I used to tell people I was a Periodic Hydraulic Consumption Monitor and they would get this blank look until I explained I was a water meter reader. I worked for the city of Valdosta one Summer, and actually, despite the heat, it was one of the better jobs I had ever had. Think about it: you’re on your own for the whole day. No one is checking on you, no one is standing over you, and you meet a lot of dogs. What could be better? Honestly, I could finish off this entire year with Stories from the Meter Box, and each one would be entirely different. I held a record at one point for the most meters read in one day, and with 99% accuracy.
Other than the heat, which I was mostly immune to because I had worked in the fields as a young man, the only other drawback was fire ants. For those of you not from The South, the fire ant is a tiny any that lives in dirt mounds, which when disturbed, attacks by the hundreds, nay, the thousands and maybe even the billions. As small as they might be, they have horrible stings that burn like, well, fire. Fire ants discovered meter boxes make for incredibly good homes and it was a constant struggle not to get eaten alive each and every day.
Yet it was still a great job. I have always loved to walk, and it was outside. We worked ten hours a day and I tried to see how fast I could go in one shift. Also, there were neighborhoods in Valdosta that I might have never otherwise seen. The poorer sections of town were unknown to me, and I was amazed at some of the dilapidated buildings that passed for homes. But there were also very small, but extremely neat houses, postage stamp lawns manicured to perfection, and architecture long passed from better funded areas that were still well taken care of, despite the years.
Generally speaking, poorer people are friendlier folk. They’re more likely to offer water or soft drinks to a meter reader, and also more likely to offer shelter from a thunderstorm. The people with no money don’t obsess over losing it, and live more closely to other people rather than the things they own.
The summer was winding down. The sun was coming up later, the mornings were cooler, and my time with the city was coming to a close. It’s was the late 1980’s and jeans with holes in them were all the rage, but I came by mine naturally; I wore old clothes to work. Queen Street was one of those back streets off a back street, and I’m betting not one percent of the people in Valdosta knew it existed. I dropped to one knee to read a meter, and two houses past that point I felt it; a fire ant lit me up from inside my jeans. Close, very close, to the Promised Land, this thing latched onto me, and because they are never alone, I feared that might be a dozen more. Without a second thought, I dropped my jeans and started removing the fire ant, who clearly was the only one there.
I was not wearing underwear.
Suddenly, howls of female laughter came through a window and a woman fairly screamed, “Lawd look at that white hiney!” There were about twenty more meters to be read before I got off Queen Street, and I broke all records that day.