Mike Thomas walks to the back of a white hallway illuminated by glaring fluorescent light. Plastic and metal machines line the walls.
Then comes Thomas’ office and a shock of color. Taped carefully to the wall are abstract crayon scribblings and jaggedly drawn pictures.
“When I step out of the car from work, I’ve got two kids screaming, ‘Daddy, Daddy!’ and jumping in my arms,” Thomas says with a grin.
Thomas’ job title is electric meter supervisor for Columbia Water and Light. He’s worked for the city for 27 years. An equally appropriate title is Dad. He’s “supervised” three children over the course of 21 years.
He glances at a photo of his wife, Shari, hugging his two daughters.
“Time does fly by,” he says. “You get into a routine of getting up and going to work.”
Thomas toys with the mouse on his computer and leans into his massive desk as he rattles off his schedule.
He exercises in the mornings and then goes to work early, he says. He gets a cup of coffee, checks his e-mail, plays a quick round of solitaire and catches up with sports scores. Then it’s the work day.
He plays softball on a team with Shari and tries to be home in the evenings.
A redheaded man pokes his head into Thomas’ office. Thomas introduces him as Morgan Long, a colleague from when they were starting out as meter readers.
“Those were two of the best years of my life working at meter reading,” Thomas says. “It’s a hub of activity.”
Thomas, who was called Grandpa by the younger guys, went on an expedition with Long trying to read every meter in the city, regardless of mud, locked fences and vicious dogs.
“We were just ate up with a goal,” Thomas says.
Long suddenly seems to remember why he came into Thomas’ office. He hands him two meters, and they talk shop for a minute.
When Long leaves, Thomas explains that his job as a supervisor is really nothing special.
“I have the title, but we all basically do the same work,” he says. “If anyone gets in trouble, I’m the one they yell at, I guess.”
He recalls his childhood in Columbia.
“Played baseball in the summers, ran around from sunup to sundown, shared houses and homes. Whatever was in season, we were playing. Delivered Tribunes, mowed yards — probably your Norman Rockwell picture.”
He graduated from Rock Bridge High School and became a city employee two years later.
“I thought I’d stay here forever, but forever is five or six years when you’re that young.”
There isn’t much more Thomas wants.
“Take care of my children and the people I work with,” he says of his ultimate goals. “We can’t all be Superman, but we can do our part right where we’re at.”