Afterword to Silent Workplace

Whenever we meet someone new, one of the first things we learn about them is what they do for a living. “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m a teacher (or machinist, or waitress, or lawyer, or nanny).” We do this because what-we-do is considered a summary of who-we-are.

If an individual says they’re a doctor, we conjure up an immediate image, one that’s different from that of a hair stylist, foundry worker, or accountant. In short, knowing what a person does for a living, gives us a sampling of their personality, perhaps their level of education, maybe even an idea of where, and how, they live.

Sometimes, I catch myself guessing the occupations of others. For example, if I’m waiting in line, I’ll speculate about the people around me. There’s a man in jeans and T-shirt, with a dark tan—he probably does outdoor manual labor. Or that woman wearing an expensive blue suit—she could be an executive.

In a related manner, when I wander around a closed-up business, I find myself visualizing the men and women who worked there. It’s not their faces I see, but what they wore, and what they did, week after week—sometimes for decades. By standing where they stood, where they spent their days (or nights on a graveyard shift), I feel I can get a picture of who they were.

Of course, I know I’m relying on preconceived ideas, guesswork, and stereotypes, as we all do. No occupation can completely define anyone—not what a person reads, the music he listens to, or what food she prefers. It reveals nothing about a spouse, children, pets, or hobbies. Despite this, we continue to identify others, and ourselves, by how a paycheck is earned—it’s almost who we are.

Because the silent workplaces on these pages have been central to the identities of so many owners and employees, over so many years, I feel these empty buildings are physical monuments to those lives. They are visible, tangible examples of our state’s working legacy, and are essential to our collective Hoosier identity. They’re not just derelict structures from an earlier time, but the material remains of once-vital enterprise, and they need to be honored.

As a final note, I’d like to warmly thank Gayle and Bill Cook for sharing their perceptive observations and commentary in the Foreword to Silent Workplace. The Cooks have restored a wide range of Indiana’s fading commercial buildings. And they deeply appreciate their importance to those who came before us, those living today, and to all who will come after. I’m grateful to have them as a part of this book.