Mike Rowe takes on the 'Dirty' job of rebuilding America

Today's cuppa: Barry's Irish breakfast tea

How's the undercarriage of your car coping with the roads in your town, city or rural area?

How safe was that bridge you drove over the other day? Ever take a look under it? You may not want to -- just ask the American Society of Civil Engineers.

While we're at it, you may not want to look too closely at the pipes that bring your water and take away your waste products (or at the place to which the waste products go), And it might be a little disturbing to make a close examination of your local dam or levee (just ask the good folks of Sacramento, Calif. -- and they don't even get hurricanes).

Of course, it could take millions, billions or even trillions of dollars to repair and upgrade America's aging infrastructure, but there is a bright side to this. Many of those dollars would go to pay salaries for Dirtyjobs2021_m_2 people needed to do the actual work...and these are not exactly jobs that can be done in a foreign country.

You kinda have to do the work on site.

"The only silver lining in this three-trillion-dollar problem of a crumbling infrastructure," says Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel's hit series "Dirty Jobs," "is that it has to be fixed here. There may be, who knows, some opportunity to create a program where skilled trades can actually be applied on a project that can't be outsourced. That would be a revelation.

"I'm up to my neck now in that very message. It's good. After 200 (episodes of 'Dirty Jobs'), it's nice to be able to talk about something other than exploding toilets or some misadventure in animal husbandry."

As the host of "Dirty Jobs" -- click here for a story on the Election Night marathon and special episode on "Dirty Presidents" airing tonight -- and the man who suggested the original idea, Rowe plays apprentice for a day or so on just about every nasty, icky, dusty, slimy and grimy occupation out there, from leech trapper to rubbing tar on ship's rigging (and that's just tonight's episodes).

For most of his life, Rowe avoided hard physical work. Now he jokes that he's doing penance for all those years.

"Look," he says, "if I live till I'm 90, I'll never pay that frickin' debt. My God, I ran up a huge bill on the morality chart, so, yeah, I'm on the easy-pay plan."

Perhaps hoping to knock down that debt a bit faster, Rowe has launched a new project and Web site called mikeroweWORKS. Its goal is to help connect those who want a job in the skilled trades (which are on the decline) with ways they can get such jobs, in hopes of not only restoring our infrastructure but also restoring respect and appreciation to traditional blue-collar occupations.

If you visit the site, Rowe has prepared a couple of videos that explain the concept and track the progress so far.

15165_0395_m "Right now," Rowe says, "we're focusing on trying to get a state-by-state resource built for existing nonprofit organizations, associations, apprenticeships, scholarships and so forth.

"They're currently on the books, so hopefully, before too long, somebody will be able to get a top-down look at available resources, or at least look at something besides college as the slam-dunk road to quasi-success."

Coincidentally, at roughly the same time that the MBAs on Wall Street were facing the prospect of imminent collapse, a man in Ohio named Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher attained unexpected celebrity as "Joe the Plumber," when he was taped asking a question of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

As happens in every political campaign, the focus was sharpened on the situation and aspirations of America's working class, in particular skilled tradespeople like Wurzelbacher, who worked as an assistant to a plumbing contractor.

On the one hand, these folks aren't standing astride the financial world. On the other hand, there'll always be a need for someone to stand astride your broken toilet.

"Look," Rowe says, "when the MBAs and the venture-capital guys are walking around scratching their heads, wondering what the hell hit them, hyperbole aside, a guy like Joe the Plumber can wake up and say, 'Hey, I can still fix your toilet and make your poo go away. I still have the skill,' as do the welders and the pipe-fitters.

"All of a sudden, those Wall Street guys are not looking so, 'Gee whiz, this is all you get (for a job). Good luck with that.' The workers are starting to look a little smarter, and that's cool."

Rowe is linking the ideas of bringing people back to the skilled trades and repairing our infrastructure with another nagging problem -- the abnormally high unemployment (and even underemployment) rate among returning Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans.

It's something Time wroteDirtyjobs053_m_2 about last year, and it's something Rowe heard about this year from some retired generals.

"Talk about a gut check," Rowe says. "It's because there is no on-ramp from military service into the private sector.There is no assimilation process.

"The military's screwing up on their end with the exit, and the private sector's screwing up, because they don't know how to deal with a lot of really talented kids who are coming back, who just don't know how to interview, who just aren't equipped for this kind of immediate, assimilated proposition.

"So it's bad. It's really bad. (The generals said to me), 'Look, you're suggesting there might be an opportunity to connect the dots between a declining trade-school annual enrollment and this colossal infrastructure problem. And you're suggesting that the root cause of this is our dysfunctional relationship with work?'

"And I say, 'Yeah.'... Basically the pitch is, 'Look, your service is up, but the battle's not over. There's a new front, and it's the infrastructure. It's back home, and it's a frickin' mess.'"