Go Where the Current Takes Us

clip_image002I didn’t imagine that I would be returning to the topic of rivers so soon, but family and friends and the calendar have combined to nudge my brain to the point where I can’t think of anything else to write about. First, my daughter set up a Pinterest – that’s pin-ter-est, not pinetrest or pinerest as I will sometimes spell it – board (I Wish I had a River) to share pictures that she and I have taken of rivers. It doesn’t surprise me that she likes rivers, but it surprised me a little that she named the board after a Joni Mitchell song from her wonderful album “Blue”. I was still in high school when that album was released in 1971 and Faith was an egg on the shelf. If you aren’t familiar with the album or the artist’s amazing voice, take a few minutes and watch her performing that song.

The next bit of prodding came in the form of a blog post at The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog (it’s OK, I’ve already explained how I am quite comfortable following a mommy blog) about a family outing on the Good Ship Lollipop. The Lollipop is one of several boats in the Gateway Clipper fleet, but in 1971 it was a third of the fleet, sailing alongside the Gateway Clipper and the Party Liner. I worked on those boats when I was in high school. To be specific, I worked for Norwood Catering, but we provided food for the Captain’s Dinner Cruise on the Gateway Party Liner. We also provided hot dogs for some of the Saturday afternoon runs to Three Rivers Stadium when the Pirates or Steelers were in town.

My job was simple; go to the catering company kitchen, prepare some cheese trays, relish trays and then cart the food to the boat. I can still remember the unchanging menu: Steamship Round of Roast Beef, Ham – I’m sorry, that’s Virginia Baked Ham, Au Gratin Potatoes and Rigatoni. Cheese trays, relish trays, sheet cakes, rolls, coffee, etc., it all was packed tightly into a van and then I made my way to the Mon Wharf (across the river from where the boats are docked today).

Once at the dock, I would unload the food and help set up the serving lines. Then, just after the boat sailed, I would serve the rigatoni and potatoes. When dinner was over, I was allowed to eat (the same meal for over a year) and then I had about an hour and a half to do some homework or yack with the deck hands. As soon as I heard The Hokey Pokey, it was time to move the pots and pans to the back of the boat. If the docking process was uneventful, and I was fast, I could load up the van before the passengers began to disembark and beat the traffic up the single lane exit.

I loved that job! It was easy, and there is nothing a 16 year old boy likes better than getting paid for something that’s easy. My father, hoping to teach me a lesson about why I was going to college, arranged for me to have a different job, at the machine shop I wrote about last week. The pay was better, $1.95 vs. $1.65 per hour, but he wanted me to have a job that wasn’t easy. The lesson he hoped I would learn is the same one I share today when asked to speak to our town’s high school students on Career Day – it’s hard to make money when all you have to offer is time.

I would have loved to have kept my job cruising the river every day, but at best that job offered limited opportunity for growth. My job at the machine shop taught me the difference between an easy job and a back-breaking hard job – 30 cents an hour. Of course I could have learned some skills and landed a better job in that or a different machine shop, but manufacturing in Pittsburgh was on the decline – actually, in 1971 it was in free-fall – and I needed a better plan. I needed skills that were in demand, and I needed to get comfortable with the idea that in order to always have skills that are in demand, I would have to continue learning for the rest of my life. This Labor Day, like every Labor Day before it, good jobs exist for skilled workers. The skills required today are more complex and they change more frequently, but there are many ways to obtain them and keep them sharp. Lifelong learning remains a requirement, regardless of occupation, but that’s not a bad thing.

In 1971, Joni Mitchell wrote:

I’m gonna make a lot of money
And I’m gonna quit this crazy scene

I checked, and she is still writing, singing and scheduling concerts into 2014.

9 thoughts on “Go Where the Current Takes Us

Add yours

  1. I had enough of river boats with PBR duty in Vietnam . I don’t remember the cheese trays . But , I love the water .I once asked about working on the ferries England – Ireland , Lots of young guys got the work . Not me . Nice post .


  2. Picture – I usually add this pretty early but I forgot this time. That’s the stone arch railroad bridge over the Farmington River in Windsor, CT. Erected in 1867, the bridge stands as a testament to the skills of the men who quarried, shaped and assembled the sandstone structure. We still have railroads and you can still build bridges for a living. Only the skills required to design and build them have changed.


  3. Talk about continuous flowing — when you moved to the machine shop, you arranged for me to interview with Norwood Catering. Best job I ever had also (except when a deck hand, confusing me for someone else, promised that he was going to kill me. Luckily, he figured out that I was not the guy he disliked.) And if you sat on the back of a boat, night after night, watching the water and the lights on the banks go by, you can’t help but fall in love with the river.


    1. Thanks for adding that Paul. I remember playing cards with the deckhands one time. I wasn’t sure if the best thing to do would be to win or lose. I did love that job – maybe in retirement…


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