Friday, July 12, 2013

If It Breaks, You Gotta Know How To Fix It

Hello out there! I hope you've had a good week. Here at "The Gods Are Bored," it has been busy indeed!

First and best, Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion, by Mark Kram, Jr., has been short-listed for the PEN/ESPN sports book award for 2012. If you're a book geek, you know that PEN is the highbrow lit entity (short for Poets, Essayists, Novelists). A PEN short-list indicates that a book is seen as art, not just as entertainment. So congratulations to Mark, and if you haven't read the book yet, you can go see him at

Second, wow! I have seen a lot of stuff this week.

I was chosen to attend a summer workshop for teachers that is run by the local Chamber of Commerce. The workshop lasts for three weeks, and there are only 16 teachers in it from the whole tri-county area. Basically the Chamber has put together a series of very busy days in which we teachers get business tips to share with our students and tours of the local industries. Considering that the state of New Jersey has the sixth highest unemployment rate in the nation (not kidding), I thought this would be of help to my students.

But it's a lot of fun as well.

Earlier in the week, we got to tour the Tasty Baking Company in Philadelphia. For those of you reading this from outside the Philly region, Tastykakes are the go-to snack around here. Hostess went bust and Twinkies disappeared? Tough luck for the rest of you, but here in my neck of the woods, we just went right on scarfing down Tastykakes.

If you have a favorite packaged pastry, imagine seeing the item rolling off an assembly line by the thousands, from the sifting of the flour and sugar to the squirting into the lightly-oiled pans, to the baking, the icing, and the packaging. If there is such a thing as hog heaven, this is it, right?

One downside: There were fewer than 50 people at work in the giant factory, cranking out 800,000 Tastykakes in one day.

Which brings me to another fascinating tour: an oil refinery.

Some of us have driven past oil refineries and stared at them and wondered how the heck they work. That is one complicated landscape. What baffles me about the miles and miles of piping, and the tall towers, and the giant holding tanks, and everything going this way and that, is ... how the hell doesn't shit go wrong? Well, gotta tell ya, the moonscape that is an oil refinery doesn't get any less complicated when you get in amongst it. If anything, it looks even more baffling. And with today's strict environmental regulations, there were a few places where some pipes were letting off steam ... but no fire, no movement of any kind otherwise. Crude oil to high-octane gasoline, and it was even quiet.

And again, in this giant moonscape, I saw maybe 30 people working outside. That includes the fireman that was on duty, who said his expertise had never been needed. (And I hope he stays idle, because this joint is right on the Delaware River.)

The moral of this sermon is that both of these industries, baking and oil refining, used to employ massive numbers of people. Now computers and machines do almost all the work. This is sad, in a way, because there are lots and lots of people who are looking for work.

So of course we teachers asked everyone we met this week (speakers and tour guides aplenty) what skills would be best for the coming century. The answer: keep learning all the time. There's going to be a premium on people who are great with computers and a premium on people who know how shit works and how to fix it when it breaks. The guy at Tastykake said it, and the guy at the refinery said it. They are only hiring people who know how machines work, and how computers work ... and how to troubleshoot when something breaks.

Next week our teacher sojourn through South Jersey's working world continues. I must say, I could be lying on the beach with a book, but I'm glad I'm doing this instead. Never thought I would get an eyeball full of an oil refinery. Or a stomach full of free Tastykake.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

First of all, congrats to Mark on being short-listed by PEN and ESPN. Thumbs up!

Secondly, aren't Tastykakes what Marie Antoinette throws to the crowd on Bastille Day, Philly style? Speaking of which, it's on Sunday, n'est-ce pas?

Sounds like a great workshop you've been chosen for. A real eye-opener.


I'm so proud of Mark..this is just incredible great news..I'll tell Nancy, maybe she can put out on a shelf with a note telling about him being nominated...
Nurses..Drs those seem to be the careers than needs new blood..

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Mark.

Anne Johnson said...

Yes, Deb, today is Bastille Day! It's kind of muggy, and the event has gotten to be your typical Philly drunken brawl, but we are still thinking of attending. It's hard to resist the urge to be pelted by 5,000 Tastykakes.

Davoh said...

Um, hello again. yep, am watching old Sol as it travels though the dawnlight treetops on my backyard (am, at this point, wondering whther i should convince the locals to erect stone monuments to record this event for future generations to consider - but hey, i live in Australia - stone monuments belong to local heroes who fight for balls).

Anne Johnson said...

Well, Davoh, where I live it is just as where you live. The local heroes and heroines who can run, kick, tackle, dive, pitch, and dunk get all the kudos, while the rest of us just putter about anonymously. We'll let the pigeons express our sentiments about the monuments.