An ode to some of America’s most courageous and unsung workers

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Once, many years ago, I took a bus trip up North Avenue in Milwaukee to apply for a window-washing job, partly because I really enjoy heights, and was a mountain climber of sorts in those days, having scaled a number of mountains in the Tetons.

I never made it to the window washing job, because instead of getting off at 30th and North, I mistakenly, or perhaps subconsciously, got off at 3rd and North, where the Radio Doctors Soul Shop was located.

I said, “dang,” and then “oh, well,” and walked up to Radio Docs and saw a sign for “help wanted.” I went in and got a job there that day as an album buyer and store clerk, which helped determine my future in music and the arts, as a journalist.

But yesterday, when I returned home — after hearing Steve Cohen and Li’l Rev play some down-home blues for lunch hour at Anodyne Coffee on S. Kinnickinnick Ave. — I came face-to-face with people working in high, vertically-challenging places where ordinary humans rarely tread. I found a small mountain of detritus from an old roof being torn up and tossed down on the sidewalk of the side-door entrance to my upper flat, in Riverwest.

I was immediately struck and a bit fascinated by the tough, daring work of these roofers. The roofers carry each of the large plywood panels up a wobbly, two-and-a-half-story-tall ladder, while hanging on to the heavy, cumbersome wood panel with one hand and to the ladder with the other hand (see below).


Notice that on a roof this steep the workers need belay ropes to secure them. But there’s still plenty of danger. These appear to be primarily Latino roofers, who work hard and didn’t stop until it grew too dark to see your next step. They’re at it again this morning. You get a sense of some of the rest of the job, I hope, in these photos.

I shot these roof views from my second-floor flat and balcony, so they are up fairly high..

So I offer this little photo essay as a tribute to roofers. They help to beautify and protect our homes. Yet this is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Here’s an article on that

The risks and skills of roofers hold much less glamour than, say, skyscraper construction workers. But they are, in their own way, the sort of workers who have made America great, for a long time — house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, city by city.

As I crane my neck to watch them, my hat falls off to them.

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Rooftop tightrope


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Here a roofer measures the size of a top corner which will need on odd-shaped slab of plywood, the base material for the roof, beneath the shingles to come.

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Stripping the old roof (previous three photos).

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The walkway to the entrance to my upper flat, on the right.

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