On Election Day, I sat in an office of messy desks, old equipment and a familiar scent.
The office smelled a lot like my dad’s old office at his old company in Scranton. Just like my dad’s office, there wasn’t a lot of time spent cleaning the place. There was, however, a time for worrying.
The time for worrying came for my dad and his co-workers in the early 1990s. I remember when his company, where he was the executive vice president, was thriving. They had operations all over the world and even drilled on the Alaska pipeline. There were people there, called “lifers,” who had never known another job except for the one they had in the machine shop. Or the office. Or on the floor where my dad had a secretary. There were people who had grown old there. There were people who retired. There were people who counted on the work they did to feed their families and pay for braces and private school.
I remember that hulk of a building, which was demolished to construct an ice skating rink and strip mall near Scranton High School. I remember the company had its name painted on the roof: Sprague and Henwood.
My dad knew his job well and was a skilled executive. A giant ashtray adorned his desk as he spoke to people on the phone about drilling and bore hole testing. His acumen in this industry paid for our house, bought our cars and put my brother and me through school. We had vacations and went out to dinner. My parents entertained and we had a modest house in the country.
Then, there was no more job. The company went under. My dad tried to salvage it by himself, and spent time in that hulking business by himself with a very small staff. He spent the final years of his life struggling to find his footing.
On Tuesday, I met a man like my dad. He was a garment maker, a man whose factory in Luzerne County should be booming because there are less than 10 of them left in the United States. Shirts of all colors are stacked everywhere, the kind of shirts working people who hold road signs, work in warehouses or bus tables might wear. Two women who have been with him for years are his staff now. He doesn’t know how much longer he can hang on, knowing he simply can’t compete with offshore manufacturing entities that undercut him at every turn and use unethical business practices to beat him.
Tuesday night, you may have felt sorrow for your political party, or elation because your guy won. Wednesday, you were probably like the majority of Americans these days: At your desk or in the cab of your truck or taking an order from a customer.
My dad’s business declined during a Democrat administration. The bleed of the factory in Luzerne County comes to an end during another administration. However, there’s no sense blaming one man in a White House in Washington for these troubles. Americans need to row together to right the ship of state.
Speeches given Tuesday night gave me optimism. State Representative John Yudichak, a lawmaker I condemned for his nest feathering on per diems, gave an impassioned plea for the end to divisive politics in Harrisburg when he gave his acceptance speech after winning the senate seat held by Ray Musto for decades. He encouraged his colleagues to “get to work” and do the will of the people. He’s a Democrat.
Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, a Republican, struck a similar tone when accepting the seat of United States Congressman after upending Paul Kanjorski on the third try. Barletta vowed to work on behalf of his constituents, reminding us that the only way his victory was possible in Hazleton was through the good graces of Democrat voters who helped him win three terms as mayor.
I think of my dad a lot anymore. I thought I wouldn’t miss him this much because he died back in 1999, but his sense of integrity, fairness and occasional forays into barroom diplomacy are things that we could use these days. In honor of the people who laid the foundation for this country, I am hopeful that guys like John Yudichak and Lou Barletta mean what they say now and in the future. They have to do the right thing, so the men and women who go to the only job they’ve ever known or begin a new one because of a change in the economic tide are counting on them.