Vagneur: Labor pains |

Vagneur: Labor pains

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It’s a stroke of good fortune that I’ve had few jobs I didn’t like. To be honest, I haven’t really had very many jobs, which tips the scales in favor of the preceding sentence.

There was the time, though, during the Aspen Mountain ski patrol strike, when Hod Nicholson offered me a job at Aspen Laundry and Cleaners. Desperate for money (it’s hard to live on a $10 a week Teamsters strike pay, especially when it’s paid in cash at the Red Onion), I took the job and, besides, I’d never worked in a place like that. My duties were to help Blue Neal iron and fold commercial sheets for the many guest and lodge rooms in town — a night job, no less. It was monotonous, mind-numbing work, which Blue took in stride, but it killed me after three nights.

It was Blue’s second job, as he was the unparalleled pressman (as well as excellent photographer) for The Aspen Times during the day. He and his brother, whose name escapes me right now (Earl?), managed a fine catering company on the side. In the best Aspen tradition, these two very tall, affable, discerning black men operated in the still-remaining glow of their predecessor, Hannibal Brown, and chose their clients with judicious care.

This was the very early 1970s and I wonder: Did they (the Neal brothers) start this tradition of working more than one job to stay flush in this valley? Or were they the exceptions at the time? Today, people sometimes seem to wear the number of jobs they have as a badge of honor, making one wonder the real necessity of such sweat expenditure.

Back in elementary school, over there in the Red Brick building, we discussed the lives of peasants in the Middle Ages and the feudal system that supposedly kept them miserable and tied to the land merely by the accident of birth. However, unlike today, there were many feasts, holidays and celebrations that needed to be honored, and amazingly this allowed, in sum total, anywhere from three to four months off each year. These were similar to today’s paid holidays — that’s what you call a brutal party schedule.

If you’ve never worked in agriculture, you’re likely unaware of the opportunity to gaze at the sky above, to eat your lunch in the cool of the tall trees surrounding open land, to breathe air unadulterated by conditioners or heaters and to enjoy the laid back pace that promotes peace of mind. The workers of the Middle Ages may have been the last of the human race to truly enjoy leisurely lives.

We traded all that leisure time and clean air in for … money. Money drives the wheels that carry us through this life, and we are so entrenched in our monetary systems that we’ll likely never escape. And in some ways, we are no more advanced than those medieval days whence instead of money, serfs and peasants were obligated to offer a portion of their produce to the lord of the estate. We don’t do that anymore — we just pay taxes. Every time we spend a nickel, we pay some kind of tax.

Are we any happier than the peasants of old? I seriously doubt it, for unless we’re wealthy, a member of the lucky sperm club or retired, we don’t enjoy the leisure time that they had.

Some years ago, I started a company, one of its missions being to eliminate overtime for my employees. My thought was that since we live in such a majestic valley, people should have more time, leisure time to spend with their families and friends. Quality of life became a popular subject of interest. When an employee hit 40 hours in a week, I sent him home until the start of the next week.

At first there was a lot of grumbling and serious attempts at thwarting the system, but after a while, the workers began to understand the concept and instead of hitting “40” midweek, dog tired and hoping for overtime pay, they managed to get their work done more effectively and efficiently and had some quality time off. Eventually, for a 40-hour week, they were paid the same as what they were making when they clocked in with 55 to 60 hours. The work got done faster, the men got more time off, the customers were happier and so was the owner.

Whether you work for someone or own your own business, it’s time to seriously think about creating more leisure time in your life. Maybe we need to change the paradigm so we don’t have to work long, tedious hours at various jobs, or feel compelled to answer our cellphones every after-hours time they beckon. It won’t happen overnight, but maybe we should begin the conversation.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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