Guest blog: John Glionna

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may remember how upset I was about a year ago when a reporter from Harpers classified Workampers as senior citizens who have to work to survive and get taken advantage of by their employers.  Another reporter compared Workampers to the Joad family from Grapes of Wrath or to Woody Guthrie.  A rash of reporters began contacting Workamper News asking for people to interview so I offered to be one of those people.  Several months ago I was contacted by John Glionna of the LA Times who, at the time, was looking for a modern migrant worker-type story and I told him if he wanted to interview me he had to tell the story like it is.  He agreed to interview Mark and I and two other Workampers and do our stories justice, so this weekend he and a photographer from the LA Times, Francine Orr, are here following us around and asking us all sorts of questions about our lifestyle.  I believe he’ll write a good story. I’ve asked him to do a guest blog: telling a little about himself, explaining his story idea and what he’s hoping to get out of this.  I’ll let you know when his story is published so that you can find a copy of the LA Times and read it if you so desire. And now, without further ado, here’s John…

So, hello all of you loyal Denise Fuller readers. My name is John and yes, I am a sinner. I work in the evil profession. I commit journalism on a daily basis. I have been tried and convicted by a jury of my peers (and a few readers as well.)  I’ve been a journalist for nearly 35 years now; the last 26 at the Los Angeles Times. Over the decades, with five different newspapers, in the U.S and in Asia, I have tried to do these few things: write well, spell fairly well, have fun (lots of fun)  and, perhaps most importantly, get inside the lives and habits of the people I meet to publish stories that ring true. Yes, I have failed, mostly early in my career. Mostly, though, I succeed.  Or come pretty close. I love my job because of the seat I am in right now: in Denise and Mark’s rig, at their computer, typing these words while they are out on their rounds at the campground. They trust me enough to leave me here with their worldly belongings and their two cats. (Oh, those two precious felines; one is watching me as I write.) In other words, they trust me. Sort of. In the end, I remain a stranger who they have allowed into their lives, sharing details (as Francine Orr takes pictures) of very intimate moments in their lives — all under the assumption that I will tell the truth. Their truth. But my story is not out yet, so they’re not yet sure that I’m worthy of that trust. They have nothing to fear but how do I convey that to them? I’m like a hitchhiker standing by the side of the road, with my thumb out, saying, “Please pick me up. Allow me into your car. I won’t hurt you. I don’t have any chain saws in my back pack. Honest.” But, in fact, I don’t. For me, Mark and Denise are the latest in a long line of fascinating characters whom I have met in my travels — people who break rules, live outside the lines, submerge underwater only to pop back up way ahead of the masses who toil along the surface, facing all those opposing currents.

I read the same piece in Harpers magazine that Denise read a year ago, and I was intrigued by this subculture of people who at an age where most of us are slowing down, are out there in the teeth of the wind, taking chances. They’re traveling the nation, working jobs in this state and that one, never with the benefit of insurance, that safety net we have all come to expect. They’re out here because of a catastrophic event in their lives: they lost their house at a time when many other Americans did as well; giving their nest eggs (one that often involved their entire life’s savings) back to banks who had become so sloppy in their lending practices they had to demand that otherwise ethical, law-abiding Americans pay the price for their greed with hurdles that were often impossible to scale. So Mark and Denise walked away from their house in 2012 and — voila! — here they are. On the road, working such jobs as selling Christmas trees, hustling the aisles of an Amazon warehouse, and helping to collect the beet harvest in Montana. My goal is to convey to readers what their life is like; what are the sacrifices they make, and chronicle the tiny blessing bestowed upon them here in Rowleys Bay, Wisconsin. Or in small town Texas or California or Nevada; blessings , they never would have received back at home,in the brick-and-mortar house they loved so dearly, working the jobs they lost, the ones they thought would scar their lives forever by losing. I make no judgments about their lives. And while I might have made a few assumptions by reading the Harpers piece, the thing that put me in this rig as dusk falls on the northeast Wisconsin coast on a cold night in late May, I write no story until I have done my own research, mulled my own notes, put together my own thoughts, words and images of what I have seen. When all of that is done, and only then, I publish (after being edited, of course — one of the bummers of the trade). So, here I am in the middle of this process, the reporting and fact collecting and sensory inhaling. But let me tell you folks about what I see before me: two people who love each other very much, who trust each other, who walk hand in hand to each new day, each new assignment. The story of Mark and Denise is one of redemption, as I see it: two people who have gained — physically, mentally and spiritually — through an event lesser souls might have taken for the end. Through our initial emails, over the phone and even in person, I can sense their lingering distrust about our methodology and our goals. But rest assured Mark and Denise — and the people who love them and read of their continuing exploits, I see them. I see them more clearly with each hour I spend with them. Now all I have to do is write. So, stay tuned folks.

John Glionna taking notes while Francine Orr takes pictures.

John Glionna taking notes while Francine Orr takes pictures.

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