In 1955, my husband and I literally hit a fork in the road. We were coming from Laramie and could have turned toward Denver or headed East. He decided he was getting too old to work in the restaurants where we had gone from one resort to another. Nearing 40, he was willing to hang up his apron and go back to making precision springs, which is what he did during The War. Tax season was on and I could always get on as a statistical typist, my fallback if things got rough. We arrived in Chicago just as the first Mayor Daley was elected the first time. Everyone told us if we found a job and stayed on it for a year, we could make things great. The City that Works, they bragged.
I ended up in a CPA office and soon learned enough to be called a bookkeeper--years of wrangling an Olivetti adding machine remain with me now in the form of an arthritic right wrist long before I met a mouse. A young girl in our office, a recent business school graduate, clued me into automation. I was alarmed enough to look into this thing they called computers although there weren't any to look at. In time, I enrolled at Morton Junior College in Berwyn. Although there were no computers, the instructor had seen some and was teaching us basics, such as Boolean algebra and wired boards. When he was able to teach a class at Roosevelt University in the Loop on IBM 1401 programming, I leaped at ten dollars an hour for 12 hours. From there it was another jump through an aptitude test which placed me on 35th Street (a few blocks west of Mayor Daley's house) in Bridgeport.
Coding language is interesting, but what thrilled me was working with Boomers during the Vietnam buildup. Being on the cusp of automation hysteria, I recognized that what was happening was changing long-held stereotypes. Once one transmitted words from one part of the world to another, who cared what gender, religion, age, skin color, or political persuasion the other person in the conversation was?--unless they cared to tell you. I soon saw that just as keypunch operation went from being a valuable skill to total obsolescence, so would manufacturing take on great upheavals in job changes.
From a programmer trainee, my ultimate challenge came to teach. Honeywell, billing itself as the Other Computer Company, started a 3-month crash course in programming. I lasted with their Institute as long as it did. From there, I moved on to a locally owned commercial college, where I had the best time in all my working years. There were still scholarships and grants available during the Great Society years and many recent Chicago high school students came to the College of Automation. In 1977, we left Chicago, realizing that the winters had taken a toll on our health and the City wasn't working like it used to.
I like Chicago--windy cold and hot humid, notwithstanding. There is real culture there, some of it newer than the immigrant-related kind of Rostenskowski and Daley. During the Sixties, people from the South came for a start and often landed in Gary on the way to the next rung. The steel mills were still running then. I can see, partly through Obama's first book, how things changed just in the decade after I left. I don't know the Chicago Public Schools system now, except through my friend who keeps in touch. She worked as a teacher there until she retired. But the Board of Education is part of my experience.
When Arne Duncan was selected as Secretary of Education I thought of The Board. At Honeywell, we used to go across to eat in their cafeteria. At Roosevelt University, where I gained a Masters degree in Vocational Guidance, I sat in class with teachers, who were there to become counselors--a step up in Board hierarchy. I think perhaps the part I enjoyed most was in a class concerning vocational nomenclature, taking two fields and deciphering the differences. I chose two stories from Studs Terkel's Working--waitressing and teaching. In each case the motivation is to feed a hunger. The professor said my essay was creative. I think of that now, as Duncan takes on Education and Vilsack is considered for Agriculture--where school lunches are one of the programs.
It's the children! A year for one of the little tykes without sustenance, physical or psychological, is a vital part of a lifetime lost.