Written by: Nick Rokicki
My existence in one paragraph:
Born-and-raised in Toledo. Worked at a dream job at age 19, when I was too immature to realize that it was. Moved to the suburbs of Detroit for work. That work allowed me to travel the world. Relocated to Maui in order to launch a business and drink beer on the beach. Head hung down, disappointed as can be, returned to Toledo for matters of family.
Call me an optimist, but my story is just beginning.
“That’s not your line of work.”
“You’re not gonna make it.”
“Nick, you’ll get bored and quit.”
And for the first few days, I thought the naysayers in my life were correct. My body hurt. I was sweating at work for the first time in my life. The couch was the only thing I saw once I finally did get home after a shift. Ibuprofen and Ben-Gay were staples of my shopping cart.
Then, something changed. My brain and body experienced what Ms. Winfrey would call an “aha!” moment. Unfortunately, it took a low moment in the life of another in order for me to see my world with clarity.
Something in the factory broke down one night and “the line” was not operating for a few hours. Huddled around the break table, a few of us began talking about hobbies, previous careers, families, etc. One guy used to be in a band. One had previously remodeled kitchens. Another guy had given up an amateur radio hobby. Eventually, someone remarked, “So, this is where dreams come to die.”
My thought? Only if you let it.
My grandfather worked at Jeep for 38 years. I’m not talking about today’s clean, white-sparkling-floor, ergonomically-correct, everything-has-a-place, ultra-organized factory. He worked at the old dirty, greasy Willys complex, where now only a smokestack remains. We’ve got it easy compared to the work those folks did.
But I couldn’t imagine my Grandpa Myrel sitting around talking about dreams dying. First of all, he wouldn’t have had time for such a leisurely conversation. After all, he was a farmer and a substitute mail carrier, too. But his dreams didn’t die— his work fueled the dreams of his entire family.
And the whole generation of autoworkers like him built this city. Their paychecks were the building blocks of an economy… an economy that spurred restaurants and repair services, clothing stores and coffee shops, hospitals and hotels. Now, it’s happening again. People are buying cars, Chrysler is paying me, I’m spending money at local businesses, helping the dreams of others live on.
Some of us will build our own dreams in a more direct fashion. Personally, I invest a majority of my paycheck into the books I write for children. I do it because it’s my passion and it’s my dream to eventually make a living off these books.
On the line next to me, I see the owner of a local pizza joint working his 60-hours a week building cars. He’s doing it so that his dream survives while the economy slowly improves.
Joe the Plumber works in a different part of the complex. I don’t know what dream he’s chasing… celebrity, congressman, whatever. But I bet it’s something.
2004 Olympic Boxer and local guy Devin Vargas works on dayshift. Not because his dream died, but because we should work to keep on fueling new dreams.
On February 14th, 1997, the Toledo Blade distributed more than 170,000 “Valentine Cards” to Chrysler. These were displayed all over the city… in homes, businesses, cars, billboards. I was a freshman in high school. But I remember, everywhere I turned, seeing, “Toledo Loves Its Jeep.” This community fought— and hard— to keep producing Jeeps here. The wisdom of the generation before us knew: good jobs=dreams fulfilled.
“So, this is where dreams come to die.” That bad attitude runs through a certain swath of people in this community— not only where I work, but all over. And too many times, their negativity seeps into the rest of us. Sure, my head was hanging low when I moved back to the area in 2011. But it’s all in our head. We, as individuals on a daily basis, face the choice… is this were dreams come to die?
Not for me. The Glass City is my home. I’m proud to be a part of the new generation of folks working at a Toledo tradition. And in the future months, I hope to join Jeremy (and the other writers here) in showing you why iheartglasscity.