My First Real Job

Within about a year and a half of the first big flood of my life we got a second one. I was a little more preventative this time so I didn’t lose everything. But there was a big opportunity which came with it. A local contracting company was hiring for flood cleanup. $10.00 an hour part time when minimum wage here was a very reasonable $7.25.

So I applied and got hired. They told me they would call me in when they had a spot for me to go. I wasn’t about that. I didn’t get a new job so I could sit at home. I went to the main office the day after they hired me to see if they had anything for me and how long it might take to find something.

They said they didn’t have anything that day but they had a more long term position I could apply for in the next town over. I would be starting back at minimum wage but I was guaranteed at least a 40 hour work week every week so I took it.

The next week I showed up for my first day and found out what I would be doing. Disassembling computers to be recycled. It was mostly from IBM but there were some other big customers including state colleges and big technology companies. I spent my first day learning how to identify the different metals in the computers and which components went where so it all could be sent to the proper recycling centers.

My second day they moved me up a floor to where things went when they were brought in to be inventoried. There wasn’t much to be done as far as organizing but we needed a record of everything that came in so we knew everything the customer had sent was there, as well as to get a good idea of what percentage of materials being recycled came from each customer.

There was some disassembling which we also did on that floor for certain customers that required their materials not be mixed in with others when being sent out so they would get the most accurate pricing. I initially thought it was strange to have this area on a different floor but after a couple months getting to know how some of the workers downstairs were, I understood.

Truck It

One day my boss came up to me and asked if I have a driver’s license. I replied that I did and he asked to see it to make a copy. They were sending me to trucking school the next day. I was confused at first because they said I had asked about driving forklift when I started.

Thinking back to it I had asked, but not to see if I could. This was the first place I had worked that had forklifts and I didn’t know if they were something I was allowed to use or if only certain people could. The last thing I wanted was to get on one to move something and get fired because I wasn’t told I’m not supposed to.

But I went through with it. It was pretty fun learning. We had a standing forklift on our floor, though there were other types I had to learn because the company used them. The steering took some getting used to. The steering wheel controlled the rear wheels so it was like backing up a trailer whenever I moved. I had to steer left to go right and vice versa. Over the years I hit things turning the wrong way but I never broke anything.

Shortly after finishing training and getting my license I told my boss I enjoy driving it occasionally but would never be able to handle being the main trucker on the floor. I was only trained so I could help out the one guy we had on our floor, and we had another guy on our floor that went to school the same time as me to have another backup, so there was no issue.

The next year or so was annoying because the main trucker on our floor was a huge Richard about me driving. I assume his masculinity was being threatened but I can’t be sure. I just know when he saw me get on a truck to help with things he couldn’t keep up with, he’d drop what he was doing and come speeding across the warehouse to cut me off and do it. He once yelled at me because I kept bringing work to someone when they ran out and were standing there doing nothing.

At one point they tried training me to work the elevator, moving things between the 3 dismantling floors, the storage areas, and the shipping/receiving floor. It didn’t work out due to a combination of me not being able to understand anything being said through a walkie-talkie and not being able to keep up with the required speed of forklift operation of it all.

Moving Out

Soon we found out the building we were in was no longer going to be used by the company and we were moving. Lucky for us though, we all were keeping our jobs. The warehouse we were in is part of a large campus which used to belong to IBM but is now owned by a company which just rents all the buildings out to other companies.

For whatever reason the building we were in was no longer available and we were moving closer to the main site. This put everything on my floor into a small 20 foot by 40 foot room secluded from the rest of the company. The rest of the building was moved to where the main management offices and other departments in the company are, to get put all on the bottom floor in the space they each had for one floor in the old building.

Needless to say things didn’t work out well. The space they put us in was planned out by someone who had never done the work we needed to do. The isles we needed to fit a forklift into were just the right size with no work at any station and nothing on the floor. Unfortunately we needed work to be at the stations to do it and there were also anti-fatigue mats on the floors. So we quickly made the switch from forklifts to pallet jacks when moving work to and from the work stations.

We also had 2, sometimes 3, forklifts in the room which was just big enough for one to go into. We had to actually leave the room to turn around most of the time due to lack of space.

I think it took about 4 months for everyone from the old building to request being moved to a different department. In that time we saw more people get hired and leave than we had stay in the department at the old building for years.

My Turn To Leave

When it came my turn to change departments I was excited. I was getting out of the tiny room where I had to deal with a different Richard of a forklift driver and the added stress of operating in a room which was too small for me.

The new department was interesting. It was another inventory type area but these were parts which were considered still possibly good and were just being sent to us to confirm the model numbers and in some cases serial numbers match what the box says they are before they get sent to be tested and reused. My first job in this department was putting the boxes which had been confirmed into larger boxes to be shipped to different customers for testing and resale.

I enjoyed it. Each week we rotated responsibilities. There were two positions for receiving parts from the other end of the warehouse via a conveyor line and sorting them into different locations based on the preprinted inventory label. Depending on how much work there was we usually had between 1 and 3 people who were getting parts from their storage locations and putting them into shipping boxes. Then we had 5 stations where we confirmed everything that needed to be in the box was there and put a packing list and shipping label with the box, then sent it out of the building on a pallet conveyor.

There were a couple other stations by us which did almost the same thing but with different customers who had smaller orders. I was eventually trained to work in that area when work was slow for me and heavy for them. It had its positives and negatives and overall I did like occasionally working in that area.

I think this first part of the department was where I had the most fun. My trainer was a very nice person and we always had fun conversations. The other people I worked with there were too stupid to realize how stupid they were and their memories were terrible because they should have retired years before I got there. The positive thing was that the people who drove forklift on this floor were just there to work so they weren’t Richards to other people who were driving on the floor — although one of them would get mad if anyone used the truck he liked. And it wasn’t too often they needed to come through our section since it usually took a couple hours to confirm everything in the box before we needed a new pallet put up onto our station.

Eventually they taught me how to truck the floor and I switched from rotating the jobs I was doing to staying at one of the shipping stations and trucking. It made sense because the station handled the heaviest boxes and needed to have someone with a forklift come over to them almost constantly to move pallets for them. And I would still get chances to do the other jobs in the rotation when work was slow.

No Job Is Perfect

There were some issues with the other workers in the area over the next few months. Mostly just them not being smart enough to know how to walk near a forklift. They would get in my blind spot while I would be stacking pallets or step out in front of me when I’m very obviously going toward them. It was what I would consider standard things for stupid people to do and I was taught in trucking school to always assume everyone is an idiot who will put every effort into getting hit by me. So I was always extra careful driving anywhere, beeping more than I needed to and slowing at spots people were known to just walk out of without looking or listening.

But one day was too far for me. The person who had originally trained me wasn’t there one day so we were just going through the motions as usual with nobody really talking to each other. I noticed the one person who we had next to their station needed more work brought to them so I was driving over to where the pallets are to lift one up for them. Out steps Idiot #1.

I’m not sure how familiar you are with forklifts so I’ll break the situation down for you. The particular version I was operating was a standing model with a deadman’s pedal. The purpose of the pedal is to shut off all power to the motor in the event the operator falls off or some other emergency occurs. The truck doesn’t move unless someone has the pedal pressed down all the way.

Under normal use this this model will generally take about 4 or 5 feet to stop when just letting go of the throttle lever at full speed. It can stop faster if the lever is moved in the opposite direction. This is what we do the most since it is the most time effective and we’re trained to operate at fast speeds, knowing to look out for idiots.

I wasn’t going full speed. The layout of stations in combination with a blind set of stairs near where I was going made it necessary for me to be going slow. But this guy either thought I was going slower or thought I was a mile away. He stepped out with just enough time for me to lift me foot and stop about 6 inches from him. And he didn’t just step out where it would hit his arm. He was right in my center, in the kill zone.

The sound the truck made almost hurt. I could hear all the gears locking up as the power was disconnected and the emergency brakes engaged. I swear I felt the whole thing jump an inch off the ground with the force of it all.

I just stood there stunned that, even knowing how stupid this person is, they thought it would be a good idea to just step out like that to get my attention instead of just waiting 15 seconds for me to grab a pallet and be back at their station, stopped and all ears.

But, Why?

The super important information that they needed to tell me right then and there, two hours after the work day had started and I had been putting work up all day for them? The other person wasn’t there that day so I didn’t need to put work at her station.

Here’s the part where I compare my actions to a different activity. Say you were in a location near a pile of feces. In your hands you have a shovel. You then use said shovel to pick of the feces and rotate it 180 degrees so the part which was facing up is now facing down and drop it back onto the ground. That’s similar to what happened with me.

I went off. I don’t remember my exact words but I know I kept it as civil as I could, knowing I wouldn’t accomplish anything yelling at him. I then grabbed my truck key and went straight to my manager’s office, leaving the truck right where it was, to tell her what he just did and I was sick of the idiots I work with not knowing how to walk near a 6 ton death machine. Obviously I composed myself as much as possible, as I had no reason to yell at her since she was on my side of the argument.

She went off on him and soon after he was switched to other spots in the department. At first he was moved to the initial sorting area where model and serial numbers were confirmed but he couldn’t keep up so they sent him to receiving, where he still couldn’t keep up but at least other things got backed up enough to make up for it.

I stopped trucking shortly after because I didn’t want to kill anybody so I got moved to the sorting area. It was nice. It was right between two sets of conveyor belts, one for boxes coming up from receiving and one for labeled boxes going to the storage locations. It wasn’t fun, and there were always computer errors and things which never got programmed into the system over the years, but I didn’t have to worry about running anyone over.

I guess I did well because they moved me to a more specialized area of the line where I got larger parts and parts from customers who had more specific requests for how we should receive and sort the parts. I also was in charge of mailing copies of all the orders we had done at that end of the line during each week to another site of the company out of state. And at one point I was one of 2 people in the company who knew how to receive and ship parts from a very special customer they had, and one of maybe 4 who were even allowed in the room they were kept.

Gone For Good

But with all the negatives, from the day I found out the walls and ceiling were supposed to be white and not gray due to the thick layers of dust the company didn’t care was built up and circulating the areas, to having computer parts fall on my head due to a faulty overhead conveyor system they refused to fix, I jumped at the opportunity to go to a different company.

I knew I was on my way out before I finally left and I’m sure they were expecting it as well. I had spent the few months leading up to it organizing notes and streamlining things so once I left they could find someone to easily replace me, so I felt no remorse when I gave them 2 days’ notice after accepting a new position. They told me they would be glad to take me back if things didn’t work out where I was going and seeing how well they keep employees I believe them. When I finally left I was at $10.25, which –I believe it still hadn’t gone up yet– was still $3.00 over minimum wage at the time.


I’ve shared an update about this post here.


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