• Catherine White

VIBING WITH CAT WHITE

Updated: Mar 1

WORK IN THE TIME OF COronavirus


I started working (officially) at age 13 when I got my Red Cross Babysitting Certification. Of course, I had actually started babysitting my younger siblings and some of the neighborhood kids at about 11-years-old. Back in the “day” – 1970s and 80s – the older kids were recruited to watch the younger ones when we were unleashed into the neighborhood, charged with “finding something to do” on days when school, summer cohesion and summer vacation bible camp weren’t available to keep track of Southern Tier’s little rascals.


Since then I’ve had a wide variety of jobs ranging from retail to office, government and hospitality. Y’all know about some of my more public positions – journalist, community blogger/vlogger, bartender at various Elmira watering holes, etc.


One of my favorite gigs was as a Highway Construction Engineer Trainee that my father helped me get when I was in my early 20s. I had been bartending at a couple of local watering holes and he had wanted me to see what options were available for a steady, well-paying job in the area. He recommended me for a trainee position at a private engineering company working on the Corning Bypass. It was definitely eye-opening, and a different work culture than I had ever experienced. I learned a lot and developed an appreciation for the workers and the job.



All together, I’ve worked for 37+ years so far. After spending the past 10 as a Government Affairs Coordinator, helping to empower Texas nurses to improve their profession through legislative advocacy and engagement with their state lawmakers, I wanted to take time to properly honor and let go of that experience. I also wanted to take advantage of this auspicious moment in history for American workers and try to find a job that fulfills and inspires me. Where I’m treated like an adult; appreciated and compensated appropriately for my time and effort.


The height of the pandemic gave Americans the opportunity to examine our work-life balance and consider what it’s been doing to our families, as well as our own mental and physical well-being. Those of us lucky enough to be able to work remotely were suddenly faced with the responsibility of balancing our job and home life, and realized the profound influence work has had on our personal lives. American workers also learned what work was “essential,” how unreliable some of our jobs really are; and we were forced to ponder what Life is really about, reconsidering the expectations for our futures. Pre-Covid, life had been moving at warp speed for most of the world. The pandemic forced many of us to slow down and think about the quality of our lives and what our time - time away from our families and personal responsibilities – is really worth.


While I had some savings when I resigned in August, I wanted to be able to celebrate the holiday season comfortably. So, in October I picked up a seasonal job at a large big box department store chain. I was conscious of the dangers presented by working around the public, so I applied for a job fulfilling online orders for curbside pick-up or delivery, which meant minimal close contact with the public. In addition to making a little extra cash, I wanted to see if I could do it.


While I’d worked a lot of retail jobs and other gigs that required physical exertion throughout my life, it had been at least 20 years since last doing so. This job kicked my butt! From my feet to my thighs, hips, back, arms and shoulders; almost every inch of my body throbbed at the end of my eight-hour shifts. Each shift, I walked the equivalent of approximately 10 miles, repeatedly climbed 24-foot ladders to get merchandise, pushed up to 150-lbs while maneuvering customers, aisles and tight backroom shelves. It didn’t help that I also had to fight through several hot flashes, which seemed to be triggered by the mandatory mask-wearing. Brutal!


After my first full shift, I promptly came home, hobbled to bed and began researching foot and leg compression merchandise. I spent my first paycheck on ReAthlete Leg Air Compressions. Worth every penny!



What did I learn during my two-month stint as a retail fulfillment worker?

  1. This was the first time that I applied, was interviewed and hired for a job, all virtually (online). I actually got to record my interview responses with opportunities to practice before submitting them.

  2. While the work was physically (and mentally) exhausting, I proved to myself that I could do it! As time went on and my body adapted to the drastic increase in physical activity, it actually got easier.

  3. If store “team members” were only making the federal minimum wage ($7.25) before the pandemic, they were being vastly underpaid! The work is hard, and the high cost of living makes a higher wage crucial for all Americans.

  4. Overall, it was an illuminating and fun experience. While there was a good intergenerational mix of employees, it was interesting to be around twentysomethings and hear their point of view.

  5. The Covid health crisis is real, y’all! While store staff were required to wear masks when working, customers were not. Starting around Christmas, employees began dropping like flies due to the Omicron variant. We began getting daily texts that another team member (or multiple) had tested positive for the virus. This made matters worse for workers across central Texas who were already battling Cedar Fever and the flu.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m disheartened at the time wasted these past two years by the government and business industry. While American workers, parents, and students have struggled to constantly adapt to the changing circumstances of this politicized pandemic, those in power continue to push for a “normalcy” that belongs to the past.


I’m baffled that more businesses and schools didn’t adopt a hybrid method.


I know, I’m not a legislator or business owner. But throughout this madness, the businesses that seem to have survived the Covid disruption are those that have adapted to the crisis. I recently saw a story about the owner of a popular Houston nightclub who had to shut down in March 2020. He converted the club into a local supermarket co-op, inviting other vendors to sell their products in the market. Now the grocery is thriving, and producers and artisans within the community are benefitting, too.


Change isn’t always easy but it is often necessary and usually beneficial, I’ve found. We could create a better, smarter, happier country if getting “back to a normal” that didn’t work for the vast majority of us wasn’t the automatic end goal.


To that end, I’m excited to announce that I am taking over as Managing Editor of Southern Tier Life. I look forward to providing the same quality of informative and entertaining content STL has produced this past year, along with some great new features! Stay tuned to see what’s new and interesting in one of the most beautiful scenic regions of New York state.

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