Back to work

Van, Northern Access

Duluth is a strange old town. For most Minnesotans, Minneapolis/St. Paul are “the cities.” In NE Minnesota, “the city” is Duluth. The difference between NE Minnesota and the rest of the state is quite noticeable. While most of Minnesota has a rural farm-based origin, it is hard to even grow hay in NE Minnesota, and many of the late 19th century immigrants to this part of the state ended up working for large companies, logging, railroads, and in the iron ore mines. The oulook and politics of their descendents reflects this. Unions are strong, and Gust Hall, long time president of the American Communist party, was born just up the road in Cherry, MN.

My mother’s family came into this area in the 1800s. They were backwoods folk, loggers and trappers, with some portion Welsh, some French Canadian voyageurs, and some native american ancestry of the Ojibwe, Menominee, and Algonquien tribes. They were solitary folk who stepped aside when they saw someone coming on the trail, a trait I seem to have, in part, inherited.

I’m back in the workforce. Three years ago, I retired after 30 years in law enforcement. I hadn’t realized how much stress was involved in that job – until it wasn’t there any more. For the last three years, I vegetated, got used to doing nothing in particular, spent a lot of time enjoying the calls and sight of birds and animals, and watched sunrises and sunsets.

Finally, I spoke to a neighbor, down the road, about driving for his company. His firm drives patients, mainly wheelchair bound, from nursing homes and other facilities, to doctor appointments and the like. I sought employment at my wife’s urging. She has never been completely comfortable with my desire for wild places and my ability to get along without other people.

To begin my new job, I rode along for a couple of hours one day, then rode with a driver for one shift, and drove with the driver for three shifts – then, yesterday, I was on my own.

Though my job as an officer for 30 years consisted mainly of driving. This driving is somewhat different – in that the van is a much larger vehicle, and instead of getting somewhere as quick as possible – the passengers in the van require the driver to get somewhere as safely and smoothly as possible.

Most of the driving is in the city of Duluth. Duluth is built on a clay and rock hillside, with a good deal of winter frost – has some of the worst streets anywhere. Though bumps and potholes abound, so far, all has gone well.

The other drivers and workers involved at this firm are enough of a contrast to the people I worked with in law enforcement, I thought I would write about my first impressions of them.

I rode, for two or three hours with Ember. Ember is in her 20s, very quiet, and some part Ojibwe. Ember was not raised traditional, but some of the forbearance and discretion of that introverted race are evident in her demeanor. She has recently graduated from a medical coding course. He boyfriend is going through a criminal justice course at the Fond du lac school in Cloquet. They hope, eventually, to move to Colorado where they can both gain employment in their respective fields. I did inform her that Colorado is a “right to work” state, where a friend of mine was fired from a Sheriff’s department after 12 years. When he asked for the reason for the firing – his superior told him, “I don’t need a reason.”

Ember appears to be well thought of by her fellow employees, and if my first impression is correct – rightfully so.

My first full day of training, I rode with “Jerzy.” Jerzy had more stories and a wilder background than I do (quite a stretch). He is 68, was part of a homesteading family in Alaska, spent a couple of tours in Viet Nam and was, for many years after that, involved in outlaw motorcycle gangs. He started a trucking company that was a subcontractor of the North Slope pipe line in Alaska. We spent the day trading stories of our long haired youth.

Jerzy, from a wild life, turned things around, after his son tried to shoot him to death over a family gold mine. The son ended up in prison for 30 years. If this is all a story – it was masterfully told.

Jerzy is short, midweight, with a buzz cut and extremely friendly, and appears to be well thought of by fellow employees and clients alike.

The second driver I rode with, Jeff, surprsied me by saying “You’re driving.” With a few hints, I didn’t have too much trouble getting around. I have lived in or near Duluth for a majority of my life. Though it is not an easy city to figure out, I have a general knowledge of the place.

The onboard computer was very confusing at first – and not at all easy to read. With repetition, it became clearer.

Jess, about 42, was easy to get along with. He has been married and divorced twice, and though I may be reading more in to it than I should, but he seems a bit restless and unsettled – at loose ends, so to speak. He spoke about several other job possibilities – especially fire-fighting – which is a common profession among the men in his family. He is short, with long dark hair and facial hair, and quite gregarious. His approach toward the job is layed-back, but conscientious. Jess talked about an interest in guns and shooting. He spoke of a new handgun he’d aquired – but has yet to shoot. It was of a caliber with my service pistol, and I brought him part of two boxes of shells the next day. While I’d turned in my service pistol when I retired – I still had some shells laying around. Jess appeared to have a penchant for and easy way of flirting with the nurses and other medical personnel at the establishments we visited. “After all,” he said, “I’m single.”

My third day of training was with “Rod.” Rod is in his late 50s, trim, and appears to have been quite good looking when younger. There is still something quite attractive about him, and he seems to have, and have had, many girlfriends. He moved to Duluth out of high school from Hibbing (on the iron range). He likes Duluth. His wife died when he was 35, some 23 years ago, and he has never remarried. His girlfriend of 17 years moved out about a year ago. He had to refinance his house – as it was joint property. She now wants to move back in, but she’s spent the money she received for the house, and, though he says they still have a good relationship, Rod is less than interested.

There are many more drivers, and some office personnel, the only other worker I’ve had enough contact with to form an opinion – is “Betty.”

Betty is the boss of this menagerie. She does the hiring, sets up schedules, and does some of the dispatching. Our neighbor from down the road, the owner, seems to be little in evidence – in the day to day operations.

Betty appears to be in her late 20s, or early 30s. She is a tall brunette, with an infectious smile and twinkling brown Norwegian eyes. I believe I surprised her at our first meeting by asking her if she was of Norwegian ethnicity. There is nothing quite the same as brown Norwegian eyes. Though I don’t know her well of yet, she seems to be a very sweet girl.

After work, on Wednesday, she showed up in the parking lot with a 160 cc Honda, a 1968 model. She had just purchased it and she was having fun running it around.

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