How Milking Cows Changed This Man’s Life

The other day I was talking to an Uber driver, telling him that I’d just come from the Southwest, driving between New Mexico and Arizona.

“It’s good country out there,” I said. “Big sky. Mountains. Trees. Real America.”

But he wanted to know about the people. Were they happy.

“I couldn’t say,” I said. “Seemed happy, but then these days what does that even mean — happiness is a moving target, you know. You’re happy one minute, next minute you’re not. Still, it’s a different way of life. Much simpler.”

“I envy that,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because in New York everything is so hard, everyone is chasing something. People make money, but then they want more money and more money. When is enough, enough?

“It’s never enough,” I said.

“Sometimes it is though,” he said. “Take me, for example. I used to be that person. Always wanting more. I worked in tech. I was well-paid. Extremely well-paid. But I was miserable.”

“Well, money isn’t everything,” I said. “It’s only most things.”

He laughed.

“No, but seriously — it was horrible,” he said. “I worked 100 hours a week and yeah, I made a lot of money, but I didn’t do anything. I just sat in front of a computer all day. I neglected my wife, my kids. Each week the number in my bank account got higher, but I didn’t feel any richer. In fact, I had never felt more poor in my life. And I came to America with practically nothing.”

“So what did you do?”

“One day I had work to do but I just couldn’t focus,” he said. “I was taking a lot of pills then — anti-anxiety medication, things to make me focus, all kinds of stuff. And I just decided to get up out of the seat and go for a drive. I got in the car and I drove and drove, until I got really far out into New Jersey. The land became really flat and there were all these farms.”

“And then what happened?”

“I drove into one of the farms and I stopped the car. And a guy came up to me, he owned the place. He asked what I was doing there, and I said I didn’t know, that I had been out driving and what he had here, this farm, looked kind of pleasant.”

“He wasn’t scared — like, what the hell is this person doing on my property?”

“Not at all. He said — ‘You want to see what we do here?’ I said I did and then we walked through a red farmhouse to a big area where there were a bunch of cows. He introduced me to his wife, his two sons, his daughter. Now, I’m a big brown man and these were five of the whitest people I’ve ever seen, but I’ll tell you this, they were so nice to me, asking me about myself, my family, what I did for work.”

“And you said you worked in tech?”

“I said I worked in tech and I told them what I did — they had no clue what it was; heck, at that point, neither did I. I knew I did something, I got paid. But it didn’t feel real, and I guess I realized how unreal it actually was when I was there.”

“Why?”

“Because we were milking cows!”

“Milking cows?”

“Yeah, milking cows. That’s what they did. I mean, they did a lot of things on that farm. But milk was their primary business. And I had just shown up unannounced, so they kind of put me to work.”

“Did you take to it easily?”

“My brother, I have never worked a day of hard labor in my life,” he said. “I never aspired to either. Not that I looked down on it. It just wasn’t my thing. But after some fumbling around with the cow, I came to find my rhythm and I actually rather enjoyed it. It just felt like a really simple thing — I did x, and y happened. The act itself wasn’t complex, but it did bring me joy.”

“Wow.”

“I know,” he said. “Crazy. Now, they don’t actually milk the cows like this, they got machines and stuff to do that. But the farmer said sometimes they’ll still get out there and do it by hand, and that wasn’t even the point, really; it was the simplicity of the experience, a feeling that this was actually what life was about — the farm, the animals, a sort of contentedness. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done, well — anything — without worrying. Always worrying. About what I was doing. What I had to do next. And what I’d have to do after that.

“So what did you do?”

“Nothing,” he said. “I decided then and there — I quit. I go back to that farm from time to time, the owner and his family are now friends. But I haven’t been back in front of a computer for work since then. And let me tell you brother, I have never been happier in my life.”

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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