Saturday, February 27, 2010

Census Training

You know how they say "write what you know?" I think that's the instruction that my trainer was given in regard to leading this census-taking class. He went really light on "census taking" and pretty heavy on "my upcoming trip to Germany to see the passion play," and "staring down bears," and "my time spent busting drug cartels in Columbia," and "my love for hunting, poker, guns, the army, and my wife." I could write an award-winning biography on Lee "I'm a Veteran" Whatever-His-Last-Name-Is, but all my classmates and I are going to be the shame of the Census Bureau. His first name is really Lee Roy because his dad spent time in France during World War I and liked the French version "Leroi," by the way.
Being a history major I enjoyed listening to all his war stories and I would love to talk with him for hours sometime when I'm not trying to scavenge rare morsels of census-taking requirements from between stories about the time he spent in Germany and him actually speaking in German. We're all totally lost and I consider it job security because it will take me at least a month of just trying to figure out how exactly I'm supposed to do my job.
We are called Update/Leave Enumerators. On day three of training I finally understood that Update/Leave means that we're to "update" maps (which are totally wrong, and GPS is no help whatsoever on these back roads) and then "leave" a census packet at the addresses that we finally find and map. We went out for about two hours yesterday and left three packets on a block that was only about four miles around and that was impressive. I think we should have Google do it, they see to be on top of all that stuff.
Here are a few things from my enumerators manual that I did learn, the rest either went right over my head or couldn't find their way through the stories about the road conditions in Virginia and the proper way to get yourself out of the woods without a compass (this is straight from the manual):
"In 1889 Herman Hollerith, one of the Special Agents hired in 1881 to tally census figures found a solution to improve the tabulation process by designing a mechanical tabulator. Hollerith's system was a success and he later founded a company to market his invention. In 1924 the company was renamed International Business Machines (IBM)." This was just interesting and I spent my time during the next of Lee's diatribes ruminating on this, so I thought I'd share it. The following are pieces of practical advice for keeping yourself safe in the field, you could learn something too:
"Always wear comfortable easy-walking shoes. These shoes should may come in handy should there be a need to run."
And: "Upon entering a building allow your eyes to adjust to the indoor lighting before proceeding."
Some of your lives may also be saved using the information that follows:
"As you walk towards you vehicle, scan beneath the vehicle for persons waiting to charge out at your ankles. Check the backseat and floor for hidden persons before entering you vehicle."
And if you're confronted by a vicious dog, do this:
"Put something between you and the dog (in the visual our trainer held his government-issued thin canvas Census Bureau bag up to demonstrate) such as a bag. If the dog does bite you, do not pull away - it will cause a tear and a worse wound; instead try to make the dog release its hold." (It did not, however, give instructions for how you're to make the dog release it's hold, pulling away would have been my first idea and I've got nothing in second).
Also, if you're scared of dogs as I am, I learned that you're not to run past a dog as it's "natural instinct is to chase and catch prey." If it does catch you (if?) "the animal might try to knock you to the ground and you could be seriously hurt." I'm not so worried about the GROUND hurting me.
So, that's been my training and now I'm being sent forth with my illegible, decidedly wrong maps, my free state map from the local gas station, a borrowed GPS system (which is utterly useless), lots of information about the life and times of old Lee the Trainer, and my wits to canvass the back woods of Arkansas updating maps and leaving surveys. I assume that this starts nationwide at the same time, so on Monday when you are all getting ready for work think of millions of excited underachievers with new hope for their lives (at least temporarily) because of their great new high-paying jobs crawling out across the country, driving down every drivable road in the nation updating and leaving and checking under their cars for persons waiting to charge out at their ankles. It should give you a good laugh. And, for the love of God, if they knock on your door, be nice to them, they have no idea what they're doing.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! I hope it's not as perilous as Lee Roy made it sound; he just might be the kind of guy that provokes dogs/Germans/vehicles in order to have more stories for when he gets a captive audience. Don't fall into his bad habits. I wish you were censuring me! The good folks of Dover are lucky to have you.