In my lifetime I have been many things, some chosen by me, some dumped in my lap, and a few gifted from the Lord. Back in 2010, I was a census taker. I chose this one. I thought it would be fun and to some degree it was. I enjoy meeting and talking to people, so I signed up. The pay wasn’t bad, my co-census takers were nice enough, and I got to work in the general area of my home. One woman in our group got to do a large, beautiful, gated community exclusively, mostly because she lived there and knew the gatekeepers. It really does help to know people, high places or not. Me, I was assigned a few nice areas, some desolate areas, and the occasional really weird place. I don’t know any gatekeepers.
After some training meetings and a security clearance, we were sent out. We were not sent out two-by-two, in fact, we were not allowed to bring anyone with us. So I was, knocking on strangers doors in desolate areas, occasional weird places, meeting occasional weird people, and a few large pitbulls, all alone. Not the safest job I’ve ever had.
At first, I was fine. I had a couple of really nice neighborhoods. I still decided it would be safer not to venture into anyone’s home, but to ask all of my questions standing outside the front door. We were told to introduce ourselves at the door or as we were walking onto the property if a person was outside.
“Hi, my name is Roxanne and I’m with the Census Bureau. I’d like to ask you a few questions.” That was our sch-peel. We were told to be friendly and non-threatening. Of course, the homes and people we were approaching had no such rules.
The initial really nice neighborhoods were easy. People understood the importance of the census and were fine with my questions. I did run into a few stay-at-home Dads, asking my advice about their children but, overall, it went well. The next week was a little more interesting. I had a few houses with very long dirt road driveways that were more than a little bit creepy. I didn’t like these properties. You can’t see what you’re getting into from the road.
The first one brought me about a half mile into the property and opened on a ramshackle home, with a swayback roof, and a lot of land. I was hesitant. Then I saw a man on his tractor, mowing. I opened my car door and started to get out, thinking I could speak to him outside the house and within sprinting distance of my car. I proceeded to leave the safety of my vehicle. At this point, I would like to take a moment and “Thank God” for the gift of peripheral vision; for there, out of the corner of my eye, emerging from the woods at break-neck speed was a large pit bull. He was obviously very fond of his many, many teeth because he was showing me all of them. I jumped back in my car, once again grateful for my gift of forgetfulness in locking the door, and I waited. Soon he and his very white, very large teeth were on the other side of my window, greeting me rather ferociously. The owner heard the noise and came to my car. For all the teeth the dog had, his owner had none, and he chewed tobacco. I don’t know how. He answered my questions, the dog chewed on my tires, and I silently prayed that they really were steel-belted.
My favorite “visit” was in an older neighborhood to a home that belonged to Mr. Johnson and his sister, Marilyn. They were sitting on their front porch. As I walked up the driveway introducing myself, I heard Mr. Johnson ask, “Why would the Census Bureau send a pretty little thing like you out to ask their questions?”
My answer,”I guess so that little old men like you will answer them.”
“Fair enough,” said Mr. Johnson. “Ask away.”
They were both in their late 70’s, and though Marilyn had never married they had different last names. I had to ask. It seems Mr. Johnson, aka Fred, met and fell in love with a very large woman a few years ago. He asked her to marry him and she said she would, but only if he changed his last name to hers. He agreed. They married. It didn’t work out. They divorced. And Fred is now contentedly living his life as, “Mr. Johnson”. Fred tried to tell me she married him for his money, but Marilyn assured me he had none. They told me their life story. I sat on their front porch, drinking sweet tea and listening. I thoroughly enjoyed Fred and Marilyn. It’s almost 2020! I’m thinking maybe I’ll be a census taker again, but if not, it’s really not that big a deal.