Some were young, full of energy and dreams.
Most were older, unemployed, in the middle of life and agitated bill collectors who call them by their first names, or worse.
Whatever their reasons, a couple of hundred people showed up at Dundalk Community College's Blue Collar Job Fair yesterday, hoping to put their lives in order.
Sally Park, who is 47, unemployed and raising a daughter who wants to go to college, was one of them. She's enrolled in a six-month job training program at the Baltimore Career Development Center in Essex and tested the waters with employers yesterday.
"I am absolutely scared to death," she said. "I can't compete with the younger worker in the job market. I had to drop out of high school in West Virginia to help feed my family after my father was killed. I just got my GED [general equivalency diploma]."
While Eastside unemployment is just above the national 5 percent level, these are bleak times in blue-collar country, where in more blissful days, all roads wound to Bethlehem Steel and residents made comfortable livings in ingots, automobiles and airplanes.
"It will never come back to the way it was," said Rebecca Tucker, manager of Maryland Job Services in Eastpoint. Mrs. Tucker has watched the ebb and flow of jobs in Maryland for the past 30 years, the last 15 in the county's Eastside.
"The numbers don't tell the real story, they don't measure those who have dropped out, become discouraged," she said. "I see people every day who before were not in need but are now . . . even professional people. And that blue-collar pride, that work ethic, is severely wounded because they are begging for a job, any job, so they don't have to go on welfare and collect food stamps."
At yesterday's fair, more than 30 corporations, state and federal agencies had representatives on hand to accept job applications.
While it's too early to tell how the job seekers fared, the event was a success from the employers' standpoint. Brian Cooke of AccuStaff, which hires temporary workers, said he received more than 100 applications in less than two hours. Other company representatives also reported a brisk response.
Karl Matzdorf, 55, retired from Bethlehem Steel after 25 years as a supervisor with what he called a "copper parachute." He got a job in real estate, but that disappeared, too.
"I have my college degree in industrial management, I'm computer literate and I have no problem competing -- but companies don't feel that way," Mr. Matzdorf said. "They see me as a potential drain on their medical program, somebody who will miss a lot of work," he said. "But I am more than just a survivor, I have talent and a strong work ethic. But I wonder if that counts anymore."
Margie Albright, 21, hopes to graduate next year from Dundalk Community College with an associate degree in radiology and transfer her credits to the Johns Hopkins University for further study. "There is a lot of temporary work but I'm not interested. All I heard was I need experience but I have to work to gain that experience . . . I have to start somewhere, but where?," the Edgemere resident said.
Fran Smither, director of the college's co-operative education and job placement program, said, "I sit in amazement at some of these people. There's talent all over this gym and they are truly motivated.. . . . People bounce back."
Thelma Graef, 53, was there yesterday, reaching for every ounce of courage she could find. It was her first job hunt in 30 years.
"My sons are grown, although I still take care of my one son who is handicapped," she said. "I don't have any experience. I don't even know how to write a resume. And I guess the thing that scares me most is that all I did was be a cashier. My age is against me, but I need money to survive -- and that's why I'm here. It's that simple."
Anyone looking for employment opportunities or job training in Eastern Baltimore County can call the Maryland Job Services in Eastpoint at 288-9051 or the Baltimore County Career Development Center in Essex at 574-8800.