by Kevin Alldredge – Patagonia St. Paul Shipper and Nate Anderson – Patagonia St. Paul Floor Lead
We’ve got an employee at the St. Paul Patagonia Inlet named Bill. Bill’s been working at Patagonia St. Paul for almost 4 years. He has a developmental disability of some kind. Every Tuesday from 11am-1:30pm he organizes hanger, folds gift bags, sizes clothes, organizes sizing collars, and helps things run smoother in backstock. Bill is a unique Patagonian. Recently, we went to a Death Metal concert with him. Things got weird and a little profound. Here’s the Dirt:
Every Tuesday, without fail, Bill spontaneously and enthusiastically expounds statistics about Heavy Metal music as he begins his work. He verbally catalogs bands, genres, albums, songs, personnel line-ups, band member causes of death, dates and MTV appearances to anyone within earshot. Bill may know every genre of Metal that has rippled the waters of the Universe: Death Metal, Speed Metal, Filth Metal, Goth Metal, Thrash Metal. And with Bill, it’s great fun to admit that, for example, “I didn’t know that Pantera’s second album was titled, ‘Vulgar Display of Power,’ and the lead guitarist’s name was Dimebag Darrell.”
We don’t really understand Bill’s fascination with all things Metal, just as we don’t know the medical diagnosis of Bill’s disability. Those things don’t really matter to us. What does matter to us, and what draws us to Bill is his kindness, his gentleness, his unfailing politeness, and the humility and humanness he brings out in us – hopefully for longer than just the time that we’re around him every week.
One Tuesday, in the middle of a Heavy Metal trivia session, Bill announced flatly that,” Cannibal Corpse is playing at Mill City Nights (a nearby concert venue) on Tuesday, February 16.” From the amount of air time they get in Bill’s Heavy Metal trivia sessions, Black Sabbath and Cannibal Corpse seem to be Bill’s two favorite bands. Kevin’s mind immediately began forming a plan. “Have you ever been to a Heavy Metal concert?’” Kevin asked Bill. “no, but I once saw a Doo-Wop concert,” Bill replied with no sense of irony. Kevin wanted to get Bill to this show. He spoke with the Director at Bill’s group-home, did some legwork, and got the thumbs-up to take Bill to the Death Metal show.
The night of the concert, we planned on a full sacrament of fun and Death Metal with Bill. We picked him up at 4:30pm. We got some great burgers at a local joint, then ice cream and coffee at a former Patagonia St. Paul employee’s shop next door. Then, we were off to the show.
As we crossed the Mississippi River in Kevin’s hatchback and got close to the venue, Bill blurted out, “I’m so happy.” We both smiled. For us, as mildly jaded adults, happiness is not always clear in our experience – contentment can be as good as it gets a lot of the time. But we have no double that Bill still knows happiness. He seems able to be completely in the moment, which us something we both have trouble with. A band named “Cradle of Filth” carries no baggage for Bill. It’s simply a name and rolls off his tongue as easily as “The Beatles” off ours. Without trivializing or romanticizing Bill’s disability, we value his ability to view things, like a Death Metal concert, without irony and cynicism. We value his willingness to keep his guard down and his willingness to share with his friends when he feels happiness, without caution or embarrassment. In that moment, Bill’s happiness filled the car. It cleared the air, and we felt perfectly at ease. The three of us were happy, and we were going to a Death Metal concert.
Waiting in line outside the concert was cold. The temperature was way below zero, but the excitement and camaraderie the three of us felt was warming. Kevin might have been as excited as he was when he was The Pretenders in ’81 or The Clash in ’82. Nate felt the excitement of running in place 300 feet below a summit while waiting for visibility to improve; half in excitement, half in terror.
Entry to the venue required a pat-down search. As Bill assumed the position, he loudly announced to the security guard, “I don’t have any weapons!” This guard was burly, and he was not visibly discomforted by his choice of a black t-shirt under an unzipped black windbreaker in the frigid air. He chuckled and said he indeed believed Bill was not armed. To the contrary, we think Bill is always armed with the ability to charm even the hardest hearted Death Metal head.
Four Death Metal bands, four hours: that’s a lot, especially when listening to them is like being hit in the head with an audio 2×4 over and over. But, no doubt, the three of us were a genuine part of the community that night. We all gave the obligatory “devil horn” salute along with the faithful at the right moments, and Bill especially relished the concert rituals with enthusiasm. Most of all, we felt like friends, and we were having a really good time. Our common bond was Patagonia, and in our friendship, we were experiencing a part of what it means to be Patagonians.
An accountant chiseling out a cost/benefit analysis of employee productivity would be hard presses to justify Bill’s job at Patagonia. But Patagonia St. Paul employees would all go down swinging in defense of Bill’s value to the company, knowing categorically that Bill’s gifts at the St. Paul store are an incalculable mother lode. Having an employee with a disability has become far more than a fulfillment of the social responsibilities we seek to actualize in our work at Patagonia St. Paul. Bill is not an outsider in out crew. Bill is a Patagonian, and he lives his work at Patagonia in a way that we seek to emulate.
He effortlessly blends his seemingly incompatible passion for Heavy Metal with the values of work at Patagonia in a way that improves his effectiveness on the job. Death Metal doesn’t naturally mix with environmental responsibility or backstock productivity in most people’s minds, but it works for Bill, and it works for us when we’re with Bill. He seems to open his faucet of Heavy Metal trivia at times when he starts losing momentum at work. And it helps him get cranking again. He works with what he loves and moves past incongruence and incompatibilities.
We lost momentum in our life all the time: in Nate’s climbing and skateboarding, in Kevin’s ultra-running, in our work, in our efforts to live unbroken from the communities in which we’re members. Out passions for outdoor recreation don’t always seem compatible with our understandings of the futility and environmental impact of those activities.
As a company, we kinda do the same. We are “Conquerors of the Useless, “but, in the process, we contribute significantly to the evolution of modern environmentalism. It’s wild how seemingly incompatible activities can inspire each other: punk-ass kids, climbing and surfing out of their van, go on to transform the face of global environmental business ethics and practices.
In Bill’s case, he’s gotten so effective with his work at Patagonia St. Paul that the staff at his group home believes that he’s ready for a full-time job elsewhere. We don’t know, for sure, if he’s going to move on from the St. Paul store, but it will be both a sad and wonderful if he does. Patagonia historically celebrates these moments of passage with employees, but they’re bittersweet moments. We are lucky to have the opportunity to work with Bill at Patagonia St. Paul, and we’re thankful for having been able to pull the ripcord together at a Death Metal extravaganza. In bringing Bill to the Cannibal Corpse concert, we wanted to honor him with a night of pure fun. Bill showed us that by dropping our self-congratulatory ambitions of honoring him, we could really have fun and be happy…. while listening to Death Metal. Bill shows us what it is to live as Patagonians, and we are thankful.