Yesterday was National Nightshift Workers Day. It brought to mind the time in my life when I worked second shift in a copper mill. It was real manual labor for Manuel Labor, I guess you could say.
I took the job thru a temp agency, after being unemployed for nearly a month. It is the only time in my working life I have been unemployed. And the only time in my life I have worked thru a temp agency. And all this followed the only time in my life I have ever walked out on a job. Funny how those go together.
I hated the factory at first. Hated it. There was a feeling of dread every day as the hour to leave for work approached. I worked 4 PM till midnight. Usually six nights a week. Sometimes seven. And only occasionally five.
The summer was hot. And the winter was cold. There wasn't much in between. In cold weather, there were only a few space heaters located here and there inside the plant. Warmth could only be found standing directly below one of them. Or standing next to one of the large machines which gave off heat. We worked in several layers of clothing.
And in the summer? Inside a metal building with hundreds of machines running... Let's just say I never had to worry about being overweight. There were only small fans for cooling, which did nothing more than circulate the hot air. And even that, only sparingly. I drank 20 ounce Mountain Dews in two sups. I weighed 163 pounds when I left that job.
I'm not sure why I hated the job so much. It was new, and different. I was new, and lost. That's never too much fun. The hours no doubt cut into my free-wheeling Charlie Sheen-like lifestyle. (Actually, I got off at midnight, so it wouldn't have affected it that much). It was monotonous. At times, I felt trapped. There was a sense of hopelessness. I just knew it wasn't what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be forever.
But I learned a lot during my time there. About work, people, and life. I learned to operate a forklift. And a hundred other work-related things. It felt good to work with my hands. To sweat. For eight hours. Or more. I miss that sometimes.
It was also while working there that I rediscovered reading. We would get two fifteen minute breaks and one twenty minute lunch break every night. A lot of people would go outside to smoke, eat, talk, or some combination of the three. I would stay inside and read. I started going to the bookstore every week or two and buying new books. Reading led to writing.
Since leaving, I have come to appreciate my time there. I have a lot of respect for people who punch a clock and work 40, 50, 60 hours a week in that type of industry. It was a unique experience. One that I wouldn't trade. I even miss it occasionally. Especially some of the people.
I could talk about the people all day. Fondly. Clocking in everyday at 4:00. Clocking out every night at midnight. Five, six, seven days a week. Working. To survive. To provide. To be able to afford a new car. Or a short vacation. Or just to have a little extra money to spend on the weekend. When there was one.
I remember one girl who was working there trying to save enough money to pay for college. She'd been there five years when I left. There was a young single mother working to support her and her daughter. There were several single mothers.
There was a 40-something-year-old lady who had just gone thru a divorce and been forced to go back to work. Sometimes she'd bring food and share with me at supper. There was the plant bookie. A former Air Force cadet. A volunteer fireman. I could go on.
There are thousands of places like that all over the country. I feel like that is the soul of America. Hard working. Real people. Real problems. Real life. Men and women. Black and white. Young and old.
On my last day, one of the crane operators walked over to me and shook my hand. We'd never said more than a line or two in passing. But I'll always remember his words that day. He said, "It's been good working with you. You're a hard worker. But more than that, I can tell you're a good man."
That meant a lot to me. Still does.
Yesterday was also National School Nurse Day. I don't have a story for that. Honest.
"There are people in this country who work hard every day. Not for fame or fortune do they strive..."