September 6, 2004
Labor Day isn’t a bigticket holiday. There’s no Labor Day Eve, no Labor Day season. Nothing to wrap. Nothing to send. You never have to worry if the turkey’s defrosted, and you won’t greet the new year paying off Labor Day debt (although there are Labor Day sales to contend with). Labor Day is an "oh, yeah" holiday.
As in: "Oh, yeah — we can sleep late Monday!"
And that’s the way it should be. The rest of our annual holiday schedule may honor religious landmarks, national conquests or soldiers who died on our behalf, but Labor Day quite modestly celebrates . . . us. On its 122nd anniversary, it quietly acknowledges that every one of us who clocks in, boots up, grabs a tool, sits at a desk, drives a route, serves a table, takes a customer or flips over the "Closed" sign does more than earn their keep: We do our part to drive the largest economy in the world.
The irony of Labor Day is that most of the people it honors are too busy barbecuing to care. Who wants to think about work, anyway? What a terrible waste of a day off!
So, instead of getting all civic and wordy, allow us to illustrate how the American labor force surrounds, supports and enhances all our lives. As these stories show, American workers serve us in ways we never thought about or hardly ever see. But today, it’s good to look around and remember that every swept surface, every smoothly rolling film, tidy window display or neatly garnished sandwich points to one more person adding to the momentum of the American dream.
Happy Labor Day!
Now go barbecue.
PETER GEORGE MOVIE THEATER PROJECTIONIST
We only think of them when our movie goes wrong, so Peter George and fellow movie theater projectionists work very hard to ensure we never have to: "We clean the projector before each show," says George, senior manager at Harkins Superstition Springs. "We make sure the film pass is all good, check framing, focus and sound." Most projectionists also check each auditorium personally. Multiply that by 25 auditoriums, and there’s always something to do.
"Films come in the night before they open, on 2,000-foot reels, in four to seven cans," George said. "The projectionist also splices the feature together into one big print and attaches the (preview) trailer packet. That’s six to eight hours of work right there, depending on how many new movies open the following day." — Michael Grady
CHRISTINA TARRANT WINDOW DRESSER
Christina Tarrant, 26, adjusts one of three mannequins at Agata, a clothing boutique at the Kierland Commons shopping center in northeast Phoenix. Tarrant, the store’s merchandising manager, changes the window displays every Tuesday to showcase the latest fashion trends and hopefully catch the roving eyes (and wallets) of passers-by.
"Sometimes Agata (Kennedy, the owner) will let me know what she wants in the windows, but I can also be as creative as I want," she says. On this particular day, Tarrant has chosen to display items from actress Pamela Anderson’s new line of loungewear, "The Pamela Collection," which ranges from $50 to $118. For now, though, ponchos are still what’s on most shoppers’ minds: "They’re selling like crazy," Tarrant says. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles who also works on displays at Off Saks at Arizona Mills in Tempe, Tarrant originally hoped to land a job as a buyer. "But when I got out of school, I moved back here and got into retail and retail management and wound up really liking doing the visuals." — Jennifer Wood
RONALD NOGUEIRA CAR WASHER
Ronald Nogueira steadies himself on his tiptoes and carefully aims the hose. Water cascades along the sides of a massive black Chevy Avalanche parked at Brown and Brown Chevrolet’s carwash in Mesa. The Avalanche, which is receiving a complimentary wash with service, is pristine compared with some of the other cars Nogueira and his crew will clean before the end of the day. The green minivan, a trade-in, looks as though five dust storms hit it, and the interior isn’t any better. The dashboard is coated with half an inch of dust. One wonders how the previous owner could have driven with so much dirt on the windshield. Still, it’s not the worse Nogueira has seen.
The 33-yearold once found a soiled diaper in the back of a trade-in, and cleaning blood out of the upholstery is never pleasant. Nogueira and his crew will wash from 25 to 45 vehicles daily. The bulk of these cars are trade-ins that will eventually end up on the dealer’s used car lot. "The worse the car is, the worse the guy is," Nogueira says. "If you got a car that’s clean, then your house is clean." — Marija Potkonjak
RAFAEL VELAZQUEZ SOUS CHEF
It’s a good thing Rafael Velazquez is a fast-learning multitasker. His job as a sous chef at Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician in Phoenix demands it. "It gets busy, and I like that," Velazquez says. "I’m very involved with a lot of different things" — whether it’s preparing fish, marmalade, ricotta cheese or stock for soup. He also confirms incoming food orders, rechecks the quality of meat and fish, helps brainstorm ideas for specials and assists the line cooks in setting up their stations. The only real downside to his job Velazquez can cite is the hours.
Though his 40- to 50-hour workweek may not seem bad, those hours often fall on weekends and holidays. Otherwise, Velazquez says he loves his job. "When I am in the kitchen, I really try to perfect my skills, and I love learning new ones," he says. "There is always something to learn." — Ina Zajac