Volume 12, Issue 27 ~ July 1-7, 2004
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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Whether you play professional baseball, cut grass, dig ditches, star in movies, argue before the Supreme Court or go about your days quietly, simply and anonymously, you may well be living the American Dream
by Louis Llovio

A 36-year-old man stands under the lights at Camden Yards, glove ready, waiting for the ball to be hit his way.

He once thought the hardest thing in sports was to hit a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. Until a ball hit by a 220-pound outfielder came straight at his head.

Oh … oh … oh! he thinks as the ball sails fast and hard, then curves toward the foul line.

The ball whizzes by and smacks the padding against the right field corner before rolling to the right fielder.

“You should have dove!” a heckler shouts.

Even with foul-tongued fans and 100-mile-an-hour baseballs flying at him, there is no other place this man would rather be. For this man — feeling the grass under his feet, hearing the crunch of the infield dirt as runners round the bases, spikes digging in — is living the great American Dream.

The American Dream
Dreams make us weak in the knees. People love to talk about their dreams, but not everyone ends up in an Orioles uniform chasing flyballs at Camden Yards.

If so few of us achieve those dreams of becoming a baseball player, a rock star, an astronaut, the president, why aren’t more of us unhappy?

And what, then, of the American Dream? What does it mean?

Date it back to the Founding Fathers, who wrote in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence that foremost among our inalienable rights are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Life and liberty are clear enough. You’re either alive or you’re not, and you either have liberty or you don’t. But happiness?

In an Independence Day speech in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King made the definition a litter clearer. Quoting the preamble, he said, “The American dream reminds us that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.”

So long as you’re satisfied with the dignity and worth of what you do, you can live your dream every day, whether you’re the leader of the Free World or cleaning toilets.

I am still in awe of the creation, implementation and interpretation of the law.
The Lawyer
Susan Wyckoff, 34, walks the corridors of the circuit court in Annapolis with an armful of files. She has a custody case today. This isn’t her first trip to the courthouse. She’s been here all day except for a break for lunch. This week alone, she’s spent nearly 20 hours in court with another 40 behind her desk.

Her office at Council, Baradel, Kosmerl and Nolan is up West Street past the construction, a world away from the courthouse. But she is never far from there. While sitting at the plaintiff’s table waiting for the judge in one case, she phones her assistant about tomorrow’s case.

The hours are long, almost 60 a week, but there is no place else Susan Wyckoff would rather be.

“My father used to read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to me,” she says. “So I got hooked at an early age on the concepts of rights and liberties.”

Since graduating from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1996, the passion her father, a fireman, passed on to her as a child has only been inflamed.

Everything about her job makes the work satisfying, she says. She loves navigating clients through the legal system; answering questions from law students; giving presentations about the law to the community; debating law with other lawyers and judges.

“To this day,” she says after engineering a custody settlement for a grateful 12 year-old-boy and his father, “I am still in awe of the creation, implementation and interpretation of the law.”

Wyckoff is another of the lucky ones. She’s exactly where she wants to be.

There’s nothing better than helping people. Helping people is satisfying.
The Flagger
Standing in the middle of traffic on a hot summer day in downtown Annapolis isn’t fun. It’s even less fun when it’s your job to tell people they cannot enter West Street because of construction.

Nobody likes the work that’s going on. Nobody, that is, but Sylvester Givens.

Before Givens came to Annapolis and West Street, he worked for a homeless shelter in Baltimore. He was forced to leave when funding ran short, but he knows he made a difference. That is all Givens needs.

“There’s nothing better than helping people,” he says. “Helping people is satisfying.”

At 60, Givens has been a flagger on and off for 40 years. Barely noticed until you are late for an appointment or frustrated to be stuck in a long line of traffic, Givens could be angry and surly, broiling in summer, freezing in winter.

But he doesn’t mind.

“I love my job,” he says, smiling at passers by. “I get to help people all day, and folks come up and talk.”

As the unofficial PR man for the construction on West Street, Givens spends his day giving people directions and telling tourists and locals alike what’s in store for them once all the work is done. He does his job with the infectious smile of a man who knows that there is no where he’d rather be.

As if on cue, a tourist walks up and asks for directions. Givens points out a short cut to the State House.

That a stranger can find his way puts Givens on track for his American dream.

I wouldn’t change a thing.
The Bureaucrat
Herman Schieke sells Calvert County from an office across from the county courthouse.

Hanging on his walls and sitting on shelves are awards he’s won in the 10 years he’s spent as the head of Calvert tourism. Mixed in with the awards are pictures of his wife and kids.

Born and raised in Annapolis, Schieke talks about the long road that led him from the halls of Johns Hopkins Hospital, hand in hand with his father, who worked as an administrator there; to Duke University, where he planned on studying medicine; to Turkey, where he was a Russian linguist; to where he is today.

It’s been a long road.

While in college Schieke, gave up on his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. “The motivation just wasn’t there,” he says.

He has not lived to regret that decision.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” says the fit 66-year-old of the life he’s carved out. After 25 years in the corporate world, he went to work first for the Annapolis tourism council, then in Calvert County.

What’s been achieved there — “What’s been done in preservation over the years, the way they’ve preserved open spaces, will leave so much beauty untouched for generations and generations” — awes and amazes him.

That, and his work on Calvert’s 350th anniversary, are highlights of his career. But don’t call them the crowning achievements. “My career is not over yet,” says a man who sees no reason to retire from his American dream.

The Family Business
Not everybody can make a living in toilets.

But the Johnson brothers aren’t just anybody. Neither are their bathrooms.

The Brothers Johnson — Michael, Everard, Langford and Tony — are living their American dream.
Ask the business owner who sought out Langford Johnson at Bonnie Raitt’s concert in Solomons. The Brothers Johnson toilets were so good that the concert-goer man contracted them for a fundraiser at his lumberyard in northern Virginia.

Or you can ask Melissa Carnes at Calvert Marine Museum, who says she schedules events “around their availability.”

The Johnsons have created a bathroom paradise in a world ruled by cramped and unpleasant port-a-johns.

Starting in 1988 with septic services, they have grown to provide comfort stations at events statewide.

Comfort stations are large, air-conditioned trailers with porcelain sinks and toilets, CD players and attendants making sure the bathrooms stay spotless.

Their biggest accomplishment, though, is building the business as a family. All four brothers — Langford, Everard, Michael and Tony — run the company as equal partners.

“We all make decisions together,” says Langford, the oldest and the unofficial spokesman for the brothers.

“We have fun doing it,” he says. “All our business is word of mouth.”

The other three nod in agreement and, later, laugh at the notion that big brother is the one who really calls the shots.

“No way,” says Langford.

Mama’s Prayer & Daddy’s Teachings, says their business card, are the reasons they’re living their American dream.

This is a good job. There’s always something new going on, and the people that come out are nice.
The Guys at the Dump
The Lamboys spend their days under the large awning that divides two sections of trash compactors, standing near a small command center overlooking the compactors with a cockpit-like panel of alarms, sensors and knobs to control the million-dollar machines all around them.

Glen, the elder Lamboy, is a compact and powerful man, laid back and quiet as he goes about the rituals of his day. He’s been working here at the Sudley Convenience Center — otherwise known as the dump — for five years.

“This is a good job,” he says. “There’s always something new going on, and the people that come out are nice.”

His colleague overseeing the compactors is his son Rick.

“We are the Tag Team Trash Titans,” says Rick, who’s new on the job. His old boss, a mechanic, ran into money troubles and had to close shop. “I figured I’d do this,” he says. “The money is good, and it’s county work so you have stability, something to build on.”

Its not the greatest job, they agree, but it’s far from the worst.

Cars back up to the compactors, and people unload everything from televisions to diapers — but usually with a quick smile and a hello.

“I’ve seen folks,” says Glen, “come out, throw out their garbage and then go park and have coffee and talk over by the gate.”

“You’ll see some park next to each other,” says Rick, “and start going through each other’s things and end up not throwing anything out.”

He grabs a long grappling hook and pushes garbage stuck halfway down the chute to the compactor.

“It’s always interesting,” says Rick, who’s found a dream with a future in recycling. “There are worse things I could be doing.”

A lot of my dreams have been fulfilled. I feel good about my life and satisfied with my career.
The Reporter
Bill Burton followed a girl into his job.

When he was seven, a girl in his class raised her hand to say she wanted to be a reporter. That was lure enough for him.

The moment was also a sign of what was to come with women in his life. The 50-year newspaper veteran has had five wives.

Like marriage, reporting waited until after World War II.

After he left the Navy he went to Goddard College on the G.I. Bill; by his second semester he was the editor of the school paper. Stints as a crime and political reporter and tours in Oklahoma and Alaska followed before he settled down in 1956 to more than three decades as outdoor writer for the Baltimore Evening Sun.

It was the best job in the world, says Burton, who came to Bay Weekly after retiring from The Sun.

“A lot of my dreams have been fulfilled,” he says. “I feel good about my life and satisfied with my career.”

He understands that he’s one of the lucky ones.

“My life is littered with people who had great intentions but were never able to accomplish them,” says the grizzled vet. “You just never know which way life is going to twist.”

The secret, says the small-town boy who grew up to fish with three presidents, is to dream to be happy.

What is the American Dream?
To many, the American dream is to live in peace, able to raise a family with the best possible means available to you; To be able to live with the freedom that we all need and hope for.

Susan Wyckoff calls the American dream “the spirit that allows you to go beyond conceptualizing your dream to actually achieving it through hard work or determination.”

Schieke and Givens have realized their dreams in two ways: by doing well in a job they enjoy while taking care of family, raising good kids and giving them opportunities.

At 36, I’d dreamed of being a baseball player since before I could talk.
The Lamboys and the Johnsons, men who make good livings dealing in trash and waste, find their American dream in family, stability and doing well.

In the end, the pursuit of the American dream of happiness is all about perspective.

Whether you cut grass, dig ditches, star in movies, argue before the Supreme Court or go about your days quietly, simply and anonymously, you can live the American Dream.

The Baseball Player
“You should have dove!” the heckler shouts.

At 36, I’ve dreamed of being a baseball player since I first picked up a ball and glove, since before I could talk. Now here I am on a major league field, and the heckler’s taunts barely registers.

I was a painfully unathletic kid who spent too much time with my head in a book, and here I am not just on the field but in the game.

When I saw the press release that the Baltimore Orioles were holding tryouts, I thought of the stories I could one day tell my grandkids — not that I’d been a professional ballplayer, but that I had taken the chance and given it my best shot.

The heckler was right: I probably should have dove for that fly ball over the foul line.

But whose idea of the American Dream is to to see a 36-year-old ballboy dive for a ball, anyway?

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.