Ryan’s Fine Grocer and Delicatessen, on Magnolia Ave., opened its doors yesterday for a “media event.” The space is pretty, clean and inviting; it will serve sandwiches and sell meat, produce and other food and drink items. For Fairmount residents, it’s a welcome and much needed addition to the neighborhood. Today it opens its doors to the public, and co-owner Hunter Ryan, below, says he wants the place to be smaller version of Central Market — but one that’s more accessible and more personal for locals.
Is it just me or is The Gaslight Anthem’s “American Slang” the quintessential “growing up” album? Almost every song has an element of emotion attached to the idea of growing up, getting older, learning about yourself, failure, success, change…
“Orphans” always caught my attention:
Now I’m trying to keep it straight
Learning all the streets and the alleyways
And learning where they lead
Now that I’m left alone here to drive
But it’s so hard to stand on your own
Against mirror of glass, hard and cold
But the clothes I wore
Just don’t fit my soul anymore
No the clothes I wore
Just don’t fit my soul anymore
It hit me today, after six or seven months of listening to this album non-stop in my car, that there’s this whole theme to “American Slang” that not only had I overlooked but also that I so relate to, especially at this point in my life.
I’m not sure if that’s what TGA’s Brian Fallon wanted to convey with the album, but the way he’s able to capture the essence of loss of innocence and the idea of growing up hits close to home. In an interview, he says that, quite literally, growing older had a huge influence on his songwriting.
I’m 30 now and there’s huge difference between 23, or even 25, and 30. People are getting married and having kids and getting divorced. You still feel like a kid but there are adult things happening. When my friend got divorced, it struck me, like ‘We’re just kids. This doesn’t happen to us.’ But then it’s like ‘This is really happening’. That was the inspiration for the song “Boxer.”
I’m not quite 30 yet, but I get it.
I just started reading a book I picked up on a recent trip to the bookstore. It’s supposed to be an examination of America’s working poor that challenges premises on both sides of the political spectrum. Author David K. Shipler is a journalist who spent years interviewing and following the paths of “the forgotten Americans” who straddle the line of poverty. It looks promising, both for what the content might bring to light and for examining the journalistic techniques and literally devices Shipler uses.
I’ve given it a lot of thought over the last few months. In debating whether I want to go to grad school, start volunteering for local non-profits, apply for journalism-related grants and fellowships or simply take a “Good Will Hunting approach” at my specific interests, one thing is clear: I always come back to think about the working class and how women’s rights and gender roles as well as workers (and immigrant) rights fit into working class issues.
What kind of grad program would work for me if those are my interests? What kind of curriculum could I carve out for myself if I decided to educate myself at the public library? What organizations could I become involved with if I wanted to learn more and actually help? And, always, I think about what kind of stories I tell if I wanted to bring to light that very marginalized and under-reported demographic.
I’ve been interested in the working class for a long time, especially in college, and now I’m practically obsessed with a blog completely dedicated to working class studies. But in reading an Atlantic Cities post recently that discussed working class cities and the geography of working class jobs, I realized that I want my interest in these topics to be more than just a vague fascination.
I quickly noticed Odessa, a small town between my native Fort Worth and El Paso, cited in that Atlantic Cities article. It’s a city with a rich history at the center of the West Texas oil boom that has brought construction, transportation and production jobs and an influx of workers. It’s the fastest-growing city in the nation and the working class make up about 34 percent of Odessa’s workforce (it comes in at No. 9 in areas with the largest working class shares). What kind of impact will the city’s new housing, traffic and labor shortage issues, and reports that cost of living is too expensive, have on its working class? A weekend trip to Odessa might give me some answers — and perhaps a basis for a grant proposal.
I saw Dr. Dog this weekend at Live Oak in Near Southside. Their show got moved indoors after the rain put a damper on the Fort Worth Music Festival Saturday. The show was well worth the wait and hassle of standing in Live Oak’s tiny lobby until the band finished sound check.
Oh yeah, I interviewed Toby Leaman of Dr. Dog ahead of the festival in September. Here it is.
Unfortunately this graphic I made a week ago looks miniature in the print edition. I wasn’t sure whether this chart made sense — the numbers on top of the blue and red graph lines still look weird to me. But I couldn’t come up with a better way of demonstrating the numbers I wanted. I’m still learning what makes for a visually appealing (and still comprehensive) graphic.
With the help of our design guy, I made this infographic/chart last week for our Sunday edition. Instead of another typical story about unemployment, I wanted to try to come up with something visual that examines the issue comprehensively using numbers only. I think it looks good for my first attempt at an infographic.
This story is part of a series on locals with unusual jobs.
¿Usted trabaja para el periódico? “You work for the newspaper?” Edgar Rivera asks for the third time. His voice is low, and while Rivera isn’t exactly shy, he doesn’t like being the center of attention.
“Wouldn’t you rather speak with one of the girls up front?” he asks. He’s just a worker, he says.
Originally from the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, the 35-year-old has been a butcher for 16 of the 17 years he’s lived in the United States.
Before starting his job at Rendon Meats, located east of Interstate 35W, eight years ago, Rivera worked at another rastro in Mansfield for eight years, a butcher shop where he killed and prepared meat for sale.
Rivera uses the word rastro instead of carniceria, the name used for a meat market. The popular term rastro, which is now the name of a famous market in Madrid, meaning trail or mark, has origins in the blood stains left on open streets lined with slaughterhouses and butcher shops in Spain.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Rivera is part of a shrinking profession.
While the number of grocery store butchers grows steadily each year, the number of specialty store butchers struggles to add numbers. There were more than 94,000 butchers working in grocery store chains last year, compared to 13,500 specialty butchers, according to the BLS.
Since the economic crisis, however, specialty store butchers, not including self-employed butchers, have grown in number at a higher rate than their chain store counterparts. That’s promising for folks like Rivera.
Rivera’s work week is based on a schedule that includes cutting meat, especially bulls, on Mondays; killing bulls, pigs, goats and sheep that are brought in from local ranchers for butchering on Tuesday; and meat-cutting the rest of the week.
Es rutina. It’s a routine, he says.
As Rivera walks back from the office into his workspace, he passes two workers — both young, white females – dancing to a cumbia on the radio with one of the other two Mexican-native butchers. He’s worked with all of them for more than five years, except one new guy.
Está un poquito frío. It’s a bit cold, he says as he enters a 32-degree room with about 10 cow and bull carcasses hanging from the ceiling.
Behind the shop is a small maze where ranchers leave their stock for butchering. On Tuesdays, Rivera and his co-workers round up the animals and bring them through the maze that leads to the slaughter room inside the shop. Unlike at slaughterhouses, animals killed at Rendon Meats are killed one by one with a bullet to the head, then with a knife to release their blood.
No nos gusta matar porque es muy sucio. “We don’t like to kill because it’s a dirty job,” he says. “But I do like meat-cutting…You always learn new things.”
Once an animal is butchered, Rivera says, it’s skinned and its carcass is left in a small two-room freezing space where they’re hung for two weeks. Cutting fresh meat isn’t the best way to get good cuts, he says.
Entre mas tiempo lo deje en el frío, mas tiernita se pone la carne. The longer you leave the meat hanging before cutting it, the more tender it becomes.
Nosotros los hispanos tememos la creencia en que mas fresco, o recien matado, mejor. Pero si lo dejas dos semanas, esta muy suavecita. “Us Hispanics always say that the fresher the meat, or freshly butchered, the better it is. But if you leave it for two weeks, it’s very tender.”
For ranchers and other customers who bring in their animals, Rivera processes practically the entire thing. It’s all being used somehow, except the heads which they can’t use because of the bullet.
Bacon, ham, sausage – that’s all made fresh at Rendon Meats. The shop also sells pre-cut meat for customers who just want to go in and shop.
Why he chose to immigrate to the U.S., Rivera says it was el sueño americano, the American Dream, that attracted him. He has a wife and four children who live in Everman.
But being a butcher is the ninth worst job in 2012, according to a jobs report from CareerCast, based on stress level, physical demands, work environment, pay and hiring outlook.
While his dream hasn’t completely materialized, “at least you live a better life here,” Rivera says.
Eventually, Rivera wants to find another profession. If he could get a raise and a better job, he’d move on.
“This is a job few people want to do,” he says of being a butcher.
Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series on locals with unusual jobs.
With sweat running down his face, Virgil Rhodes sits on top of a tractor as he digs a hole.
While many consider burial ceremonies a time of grief and sorrow for a loved one, Rhodes, 68, says it’s an opportunity to do one last good thing for a person he never knew.
Rhodes, of Joshua, has been a gravedigger for most of his life. And after 41 years of digging, he still enjoys his work at Burleson Memorial Cemetery.
“When we finish here,” he says, “they gotta go to Alvarado to do one. Me and Eddie will stay here. We got two today, both at the same time.”
There’s an art to a burial, he describes.
“We try to do the best that we can do to make it look nice,” he says. “This is the last thing you can do for a person. This is the last thing you can do for ‘em. The nicer it is, the more people will respect you. I’ve lost my mother and dad; I know exactly what it’s like. I know what it’s like, and I know what to do to try to be respectful.”
As Rhodes digs a perfect rectangular hole with a tractor, Eddie Marshall, 58, lights a cigarette, never taking his eyes off the corners of the hole, checking to make sure it’s deep enough. They get help from father and son John and Joe Upchurch, who occasionally push loose dirt back into the hole with a shovel.
When a truckload of dirt gets full, John hauls it off until it’s ready to be used after the burial.
There are 25 or 26 – Rhodes can’t remember off the top of his head – cemeteries for which Rhodes is the only gravedigger. He and his crew are the only diggers at Burleson Memorial Cemetery.
“We go all the way up to Decatur and we go way down to Itasca and we go all the way to Lipan,” he says.
At their busiest, Rhodes and his crew have prepared six burial plots. But some days, he doesn’t get a phone call from any funeral service.
Today, the four men are digging a double internment burial plot for two bodies, but they don’t let themselves get familiar with who’s being buried.
“We don’t see the body,” Marshall says. “We don’t know what’s in that casket.”
“I don’t see that much of [families]. What bothers me is when they bring one this long and this wide and this tall,” Rhodes says, using his hands to represent a small casket for a baby or child. “That bothers me. It really does. When I bury a baby, it bothers me. But we don’t see these families.”
Marshall, originally from Shreveport, has been working for Rhodes for 35 years.
“Him and Eddie have been together for so long, they could read each other’s thoughts,” says John, while Marshall helps push a cement box into the grave, where the casket will sit.
John, who has 13 years of experience in cemetery services and was “born and raised around Cleburne,” came to the job when Rhodes became ill in November, and his son, Joe, had been on the job for just one week.
The Upchurch men have replaced a man named Willy, who, Marshall says, had been working for Rhodes for 36 years. He recently retired at age 62.
“He’s a good man,” John says of Rhodes. “I’ve only been working for him for a short time, but if the man asked me to walk on water, I’d give it a try.”
There’s even more to Rhodes.
“Did he tell you he was a music leader at his church?” John asks.
Before starting his own business, Rhodes began working as a gravedigger for a company in Arlington.
“I started working by the hour,” he says. “I had a wife and two kids to feed. When I bought my first tractor, I had $40 in my pocket and six dollars in the bank.
“For digging a hole and covering it up, I got $45. That was back in 1970.”
Rhodes began digging in Burleson in 1995.
“I used to mow this cemetery and take care of it, for the city of Burleson,” he says. “Now I dig all the graves in here.”
Unless there’s unusually harsh weather, digging isn’t very hard, Rhodes says. One burial plot, from start to finish, takes just over an hour to complete. After the service, tearing down the tent, picking up the chairs and covering the hole takes just 30 minutes.
“Every once in a while I’ll get a card from someone telling me what I nice job I’ve done,” Rhodes says. “That makes you feel good when somebody tells you something like that.
“We do the best to make it nice for them. We don’t know this person,” he says, pointing to the grave. “But I know that I want to do the best for ‘em. It’s the last thing I can do.”