It's Not a Job; It's an Adventure
While every other sector of the economy falters, canvassing has never had a better summer. Little 'ol NJEF is cranking out $30,000 a week in small door-to-door donations, and we aren't even the biggest thing happening in the canvassing world right now. Ann Arbor Clean Water Action is sending out 65 canvassers a day. Farmingdale Citizen's Campaign for the Environment (led by local celebrity Brian Moyer) continues to raise about $1000 more than us every week. (Damnit Brian!) We currently collect on average 180 handwritten letters PER DAY from
With all of this success and joyful chaos, it can be easy to forget just how insane this job is some days and how thin of a margin we sometimes operate on. So here is a tale about Thursday.
On Thursday, we sent out five "burbs". Burbs is short for Chevy Suburban because that's what Jane Fonda donated to canvassers in the 70s. While we don't drive them anymore, the name applies to any vehicle driven by canvassers to turf. The burb I rode in, Poseidon (yes, we name them), is now the oldest in our fleet. (Wait, no, Eric's mom's station wagon is the oldest. The 'Mercedes Benson'.) Anyhoo, Poseidon is a 1995 Ford Clubwagon that seats eight, has a massive engine, and can fit 10 cases of Yuengling in the trunk... not that we know that for sure. The previous oldest burb was Jynx, a 94 Astrovan prone to malfunctions like the power steering and braking cutting out simultaneously on the Parkway. Everyone was okay. David Dower considered opening the door and rolling out, though.
Last weekend we sent three canvassers to
Due to this accident, and our burbs' general oldness, we have been extra vigilant on safety. No canvasser heads to turf without a seat belt securely fastened. Lucky thing, because on Thursday, Poseidon hit a pot hole, and with a clunk, Shamar suddenly found himself without steering. Wrestling the lurching burb away from a dangerously close Volvo, he managed to slow the vehicle and pull it off the road.
Me: Good thing we were all wearing our seatbelts!
College kid: Actually, I had just taken mine off to get something out of my bag.
On further examination, we saw that the rod that connects the two wheels together for steering had broken off of the right wheel (the clunk), so while Shamar could steer the wheel under the burb, the right wheel was free to do as it pleased. Poseidon was grounded.
Even a red-hot canvass can not afford to compensate eight grounded canvassers, so we called the other burbs and sent folks off in all available other seats (including the rear jump seats in the Mercedes Benson!). Then, Eric eventually drove a friend's car to pick up myself, Shamar, and our Day 1 trainee.
Day 1: This day sure is turning out to be weird.
Our turf that day was a woodsy, wealthy enclave in
Finally, the time came for her to canvass by herself on her training turf. The map showed a road to our left, but to our left was only a pump station and small brook. I called Eric.
Me: It's pouring, and where a trainee turf should be is a river and woods.
Eric: On Google Earth, it looks like you can cut through two backyards, and you'll be there.
Day 1: You'll come with me, right?
Me: Not to worry. I'll make sure you make it though.
Day 1: This day is soooo weird.
We began to hike through wet weeds across the first backyard and over a rock wall to the second. That's when I realized that the weeds were poison ivy.
Day 1: I don't think I am allergic to it.
Me: Well, we'll both know soon.
After two backyards of wet ivy, we came to a third. This was clearly not as easy as Eric had described, and I soon realized why. On the satellite photo, the two streets were next to each other, but the satellite missed the fact that one street was on the top of a mountain, and we were on the bottom. That's when a homeowner came to his yard to see what two wet activists were doing there.
Me: First lesson today, always anticipate questions and answer them before they are asked.
Day 1: Should I write this down? I think my clipboard melted.
Me: Hello there sir! We were on our way to
Homeowner: Uh... Indian Road is at the end of my driveway. How did you...?
Me: Great! Thanks so much. Guess we made a wrong turn. Well, so long then.
Day 1: That was amazing. This day just gets weirder.
At that point, the rain became a torrent. We gave up on any hope of finding a way for the Day 1 to canvass and pressed on. The next house looked friendly and had a porch.
Woman: You are soaked! Let me get you an umbrella.
Day 1: This is my first day, so I didn't think to bring one. Plus, we got lost in the woods.
I explained our dilemma, and she quickly offered to escort us through her backyard and into the neighbors' yard behind her. ("It's my mother's house.")
With my Day 1 safely to her turf and drier than before, I set upon the task of raising money despite the geographical and vehicular mishaps. Though there would be compensation for lost time, the state of non-profits' financial affairs are not well, and every dollar would help. The rain drove harder and harder as if to beat me into giving up. Finally, I had time for one last home.
Woman: You are soaked! Why are you out here?
Me: Organizationally or personally?
Woman: No, why are *you* out here?
Me: To be honest, sometimes I am not entirely sure, but it comes from a pride in my home state and a desire to make it a better place to live. Plus, I collect incredible stories which I love and never sit at a desk.
So, I told her the entire story of the day. She looked me in the eye, asked me what I needed, and wrote the check. Then she gave me a sandwich to share with other canvassers and insisted that I wait for my ride on her porch rather than walk back into the storm. I gladly took her up on the offer. Eric soon returned to pick up myself and Shamar. The Day 1 was already in the car, soaked but successful.
Day 1: Yeah, that was pretty much the weirdest day of work I have ever had. I need a hot shower. Don't worry, though. I'll be here tomorrow.