Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Limited" Opportunities

As I find myself working seven days a week at a pair of part-time jobs, I am reminded of that three month transition between the time I was fired from my first radio job at WNIN Public Radio in Evansville, Indiana and when I started grad school. (Note: The NIN does not stand for Nine Inch Nails which is what my brother jokingly tried to tell some people.)

As I was sent packing from that public radio conundrum in southwest Indiana in October of 1999, I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the opening of a graduate assistant position at Morehead State University at their public radio station deep in the heart of Eastern Kentucky. It kind of helped that I received my undergrad from Morehead in May of 1998 and volunteered, work studied and interned at WMKY for four years. Grad school would begin in January of 2000.

To fill the forthcoming three month void I moved in with my brother in Columbus, Ohio and lived off his sofa in the suburb of Grandview. It was almost like we were kids again sharing a room as his apartment was pretty small. It generally was not suited for two people, but being my brother he offered to keep me from living out of a cardboard box until grad school kicked off.

In order to make ends meet and make money to pay for school I was directed to a staffing firm which hired me for a warehousing shift. I would work 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., third shift, at the Limited Brands Distribution Center in nearby Reynoldsburg. The job was easy, but it could take a toll on you if you were not prepared. It consisted of loading and unloading inbound and outbound semi tractor-trailers with boxes, upon boxes of merchandise being sent around North America. Some of those boxes were so light you would have thought they were going to float way if you didn't keep both hands on them. Others felt as if coworkers were hiding in them in an attempt to mail themselves to relatives for the holidays. (It would have been cheaper than driving, I guess.)

Another segment was piling the boxes of various sizes and shapes onto pallets as uniformly as you could and then wrapping them in plastic so they wouldn't tip or come crashing to the floor as forklifts carried them to trucks waiting for them. The boxes came to you on a constantly moving conveyor belt and forced you to have to make a quick decision as to where the best place on the stack the boxes should go. It was virtual game of Tetris. You kept your mind off the monotony of the situation by testing your skills at building a stable stack of boxes as quick as you could without putting coworkers in danger. If you fell behind the conveyor belt full of boxes would come to a stop and a short alarm would sound. It was meant to let you know that you were going to slow and needed to keep up. For me if felt like the neighbor kids standing around laughing and pointing at you, then alerting everyone around to look and observe how bad you were at your job.

Loading the tractor-trailers consisted of grabbing boxes off the conveyors and then placing them uniformly in stacks. You stood in place and turned at 180 degrees from left to right, or right to left, moving the merchandise from conveyor to tractor trailer. This was fun at times if you were working with a second person. You could make a game out of it to see who could stack the quickest and create the most uniform stack of boxes. We had to do something to keep us entertained.

Our supervisor kept us abreast of the number of trucks loaded every night which correlated to how well we were doing in keeping up with the demand. The demand was quite high since it was the holiday season. A good night saw us load 50 or so trucks and a slow night would be around 40. It was exhausting work, but I had to keep in mind I was only there part-time and would soon be off to grad school. I had a helluva lot of respect for those who made their living working there full time. Many of those guys were around my age and invited me to play some five-on-five basketball at a nearby gym after work some mornings. We may have been tired from work, but you could easily find your second wind and a competitive edge in order to win bragging rights for a day or two.

It was tough staying awake driving home at 7:30 a.m. from work and it didn't help you were navigating through the vast majority of the Columbus area population who were headed to work during the morning rush hour. Keeping alert was a chore and it bit me in the rear one time.

Cruising home along Broad Street in my 1997 Ford Taurus Sedan (not exactly the bachelor mobile) one morning I found myself stuck behind a super slow individual who apparently didn't care that the rest of us were on a tight schedule. Getting around him wasn't easy as the cars in the lanes next to me were free flowing and flying. The last time I glanced over my left shoulder to see if I had room to get over I apparently also moved the wheel in the same direction a bit further than I should. Suddenly I heard what sounded like a rock banging of the driver side door. Turning around I noticed my side view mirror dangling helplessly and holding on for dear life by the wires that powered it from the inside.

A passing van had clipped the mirror and continued on its merry way. I had that car for all of three months and just like that it had more character than I would have liked. I eventually removed the mirror completely due to the fact it would bang on the side of the car every time a good stiff wind kicked up. I believe it made me a better driver as it forced me to have to look, and look hard, for other cars when changing lanes. That light blue sedan with one side view mirror was traded-in back in 2004 in Heath, Ohio for my current mode of transportation. I had the Taurus for five years and it had many more bumps and bruises along the way. Including a dent just above the driver side front wheel well from an orange barrel in a construction zone just north of Pikeville, Kentucky after a visit to Pikeville College for a radio story assignment. I was the only one to witness this, though I believe those construction barrels know who I am.

At the distribution center the boxes we moved around were loaded with merchandise from the long list of Limited Brands such as Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works, White Barn Candle Co. and others. I am sure you have grabbed a whiff of the flowery odors that waft from Bath & Body Works locations, but my friends you do not understand the destruction those fragrances can unleash. It may be a joy for some to get a scent of the fruity, flowery scents, but when you move them in bulk they overpower you. They don't even need to be open. In the distribution center they collaborate and work as a team to generate enough power to push their flowery agendas beyond their plastic dwellings and attach their venom to everything and everyone who comes in contact with them.

Those odors embedded themselves in my clothes and were transferred to the inside of my car and even onto your skin. Only a long hot shower and scrubbing with a scouring pad were you able to fend off the virus that was candidly...yet sinisterly... referred to as Strawberry Champagne, Sun-Ripened Raspberry, Cucumber Melon, Warm Vanilla Sugar and others. And don't get me started on their ringleader Country Apple! After awhile you couldn't move a box containing these..these THINGS..without feeling like you were being tortured for some ungodly reason. And you could determine right away what it was by its given Bath & Body Works name from up to 20 feet away. Worst of all, when I finally made it to grad school, I was still haunted by their attractive scents. I couldn't pass any female on campus without recognizing the fragrance she was wearing..and knew it by name! And NOT because I wanted too!

Those smells followed me home from the distribution center which prompted a smart-ass comment from my brother every morning. Do you know how hard it is to ignore gas station attendants, store cashiers and passersby who give you that a weird stare down when they realize YOU are the one who smells like an orchard puked on a flower bed?

I still have to thank my brother for his patience for those three months. He was dating at the time and I was playing the part of the third wheel. Many times I had to pretend to be sleeping or adjust when I left for work and when I arrived home in order to give him a bit more privacy. We butted heads a few times, but you will have that in most roommate situations. I'm not sure if I was the cause of the argument, but I did get to see The Nutcracker at the Palace Theatre in Columbus as a result of a disagreement between he and this then girlfriend during that Christmas season. She refused to go so I took her place and enjoyed it with my brother, sister and future brother-in-law. Don't let anyone ever tell you being a third wheel doesn't have its advantages.

There are some good times that make me laugh and other memories that stand out. Including New Year's Eve 1999. There was an outdoor concert at Easton Town Center, which was still in it's infancy then (it had officially opened in June) and was not the sprawling shopping mecca it is today. A couple of local bands led up to the headliner which was Veruca Salt. It was ridiculously cold, but there were a few thousand people and enough alcohol to keep the chilly weather off of your mind. I think most people would be stunned if that took place there today. Unfortunately, it has become too much of an uppity place for something that cool to takes place again.

If you would have asked me I would have told you that there would have been a much different scenario when the millennium and the year 2000 rolled around then working at a job offered to me by a staffing firm and living off my brother's couch after being fired from my first radio job, but I wouldn't go back and change it. It was an experience that resulted in some pretty cool and odd stories to tell.

That's life my friends. It changes on a dime and never goes the way you expect...and I have the experience to prove it, MANY TIMES OVER.

1 comment:

chad said...

Veruca Salt. wow--this story brought back a memory or two for me. we were sipping out of a flask to try and keep the chill off--and my gf at the time was not happy to be there, but we didnt care. and what a crazy time in that little apt of mine-you smelling like a flower. the uncomfortable nut cracker pre-dinner resulted in your unexpected invite to the show. everyone was dressed up but you-in jeans. and some basketball was played in the park those months. good times, good times all.