Back To Work!

When I bid adieu to my government-work career 13 years ago, opting to cash in on retirement pensions, I knew that the regimented style of life I’d engaged in for decades was one I’d be remiss to discard entirely. I mean, I liked the job and didn’t mind the commutes. And, of course, I was very used to the overall arrangement. Thus, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d be lost at sea if I didn’t replace it, to a decent extent, with a similar routine.

That’s why, three days after hanging up my paid-employment spikes, I began trying out part-time volunteer jobs at various institutions, six or so months later settling down for the long haul with assignments at a health system (a hospital and its related facilities) near my home in the Philadelphia suburbs. I enjoyed the medical-related gigs quite a lot. But when the devilish coronavirus conquered Planet Earth in early 2020, the health system lost zero time in placing its volunteer staff on hiatus. The risks of us contracting the virus, or of infecting people with it, were just too high for the organization to keep us on board. And the same thing happened with a local food pantry where I helped out a little each week.

Wham! All of a sudden I had a bunch of extra hours on my hands, as if I didn’t have more than enough of them already. I took the easy way out, spending more time than ever on my living room sofa, one of my closest friends. I’m not proud to admit that last year, upon said sofa, I eclipsed the previous Guinness World Records top mark in the “Most Time Devoted To Scratching One’s Balls” category. Hey, what can I say? I ain’t all that genteel!

I’m glad to report that now I’m less of a slacker and balls-scratcher than I was, because in July I returned to one of the jobs that I had held with the health system, which has opened its arms to volunteers once again. Though I’m on site only four hours each week, I feel pretty damn good to have some amount of scheduled work in my life, and to be of service. More likely than not I’ll soon try to expand my hours by getting an additional assignment within the organization.

My official job title is Greeter. And greet people I do, via a “how’s it going?” or a nod when they arrive at the three-story medical office building whose ground-floor information desk I man on Thursday afternoons (the medical office building is across the street from the hospital). And I say “see ya” often too, as visitors, having completed their doctor appointments, head to one of the building’s several exits.

The main point of my being there, though, is to help people. A lot of them, for example, aren’t sure which office their doctor is in (a staff directory, mounted on a wall of the sprawling ground floor, is easy to miss), or can’t find the public restrooms or the alcove where vending machines are located, or aren’t even sure if they are in the correct building (more often than you’d expect, they’re not).

That’s where I come in, verbally or physically directing the lost souls to their proper destinations, answering a substantial variety of questions, and sometimes becoming involved in fairly complicated matters. Such as when I go to the multi-level parking garage behind the building with those who, their appointments over, can’t remember where they parked their cars. I have an excellent track record in locating the misplaced vehicles.

The job may not be top of the ladder on the excitement scale, but its pace and quality fit me comfortably most of the time. On average I respond to questions and unravel situations around ten times per hour, which is enough to keep me interested. And I like the fact that I never know what question or dilemma will be presented to me next.

I’ve been involved with people-oriented volunteer work for much of my adult life. As clich├ęd as it sounds, I believe in giving folks a helping hand, in paying back and paying forward. And I get a nice amount of satisfaction from my modest deeds. Thankfully, most people are on the same wavelength about all of this as me. If that wasn’t the case, the world would be an even more unsettling place than it is, right? Right.

Art On Wheels, Part Seven: And The Winner Is . . .

My editor, Edgar Reewright, couldn’t restrain himself when I told him last week that my next opus would be another entry in the Art On Wheels series.

“Neil, you’re straining my patience, not to mention your readers’ patience, with your ridiculous Art On Wheels stories!” Edgar shouted into his phone. “Good lord, one episode would have been enough, and yet number seven is in the works. What’s the matter with you? Can’t you think of something else to write about right now instead of trucks and vans that catch your attention? Sorry, fella, but I’m not going to edit this one. You’re on your own with it.”

Edgar paused for a couple of seconds before continuing. “Listen, Neil, I have to end this conversation. I’m about to head out to an appointment with my psychotherapist who, unbelievably and thankfully, is also a proctologist. He’s trying to help me understand why I deal with writers who turn out so much shit, such as you.” Without another word, he hung up.

Eh, screw Edgar! He’s a philistine. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing wrong with spending some time now and then in search of snazzily-adorned motor vehicles. It gets me out of the house. It helps me pay attention to what’s going on around me. And it pleases my artsy-fartsy side. I’d rather look at works of art in museums, true. But I’m decently content to gaze at those that rest above axles and wheels.

I used to try to track down in a single day or two all of the good-looking vehicles that I would need for a story. And, by dumb luck or who knows what, I met the goal several times. But I missed the goal for episodes five and six (click here to read number six). And was even farther from it this time around, as I needed four days in January and February 2021 to encounter enough attractive vehicles for this story. What’s more, there were a few more days during those months when, on the prowl, I didn’t find any examples of vehicular art that met my standards or were capturable.

Now, capturable is a key point. Generally I locate my victims in the parking areas of supermarkets, strip malls and other businesses. And occasionally I run across them on residential streets. Usually they are making deliveries or service calls, so getting close to them and taking their portraits at those times is a relative snap.

However, sometimes things don’t work out. On more than one recent occasion, for example, I spotted fine specimens in parking lots that I was walking or driving around in, but they were pulling out and too far away for me to photograph. And, needless to say, I often see beauties on the road while I’m on the road. No way, though, that this ol’ boy is going to try and grab their pictures when he’s behind the wheel. If I were dumb enough to give that a go, I’d pretty much guarantee myself an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital emergency room or, even worse, a journey in a hearse!

I like the designs on all of the vehicles that illustrate this essay, some more than others. Big-Lil Heads is cooler than cool. Have green, orange, white and black ever looked better together than they do on that bus? And the Target truck’s design, so goofily minimalistic, is irresistible to me. I’ve never owned a dog, but if the Target dog should become available for adoption, I’ll be first in line to fill out the required papers.

Still, as much as those two ring my chimes, neither is my favorite. I have to give the nod to the W.B. Mason vehicle. The Mason design is, to me, perfection. Bright, solid and beautifully balanced, it is impossible to ignore and easy to love. W. B. Mason, as is noted on the truck, was founded in 1898. Based in Brockton, Massachusetts for its entire life, the company distributes office and janitorial supplies, and numerous other products, throughout the USA. Whenever I see a Mason truck I find myself attracted to it like a magnet. But I normally spot them when they are in motion, not when I can have a good long look at them. February 24, 2021, then, was my lucky day, because on that date a W. B. Mason truck was sitting quietly in the parking lot that surrounds the Wawa food market in my suburban Philadelphia town.

Yes, the W. B. Mason truck is number one in my book, followed, respectively, by the Big-Lil Heads and Target vehicles. I’d be happy to learn which of the artworks on this page you think are the best. Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Goodbye till next time!