Census Taker IV

Happy Hour after Work
Seattle, USA
May 27, 2009

The temporary job I've been working for the Census Bureau might wrap up this weekend. I'm glad to be finishing early.

If the job does end then, the time I work will total one week less than what they initially promised. All the same, it would feel just about right. Seven weeks of walking around town, earning a little money has been fun. But, if I continued to address canvas for another week--I know I'd get grumpy with the routine.

Conversely, had the work wrapped up sooner--say, one week ago--I would have questioned whether it was worthwhile to cut short my travels around Asia and fly back to work this job. Seven weeks of work has been just the right amount of time.

I'm still enjoying the work, appreciating nuances to this city I was never aware of. I'm surprised by not just how many neighborhoods in my hometown I'm exploring for the first time, but by how much variation there is within small areas. Down in the south end of town, walking east a few blocks along Holly Street typifies the range I've been finding:

Starting in the area around Martin Luther King Jr. Way, the rent on many of the homes in the New Holly Park compound is subsidized; the number of immigrants is high. Heading a block-or-two along up the ridge, structures then go from decrepit to solid middle class with well-kept gardens. The blocks running further up the hill, approaching the west side of Seward Park Avenue South, are nicer still.

Most of the homes along this stretch of Holly Street must have Jewish occupants. In several of the blocks I walked around in that neighborhood, I found a mezuzah tacked onto the doorframe of every single house. Then, crossing Seward Park Avenue to the east, the slope leading down to Lake Washington is where the homes turn really posh. Some of the waterfront property whose doors I knocked on was unbelievable. In the center of custom-cut slabs of stone siding, one home had an enormous wooden door carved from some sort of heavy wood. Rapping on that door was like knocking on a stone. There was no doorbell. I assume that whoever lived in that house wasn't interested in having census takers and other random people come calling.

The main point of my job is to make sure that the addresses the Census Bureau has on-record are correct. This usually means little more than comparing what's on the address list with what house numbers I see on every block. I do have to create a record of the occasional new structure or make a note of others that have fallen into an uninhabitable state: but those are the exceptions. It's easy work.

Knocking on every door is also part of the routine, but interactions with people are usually brief. I'm not eliciting any detailed information. The detailed questions come in 2010. I ask only whether there is some other place on the grounds where people might live: dwellings with mother-in-law units or separate apartments should receive multiple questionaires. At each house I also log a GPS point marking the exact location of the front door.

There have been a few extended conversations and interactions--some pleasant, some unpleasant:

It's been interesting work, but I'll feel fine if it does come to an end this weekend. That will give me about three free weeks in Seattle to spend time with friends and family. Then, come June 20th, I'm hoping to catch a flight back to Asia and make my way back to Kyrgyzstan--to attend Jochen's wedding.