all my fancy plans of taking a bike ride into chinatown and getting some snacks were now just dreams. in less than 3 hours i had to get myself ready to start my first official day of census work. i went through the list of 74 addresses. thankfully they were all nearby, and all within walking distance. i even saw a few addresses i recognized, surprised my neighbors hadn't filled out their census survey yet. i tried opening the training app to do some practice runs, but it was locked out for some reason, maybe because i was finished with training. so trial by fire it is.
i prepared my census bag, the forms i'd need, my id. the bag could use a redesign, for instance maybe a drink pocket. instead, i put my insulated tumbler full of ice water wrapped in a small towel so it wouldn't spill. i also packed a small package of kleenex, a bottle of sanitizing gel (the one the census gave me), and my battery pack phone charger, in case i needed to juice up in the field. it was a hot day, so i also packed my bucket hat. i realized i ran out of sunblock so quickly biked down to walgreens to buy some. everything was $10+, i was hoping for something cheap, i ended up getting some spray-on sunblock since it was easier to apply. as for facemasks, the census provided two cloth maskes, but they couldn't my nose completely, so i opted for my surgical masks.
i ate a chicken salad bagel sandwich for lunch before showering and finally leaving by 12:45pm. i called my supervisor earlier but she was in a capstone meeting, so she called another supervisor to call me and answer some questions. i noticed some addresses had no apartment designation when i knew for a fact they were apartments. she gave me suggestions that seemed helpful at the time, but once i started working, they didn't make much sense.
my very first case was textbook perfect. the man lived alone and stopped his zoom meeting to answer my questions. he answered everything, didn't put up a fuss, asked some census questions which i was able to answer all. after that it was mostly downhill.
i visited a lot of addresses where there was nobody home. but i could tell whether there were genuinely nobody home or they saw me and for whatever reason decided not to answer the door. i also had a few cases were there was flat out refusal to answer, like they saw i worked for the government and noped the door closed right on my face. census training says not to take those personally but it's hard not to. i also visited a few student housing, they were all empty, all the students having fled home during the coronavirus pandemic. there were people who would only answer partially, and even one man who made me erase his entire survey after it was nearly complete because he had a change of heart. you use a lot of people skills, trying to read into people reluctance, maybe find a way to sway them. a con man smooth talker would be a perfect census enumerator. i am not that person.
did i mention it was hot? i put on my hat immediately, even though i thought it looked ridiculous. i stopped a few times to take some cold sips from my tumbler. i even had to take out the towel and wipe the sweat from the back of my neck. it got a little better later in the afternoon, when the sky clouds up, but then i was afraid it might rain and i didn't have my umbrella. all the while i smelled of sunblock, which always reminds me of hot summer days at the beach or watching a parade.
our cases have to be followed in the order they were given to use. we were told that the time they were assigned were carefully chosen to coincide with the best time the respondents would be home. i'm curious as to what algorithm they used because by the time i got to the middle of my case list, it brought me back home. federal law says i must take a 30 minute unpaid break after 5 hours of work. would they mind if i took my unpaid break after 4 hours of work? regardless, i stopped working at 4:30pm, used the bathroom, took a shower, reapplied sunblock, and replenished my fluids. i was out again by 5pm.
during my 2nd outing, i connected the census phone to the rechargeable portable battery because the battery level had dropped down to 48%. once the phone was up to 70%, i untethered the cable.
it wasn't all lowlights, there were some highlights. a random woman who saw me started asking friendly questions about the census, i was able to answer all of her concerns like a pro, even though it was just my first day. my crowning achievement was somehow getting access to a fancy new air-conditioned apartment building where there were about a dozen households that didn't fill out their census survey. it was a farcry from the apartment i visited earlier: cramped, stuffy, hot, and for some reason none of the apartments were numbered. not sure how long i stayed at this fancy apartment, but i cleared a bunch of cases, all the while enjoying some free AC. by the time i left it was well past 7pm.
not sure when i was supposed to quit, they didn't assign me a stop time, just a start time. but as census enumerators we're told not to work beyond 9pm at all cost. like, they would fire you if you did that, perhaps my census phone would turn to dust and all my data would be lost. i worked until 8:30pm, it was already dark. if i knocked on doors, nobody was going to answer, and if they did answer, the respondent would be angry and i'd have to apologize profusely, because i hate it when people knock on my door when it's late, and certainly wouldn't want to do that to others. i also knew it was time to go home when i start seeing rats going to work, as a skinny one scurried past me towards some garbage cans.
by that point i was already close to my house, so i simply went home. i was exhausted. my back, my feet, were all in pain. it felt like the sort of pain i get spending a whole day at the museum, not like i was doing anything strenuous, but those long stretches of standing and walking can really take a toll on my body, especially when i'm not used to it, made worse by being such a hot day. luckily i had some leftover pasta sauce from last night. after a hot shower to wash off all the oily sunblock i sprayed on myself, i warmed up the meat sauce and boiled a cup+ of cellentani for dinner. i didn't have dinner until 9:20pm. i was so tired i didn't even feel like eating, just stared at my food.
i was assigned 74 cases today. by day's end i'd visited 55 cases. but of the 55 cases i cleared, 34 were listed as inactive, which meant they were incomplete and needed to be re-enumerated at some point, either by me or somebody else (i'm hoping somebody else). looking back, there were definitely some cases i'd do differently, after having a day's worth of field experience under my belt. the field app could still use a little fine tuning, i think by census 2030 it'll be a lot better, given that this is only v1.0.
one thing i did was to readjust my work times. no more 9am to 9pm, now it was 10am to 8pm, and no weekends, i need them to recover.
when i checked my census phone after midnight, it'd zero'ed out my cases for the day and said i had no work scheduled. but a check a short time later (12:40am) revealed new cases (just 59) and a start time of 1pm. they were all in somerville, and all new addresses, none of the ones on my street. some were a little far (all the way to union square), i may need to bike down there if i plan on taking a break (bathroom/drink) back at home. i actually prefer a little distance from where i live, prevents me from awkwardly running into a neighbor and explaining what i'm doing.