Yesterday I worked a nine-hour shift at the Pearl Bakery in Portland as part of a food magazine article I’m writing. I got there at 3AM and helped make dough and form hundreds of loaves. In particular, forming the already-made dough into Ciabatta, baguette, Kaiser rolls, and pastries was a lot harder than I expected. Each one required a very precise hand motion, which had to be repeated hundreds of times as a group of us churned out enough bread to be sold at several markets and restaurants throughout the city. You had to make sure after folding over the flattened piece of dough that the seam was on the bottom. You had to shape certain loaves in a meticulous oval that was at once properly kneaded but still of sufficient shape to rise properly. And it all had to be done according to a rigid schedule that anticipated scores of other steps to follow.
The article is about a company called Vocation Vacations, which allows participants to choose one of several different careers and basically participate in a job shadow. For some it’s a trial run for a career change. For others it’s just to see what another life is like for a spell before going back to your own. You can be a TV producer, a winemaker, even a cowboy (misguided voting tendencies are hopefully not required for that job).
On a personal level, the practical applications of Vocation Vacations don’t interest me very much because I’m not seeking a career change. But the idea of walking in somebody else’s shoes for a day or two is something I find fascinating. With the Pearl Bakery stint, not only was it fascinating to spend a day behind the scenes as all this terrific bread was being made, but it was also a treat—despite the brutal 2:30AM wakeup time—to observe a city asleep. I drove from our apartment in Southeast through downtown to Northwest Portland to get to the Pearl Bakery, and I saw maybe five cars the entire time.
Considering an imaginary list of things that will never happen, I think it would be great for the country if everybody had to do another person’s job now and then, just to get a sense of how it feels: both the work itself and what it requires to go there and do it everyday. Not to get all “Kum-ba-ya”, but we’d probably all get along a lot better.
And in my case, it didn’t hurt getting a free Parisienne loaf to take home.