Tales of Work in the Age of Coronavirus

Coronavirus is the Mike Tyson of flus—knocking out not only human bodies, but work lives, too. We wanted to know how people are handling the pandemic, so we’ve been interviewing people from different fields. Follow us at Find Your Road on Instagram and you’ll meet artists, musicians, restaurant workers, teachers, fitness trainers, people in finance, advertising, the healthcare industry, and the MTA, all who have one thing in common right now: they are living, working, and adapting in a Covid-19 world.

If you’re lucky enough to be doing okay, look out for the people who aren’t. Check in with them, find out what they need, take care of them, and do what you can for them. When an infectious virus with no cure attacks your livelihood, you need all the help you can get.

For more stories and strategies on people and work, follow our series @Find.Your.Road_on Instagram. Find us at SweeneyGosfield.com

The Safety Engineer: How Joe Cocciardi Found His Road

Josh Gosfield/Illustration

“My father was a fireman in Jersey City, so I’m used to emergencies. We all know what a big fire looks like. But what does a pandemic or a nuclear power failure or a food contamination crisis look like? You look out your window and it looks like every other day. The things my father did with hoses, ladders, and fire boats, we do with respirators, safety equipment, and public information. I’m in industrial hygiene, which means I design safety systems to protect people. I’ve been doing it for 40 years. I have my own company but when there’s a local, national, or global emergency, I get the call—Haitian Earthquake, 9/11, Sandy Hook, BP oil spill. I’m part of what we call an Incident Management Team. We have about 100 people with specific expertise—management, administration, logistics. In my case, safety engineering. They are two teams, an East and a West team. When an event happens everyone on the team is alerted, and the team’s activated. You’ll never see our names in the paper but there are a lot of Spider-Men like me out there protecting people. We operate under the radar, below the level of politics, and notoriety. In this case, I work with doctors and nurses in federal facilities, quarantine stations, and anywhere we’ve been requested by local governments. The doctors and nurses do the exact same thing they do every day, but now they have a different sanitation and decon procedure. They have to do it with a mask, gloves, and protective gown. It’s a massive change. I don’t tell them how to take a pulse, I tell them how to take a pulse with gloves on. I get people to engineer themselves so they can be as Herculean as possible. A lot of people on the local level are doing great work—like the Minutemen in the American Revolution—so I’m more optimistic than pessimistic about getting through this. I’ve learned no matter what the crisis is, there’s always a way out. For me, winning the game doesn’t mean being on Wide World of Sports, it means everybody else gets to watch whatever they want on TV and I get to sit on my back porch with a Corona.”

For more stories and strategies on people and work, follow our series @Find.Your.Road_on Instagram. Find us at SweeneyGosfield.com

The Teacher: How Belinda Diaz-Perez is Adapting to the Pandemic

Josh Gosfield/Illustration

“I hadn’t wanted to be a teacher, growing up. I thought I’d be an actress or a singer. Later I thought maybe a journalist. But when I got out of college my older sister was a principal, so I worked at her school as a substitute and I loved it. And I guess they loved me cause they kept asking me back. It’s been 23 years. These kids have been through the ringer with me. A few months ago we were on lockdown because of the shooting in our area. My students look to me right away to see how I react so I just keep a really calm demeanor. You’re helping mold them. They see you as much as they see their own parents. On the last day before the shut down last week, I told my students, ‘Be your best at home, help out, be respectful, your parents will be going through a lot.’ The girl who usually takes the class guinea pig home hadn’t come in the last few days because her mother was worried, so on the last day of school, I drove to their house and dropped off the guinea pig and my student’s lesson packets. I didn’t wait for the official start date for remote learning. I knew my students would need something right away. I’m not techie, but I set up a FaceBook page and invited all my students, and first thing, after the weekend, I asked them to post pictures, describe what you’re doing, tell me what you’re having for lunch. I let them know, it’s Monday, this is our classroom now, and I’m here for you all day. Right away, they were signing in, and posting pictures. And seeing all their pictures, I just started to cry. My husband said, ‘What’s wrong?’ It hit me, I won’t see them for who knows how long, and I miss them already.”

For more stories and strategies on people and work, follow our series @Find.Your.Road_on Instagram. Find us at SweeneyGosfield.com

The Fireman: How Walter Henning Found His Road

Photography Josh Gosfield

“My first day on the job as an apprentice, making $7.25 an hour, an old guy Vito tells me, ‘Kid, get outta this business as soon as you can.’ He was right. I got into the electrician’s union straight out of high school. I was on a lot of bad jobs, outdoor jobs, high rises going up. Summers were hot, winters, brutal. Electrical work, that’s what my father did. I hated it. The thing is, I was a young parent, living in my grandparents’ basement and I had to support my family. And then the letter came. There it was on the kitchen table. I checked the mailbox everyday. It was 6 years to the day since I’d passed the physical endurance test for the fire department. I was ecstatic. Tears in my eyes. I was assigned to the North Bronx, Engine 63. When you’re a probie the guys try to break you, ‘Sweep, mop, wash the dishes.’ I’m like, ‘You kidding me? My previous job was so bad, this is nothing.’ I remember my first fire. A house in the Bronx. You gotta get close to the fire. It was so pitch black inside I couldn’t see the guy in front of me. He had the nozzle. I was 2nd guy on the line. The hose has tremendous back pressure. I was fighting it like crazy to let the nozzle guy do his job. After we put out the fire, I see the kids’ school pictures on the wall. Blackened with smoke. I still remember the girl’s face. It hit me, the destruction. Smoke destroys everything. The family was out in the street, devastated. I realized this isn’t some movie. This isn’t glory boy stuff. You’ve got a job to do. Protect people’s property. Protect their lives. Every other job people are saying no all the time. But as firemen, we never get to say ‘No.’ 26 years later I still love it. I’m 52. I’m going to transfer back to the neighborhood I grew up in, City Island. Full circle. My pregnant daughter lives a block away. One son’s in #FDNY too, the other’s about to start. My youngest daughter is a cosmetologist. It’s bittersweet. My career’s almost over, but this job saved my life.”

For more stories and strategies on people and work, follow our series @Find.Your.Road_on Instagram.

The Tour Guide: How Curt Found His Road

Curt Upton of Foods of NY Tours
Tour Guide Curt Upton (center) from Foods of NY Tours explores the heart of Greenwich Village with a flock of out-of-town foodies. Photo by Josh Gosfield

“My first tour was nerve-wracking. I was at Cornelia and Bleecker, looking at all these people as I tried to memorize all the facts and scripts in my head. I just came out and told them, ‘I’m feeling very nervous.’ They were very welcoming to that. Now, I can go up to a group and have them giggling in 3 minutes. They deserve it. They’ve spent good money on the experience, and for many of them, coming to New York is the trip of a lifetime. How did I get here? My father died in a car accident before I was born. My mother was very difficult to live with, so at 16, I left home. When I was 17, I quit high school. I wanted to be a comedian or an actor so I bought a 1-way ticket to London. The plan was, become a model and get an agent. I modeled in London and Milano. I was only 20 and I had no family support so I had to keep swimming or I’d drown.

I moved back to Vancouver, took acting classes, did some film work, theater, improv, and stand-up. But unless you want to do children’s theater, the ceiling for actors in Vancouver is very low. Quentin Crisp, an old British writer I met, convinced me to move to NYC when he said, ‘The streets are paved with happiness.’ I got a job at Lola’s restaurant and was suddenly making $1500 a week. But I’m Canadian and I had horrible problems with my papers. My casting director couldn’t cast me in anything. By then I was working in a restaurant run by psycho freaks. I was drinking bourbon in the morning thinking, ‘This couldn’t get any worse.’ That’s when these local tours started coming by. Being a tour guide isn’t something you go to school for but I thought, ‘I’d be very good at this.’ The people on these tours want to feel special. And I’m looking for a genuine connection, too. Unless the person’s a horrible jerk. It’s important that people are nice to each other. That’s all we got.”

You’ll find Curt leading highly entertaining tours @foodsofnytours & plotting his dream TV series “On the Water” where he sails along the Hudson River, stopping in towns for local food adventures.

Join the community and follow @Find.Your.Road_ for more stories & strategies of how people find work they love that pays the bills. 

The Composer: How Karina Is Finding Her Road

Sixteen-year-old Karina. Photo by @josh_gosfield 

“I had my first piano lesson at 7. My parents were trying to get rid of me, so they enrolled me in after school piano lessons at my elementary school. I liked the music. I related to it emotionally. I was an extremely hyperactive kid and music seemed like a good way to express my emotions. Afterwards I told my parents, ‘I want to go back.’ When I was 10, I met my first serious piano teacher. Genya is Russian, very loving but very tough. She said ‘You’ve been playing wrong and you’re very far behind but I can fix you. I just need three years and you need to work really hard.’ I wanted to be a pianist so badly I didn’t care how many hours I had to practice. It was home from school. Dinner at 3:30. Straight to the piano. Practice four to eight hours. Homework last. I wouldn’t always sleep a lot. I didn’t hang out with people much because I was always practicing. Music was all I had.

I like solo recitals best, but I get extremely nervous. I’m shaking, nauseous. I don’t even wanna go on stage. To keep myself focused, I tell myself a story. For example the piece I’m playing now by the composer Schnittke, is very angular and dance-like, I imagine these weird characters, not really human, maybe circus characters. At the end there’s a climax with lots of cluster chords and very loud sounds. Then it just completely relaxes. I imagine the characters turning to ash, barely alive, trying to stay together. If it’s a good performance, I feel good. At 15, Genya told me, it probably wouldn’t work out for me to be a solo pianist. That’s why I went more into composition. I’ve always loved composition. I composed my first piece at 9 for piano and vibraphone. It was 30 seconds. I can take a situation or a feeling and put music to it. I can take people’s personalities—if they’re super speedy and loud and talk a lot and say weird things—and imitate them in my music. My goal is to get into a college with a great contemporary music program. I’ll probably have to do a lot of non-music-related stuff in order to make my music career work. It’s a little out of my comfort zone but I’m not gonna stop.”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills.

Follow us on IG @Find.Your.Road_ to join the Find Your Road community.

 

The Motorman: How Mel Found His Road

“At 12, I was the coolest guy ever!” Mel Wright is 3rd generation transit family working for New York City’s MTA.

“I grew up in Alphabet City where we peddled things we shouldn’t have been peddling. I hung out with people that were associated with it and we’d do things like lookout for them on the corner for $75 a day. Fortunately my transit job took me away from the streets and saved my life. I come from a transit family. Starting with my grandfather. Back then, in the 60’s, if you were a person of color, you started as a porter, cleaning, then worked your way up to token clerk to conductor to motorman. My grandfather, his three brothers, my father and uncle all worked for the MTA. As a kid I was infatuated with the trains. In the morning, while my father was sleeping I’d grab his train keys. My friends were like, ‘Hey, Mel’s got the keys!’ At 12, I was the coolest guy ever. I’d be in the last car on the subway on the way to school. I’d unlock the conductor cab door, look inside, and show it to my friends. Sometimes I’d press the button on the PA and announce, ‘Next stop, Coney Island!’ The passengers would be like, ‘What?! We’re nowhere near Coney Island!’ At 14 I took my father’s rule book to learn the signal system. I’d ride in the front car looking out the window. I knew when the train was going to turn left or right by the signals. I carried that book religiously until I ingrained every signal in my mind. I guess that’s when I said, ‘I really want to drive the train someday.’

I love being behind the controls of 400 tons of steel. You’re on the express track from 34th to West 4th flying through. You’re at the helm of an underground behemoth with all this power behind you barreling down, and the finale is stopping your train right at the end of the station. When you master that, it’s a real thrill. Sure, I had to work holidays and it took 19 years to get weekends off. I missed some of my kids’ games and recitals and I’m sorry for that. Now I’m eligible to retire, but I’m still married to the job. When I look back, I see that it gave me a lot of joy. I was never broke. I was able to take care of my family, travel, and have a place to live. It’s been a nice ride. Who knew 32 years would go by so quickly?”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills.

Follow us on IG @Find.Your.Road_ to join the Find Your Road community.

You can find Mel on IG @MultiMediaMel

The Hat Lady: How Linda Pagan Found Her Road

Linda Pagan from @TheHatShopNY “Hats! There it was, right on top of my head.” Hat-lovers and the hat-curious can visit Linda’s shop in Soho in NYC. Photo by @Josh_Gosfield

“When I graduated college in 1980, there was a recession. I went to a temp agency, took a typing test, and they sent me down to Wall Street to a reinsurance broker for Lloyd’s. I started off as the receptionist and worked my way up to being a broker doing million dollar deals. I had a great night life and great boyfriends, but after 10 years of looking forward to Friday every Monday, I stopped pretending. I was 31. They had no choice but to fire me. My boss cried when he let me go saying, ‘For 10 years you’ve been a square peg in a round hole.’ I took an occupational test. It came back I’d be great in the army. Oh my God, I love uniforms, but I don’t like to be shot at! All my artist and musician friends worked in restaurants so I went to bartending school. I landed a great job at an elegant bar that brought back the martini. One night, behind the bar, a light bulb went off in my head. I said I really love bartending, but I’m 35. It’s a very demanding job. You need to be physically fit and I love people but there’s a lot of alcoholism. I asked myself, ‘What else do I love that I can I make a living at?’ I made a list of my hobbies: Reading, writing, meeting friends for coffee, second-run movie theaters, going to Turkish baths, history, travel. A Turkish bath-style spa? It was beyond my means. A second-run movie house? Same thing. Then I thought about hats. Hats! There it was, right on top of my head.

I’ve always loved hats. I still have my first hat from primary school when I lived in England. See, it’s beautiful. It’s sueded felt and top stitched. It’s got a fine French grosgrain, an embroidered emblem, and a finished bow. In the 70’s I wore a red hat with daisies. In college, a bowler hat. On Wall Street, a beret. At the bar, lots of hats. Hats became part of my identity. Let’s get Linda hats for her birthday! The baseball cap came back in 1985, I figured now it’s 1993 there must be a certain percentage of people who want a nicer hat. I asked around and everybody thought it was a great idea except for two people. My parents. But I did it anyway.”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills.

Follow us on IG @Find.Your.Road_ to join the Find Your Road community.

The World Traveler: How Josh Valentin Found His Road

Josh Valentin @theworldtraveler has been to six continents & seen every Wonder of the World.

“I grew up in East New York during one of the worst crime epidemics to ever hit the United States. Crack, gangs, murder. I remember playing 3-second-hold football on the street and seeing the planes taking off from JFK. Planes. I wished I was on them. I didn’t care where they were flying to. Anywhere would have been better than the ghetto. That sparked my desire to see the world. In college, where I was recruited to play football, I grabbed the opportunity to major in Merchant Marine studies and international trade. I figured with those degrees I could go a lot of places. As a cadet, and later as a Merchant Marine boat captain, I sailed all around the world. At 24, I had a new goal to travel full time and work for myself. I left my secure career. The risk paid off. I run my own company now, remotely. I live between NYC and the Bahamas with my wife and 3 children and I’ve traveled to 6 continents and every Wonder of the World.”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills. Visit us @Camille_Sweeney on IG to see more and share with the community there (in the comments) how you found your road.

The Motivational Speaker: How Jae Found Her Road

Jae Scott @JaeScottStyle shares stories on how to find your purpose with groups around the world.

HOW JAE SCOTT FOUND HER ROAD: “After both my parents passed (Dad, when I was 3 months old, Mom, when I was 7), I was raised by my grandmother in Washington D.C.. She had 10 children and I have roughly 30 first cousins, and we called her Gangsta Grammy cause she would tell us stories about when she was a girl in New Orleans and she wouldn’t get into a fight with another girl, she’d say, ‘Girl, I’m not going to fight you. Go get your brother.’ Grammy would fight the brother and win. Here I was this nice quiet girl with a high-pitched baby voice, really into fashion, but that was by no accident. My grandmother would have me looking all fresh. She prided herself in up keep. We both would get our hair done every two weeks. That didn’t sit well with the other girls in school. They would just get jealous. I had a tough time. There was a lot of confrontation. At night I would sit up in Grammy’s room with her. She’d sit on the edge of her bed and I would roll her hair and tell her about my day and what was going on at school, and she’d say, ‘If you don’t learn to stand up to people now and speak your mind, you’ll be running for the rest of your life.’ Grammy was fierce. She didn’t back down. She told me if someone came after me and I didn’t stand up for myself, she’d be the one to show me tough love. One day in school, there was this girl. She was big. I mean really big. The girl said something to me in the hallway, after bullying several people. I thought about backing down. Then I just made up my mind. I said, ‘Here we go.’ I took off my boots with little chunky heels and started hitting her with them. After that, the girl stopped bullying me. Eventually, we became friends. I’ve always been a fashionista so after college, I studied fashion merchandising and specialized in fashion show production and personal shopping in grad school. I got a fairy tale job as an assistant to a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman. Some of my heroes shopped there. Cicley Tyson, Diana Ross. I learned a lot as an assistant. Then I moved to a new department and became one of the youngest personal shoppers. I learned there, too, but the people were cutthroat and territorial. The focus shifted from me helping my clients define their style to me defending my turf. I realized, life’s too short. As tough as Grammy was, she was big on us sticking together as a family. I saw a way to bring that type of sticking together kind of thing into my work. Ever since I was a young girl I’ve used my voice to make my mark. I realized the most powerful way to use my gifts would not be to style people, but to share those lessons I’d learned from my grandmother about the essence of realness, the core values of faith, the power of consistency, the power of love, the power to follow my heart, and the power I have within myself to make sure I’m equipped to grasp whatever I want in this world. That’s what I do now.”

You can find @JaeScottStyle going to places like South Africa and Dubai to speak and organize events to encourage, inspire and challenge women to stand up, stick together, and find their purpose.

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills. Visit us @Camille_Sweeney on IG to see more, and share with the community there in the comments what valuable lesson someone in your family’s taught you.