Still Working

  • Hosted by Margaret J. Krauss & Kevin C. Brown

Everyone works. Not everyone works in the same way or with the same expectations; some people don’t even collect a paycheck. But work shapes who we are, what we think, and how we view others. Created by Margaret J. Krauss and Kevin C. Brown, Still Working is a 10-episode audio documentary that profiles the experiences of western Pennsylvanians through their work. From bartenders and CEOs to dairy farmers and emergency room doctors, Still Working explores the uneven burdens, dangers, and joys that working creates.

 

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Andrea Slozna is a guidance counselor at the Environmental Charter School in Regent Square, as well as a mom to two tiny people. Both her three-year-old daughter and 10-month-old son required intensive medical attention after their births, but she was able to nurse both of them. It can be a bumpy road, feeding a new person with one’s body, especially when there’s so much pressure in the first few months of a baby’s life to ensure he or she gains weight, Slozna says.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Carly Penn left the stress and late hours of restaurant kitchens behind when she became a chef at UMPC’s Strabane Woods assisted living facility near Washington, Pa. At Strabane Woods, Penn works regular hours and knows well in advance what her menu is and how many portions she’ll prepare. But once a week, she relives her restaurant days with a Friday morning treat: made-to-order eggs.

'We Call Ourselves Sugar Makers'

Apr 3, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

When maple sap emerges from a tree, it’s a long way from its prized place at the breakfast table. Sap has a disappointing sugar content, just 1 or 2 percent, and doesn’t taste sweet. Syrup-making hinges on removing most of the water in the sap, traditionally by boiling.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

The production and distribution of food in the U.S. is a lot of work. The industry employed more than one in 10 Americans in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available.

Cars, They Don’t Break Like They Used To

Mar 27, 2019
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Mike Kirsch has been working at Brunner’s Garage on the South Side for more than 43 years. Over his career, car repair has changed quite a bit, he says. Even smaller jobs, like replacing headlight bulbs or rearview mirrors, have become more time consuming and expensive. But it is not all bad. “New cars … don’t break like they used to.”

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Dentist Lorraine Callen sees a lot of patients at Allegheny General Hospital. Using special magnifying lenses, called loupes, she is able to see their teeth much better. It has also played havoc with her memory. She can’t always remember a patient by their name, but when she sees their teeth or an x-ray, “I can remember people's stories about their grandkids.”

The Right Tool For The Job

Mar 13, 2019
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

The English language is loaded with idioms related to tools: tightening the screws, burying the hatchet, and hitting the nail on the head, to name just a few. But for automotive technician Andrew McHaney having the right tool for the job is much more than a metaphor.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Gordon Nolan spends a lot of time on the ice, but rarely on skates. As the head of maintenance at Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar, it is his job to keep three ice rinks ready for hockey teams, figure skaters, and the public. In more than a decade of working on the ice, he has only fallen twice. “That’s pretty good, I think.”

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

They’re everywhere — creators, innovators, mavericks — and they sure do know how to suck all the air out of a room. But most of the world’s work isn't making the newest technology or shaking up an entire industry, it’s shepherding the things that already exist. The falls a figure skater won’t take because the ice is perfect; the angst a patient won’t feel because a dentist helps care for her teeth; the hours not spent roadside thanks to an automotive technician: this is the fruit the maintainers' labor.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Community can exist in any place where two or more humans gather. Port Authority operator Jill Smallwood sees it at rush hour, as she drives the P1 route from downtown Pittsburgh to Swissvale and back again.

As her bus gets crowded, Smallwood can’t see all the way to the back of the bus, so she’ll appeal to her riders, “Do we have any room in the back?” Most of the time, they make space for one more.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

John Spellman is all about customer service. As the owner and operator of The Shady Dog, a lunch cart in Pittsburgh’s East End, Spellman says he’s learned a lot about who people are and how they operate. Perhaps most tangibly, Spellman has arranged his schedule to sidestep the Monday blues.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Modern existence requires a lot of signs: road signs, park signs, building signs, direction signs, special event signs. Plenty of signs could be ordered online, in this age of hyper-availability, but Allegheny County doesn’t outsource its written communication with the public; instead, the county runs its own sign shop.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Jill Smallwood has operated a Port Authority bus for nearly five years and says the learning curve is pretty steep. She found out the hard way that there’s a lot to pay attention to, both inside and outside the bus. 

Road Work Ahead

Jan 25, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Highways, streets, and sidewalks get most Pittsburghers to and from work. On this month’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s series Still Working, though, roads themselves are essential to the workplace. Jill Smallwood drives a bus for the Port Authority of Allegheny County. John Spellman operates the “Shady Dog” hot dog cart in Shadyside. And Steve Smith makes road signs at Allegheny County’s sign shop.

Small Bills And A Good Accountant

Jan 16, 2019
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Note to readers: this story features an exotic dancer.

Tax time can be a headache for freelancers and independent contractors in the gig economy. If they haven’t kept track of income throughout the year, it can be daunting to calculate what they made and what they owe. Iris works as a stripper (we aren’t using her real name because she has concerns for her safety). Cash makes up the majority of her income, but she jots down what she makes each night to keep an eye on it. “I have a wonderful accountant and she handles a lot of that stuff for me,” says Iris.

Short: 'A Chandelier In Every Room'

Jan 9, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Artist and teacher Jennie K. Snyder started refurbishing and staining old chandeliers after she bought a home in Carrick. “I always had this dream of having a chandelier in every room,” she says. After making the light fixtures for herself she built an online store to sell them to other people interested in something a little different. “They're not your run-of-the-mill, Pottery Barn kind of piece.” Snyder’s chandelier business is one of her many side projects; she says she’d be bored doing just one thing for work.

Short: Can I Have A Volunteer?

Jan 3, 2019
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Magician Al Hastings — who goes by the stage name Al Mazing — performs for kids and families some 250 times a year. He often asks for a volunteer from the audience, but he has learned to choose carefully. At schools, he said, “The kid you don’t pick is the one sitting beside the teacher, because they are sitting beside the teacher for a reason.”

Kevin C. Brown / WESA

Photographers know that good shots rarely happen by accident. It takes knowledge, planning, and creativity. Getting the perfect photo with Santa is no different. 

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Being human is difficult, but learning how to be human can be even more so. For the young students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Children’s School, teacher Jean Thompson Bird begins with making everyone feel included. “Everyone’s a friend and everyone can play,” she says. “That’s kind of our overarching rule.”

Gig Work

Dec 20, 2018
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Note to readers: this story features an exotic dancer and details of Santa’s life when he’s off-the-clock.

A lot of ink has been spilled describing the the “gig economy.” This sector – comprised of quasi-independent and sometimes short-term jobs – has been made famous by the rise of Uber and other tech-enabled businesses. 

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Life ends. It’s a fact, but not one that most of us encounter on a daily basis. Theresa Brown does; she’s a hospice nurse for Healthcare @ Home, part of the Allegheny Health Network. She says hospice is really about providing care for an entire family as they encounter the reality of death. “We are all going to die,” she says. “If we’re lucky we get to think about how we want to die.”

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Finding the right words can be tough. It’s something therapist Kim Hardin grapples with daily. She often works with patients who have experienced trauma, and wants to ensure they feel safe and supported as they confront their greatest challenges.

Short: Arguing Can Be Invigorating

Dec 5, 2018
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

“The English word ‘rabbi’ is derived from the Hebrew word ‘rabi’ meaning, ‘my teacher,’” explains Rabbi Seth Adelson. On a recent afternoon, he gestured toward the bookshelves that line the back of his office and said Jews have traditionally been known as the people of the book. “We are committed to writing our tradition down. We're still arguing about our ancient books,” he said. “That is what has kept us alive.”

Care Work

Nov 28, 2018
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Keeping young children safe and curious, caring for aging parents or counseling a friend suffering from heartbreak are not easy tasks. Done off-the-clock, we don’t not always think of these things as work. In this episode of 90.5 WESA’s series, Still Working, we follow four people for whom caring is part of the job description.

Short: 'Like Getting Punched In The Face'

Nov 28, 2018
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

A rainy day combined with a moss-covered tree, and Bryan McQuaid ended up with a broken bone in his shoulder. While trimming trees for an electric utility, the spikes on his shoes slipped. McQuaid’s safety harness caught him, but swung him hard into a tree.

Short: Bartender Confidential

Nov 21, 2018
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

An ice machine breaks; a cook cuts her hand; the kitchen runs out of a key ingredient early in the night. After 20 years in restaurants, bartender Nicole Battle has seen it all. No matter what is going on behind the scenes, “you're expected to be on all the time,” she said. “It’s ... insanely mentally challenging sometimes.”

Short: The Art Behind The Art

Nov 20, 2018
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Before a ballet can be performed, dancers need to know their moves, tickets must be sold, and musicians hired. Oh, and the performers need something to wear.

Short: Shoes Of The Trade

Nov 8, 2018
Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Stay on your toes. For Julia Erickson, a principal dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, this phrase is more than metaphor. It’s part of her job. And one that requires a special tool.

Bar Work

Nov 1, 2018
Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

To “set a high bar” is one of those stock phrases moms and bosses use to talk about expectations and achievement and the importance of giving your all. In this episode of Still Working, 90.5 WESA’s series about work, we took that bar literally. We shadowed a lawyer (who must pass the bar to practice), a ballerina (who begins class each day at the barre), an ironworker (“Rebar makes the world go round"), and a bartender (not going to explain that one).

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Steve Kelley spends his nights cleaning offices in downtown Pittsburgh. He’s a union janitor with SEIU 32BJ. While he makes his way through three huge floors, he thinks about music; he plays heavy metal. “It’s my heart, it’s my passion,” he says.

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