« Helluva First Week »

It has been about five months since I parted ways with Scantech, and most of that time I enjoyed not being a wage slave. It takes a bit of frugality to make such a span of time "happen" but there was enough to go around. The universe provides. I originally hit the streets with a decent amount of force in the first month after leaving Scantech, but came to feel disillusioned after a month or so of rejections and no-gos. Finally in December I got a decent bite.

I had sent in a resume earlier in my search—October I think—and didn't hear anything, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to try again. After getting a ten year DMV report (usually three- or seven- year reports have sufficed), I was able to be in for an interview at a produce company in town, not far from where I live. Sometime in early-mid December I was able to come to meet Bob the Boss, though I had only bargained to meet with an ops manager who is actually younger than me. Bob the Boss took a liking to my resume with its variety of roles—driver, customer service, audio, social service, web, writing, and whatever else. So he started me at what he called $3 more than his usual starting rate. He gave me a chance to sort of name my own range and he at least offered me something near the top of that range. I hope I didn't cut myself short—but considering last year I started Scantech for $5 less, this was a nice deal! Bob told me all about the drivers, the culture of the shop (mostly Hispanic), and asked if I'd be okay working in the cooler part of the time. I had just had my second round of gum surgery so I asked that I have a few weeks to heal and get past the holidays, and that I could begin in mid January. He was okay with that so we shook on it.

I went in to sign some papers and stuff on the Friday before I was to work. Then I was told I'd be training with some drivers on a different route each day, and oh, the shifts will start at 4 or 5 am! Well, most of you know that I am a night owl and that the work I had been doing for a couple weeks prior was night work. I'd be getting to bed at 3 am, not getting out of bed! So on just a couple days' notice, I had to prep to wake up at 3 am the first day. I was dreading. Saturday and Sunday morning each pushed my waking hour back about two and half hours so that I could do it. It was the weirdest thing to get to bed at 8 pm. The last time I did that was in fucking elementary school!

Day One

Defying the laws of my personal constitution, I awoke at 3 am and headed off to work hours before the cock would crow. I clocked in about ten minutes early. The shop was pretty empty of people but there were rows and rows of boxes of all sorts of produce ready to be loaded onto trucks headed to all sectors of the county, it seemed. I was to wait for one fellow named Fernando. He got there about 4:15, but not after I had met another driver, Carlos A., who upon hearing I was a new driver immediately thought, 'someone's gonna get fired!' Fernando did appear and we loaded his truck which took all of about 15 minutes. He was an expert of nine years there, and this was a smallish load for a slow day. I was already a bit bummed by the fact that I had gotten there about 25 minutes before I was of any use, but after the loading, I was told that it would take another half hour or so before we could get the invoices and then leave. It was about 5 am when we got the invoices, but we couldn't leave because there was a truck that had just pulled in with all the new stock on it and some of that was stuff we'd need, and all of what we needed was at the head of the trailer. Perfect. There was about an hour of frenzied activity as all the drivers arrived and each had to clamor for what was on that incoming truck. There was some comedy about how they decided to do it. All the produce was on pallets but the electric pallet jack could not cross the abrupt height change from truck to dock, and the forklift could not really get a good grip on the pallets where they sat. So about eight guys offered about twice as many opinions while about three of them did the work. Eventually there was some success in using a lighter manual pallet jack and moving it as close as possible to the trailer's end, where the forklift could take over. I just felt superfluous there. Finally at about 6:00, Fernando and I were able to leave.

We did his usual route for the day, mostly in Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe. It wasn't a linear route. Delivery destinations are not planned according to what makes good sense in mileage terms. No, no, no! It's all about who is open and who has come to expect service before fucking yesterday. So we crisscrossed from Del Mar to RSF and back, and hit Solana Beach, and then some more Del Mar. Really inefficient, says Peak Oil Boy. Some destinations were more chatty than others. Some we just dropped things outside and left. We returned to the shop and did one more short run before the shift was over. I left at 11:15, having not taken a lunch break, but having munched along the way. The shift then was about 45 minutes short of eight hours, but no sense in fussing. I was tired enough from the sleep disruption. It was an odd feeling to have done a whole days' work before the strike of noon!

I started feeling a cough that morning by about 8. It got worse during the day, but it didn't seem to warrant attention.

Day Two

I started at 5 am today and that seemed somewhat easier, despite there not being much real advantage. There was no wasted time like the morning before, so Jose and I loaded his truck and we took off. I guess I coughed some, but it wasn't awful yet. But during the course of the day, I think the messed up sleep and the winter morning temperatures started to interact with the getting in and out of refrigerated trucks. I think that certainly complicated any respiratory issues I already had brewing. Jose was a nice fellow about my age. His English was hard to understand but I got a good idea of him being a family man. He told me how Bob the Boss had done some very accommodating things when he needed to tend to his family for prolonged periods of time, but he also said he was frustrated that he was not a route driver with his own route. Bob insisted on retaining him as the universal driver who could stand in for anyone on a moment's notice. Of the work for this week, this shift took me out as far as I think the company goes, and the shift was the longest, clocking in at about eight and a half hours straight.

This too was a tangled web of destinations, running from a three-kitchen micro destination at La Costa resort, and then a bunch of places in Carlsbad, Oceanside, RSF, and one all the way up in Gopher Canyon. By the end of the shift, I was a little shaky. I chalked it up to truck jitters from the road time. I got out of the shop about 1:30 as the schedule said, but that was uninterrupted activity since 5. On the way out I felt like taking a nap, but a short one for fear of jinxing myself and losing sleep that night. Kelli was about to come home from her 12 day excursion to Florida, and I was technically supposed to be in bed at the hour she would fly in, so Suz picked her up instead. By the time I laid down for this nap, I started to realize I may be with fever. I was sweating and cold at the same time. I napped for a bit as intended, but for the next four hours I was sore and the coughing was getting worse. I finally went to bed about 8 and slept well, even sleeping through Kelli coming home and climbing into bed after almost two weeks gone. So much for a big welcome back.

Day Three

Started my shift this day at 5 again despite feeling that I should have taken the day off. The cold was seeming that bad by then. But I soldiered on, being linked with Carlos A. who would be the tour guide for the beach area route. I got there in time to load his truck with him, and we got out of there by 6. Once again, this was a seemingly random organization of destinations based on politics and opening hours. We cut through Mission Beach many times to connect Pacific Beach and Point Loma. Carlos A. is 21 and the most American of the Mexican drivers, though he often toggled in and out of conversation on the company cell phone with the Bluetooth bud in his ear. The company provides Blackberry devices so that drivers can play more active roles as CS reps. Of course I had no idea if he was talking business since much of the shop speaks Spanish, and almost all of the cooks and kitchen staff or receiving clerks do as well. We at least got into talking some politics when he wasn't talking business. Being a young guy, he sort of drove me mad with some of the young guy mindset that he kept. I wasn't in the mood for much today, not least of which was his talk about gettin' with chicks, keeping the radio on at all times, and the conversations with whoever invaded the cab via Bluetooth. It was all just noise to me. I was getting more and more tired and sore. Since his route is not as far from the shop as the others, we returned there a few times to keep getting stuff to take to places we had already been to.

Somehow I got home and napped a bit and carried on as normal for a few hours, but went to bed at 8 after a movie or something. This was the first day that Kelli was back and she had cleaned house and tidied up what had reverted to a bachelor pad for a week and a half. I was in sad shape by the end of the shift that day. It really spoiled any great reunion I was hoping for.

Day Four

This was the day when I awoke at 4 and decided to call in sick. I was feverish with sweating while shivering, sore all over, and congested and coughing. It wasn't fun. By this time I knew that the last few days were a bad mix of cold, odd hours, new job, no lunch breaks, and a diet that gave way to the uncertainty that each placed on me. I just felt drained of energy. I called in and left a message with an unknown fellow, who passed on word to Bob, though I was told to call back at 8 when Bob would be there. I did but he was in a meeting and had already heard. I felt really bad that I was taking off, but what a crappy state to be in, and to be around food, that's a no-no. I went to bed the night before at about 8 and finally I woke up at oh, say, 2:30 PM on Thursday! I had only made trips to the bathroom or to make that call, otherwise I slept about 18-19 hours straight! Kelli went and got a shitload of OTC drugs, orange juice, and other goodies to help out. Otherwise, that day I was useless. I wrote to Bob to briefly explain why I had to take the day off, and assured him I wasn't a flake. But he wrote back something that really floored me, saying that new people often misjudge what it takes to work in that environment and that maybe this was not the job for me. I called him right after that, with Kelli's urging. I don't know how final he meant to sound, but I found myself trying to talk my way into a job I felt I lost only days after beginning. He said I could come back in tomorrow if I was able, and we'd go from there.

The day was short; I went to bed at 8 again and had to get up at 3 in order to start at 4. For my trouble, I slept soundly for about five hours till maybe 1 when Kelli came to bed, and not again after that. There is this fear I have of jinxing my sleep on these critical nights. I don't look at the clock during the night because I might look and find that I have 45 minutes left and won't be able to sleep, or I might look and find I have three hours left to sleep, then won't be able to sleep because I keep doing calculations of how much time I have left to get a few good winks in. There have been a few examples of this dreadful occurrence in the past year, and each gives me another thought to mull over as I hope to get to sleep. I hate it. Today the "don't look" idea jinxed me as much as what happens when I do look. I think what I need is an "on/off" switch. Anyhow, I must have done okay with the 19 hour spell the night and day before because I got up after about five hours of sleep and two more hours of trying, and I felt sort of refreshed.

Day Five

This one started early again. Hah. It's all unnatural, starting work two hours before the fucking sun appears! But today it was more ridiculous than ever. I was scheduled for 4, so I dutifully clocked in on the button and set about finding out who my tour guide was for the day. Today I got the other Carlos: Carlos G. He didn't appear at 4; nor at 4:15 like Fernando did days before. In fact, I saw Fernando at about 4:30 and he said that CG doesn't usually get there till about 5:30! That entire first hour and a half was tense and sort of angering for me. I didn't really have any direction, and why the fuck was I told to come in at 4 if my guy can saunter in an hour and a half late? I stood around some, hunted for a hand truck for the day (they are usually locked up, each designated for individual employees). I met a few people. Only one or two did I tell about the cold and the day off. One lady—a rotund, mid 40s looking lady who I have seen to wear some sort of blatantly Catholic T shirt—suggested that maybe I just chill (um, wrong word) in the employee break room. So I did but got bored there and saw that two cameras were trained on the space, rendering me not so invisible. So I halfheartedly petitioned this woman for something to do, preferably outside the cooler. I was wearing a couple shirts and a hoodie pullover with a knit cap beneath and I was still cold, but really I didn't want to risk getting overexposed to the cold air. The coming shift would be exposure enough. Since I was in a catch 22 of not wanting to disclose my sick condition, and not wanting to look bad, I erred on the side of not looking bad, and sure enough, the person who didn't know I had a cold took me into the freezer (!) of all places and bid me to collect this box or that. Man, that was shitty times, even though it probably didn't last but a minute or two.

CG finally got there and we loaded up his truck. But he was the silent sort who barely spoke directions to me. He speaks fine English when he spoke to me at all. So I felt like shit from being sick (making me not want to talk and let more cold air in), but felt sort of dumb having to wait for direction at most every turn. We had a bit of small talk on the way to La Jolla where he has ruled the roost for about eight years. Again, it was a zig zag path we cut up and down every street and alley in LJ. He was the most nimble of the drivers, whipping his cab over 16' truck around like a Miata. He was a fan of slowing down about 40% at red lights and stop signs. LJ is quite hilly and there are all sorts of interesting little bistros and other places tucked into odd spaces, and kitchen access is pretty precarious at times. Lots of steps to traverse. Angles too. I was better rested but still remained fully suited for almost all the day. I felt like Ralphie's brother in Christmas Story. It wasn't that bloating, but I felt cut off from the world. The clogged sinuses and ears; the cold nipping at my nose; the ache in my muscles from fever and inactivity. It was nasty feeling. CG made me do a lot of the work, just as someone said he would. Wrong fucking day for that. But I survived.

We returned to the shop by 8:30 and I wondered how in the hell we could do a whole route in two and a half hours and spin out a whole eight hour shift. I got the first actual lunch break this day since he had to wait for another round of things to deliver. Then when my break was over, I got word we'd be going soon. Hah. He had me load about five hand-truck loads of stuff to the truck which awaited not in the loading dock but on the street, which is gotten to by passing through the cooler! Dammit. So I cut back and forth through there a few times, hating it but dealing. Then I waited at the truck for him. And waited. And waited. It was about 30 minutes I waited out at the truck. I saw him load some stuff, come back, go out. Eventually, around a quarter of 10 we left for La Jolla again and did an equally nonsensical drive as any we'd already done that morning. Somehow, he spun it all out for another couple hours, and we got back and I punched out at 12:30 ish, making eight hours pretty squarely.

I got a chance to talk to Bob's brother Roger who does scheduling, and he had heard I was interested in a moment of his time. I found that at least the early morning thing was done, and that Sundays are not genuinely necessary but that they like a Sunday a month to be added on. He assured me that I'd always get my 40 a week, but likely more. Well, that helped allay some fears from the day before. Part of this day's stress was fearing that things might be over there. I was half expecting to be given my leave at the end of the shift.

Oddly, I wasn't as tired even at the end of the shift, but I was keen to clean up and rest a bit before Kelli and I ran some errands. I found my appetite was back when I downed a burrito from my favorite shop, and found myself wanting for more. We at last had a chance to connect a bit while we ate at the park near our house. And then somehow instead of hitting the hay at 8 pm, I lasted till past 11! That means that I have been up for 20 hours but awake for closer to 22. Damn. I spent the day getting a lot of orange juice and some of the OTC drugs into my system.

And that is how my first week at work went. Next week I actually get to begin doing the job for which I was hired (short driving—not the routes that I've been doing), and at the hours that I agreed to. Sunday: 11 am. It's getting sleepy time here.

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