Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It's History

Monday I went to human resources to review my Official Personnel File. The reason I went, is because this time next year I tentatively plan on retiring, and I wanted to see if all the time-in-service had been credited. I had, for most of my career, been paid on NIH grants, so-called "soft" money, and had changed departments, fund numbers, pay grades, over and over.
The file was depressingly accurate. It started in Sept. of 1980 (!), when I earned so little I thought I was looking at the employee number (4 digits). Then it went on and on and on, page after depressing page of personnel actions, appointed, terminated, appointed, over and over. I've worked on more federal grants than Carter has little liver pills, and all of those investigators have since moved on to bigger and better things (I guess) while I stayed. And stayed.
Don't get me wrong. I love West Virginia, the mountains, the people, and even (for the most part) the university I work for. But I've only to look at my lifetime earnings to realize that WV is economically challenged -- i.e., poor. The coal mines sucked the life out of the people here, and all the money dug out of the bones of these hills went to feather nests far from here. It was never good land for farming, being poor clay soil and rocky, with deep ravines and ragged mountains. The joke is that West Virginia cattle have legs of unequal length, so they can keep their balance on the hillsides. Industry has been a mixed blessing, for example, the huge chemical plants in the Charleston area bringing in money, and leaving WV a major pollution problem too. And being a poor state, the infrastructure found in other states just isn't here--the roads are narrow and twisty, the water/sewage supplies are poor or non-existent outside the town limits, the workforce, outside of the enclave here at the university, largely uneducated and in poor overall health. And with the growth of the "information age", life-long residents here can see in excruciating detail how far they fall from the television and movie portrayal of life in America.
The contrast is especially glaring for me, because we moved here from San Francisco. When we first came here and still had CA ID, people at the register would look at it, and say, why'd you move HERE? But from the start I was impressed by the people, so ready to talk to you and to lend a hand, and so very different from the big city anonymity. One time, I was transporting groceries home in the pickup truck, and the bags slid in the bed, going everywhere. I pulled off the side of the road to climb in the back and brace them better, and someone stopped right away to see if I needed help. Jeez! In CA you could be laying spread-eagled in the middle of the road and people would swerve to go around you before they'd stop.
So over all the years I've done OK at my job, slowly advancing the boundaries of knowledge in the laboratory, meeting a lot of great people and having a pretty good time, all in all. Never figured I'd get rich, anyway.


dawn marie said...

Must be weird seeing your life summed up in a file. People said (say) the same thing to me when they find out I grew up in New York. "WWhy did you move to Montana?"

Hmmm, yet after learning about my off/on 15 year stint (MT, ND and WY) no one ever asks why I didn't go back. (I am 30)


Carolyn said...

Down here in the southern part of the state we have a lot of retirees from other states. It's ok, but they have attitudes. I grew up here and don't like being snobbed on by them that had better opportunities and made big bucks, only to retire here 'cause they can buy nice land and homes cheap and pocket extra cash from the overpriced sale of their out of state homes. Not all are like that, but I've met and live close to quite a few that think they've "come to save the day" by moving here, but never worked or paid taxes here before.

Sorry and thanks for the rant :)

Carolyn said...

It's me again, Marilyn, lol! I tagged you for a small meme if you want to do it :)

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