Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quick Work: ConDestruction

The environment I'm working in is very hostile to picture-taking. Nearly all pictures are snuck while nobody is looking (or at least attempted to be done in that way). This affects their quality. I hope people understand.

Budget: -330.85

I almost didn't go get in line. A longer-than-expected client consultation pushed everything over yesterday, resulting in me getting home after midnight, and when the alarm rang at 4:30 AM, I almost just said "screw it, I'll go back to sleep."

But I got up and got dressed and went outside. The temperature was 18 F, and as I walked out to the ocean (nowhere to park in Lynn), the wind started becoming really unpleasant.

An SUV pulled past me and suddenly stopped. I was still in a nice area, so I wasn't too worried. He rolled down the window. "Where are you going?"


"Lynn? Damn. In this weather? Where in Lynn?"

I figured he looked harmless, and I was going to Lynn in the middle of the night. I told him the intersection.

"Get in, I'll drop you off nearby."

I went ahead and got in. He dropped me off by the highway offramp for downtown, I thanked him, and he pulled away and I looked up and realized where I was and at what time of night.

Because of the ride, I now had half an hour that I had to spend in nighttime Lynn before the doors even opened for me to stand in line for work. I found a parking garage, the only spot that had any sort of lighting, and killed 20 minutes or so there, constantly looking over my shoulder.

Around 5:20, I walked up to the doors of the building where I was to wait in line. I stood there, on the corner, all by myself in the darkness, until I saw a big man coming up. I tensed up and prepared to respond, but he just said hi and stood next to me.

"You always come before 5:30?" I asked.

He laughed out loud. "No."

We made some small talk. Some other guys showed up. There were seven of us when the doors opened, and they all stepped aside and let me walk in first and put my name in the number 1 spot on the list. No fistfights. You're at the door first, you're first in line.

I went to sit down and make myself comfortable when I spotted bread on the table.

I waited for a while and observed the table. People who had signed in came by, but they'd only get coffee. After a few, I went up to one of the guys and just asked directly.

"Are we allowed to take the bread?"

"Sure," he said, picking it up and looking at the label. "Good until......yesterday."

I hadn't eaten breakfast. "Good until yesterday is good enough for me," I said, and took a slice.

Nobody else did. Any bread that I didn't eat remained on the table, and I think this reflects an important point. These people aren't starving. They may be sitting in line all day to get a job, but they're not desperate.

I sat around for a while, reading about Afghan architecture, when suddenly I heard a loud "Hey, amigo!"

It was Marcos, a boxer I'd met when I was waiting in line last Thursday. ("I have a big match in May," he said, "but the committee didn't approve it. I really hope they go back and do. My girlfriend has to work two jobs, and I should be working too.")

I'd made enough friends waiting in line last Thursday that now I could feel relatively at home. My conversation with Marcos was interrupted with a "Hi, Greg," to which I had to respond, "Oh, hi, Bob." Bob grilled me about my life.

And then something unexpected happened. Bob called out to Shante (the official there) and said "Hey, Shante! This is Greg. Good worker. Number 1 on the list today. You keep that in mind."

Shante just said "Hi, Greg."

A little bit later, I noticed Marcos talking to Shante and pointing to me. "This guy's been coming in. Give him something to do."

LESSON: Networking is king, wherever you go. A day spent just being cool and friendly to people may be an extremely valuable and sensible way to spend one's time. Thursday, which I spent sitting in line and not getting any work, hardly went to waste.

Shante pretty quickly called me up to the counter and gave me a job for tomorrow, standing on the shoulder of Highway 114 for five hours, holding a sign. Oh well, I thought, not quite what I had pictured, but if I spent a day on the road that way and earned $40, that's food for a week at least.

"Don't leave yet," Shante added. "I might have something for you today, too."

I introduced myself to some new people, then went back to talk to Marcos.

"Definitely stay around," he said. "...oh, nice, a movie. GUYS! MOVIE! We're going to watch a movie. Then we're going to work."

A few people moved over to watch the movie.

We'd barely started when Shante called a bunch of us up. "I need ten guys for this job today."

Ten? I thought. Who needs ten guys to hold a sign? Then I actually read the work ticket I'd been handed. Specifically this part:

The car driving out there was already full of people, so I, along with another guy who was over 6 feet tall, prepared to get in the trunk.

The drive wasn't too rough, though I was definitely glad to be let out. We found ourselves in front of an Office Depot, into which we walked and looked around.

Then we were given tools (including but not limited to hydraulic lifters and sledgehammers) and told to dismantle the store. We were also given crates to put the debris into.

But first, obviously, the merchandise was removed and the mandatory "CAUTION" tape was put all over the place in case some unsuspecting wanderer ended up in the store and didn't realize what's going on.

I expected insanity—had everyone there been copies of me, that's exactly what would have ensued—but the dismantling started incredibly calmly.

I noticed that the supervisor gave no specific instructions, but different piles spontaneously developed for every type of beam, every type of shelf—everything. And everybody almost always knew where any given pile was. Only at a few exceptional moments did I hear "Where does this go?", and in those instances, the question was always directed to another worker, and never to the supervisor. Interesting how, far overriding a desire to go nuts, human beings have a taste for organization. (I suspect the vast majority of the stuff organized into piles later got thrown out.)

By lunch time, Office Depot looked like this:

I grabbed a $3 lunch at the supermarket next door.

I ate it sitting, along with several other guys, on office tables that Office Depot had failed to sell.

By 2:30 PM, Office Depot looked like this:

My muscles were starting to hurt from the hours of carrying big metal beams (I was glad to hear others complain of the same problem, not because misery likes company, but because it reminded me I was normal). Dust was everywhere, creating a whitish-gray mist that decreased visibility within the building. In the morning, I had been digging my face into my jacket to hide it from the cold; now I was down to a T-shirt and wishing I had more layers to take off.

When Office Depot looked like this

the supervisor said we could go home. He gave us our tickets, and when someone thanked him, he responded "Thank YOU! You guys did a great job." It was decidedly a warmer environment than I had expected to see.

I got a ride back to Lynn (in a seat, this time), and, when paid in cash, asked if I could have a check instead.

"You're the first person in three months to ask for a check," said the girl behind the counter.


NOTE: The change in my budget is mostly due to a client consultation, not to dismantling the Office Depot, which contributed about $70.

No comments:

Post a Comment