Monday, May 17, 2004

APRIL 20, cont'd

This post concludes our tour of Horizons Unlimited, a sheltered workshop on the south edge of Emmetsburg. Teresa Murphy has been my tour guide. We have been in the "Creative Stitches" portion of the plant, and have just entered the screen printing area.

Pam Hartman was at work in the screen printing room when we entered. She said that screen printing allows customers to put a bigger design on a shirt at lower cost. At least twelve of the same item must be ordered at once, from one color to four colors per design.

The first step in silk screening is to burn the design onto a piece of light sensitive material that will be placed on the silk screening machine to allow ink at certain places on the T-shirt or sweatshirt, and to keep ink away from other areas. The material has a light sensitive emulsion. Where the light touches, that area opens up to allow ink through.

The design is burned; the material is put in place on the silk screen machine for production. A shirt to be imprinting is stretched out to expose and flatten the area to which ink is to be applied. The silk screen is brought down onto the shirt, ink is squeegee'd over the design and gets left on the fabric.

Four color designs are the hardest to set up. The separate colors all have to be registered to each other on the first shirt. Thereafter the equipment maintains that same register from shirt to shirt.

Stretchy fabrics are the most difficult to deal with, simply because they stretch. "We have to put an additive in the ink to make it stretch when the fabric stretches," Pam said.

When printing a light color on a dark fabric, ink gets laid down twice, to make the light color ink opaque enough to cover the dark background.

Between each color or a repetition of the same color, a lamp is used to set the ink on the fabric so it doesn't smear during the next application. When printing has been completed, the shirt is run through a heater which finishes the drying of the ink. At that point, the shirt can be safely handled for packaging.

Consumers from Horizons Unlimited sort the shirts by design and by size and package them up for delivery to the customer. Consumers also clip extra thread from stitched logos and remove excess backing, then fold and package the stitched products, too.

Then Teresa and I were headed back to the front of the building. I had seen everything there was to see, except we still had to poke our nose into the financial department. The Director of Finance, Pam Beschorner, was busy on the phone in her office, but we said hello to Kitty Schneider, who handles accounts payable, and Sue Leonard, who does the accounts receivable. Sue is the one who keeps track of the per diem owed to Horizons Unlimited by county or state for services to consumers at the plant, as well as per diem for consumers living in the group homes.

I wondered how accounts receiveable at Horizons Unlimited might differ from that of another kind of organization. "We may have to keep track of more things here," Sue thought, "things related to Medicare and Social Security, for instance."

Soon enough Teresa and I were standing in her "other" office near the front door. I asked why she was working at Horizons Unlimited. "I needed a job," she responded, almost as a question. She had started out in criminal justice, in corrections, but "decided that wasn't for me."

Linda Detrick, the Plant Manager, was answering phones for a bit, and while Teresa had to step away for a moment, I talked with Linda. Linda has been at Horizons for twenty-six years, longer than any other staff member.

"How are you different now than when you started here?" I asked.

"More patience," Linda said.

"Why have you stayed so long?"

"At one time I was supporting a daughter," she said. "Now I'm kinda stuck here."

"I went to school for art," she said.

"To be honest," she said, "I love it here. I love being around the guys." She means the people everyone else calls "consumers." Linda feels reward "to see that you can do something for them."

"It was my dream to go somewhere in art," Linda said. "I draw about once a year now, a Christmas card."

"Maybe when I retire..." she added, almost wistfully.

Teresa had returned. "Are you going to be here twenty-six years?" I asked her.

"That's a tough question," she said.

Both Teresa and Linda enjoy seeing the consumers making progress. "We do goof around a lot with them," Linda said. "They like to interact with the community. Some bowl on 'regular' bowling teams. We have guys who can bowl way better than a lot of us. They have Special Olympics softball, basketball, volleyball, field and track. They go to movies. Two guys went to Florida on a guided tour, to visit the Minnesota Twins training camp." When Linda said "regular," you could hear the quotation marks she put around the word.

Linda left me with this. One person they care for got sick and had to be taken to the hospital.

"She almost died," Linda said. "Her family wasn't able to come to see her. I went up to the hospital every day. These people are our family, our friends."



This continues our discussion about "the construction of place," started in our post of April 28, and continued on April 29, April 30, May 10, May 11, May 13, May 14, and May 16, in response to the article "A Case Study in the Construction of Place: Boundary Management as Theme and Strategy in Canadian Art and Life" by Gaile McGregor. I have been highlighting points of interest from that article and considering them from the perspective of my Vagabond in the Middle project.

McGregor says: "If they aren't writing about difference (borders, boundaries, edges and margins are endemic among recent Canadian book titles), they are contemplating ways to connect. The classic topic for Canadian historians has been the role played by communication and transportation networks in the development of civilization in general and Canadian society in particular."

Communication and transportation have been important issues for most middle westerners, not just for our historians, and they remain important issues today. Middle western communities these days want high speed internet access and wireless access, to attract those sorts of jobs that can be done anywhere if such infrastructure exists; then they can use the peace and serenity and lovely pace of their lifestyle as selling points to lure entrepreneurs. The interstate system is the railroad of our age: communities along the interstate thrive, or at least hold on, while other communities languish. Towns stretch out or migrate to envelope their interstate exits, the way towns used to move themselves up alongside the railroad. Here we used to talk about "market roads," ones designated for farmers to bring their goods to market in town. Now the concept might be expanded from its original "farm-to-town" context to mean "rural-area-to-world," and to include the makers and manufacturers in our communities. If no one will drive that far off the interstate to buy what you have to sell, really you have nothing to sell. We might like to think "this is the electronic age," but the middle west is still very much a physical place where goods have to be shipped great distances. In fact, in a world of e-commerce you still need warehouses and trucking companies, UPS and Fed Ex. Middle westerners will volunteer to fill these roles: it is work we understand. But, ah, the great distance from the interstate, that will be a problem for some of our communities.


MAY 15, 1998

It is the middle of May already, and nearly five months since I started keeping this journal. It is another fine day, with thunderstorms promised for late in the afternoon or evening. It is too early to gauge the worth of what I record here, except perhaps to express amazement: (1) that I am faithful to the task; and (2) that there is anything still to be said. I do watch the weather, the fields, my hawk. I am watching low spots recover from this wetness. I watch the birds - call of the robin, sound of mourning dove flying from my driveway. The flowers. The color of grass. None of this is of earth-shattering importance; much of it is of no importance at all. But it is real. And what I have learned - that I don't see very well, that there are things I miss even as I look right at them. And this is when I want to see. Think about the people who hurry past in their daily rush - how much do they miss? Does it matter?

The tall grass is being cut into windrows in the field where the canning company sprays its waste water. There is haze in the distance - what you think of when you say "Canada," "early morning," "looking out across a roll of wilderness."

Is that my hawk flying two miles north of its usual haunts? It has the right coloration but maybe is not quite big enough.

It is amazing how fast the fields planted to crops have been turning green.

At Five Corners, the fellow is working his flower beds again. He's wearing a baseball cap today, not a floppy hat. He is a barrel of a man, like a retired farmer or factory worker, not at all what you'd expect to see tending flowers but here nonetheless.

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