I wasn’t working on the maintenance crew. Instead, the company owner, Benito, had paired me with the irrigation specialist, Bryce.
He and I were doing repairs at a small house in an older neighborhood. Mature trees lined the yard and cast us in shade — which was a welcome relief from the blistering sun.
I was digging a large hole to replace a busted valve box. As usual, Bryce was standing over me, gnawing on tobacco and supervising. He was holding a shovel, but I think it was just a prop, in case Benito drove by.
“I talked to my nephew last weekend,” Bryce said, spitting black tobacco at his feet. “I guess he’s having trouble finding a job.”
I swung a rusted pick at the ground, trying to chip out a huge tree root. “Uh-huh.”
“I told him to try fast food, but they’re not hiring,” Bryce said. “Everything’s being automated now. In 10 years, robots will doing everyone’s jobs. That’s what they want. It’s a cost-savings thing.”
I continued to swing. Each time I did, the pick lodged into the root and stuck. Then I’d have to pry it out and swing again.
Bryce spit once more, rubbing his shaved head. “They have robots doing all our jobs. They work in factories, putting together cars. And they have them in fast-food restaurants, cooking the food. You don’t need a human anymore to do anything.”
I dropped the pick, grabbed the digging bar, and started stabbing the stubborn root over and over. It refused to budge. Shards of wood flew everywhere, as if I were an oversized, underpaid woodpecker.
“That’s what’s good about working in landscaping,” Bryce said, hawking another tobacco-filled loogie. “I don’t see any way they could automate our jobs. You’re always going to need humans to do this kind of work.”
I dropped the digging bar, wiping sweat from my forehead and panting. “I don’t know about that,” I said.
Bryce frowned. “What do you mean?”
I glared at him. “It seems to me they could easily invent a robot that stands around all day, leaning on a shovel.”