience unloading trucks and setting up concerts and large scale corporate events into venues. They key to those setups was clear labeling on the pieces and unfortunately in our case this just wasn’t there.
From the reaction of both the initial team of three and the full time employee Mike, this is not the norm. Numerous items were mislabeled and we were flat out missing several key pieces. Let me give you an example. A flocking room is created with several 2×4’s for a frame and plastic sheeting which is hung for walls. This is absolutely something Lee could have taken care of but we were missing two of the wood pieces for the frame and the plastic sheeting. Lee and Mike made enough progress though that by the end of the first day they were able to put together a comprehensive list of what was missing and by Friday we finally had everything on site we needed to finish. More importantly Lee knew what he needed to do to finish the setup which was important because Mike was moving on to another location and we were on our own. At this point I would say I was surprised but I wasn’t. They definitely were measuring our abilities as they were working with us and since Lee impressed them, they knew they that he could finish and they had other people to help. The owner also let us know that he was short staffed. He usually has one long-term couple who floats during this process, but that couple had a health emergency and he had been unable to replace them.
Here’s the thing. We never care about this kind of stuff. At this point, we are not going to get fussy about compensation. We’ve been told “we will get taken care of” and we are fine with letting that play out. We also don’t mind working outside our comfort zone. We are hard workers and happy to jump in and get things done. IF at the end of all this we aren’t fairly compensated we won’t do it again. Since we have money in the bank we can afford to take a risk. What drives both of us crazy is the lack of solid information. This unfolded over the course of several days, where we have had to sit and wait to see what would happen next. There was no schedule, we never knew who was going to show up, and we never knew what was going to happen. Now we are fully aware that many people are totally fine with this level of ambiguity and a certain amount is the nature of the beast in these situations, so we both know this is an area we need to work on. Personal growth. I think we both did really well, considering our personalities, but the fact that it all could have been avoided with one “OK, here’s what is going to happen” conversation is still frustrating. (I’m not so polite about this. There’s always a better way, and it’s inexcusable not to improve when the path is obvious and it’s equally obvious that everyone will benefit from the improvement, and it will not cost anything. Think of it as being forced to cut a piece of wood with a pair of nail trimmers while sitting on a chainsaw and you have an idea of how I feel most of the time. – Lee)
The one thing that really helped us though was our friends Cori and Greg. My main job was to decorate the booth (which was set up completely the first day) and since I am not that great with a blank piece of paper, I asked Cori if she wanted to come over and give me some ideas. Not only did she come over, but she helped me decorate the booth, and Greg came with her and spent about 4 hours helping Lee with wiring. We certainly didn’t expect that, and it meant so much to both us. First off, we felt comfortable for the first time since we got here, being with people we knew and secondly they were both competent and super helpful. Mike was impressed by both of them and actually told the owner about it, which was nice for all of us. Plus with their help we felt like we turned a corner. Lee got to the point where he thought he could finish on his own and I completed the main part of my job and felt quite a bit better.
That being said it was still tough on Lee and I, and things came to a head between us Friday evening. I’m going to explain why, but I want to make it really clear that this next section is not specific to this job only, but is representative to the types of jobs we are seeing on the road. It’s important to talk about I think, but depending on your relationship may not be pertinent to you at all. OK, taking a deep breath on this one…here goes.
I don’t consider myself an ultra-feminist, but I suppose if feminist is defined as believing women should be allowed to do anything men can do, then I am one. I was raised in a small town in the Midwest with very traditional values. But I was also (until I was 12) the only child of a couple where the wife worked and for most of that time the father was in school. This was of course highly unusual, and my Dad handled a lot of my childcare when I was young. My grandmother also worked full time in a factory. She raised four kids, worked, and took care of all of the household chores and cooking. That’s how it was then. Even if the wife worked, the husband was still the “breadwinner”. This was the late 60’s and early 70’s but in small town Ohio it might as well have been the fifties, and at a young age the skewed distribution of work bugged me. My grandmother was always working, and from my vantage point my grandfather spent a lot of time in his chair. Obviously it was more complicated than that, but kids have a pretty narrow perception. Despite the small town, I was raised by both my mother and my father that I could and should do anything I wanted. This path though was around school and ultimately college which was very important to them as they were both the first people in their families to go to college. I received lots of help with school stuff, but I never really learned anything mechanical. Lee on the other hand was raised by a single dad (highly unusual at the time) who loved to hunt and fish. Since Lee had a more artistic bent this was never a great fit personality-wise, but he did learn how to fix things, cut and split wood, work on cars, basically all the types of things that are highly valuable in this lifestyle.
During our marriage we started out on a more traditional path where I was primarily responsible for the kids and Lee was the primary bread winner and then about 11 years in we switched roles. I got a fantastic job opportunity, we moved to the more progressive New England area, and Lee became the primary care taker for our three girls since I was traveling so frequently. Although this setup is really common now, at the time we didn’t know one other couple who was working this way. (The best way to get this point across is that I showed up alone to a parent teacher conference, and the teacher just assumed I was a widower. – Lee) It took some time for us to figure it out. Once we did though it was great for me. I would sit at business dinners and listen to men talk about how they were trying to fix some household crisis from the road (raccoon in the attic, plumbing problem, broken washing machine) and I would juts smile because I would get those calls too but they were always after the problem was fixed. I had a really sweet deal. We spent many years that way, and while I excelled and learned in the job/school arena I still didn’t learn to fix anything. By this point Lee could fix practically anything and I had my hands full anyway. I spent years working my way up the corporate ladder in a male-dominated company and it took me a long time to make my being a woman irrelevant. I certainly could have traded on my femininity, but that never sat well with me, so as much as possible I tried to be gender neutral. I rarely talked about my kids, or my husband, or anything traditionally female at all. Instead I focused on the work and since that is where I excelled it ultimately served me well.
One of my major concerns about going on the road was how I would handle a reversal to what I perceived as traditional roles. Men drove and took care of the mechanical, women took care of the inside, cooked, and sometimes did crafts. God, that sounds terrible when you say it like that, but that is what I thought it would be like, and although two years later I have certainly seen some of that dynamic, it is obviously much less than I thought it would be. More importantly Lee and I don’t work that way. We started there, because frankly I wasn’t qualified to do anything else, but over time I have learned to do more. Sometimes this was because I wanted to, but to be more honest it was more often because we had an uneven workload distribution, except this time it is on Lee. We’ve settled in and I continue to learn to do stuff and that would probably all work itself out over time, but then it’s all complicated by a job. We take a job where the work is distributed by sex and this all comes up again. It almost always makes sense from a practical standpoint. He is more likely to know the things he is assigned to do, but it still really bugs me. In the case of this job it’s really bothering me.
While Lee was setting up, I spent my time reading every scrap of paper they gave us. I thought this job was hiring us as co-managers of the lot and what I learned in the training from the other women my age was exactly that. The paperwork, however, told a different story. His packet was titled Lot Manager and mine was titled Cashier. On paper he is responsible for the trees, sales with customers, and all employees. On paper I am responsible for the paperwork and money. I’ve been told several times I would “never leave the cash booth” and was trained primarily on those processes. Lee was trained separately on the trees, flocking, etc. Again, it was clear from the two women close to my age that had done this before, they had redistributed the workload to suit them. They both talked about helping with trees, watering, and dealing with employees and I could see how we would rearrange the duties to both be more equitable and more suited to our skills sets. I have lots more experience, for example, hiring and managing employees than Lee does, so it makes sense for me to do that.
And all that would have probably been totally fine if it wasn’t for the setup. Again, this says a lot more about me than anyone else, but I felt completely useless in the setup process. After initially helping to unload the trailer (I can unload stuff) I was at a loss. Lee was at a loss too, but he stayed outside and hung in there. After attempting to help and feeling like I was just complicating things I retreated. I used the time to work on other things like inventory, organizing paperwork, calling potential employees and I would pop outside and help with whatever I could, like hanging signs, but mostly I just felt out of my element and retreated. This bothered Lee quite a bit and eventually it came to a head Friday evening. His stance (which is the same as how he raised our daughters) was if you want to be equal then you need to be equal and do the things that are less pleasant, because they need done. Fair enough. My stance was the entire system is designed to relegate me to a lesser role, so screw that, if that’s what they expect, that is what I am going to do. I’m not very proud of that, but after a couple of conversations with the people helping us where I was figuratively patted on the head and sent on my way, I mentally said “Screw it”. The problem was that is I left him alone in it and he didn’t deserve that. We do things together now, and even if I was just standing there handing him tools, I would have been with him. Plus, I am way better at seeing the nuance in communication than he is and to some extent I could have interpreted. I also could have helped get things organized way earlier, that’s what I do, after all. But for some reason, I retreated and that is really not who I have ever been.
The thing that is different for me is that in these short-term jobs, especially tasks that are of a short duration, what’s the point. I am not going to be working with Mike going forward, so why go to a lot of trouble to show him I am more than he thinks I am. If he, or anyone else really, that I am going to be in limited contact with, wants to dismiss me because I am a woman, so be it. Not worth the effort. And here’s the thing, and this is where the feminism comes in I guess, I get dismissed all the time initially. I am a small woman who initially is unassuming in new situations. Some men put me in a category and then move me out of that category once I start to speak, but others never do. In the latter case, where the men are people I will be dealing with on a regular basis, I need to find ways to change their opinion of me. When I was younger I did that in an aggressive way, and of course that totally blew up in my face. As an older woman I have learned to wait for my moment, make my impression, and just allow it to happen. It almost always does. Now this all may seem very complicated and possibly it’s even mostly in my head, but let me assure you it is very real. I spent 7 years of my life working with ex cops and another 15 working with sprinkler fitters and technicians. It happens all the time, and not always with older men. A surprising number of younger men have the same mindset, and even on occasion other women. One of the best things about working your way in a corporation is you have a title and more importantly reputation that often cuts through all of that, but not always. I have gotten very, very good at handling that particular scenario.
But it makes me sad, and it makes me tired, and when I am so out of my comfort zone it’s much harder to deal with. All of that being said though, it sucks, but it’s part of the deal and I need to push through that and be there for Lee regardless. We are truly in this together as both a married couple and working partners and we need each other to be successful.
Update: Lee read this post as he always does and when he got to the end he made an “ugh” noise. Never heard that before. He liked the post very much, but felt it was missing a conclusion. I do that a lot. I talk about my feelings, I share my experience, but I stop just short of planting my flag on my opinion. Partly I don’t want to offend anyone, and partly I recognize people are all very different and don’t want to draw conclusions for anyone else. I’m trying to change that about myself though, so here’s my conclusion with of course the caveat that your mileage may vary. See I have already weakened my stance. I know what Lee’s take on that would be. Well baby steps.
Obviously women can do anything men can do. Small people can’t always do what large people can do, but that is a size issue not a sex issue. Just because these jobs are often setup along traditional lines doesn’t mean I (or anyone else) needs to settle for that. I don’t mind cleaning a toilet, but Lee is just as capable of that as I am. If I don’t want to be relegated to housekeeping and cashier roles all them time, then I need to be willing to learn another skill set. That’s on me, not on any future employer, but it is their responsibility to open up these roles to encourage both people in the couple. There’s nothing wrong with the jobs being setup in a certain way, but allowing people some variety in their work is important too. Yes, the jobs are temporary, but they are also recurring and cross training is good for both the employee and the employer. Plus with more same-sex couples and singles entering the RVing community, they might be eliminating a pretty large group of potential employees by sticking to strict guy/girl roles.
I truly feel that once again, Lee and I are at the forefront of a major change. Just like we were in the vanguard couples to switch parental roles, we are also in the forefront of younger, working RVers who want to do things a little differently. And as I was writing this, we received our first visit from the waste disposal company. Lee was in the shower so I went out and talked to him about our poop. It was a little embarrassing, but at least I understood what I was talking about. I would say that’s progress!
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