Tony “TJ” Salokas grew up doing the kind of outdoor things you might expect in a close-knit, rural community like Wantage, New Jersey – climbing trees, hunting, riding quads, building mechanical stuff and eventually racing diesel trucks. But nothing can compare to the adrenaline rush he gets from being a PSE&G lineman, except maybe his upcoming wedding in September to Marissa Mayers.
“We just closed on our house this weekend,” Salokas said. “I’m looking forward to seeing her at the altar, looking dandy. It’ll get me choked up. I have a hard shell, as Marissa says. The first two years I showed no emotions, but she was persistent and got to my softer side.”
The job he’s been doing for the past three years requires a balance of tough – like when he’s working 90 feet in the air or on a live wire wearing about 30 pounds of hooks and other equipment – and nice, like when he responds to the customers watching him make repairs.
“I enjoy pleasing people,” Salokas said. “A lot of people don’t understand exactly what we do, but most appreciate what we do. People come out and thank you. It’s a great, rewarding career.”
“We started dating seven years ago and it’s always what he wanted to do,” Mayers said. “He’s a hard worker. He takes care of everyone and everything. He’d give the shirt off of his back. He’s great. I guess you can say he is my hero. His job is valuable and dangerous. But I think people appreciate that linemen do all they can to get the power back on as safely and quickly as possible.”
Salokas, whose parents have been married for 35 years, said he got his adventurous personality and drive from his dad, who has been a lineman at another utility for 15 years. He and his two older sisters grew up down the street from Mayers, whom Salokas describes as beautiful, a good cook, sassy, determined and full of heart.
“She’s an idealist and I’m a realist so she’s a good other half,” Salokas said. “She’s a trooper. She can hold her own. She’s been right there with me on dirt bikes, hunting, on the trucks and quads.”
While Mayers said she does worry when Salokas is away on storm duty, keeping busy and telling herself how safe he is and how well he knows his job keeps her calm. She also knows his fellow linemen have his back.
“It is a brotherhood. We’re family. It’s great to work with guys you can trust. We keep each other laughing to keep the spirits high, and we keep each other safe,” Salokas said. “We experience the extremes. Sometimes you sweat non-stop. But on a great spring or fall day when you’re working up in the air and you look around, man, it’s nice.”
Staying in shape, quick thinking, problem solving, lots of communication and – above all – staying safe are all aspects of the job Salokas enjoys. And for those few customers who express their displeasure when the power goes out, Salokas recommends that they put things in perspective.
“It’s not so bad. Charge your phone in the car. Play with your kids,” Salokas said. “Appreciate the little things. You’re home with your family. We’re on the road, away from our families. Enjoy what you have, and we’ll get you back on.”