Recently, returning to Denver from the Rockies on I-70, I noticed a Hiring Now sign at the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnel. I was briefly distracted by the vision of blowing up mountains, but traffic moved inexorably on and common sense prevailed.
Once we were through the tunnel, the perennial slowdown gave me time to read the notice on the back of the big-rig ahead: Drivers Wanted. Will Train.
None of this was surprising. There are Help Wanted signs everywhere — markets, hardware stores, pot shops. The Denver Post reports that the US Post Office has volunteers out with sandwich boards advertising 200 vacancies, and that senior living facilities are helping employees with car repairs to make sure they can get to work.
The only job not being advertised is Help-Wanted-Sign-Maker.
I was keeping my distance from this particular scrum when, one evening, I popped over to my neighborhood Chinese take-out for a quick fix to our perpetual catering crisis. As I was leaving, I dropped a quiet Xie xie (Thank you), one of the last remnants of my modest Chinese vocabulary.
Before I could get out the door, the owner leapt over the counter and grabbed me:
You speak Chinese?
Well, never very much and hardly any now, I responded.
You like to be delivery boy?
I thought all delivery boys were Chinese.
Well, they usually but don’t have to be, and not just boys. But now all of them gone into better jobs. Can’t compete.
But is Chinese really needed? I imagine all your customers are English-speakers.
Not with customers. Need kitchen Chinese so order not get messed up.
I told her I’d think about it but, always the coward, switched my take-out run to a local Indian restaurant, where I knew the owner had long ago solved his delivery crisis with assorted locals when all his sons and daughters went into hi-tech.
That was that for a while, but the signs kept proliferating. I began to notice Bus Drivers Needed signs in front of local schools, even along roadsides. Regardless of school district, they all offered the same $17/hour. Not interested.
But then, one sign showed up — same design, same wording, but offering $17.58. It wasn’t enough to tempt me, but the 58 cents intrigued me. I had to stop by and inquire.
Why 58 cents? Why not go the extra 42 cents and make it a round $18 per hour? I asked.
That’s exactly what the others asked.
Others? Really? How many?
Oh, about twenty-five in the last couple weeks.
Wow! So it was just a gimmick and it worked.
Yeah. We’ve got eight in training and, even if a couple wash out, we should have a full crew.
Did they explain why they said yes?
Yeah, they did. Most of them are retired. They didn’t really need the work, but they figured, what the hell, anybody with 58 cents of humor must be fun to work for.