“All week long making a living…”
Dateline: Carhartt HQ, Dearborn, Mich.
In 1967, I built a wooden birdhouse.
In 1968, I built a metal mailbox.
In 1969, I wired a light bulb.
The roof fell off the birdhouse, the mail slipped through the edge of the mailbox, and the wires of the light bulb caught on fire.
Shop class, I averaged a “D” all three years.
It was my best class.
Kenmore West SHS, Kenmore, N.Y. …Class of 1970…hundreds and hundreds of kids graduating…I was pretty much at the end of the line.
Most of my fellow students graduated in June 1970.
I graduated in July 1970…after taking English 10/11/12 in summer school.
I averaged a “D-,” but it was good enough.
My major in high school was called, “Work Study,” and what that meant was I would come to school, take three or four classes in the morning, one being study hall, and then I would LEGALLY leave school and go directly to a job.
I was out of school by 11:45 a.m.
One of my classes every day was Shop.
I was being trained to be a working stiff. College prep was never in my future.
It was in “Work Study” that I met the greatest teacher of my life. A short goofy guy named Peter Plumpis.
Mr. Plumpis had a huge influence on my life, even though I’m sure he would never remember me. He ran herd over a classroom of soon-to-be-losers; I was just another dangerous, long-haired punk in a chair.
Every one of us was armed. Mr. Plumpis was not; his only weapon was humor and short sayings for the short attentioned.
Mr. Plumpis, wherever you are, if in fact you still are, or to the children of Mr. Plumpis, please hear something he told me, something I never forgot, even though I have forgot much.
From Mr. Peter Plumpis, “The problem is that in sawdust there is no glamour.”
I thought he somehow saw my birdhouse.
Forty-six years later, I know better.
Mr. Plumpis, thank you, and please know that in this improbable life I have had with over 30 years muckin’ around in the media, all I have ever wanted to do,
was bring glamour,
to the sawdust.
“…life keeps takin'…”
I would leave high school, get on my motorcycle, roar off out of the parking lot and head to my job…Sears Roebuck & Company…Main Street, Buffalo, N.Y. Once there I would take the escalator down one floor from the main floor, turn left, and walk into the department where I would spend the next eight hours.
The department: Men’s Work Clothes.
And the only work clothes I folded and sold were made by Carhartt. I was a “Work Study” student and my job was helping to find clothes for working stiffs.
Some days I would have to work to work two departments, Men’s Work Clothes and one department over – Records.
I knew working stiffs and music.
Kind of scary that this was being set up way back then.
We are all on a ride; we’re just not the one driving.
So almost five decades later I’m somehow sitting in the Carhartt Corporate headquarters; it’s where the Elite registration for this shindig took place. I get a tour of the joint, meet regular folks and VPs, who also seem mighty normal, and see this sort of museum they have in the place, and actually see some of the stuff I used to try to fold and sell.
Got a buddy working here; name is Tim Humes, a VP in title but not so much in big head stuff … sort of a John Goodman kind of working stiff. It seems Tim runs PR here so we sit down and talk a bit. (Dear other PR people, Tim is a friend; I don’t normally talk to PR types and I’m too old to change so unless you are a drinkin’ buddy PR type, please don’t call me.) That’s when Tim starts talking ABOUT SHOP CLASS.
I’m freaked, thinking geez somehow Carhartt got ahold of my Permanent Record.
Tim tells me my beloved Shop Class is becoming a thing of the past. Nothing personal, Tim, but I have spent a life as an investigative journalist being told all sorts of almost truths so I Google this Shop Class issue and find out it’s true.
One fact I found: 90% of the 660,000 students in the Los Angeles school district have no access to any kind of a Shop Class. Hey LA, you think you have problems now, wait about 10 years when you
need someone to wire a light bulb that won’t catch fire.
A dude who only knows how to click a mouse ain’t going to be much use to you.
“You know what, db?”
Tim is eating, I’m writing.
“Having had to earn a dollar isn’t a bad thing.”
“Dude, er, Tim, we have a bunch of
dudes on the tour, working stiffs, they all have had to earn a dollar…”
And one of them is Bassmaster Elite angler Kevin Ledoux.
“…he keeps giving…”
I first met Kevin Ledoux on my Tundra hands-free speakerphone thing.
“Hey, db, do you need help at your Tackle The Storm function in Moore, Okla.?…I’ll come up and volunteer and help you out.”
Up until that moment, I had never said a word to Kevin; he was new to this Elite biz and the last thing the new ones need is me bugging them.
So I don’t know this guy, but Kevin and his wife, Cara, show up early that morning and are a huge help working with the kids, even stay to help clean up the place.
It’s there where I get to know Kevin; now it’s your turn.
Meet Kevin Ledoux:
Age 34, been married to Cara for 6 years (he had to call her to “make sure I don’t screw that up”), lives in Choctaw, Okla., but is originally from Konawa (pop about 1,400 folks). “It didn’t even have a stoplight, just one grocery store and three gas stations; one is closed now.”
Dad is a welder; mom a nurse. Two brothers, older, one a welder, one a Wal-Mart store manager. Cara “runs a high-class pizza joint.”
Kevin is an electrician, works for a contractor at an Exxon/Mobile Chemical Plant, “My boss has been great; as long as we okay it, he lets me take off to fish these tournaments, but I don’t get to practice none.”
Kevin can only get just so much time off so he never gets to pre-fish a lake, “When I show up for a tournament, many times that’s the first time I see the lake.”
After the tourney, “As soon as it ends, I get in the truck and head home; I call my boss to find out what job is next.”
“…behind the scene…”
“A time back I was doing 7/12s.”
“Seven days a week, 12 hours a day; I did that for two and half months.”
Kevin told me about how recently they had to shut down some kind of line, “2,000-amp line that was 150-200 yards long, had to replace the whole thing.”
I didn’t do well with a lot less amps in Shop.
“db, you need a strong work ethic to keep a full time job and still be able to come out here and do this. As soon as I finish this tournament, I’m heading home to start the job.”
“db, work ethic is everything; people my age, many of them don’t get that. How many of them are on welfare getting a hand out. We need more of us to be like your generation; it’s your work that provides those handouts.”
First time I have ever been referred to as “your generation,” kind of a shock, but Kevin, I have to tell you, my generation is just standing on the backs of our fathers and mothers.
Average Joes who came back from WWII set to work building this country for us.
Who stood on the backs of their fathers and mothers.
Don’t let anyone kid you… America is a generational work in progress.
Except for them places with no Shop Classes.
“…below the grade…”
“This, though, is the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life… driving 1,700 miles in two and a half days, practice from dawn to dusk a couple of days and end up fishing competitively six to seven days in a row.”
This Elite Series season hasn’t been a good one for Kevin.
“I haven’t cashed a check yet; we’ve been using savings, overtime when I can get it and family helping out to make it work.”
Kevin has some paying sponsors who also help, and he is working on getting the money for next year, “so I can come back. If you want something, you have to work hard at it, and I’m used to working hard.”
“What’s next dude.”
“Do well here! Freaky things happened to me all year… fish breaking off, weather changing on me, things like that … but it is what it is. After this tournament, I’m going to call the boss to see what jobs we got.”
“…hardly noticed but part of everything…”
Kevin Ledoux, one of just many working stiffs on the Bassmaster Elite tour.
We are, on a very base level, pretty much your Shop Class tour.
And darn proud of it.
Average Joes who know that greatness comes caked in grease and grime.
Mr. Plumpis would love these dudes, many of whom would have been sitting with me in the “Work Study” class.
I don’t know if Mr. P is still around or not; I’m thinking maybe not but if he is I would invite him to come and meet some of these guys.
Meet Kevin Ledoux. Spend some time with him.
Mr. P. gave me a gift when I was a young knucklehead; he showed me, us, respect, even if we gave none of it back. And I think he believed in us, hope he did.
Now it’s my turn to give a gift back.
Mr. P., come meet the 99 Elites, the average Joes, working stiffs. It’s on me because I would love for you to see that when you look real hard and listen even harder,
you’ll find that,
in the sawdust,
“…but there's nothing wrong with a hard hat and a hammer.”
“Hard Hat and a Hammer”