I love my job. That's why it needs to change.
I was in my mid-twenties sometime in the two-thousand teens, working as an Analyst for a consulting firm in center-city Philadelphia. Comfortable office with a view and important, government contracted work that really did make a positive difference in the world. It was a terrific opportunity that promised security, advancement, and connections with prominent people. I should have been grateful.
But I was miserable. An hour-long commute on the train every morning, wearing a suit and tie, attending meeting after meeting in fluorescent lit conference rooms during the day and schmoozing with inflated egos by night. Was this all there really was? Is this why I studied so hard in school? Was I destined to spend the next forty years as an office drone, drafting proposals and reviewing legal documents until, like the lion at the zoo, I forgot the boundless freedom of the open plains?
What I really wanted more than anything was to see as much of the world as I could while I was young enough to do so, and to heck with all the status and financial mobility of the corporate world. I traded in my little sports car for a beat-up old F-150, loaded it up with everything I had, and moved out to Colorado, not knowing exactly what awaited me except that I had to get away from the East Coast.
Fortunately, within a few months of shopping my resume around, I landed a job as a Field Engineer with a small cell-tower contractor. My telecommunications experience was entirely theoretical, but I think they were just happy to have someone who was willing to travel full-time.
I still remember the exhilaration of training on my first 200’ guyed tower, clinging precariously to the outside of a 30” narrow face. My body wanting to freeze in place but my mind pushing me upwards step by step, forcing me to have faith in my safety gear. A week later I was climbing a 600’ tower in Los Angeles on a perfect spring day with a stunning view of the city stretching way out to the ocean. At that moment I knew that I had found my calling and the decision to trade the office for the field was entirely justified.
The years that followed offered more adventure than I had previously dared to dream. Wading through swamps in Louisiana. Flying helicopters through the Alaskan bush. Rock crawling up to the top of a volcano in Panama. All in the service of (and paid for by) the tower industry itself.
There have been plenty of frustrating moments, but instead of a dreaded train ride to an unchanging office, I wake up every day filled with an anticipation to solve problems on a remote tower someplace new. To drive a truck up a washed-out mountain access road. Repel down a monopole on a snowy day or watch another sunset deep out in the New Mexico desert.
I owe my most treasured moments to this job, and I hope to continue doing it for years to come. But I have always felt that there is room for us, as tower workers, to seek improvements to our status. We are hardworking, highly skilled, and passionate people from all walks of life who provide immense value to the national communications infrastructure. I have found that it is easy to become enchanted by the travel, the adventure, the glamor, and mystique of the job, to the point that we overlook the lack of protections that other industries have fought hard to secure, such as robust safety oversight and collective bargaining.
As we begin 2024, I hope all my fellow friends in the tower industry stay safe and have fun, but also recognize the value you bring and don’t settle for less than you deserve.
Evan Topowski, Tower Hand
Tower Climbers United/CWA
Tower Climbers Nathan, Tom, and Ryan along with CWA staffers met with NY Senator Rachel May and County Legislator Chris Ryan on Jan. 18 to discuss issues in the Cell Tower Industry.