“If you don’t start finishing on time, we’ll find someone who will.”
The entire load team sat in a meeting room facing Ted.
For weeks, we’d been dragging ass. Never mind that we were already understaffed and trailing further behind as the company grew.
We’d never once finished a shift in under 10 hours. The overtime was nice, but not worth leaving the warehouse at 2 in the morning.
“See you in a few hours,” became the dark joke at the end of our shift
At the time, I was part of the two-person team that loaded trucks with freshly-washed supplies. It was by far the most complicated position, and took the longest.
Right as we started the shift, we scanned through spreadsheets to see what every truck needed. Then we scrambled to fill bags with clean towels, sometimes hundreds of them total. Then I ran up to the second floor of the warehouse to haul a snake-like row of clothes along a track back downstairs. The row was usually 25 to 30 feet long, and screwing up the transport could mean a big pile of clothes, hangers, wheels, and a pissed off crew.
Once we positioned the row in front of the open truck, we reached and grabbed, reached and grabbed, reached and grabbed bunch after bunch of clothes on hangers, filling the entire truck. Then came the mats. I grasped them two or three at a time, and threw them into the truck. The technique had to be just right so they slid along the floor, right into the hands of my partner at the other end, so he could neatly stack them.
Fifteen trucks total.
If you didn’t haul ass, you ended up stacking mats at two or three in the morning, delirious with exhaustion, knees, back, and shoulders aching… until you finally crawled out of the remaining space of the truck
As I did, more than a couple times.
In fact, too many times. Which lead to the meeting with Ted.
As the days went by, Ted zeroed in on me and the guy I was working with. He knew we were the real problem.
“I don’t know how much longer I can do this job,” I admitted to Ted. “I’m looking for other work. Are there any positions open in the daytime shift?”
I knew the work in the morning was physically easier. If I could get a transfer, maybe I could finally re-claim what I’d lost when the gold-buying store closed – an easy paycheck to cover my rent, food, and leave a little extra for funding my business.
He said he’d look into it.
Later, when I asked again, he said, “There are some things I need to see from you.”
I had to speed up… right as the daily exhaustion was driving me into the ground
I couldn’t see how. Day after day, Ted got more and more pissed at my partner and I, as we slaved away until 3AM. I’d lurch out of the final truck, giggling with exhaustion, and we’d return the last ignition key as Ted locked everything down without a word.
Then something happened.
My partner’s excruciating back pain forced him to work a different position. He was replaced by Jesus, the 40-something guy who could out-work all of us.
I scrambled to keep up with him. And my speed improved.
Ted approached me, and admitted they had an opening. “It’s the order-pulling position. I think it’d work for you because you have a good memory.”
Huh, I wondered what I had to memorize.
Eh, I was sure it’d be easy…
Later, I checked out the lay of the land on the other side of the warehouse, to see if I was still interested in transferring.
I stepped around the racks of clothes, noticing how calm all the workers looked as they sorted everything. As I scanned near-endless rows and columns of different fabrics, it seemed like an impossible amount to memorize. Maybe I wouldn’t have to? And, sure, I had to duck and dodge all kinds of pipes and wires in the parts of the warehouse built for someone half my size, but I could get used to that. Right?
As far as I was concerned, there was no time to think it over. I just knew the move was perfect for me! Of course I was going to say yes! Double-checking felt superfluous.
Still, transferring wouldn’t be instantaneous. Before I could get the wheels turning, the load team slogged through a schedule of five shifts in a row.
I unloaded the entire time, with a 19-year-old kid from Mexico who had just gotten engaged.
He blasted mariachi music from every truck’s stereo, spoke only about twenty words of English… and we had an absolute blast working together
One night, while I separated broom handles from their bases, Ted confronted me.
“Are you absolutely sure about this? Once we do this, there’s no way you can come back.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
It still wasn’t a done deal. The load team was already stretched thin.
Eventually Ted confirmed, “You’re definitely switching on Monday. They’re even more behind than we are.”
It was hard to imagine that. The load team was scrambling to keep up with the company’s massive workload. Oh well…
On Friday, we unloaded the final truck. It was pure hell. But I knew how to do it, and could get in a groove on occasion. Especially working with a fun team.
“I’ll almost miss this job. Almost…” I admitted
I’d eat those words.