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.

 

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.

Kevin C. Brown / 90.5 WESA

Emergency room physician Dr. Tom Martin doesn’t mind living in the past, a little bit. When he goes home, he spends time thinking about his night and patients. But it isn’t what went right that he wants to remember.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Being prepared is not just a motto for the Boy Scouts. When the mercury plummets, evening breaking news reporter Andrew Goldstein of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette knows the value of having the right tool for the job.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

As far as Justin Bongiorni is concerned you can keep your toast, your gourmet sandwiches, your extravagant grilled cheese. For the head baker at Allegro Hearth Bakery, bread stands alone. “I don't need to add anything to it, really. It's fine just like that for me.”

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Steve Kelley spends his nights working more than twenty stories up. It can be scary sometimes—all alone, high off the ground in Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center—especially when he can see lightning flash through the huge windows. But most often it’s peaceful, says the union janitor with SEIU 32BJ: “Just the work and me.” Night work is essential to the economy, but it can often be invisible, even hazardous. 

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Baseball is full of disappointments: strikeouts, fielding errors, hitting into double plays. And in the minors, those moments carry extra weight; every guy has his sights set on getting called up to the big leagues. For Jonathan Schwind, there was only one way to stay positive through a long season: take it one day at a time.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Lowell Friedline struck out on his own as a dairy farmer in 1988 when he started buying his farm in installments from his dad. By the time his father died, Friedline was nearly debt-free. It’s been part of his philosophy ever since: don’t buy what you don’t know how to pay for. But for small farms like the one he and his family work, the margins are slim.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Whistles are essential equipment for a number of jobs: gym teacher, football referee, traffic cop. But the humble whistle is perhaps most at home in the hands of a lifeguard, as Alexxis Turner explained. She was the head guard for Phillips Pool in the City of Pittsburgh.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Field maintenance can mean the difference between a cleanly fielded grounder or a nasty hop, between a successful sprint to first base or a fall in the infield. At People’s Natural Gas field, home to the Double-A team the Altoona Curve and 100 miles east of Pittsburgh, it all rests on McClain Murphy’s shoulders. He’s the head groundskeeper.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Millions of Americans work outside, in agriculture and fishing, construction and shipping, and in the burgeoning outdoor hospitality industry. While it may seem dreamy to office workers the world over, people who work outside often face tougher conditions, from longer hours or seasonal work to how much their bodies can take. In this episode of Still Working, we talk with a minor league baseball playera dairy farmer, and a City of Pittsburgh lifeguard. Each of their workplaces carries a whiff of nostalgia: the glory of a summer ballgame, the steadfastness of the small American farmer, the sweet relief of the pool on a scorcher of a summer day. But they’re also challenging places to work.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Every morning, staggered by time zones and separated by continents, people around the world wake up and go to work. No two people are the same, and everyone experiences the world differently. Yet we all share one thing in common: we have to go to work.