Blue-Collar Heroes

By Brian Panowich

The whole world, man. It’s a hoot.

Especially right now, here in Georgia, as I write this. I’m not sure if it’s chaos or tranquility out there, since I’ve been locked up in the house with my kids for a couple months playing Jenga and learning why public school teachers should earn at least a million dollars a year, but I hope everyone out there is keeping their heads down and being safe. I’m not going to harp on the madness in the world for too long because that’s not what this article is about, but I will just say a few things about the effect this pandemic is having on our state before we move on to the good stuff.

I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but it would seem like we Georgians have got some questionable decision-making being done at the top of our food-chain —or maybe not — because I just don’t know. Misinformation is rampant on the left and the right, and solid, reliable intel seems to be a thing of the past. People are confused, scared and angry — to the point that we’re beginning to get angry with each other instead of the problem we all have in common. It’s understandable and frustrating. I get it. My daughter offered up some levity the other day by comparing 2020 to leveling up in Jumanji, but to me it’s more like the seven plagues in the Old Testament that Moses brought down on the pharaohs. I mean, murder-hornets? C’mon, we need a break in the clouds here.

But since I’m a writer and practically live my life sheltered-in-place anyway, the effects on me personally are minimal at best, although my friends in EMS, and at the fire department, and medical professionals are wading in a world of hurt right now. As are the small-business owners and self-employed, who are struggling to stay afloat. I’m one of those people. But hope is we beat the odds.

Hope.

So, I thought I would offer some of that by uplifting some of the folks out there who aren’t getting nearly enough of the attention they deserve as they help get us through the nightmare outside. I’m talking about the working-class Joes and Josephines who are out there selling us groceries or keeping gas in the vehicles of the other essential workers so they can get where they need to be.

Essential. Let’s talk about that word for a minute.

Through this entire horror show, I’ve seen a ton of support for all of our country’s frontline workers. Our firemen. Our police. Our medics and nurses. Our doctors and medical staff. And God knows they deserve the praise. They are in the thick of this pandemic keeping us safe, and my heart goes out to them. I’ve seen news coverage and magazine articles giving them their rightful due. I’ve seen photography series pop up and social media posts shining a bright light on these wonderful people, and rightfully so. But what I haven’t seen enough of, and what didn’t occur to me until I made my second condensed trip into the wild for family supplies, was that there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz or fuss being made over the convenience store employees at the Circle K who have continued to show up for work through this whole mess just so we could have the barest of necessities. Or the Walmart employees who kept a steady supply of wiped-down and sanitized shopping carts available for us when our pantries started running low. How about the postmen and women at the USPS, or the UPS guy, or the FedEx driver who worked 12- hour shifts to keep all the online purchases we’ve begun to double-down on flowing while we all adjust to this new normal? They are on the front lines, too. They matter just as much, and it’s important that they be recognized as well. I’m sure you all agree.

Maybe just a heartfelt thank you over the counter as I collect my change would do, but I think they should have a glossy page in Augusta’s finest magazine to call their own.

So — thank you, Chris, for cutting meat for us at Kroger, and Mindy in the deli for making sure our kids had what they needed to eat. Thank you, Kayne, for being there when I needed to pay with cash to fill my Bronco’s tank. Thank you, Neel, at GT Package, not just for staying open for the people who needed you, but for keeping Eddie employed because you knew he really needed it. Thank you, Eric and Star at Cintas, for keeping us in sanitized supplies even in the worst conditions. Thank you, Frankie at the post office, for getting our mail out and making sure we could all still stay connected with each other through this time of crisis.

I know there are hundreds more of you out there who I could call out by name, but I only have so much space on the page, so my hope is that everyone reading this right now takes the time to let you all know how grateful we are for your work and your courage as we recover and eventually heal. Each and every one of you mean the world to me and my family, and your sacrifices are not unnoticed.

Appears in the July 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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