This morning I saw a man riding a bicycle, which wouldn’t really merit mention, except that he was also carrying what looked like an 8-foot aluminum ladder on his shoulder as he rode. Given the time of day, I’m guessing he was on his way to work.
Part of me wanted to follow him to see how he managed. I didn’t, of course, since I was on my way to work, too. But it gave me something to think about as I drove.
When I was younger I worked as a house painter for a couple of summers. Since I was small-time self-employed, I didn’t have a company pickup. I would just haul a big aluminum extension ladder out to the job in my old 280z sports car. I would run it a bit through the passenger window and let it hang (illegally far, probably) out of the hatchback. A bit of improvisation and careful driving and I was in business.
I have to admit, though, that it never would have occurred to me to try to balance a ladder on my shoulder as I rode a bike, especially on rough pavement in peak traffic times. Nor would I have attempted it if it had, but then I’m sure driving the ladder to work wasn’t an option he had. You work within the available options.
So there was a pang of guilt as I drove and he rode, and thought how, even as a college student, I had options like buying a second-hand car, to say nothing of being a college student.
The image of a man riding a bicycle to work carrying a ladder put my brain into heavy symbolism mode. I’m making assumptions here, but it’s a reasonable guess that he’s a construction worker, which is common profession for men in Guatemala without a lot of formal education.
I started thinking about other kinds of ladders we take to work, like those college degrees I got. They allowed me start higher and rise faster in my career than a lot of others. So I drive and he rides.
That odd sight on my way to work was a good way to start the week, a reminder of why we do what we do: so that more Guatemalans have the option to carry ladders the way I do, rather than how he does.