The Midwesterner

Posted by on Mar 2, 2012

A friend once told me that when she moved to Portland, Oregon she had a difficult time finding a job. Portland has become a bit of a mecca for young liberal folks looking to live the relaxed western life. However the city is a famously difficult place to find employment. She encountered this problem, but only until she informed potential employers that she was from Milwaukee. “Oh, you’re from the Midwest?” One possible employer said during an interview, “We’ll figure out a position for you. No problem.” It seemed she had cracked the code.

I was reminded of this story after having breakfast with a gentleman this morning. His name is Bill and while he may currently work in the produce business, not so long ago he was buttoning up a three-piece suit for 60+ hours a week in Nevada. But why don’t we start this from the beginning…

Not entirely fulfilled as a high school science teacher Bill decided to go back to school to become a lawyer. He was accepted to the University of Wisconsin’s program in Madison. Long hours studying paid off for Bill as he found himself writing for Madison’s Law Review and eventually graduated near the top of his class. Madison has a highly regarded program and after graduating Bill received several requests for interviews.

On the top of his list was a firm in Nevada, the largest in the state at the time. After a job-fair style interview in Madison the firm’s head partner requested an interview with Bill at their office in Las Vegas. Living in Beaver Dam at the time, Bill was shocked that they offered to pay his airfare, picked him up from the airport in a limousine, and took him out for a lavish steak dinner “interview.” “I was just a farm boy from Burnett, Wisconsin and it didn’t take much to impress me.” Before leaving Vegas the firm made Bill an offer which made him fly straight home and start packing boxes.

After working at the firm a few weeks Bill was called in to the Accounts Payable office.

“William I can’t seem to find your moving expense receipts,” explained the head of Accounts Payable.

“Well, I provided an itemized list of receipts for gas and my portion of the U-Haul,” Bill explained while developing sweaty palms and a sudden dry throat.

Bill moved across the country with two friends and thought it made sense that he only charge the company for his third of the cost of transportation.

“U-Haul? William, what are you talking about?” she asked, “You drove a U-Haul yourself?” The woman started chuckling, and picked up her telephone. She rang the head of the firm and told him he needed to come down to her office right away. “You’ve got to hear this for yourself,” she said, through laughter.

Until his boss arrived Bill assumed he was in serious trouble. He could have sworn they told him moving expenses were included. The young barrister started wondering where he was going to get his next job. Had he squandered a great opportunity? He’d moved across the country, canceled his lease in Wisconsin and hadn’t even had time to un-box his life in Nevada. He started considering the varieties of part-time work he could get in Vegas while planning his next move.

The elevator opened and Bill’s posture straightened as his boss approached.

“Get a load of this, Wisconsin William here packed himself and rented a U-Haul and drove himself clear across the country!”

The two erupted with laughter. Bill chuckled a little, nervously, waiting for the joke to become funny.

“That’s never happened!” explained Bill’s employer. “In all my years nobody has ever thought to drive their own moving truck. Most of these kids here come from law school already from a family with money. None of them would ever lift a finger to carry their own boxes. They all hire moving companies. William from Wisconsin moves himself! God, I love you Midwestern boys…”

The big boss patted him on the back while Bill sighed and chuckled with relief. Walking back to the elevator his superior kept shaking his head incredulous, “…moved himself…Wisconsin…what a guy…”

“Hire a moving company?” Sophomore Bill thought to himself, “Why would anybody pay to hire a moving company?”

Within a few years Bill realized the high stress world of three piece suits and professional debate was not for him. Although he found success with the firm and they loved his Wisconsin work ethic they couldn’t convince Bill to stay. He came back to Wisconsin and for several years has worked as a broker for Amish farmers in western Wisconsin.

“From courtrooms to farming? Why such a dramatic switch?” I asked.

“It’s about the people, and about how open they are. I think the land makes a person honest. You can’t talk your way into growing a crop. Either you do the right things to have a productive farm or you don’t. The old phrase about reaping what one sows is definitely true. In the field, in relationships, in life. The farmers are one big community, they’re happy to share their tips and experience with one another. Their take on life is that if we share our information everyone can prosper together. In law it was the complete opposite. You’re always trying to withhold information from the other party, your adversary, so you can throw it at them in court. Catch them off guard. You can’t catch the soil off-guard and convince it to produce zucchini. I appreciate that kind of honesty.”

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