After several months of telling everyone I was “unemployed and homeless”, I now have an awesome new job – perhaps even my dream job – and a lovely new apartment. Since I haven’t posted in ages, a brief run-down of how I got here. I gave up my apartment last August and “moved” myself and the cats to my friend’s farm in the Smoky Mountains to write up my dissertation. Timing in the lab being what it is, I ended up back in Madison a few weeks later for “just a few weeks” to finish up some lab work. Instead, I spent most of the fall couch-surfing around Madison thanks to the generosity of my friends and family. Finally, at Thanksgiving, I headed back down to TN to write the three chapters of my dissertation. I got one chapter written and then found out I had been offered a fabulous job back in my home state of Florida as a zoo nutritionist at an amazing institution. So, instead of continuing to write, I took a whirlwind trip to visit friends and family all over as it might be a while before I’m “footloose and fancy-free” again. In between, I sandwiched in a fabulous family reunion to celebrate my grandparents’ 20th wedding anniversary. The reunion was a hoot because we were trying to keep it a secret from my grandparents, but none of us could keep our story straight. As just one example (there were dozens), my mother told my grandfather I was in Bradenton, my aunt told him I was in Sanibel Island, and I told him I was still in Tennessee! It was all downhill from there, and I think the lesson we all learned from this was that the family should never try to pull of a bank heist or other caper where we need to be perfectly coordinated. Clearly, that is not our modus operandii :).
Following the reunion, I took another whirlwind trip back to TN to collect the cats and my stuff (and had a whirlwind zoom through Memphis to say good bye to my friends there). On the day before I started my job, I finally arrived in Florida. I’ve rented a tiny, but very cute apartment in an old spanish-style building (4 units) on a beautiful river. My very first day here, while I was waiting for the moving truck to arrive, I sat out on the dock and saw manatees! I’ve since explored the river in my new kayak(s) and seen lots of manatees everywhere, plus fish, gators, turtles, and all manner of birds. The river near me is lined with old houses that are clearly grandfathered in from before any housing codes. Some are built hanging cantilevered out over the river, others are slowly crumbling into the river, some have been torn down and replaced with ugly cinder block mini-mansions, but most are still low, old Florida houses in all states of repair. There are always tons of people fishing along the banks with their kids, and people out fishing in little dinghys. There are plenty of Florida characters here to make life interesting – old hippies smoking pot, people having animated conversations with themselves, leathery ladies sunning themselves along the banks. It’s Florida, all right –folks, we ain’t in Wisconsin anymore! People aren’t midwest nice here and they drive like idiots, but there’s the southern hospitality and relaxed attitude that is nice to come back to as well.
As for the job, it is fabulous! I’m sure the gloss will come off after a while (I’m already tired of the endless status update meetings), but in the meantime, I’m in charge of the nutrition of over 3,000 animals of over 250 species. In practical terms, that means making diet changes every time we gain or lose an animal, and as animals grow up, get old, and go through their seasonal or annual cycles. Some animals (naturally) don’t eat much all winter, others fast most of the summer, and so diets need to be constantly tweaked to take all of this into account. I also work with the vets to adjust the diets of animals that have a clinical need for a diet change, oversee the commissary where the diets are prepared (a work in progress) and manage the budget. I’ve got a great right hand person who is a natural at the business side of things (dealing with vendors, staff, etc), for which I’m extremely grateful, as that realm is entirely new to me. For the clinical stuff, my learning curve is steep, but it’s very interesting. I like that there are definitely no two days that are even remotely the same — definitely a job to keep me on my toes! I’ve only been there three weeks today, and I’m still going around to meet the different areas. There are still many animals I haven’t seen yet (or heard of, most likely!). It’s nice – I think I’ll be out and about more with the animals than I was in Memphis, where I was mostly chained to my desk and lab. I’m really impressed with the people I’ve met so far. I’ve heard rumors of some some lingering “good ol’ boy” type mentality, but for the most part, I haven’t seen it. Everyone is doing amazing things to provide top-notch care for the animals, and is working very hard to make the working environment nice. At least a third of the people have been there more than 20 years, some nearly 40 years. The attitude is very positive, and that’s 90% of what it takes to make a place fun to work. Throw in some cool animals and what’s not to love?
I am, however, reminded of reasons I didn’t want to return to Florida. An idiot with a gun shot and and killed a teenaged black kid armed with a bag of skittles who was calmly walking away from the idiot and on his way home in the neighborhood they both lived in. The killer called 911 to report a “suspicious person”. The 911 operator told him to not approach the person, but the idiot went ahead, chased the unarmed kid, and shot him. The kids cries for help can be heard in police tapes released. Although the event is horrible, the real tragedy is that the police dragged their heels on the investigation and have still declined to charge the idiot with murder. The police are making stupid statements about how it was part of neighborhood watch (the idiot killer was not a member of neighborhood watch and didn’t follow their rules which say to avoid suspicious people and call 911, and specifically forbids watch members from carrying guns on duty) and that they aren’t racist. No! Of course not! <sarcasm> It’s just that white people all mean well, and black kids are just naturally suspicious, so absolutely ANYBODY would have done the same thing in that situation </sarcasm>. What are the chances that a black man claiming he was on “neighborhood watch” who shot and killed a white teenager would not be in jail at this point? Zero. Not that ignorance and idiocy were absent in Wisconsin (see the current governor there for a stellar example of both), but a much lower proportion of the population participated in it. Yet another round of culture shock for me *sigh*.
And on that downer of a note, I’ll say that despite all that, I’m happy to be here. I love my job, I like my apartment, I love the river and the abundance of natural beauty in Florida, and will be optimistic that people can somehow learn to treat each other decently someday.