I took my car to a car wash because it had been way too long (if you know what I mean) and it was looking like dirt on wheels. After the wash there was still a big stain that wouldn’t come off no matter what, so I asked the owner of the car wash what could be done about it. He said that it was a water stain and that it would cost at least $60 to remove. I told him that I didn’t have $60 for this and maybe it would come off if I kept scrubbing it. He said that I could damage the paint by scrubbing and that I should try to use some white vinegar.
Anyway, the guy was really nice. As we were talking, he noticed that I had a license plate holder with my university name on it. He asked me about what I did for work and I told him that I was a part-time professor at FRRU*. He then began telling me about his daughter and how she was actually a student at FRRU and that she was currently studying abroad in France under the direction of world-renowned filmmakers. I told him that she was lucky and that I wished I had gone abroad when I was her age.
He then began talking about careers and asking my opinion about which direction his children should go. I told him to encourage his children to do anything except getting Ph.D.’s and becoming college professors (jokingly but really). Anyway, he was surprised and he asked why, so I told him that 76% of all faculty were adjuncts and that we didn’t get paid much, had no benefits, had terrible working conditions and no hope for things improving.
So then came the zinger…he said: “But you do it ’cause you love it right? It must be amazing to mold young minds! You’re doing it for the kids, etc. etc..” So I told him that I didn’t love anything THAT much and especially anything that was going to leave me destitute** at the end of it. I also told him that he would never say that to medical doctors and surgeons–that they’re doing what they’re doing for the love of it, because they want to save lives so they should be ok with minimum wage because their work is their calling. The guy totally agreed and said that he had never thought about it that way.
I think I made the guy feel guilty because at the end of our conversation, he said: “You know what? I’m just gonna do this for you and take care of the stain on your car.” It took him 2 minutes (a few sprays of a cleaning product and a few rubs) to take care of the stain for which he was going to charge me $60 (which is more than what I would make for giving an hour long mathematics lecture at the university, which takes many free hours of labor to prepare).
*FRRU stands for Filthy Rich Religious University, a pseudonym for where I work.
** Caveat: I know destitute is a relative term and particularly in the context of seeing the day laborers at this particular car wash, who were actually doing all the hard work of cleaning cars for low wages. I realize that their stories are completely absent from this narrative and I am much more privileged than they are as I have a Ph.D. and am having my car washed by them. I believe that everyone needs a living wage, including day laborers and adjunct faculty. Given this, I also have about $150,000 in debt and I make about $18,000 a year with no health or retirement benefits, so IF (because my privilege affords me choices) I continue on this path I will be destitute by the time I retire.