Monthly Archives: April 2011
I have quite the love/hate relationship with my job. Just the work, I’m not talking about the travel here. Yet. For the most part, when I’m not actively trying to fix shit in boiling temperatures or banging my head against the wall in our lovely Monday morning service meetings, I love what I do. Now one should always account for the biases of the author, and I’m writing this on my lunch break on day one of a 2-week trip to Germany. So far work is playing nice, I’m in the cooler of the two plants I’ll visit this trip (a brisk 110 where I’m working) and the stresses of spending a good chunk of time alone in a foreign country are as of yet still overshadowed by the fact that it’s bad ass that I’m getting paid to take an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe. I’m sure I’ll spew some hate before it’s all said and done, but for now…
There’s something oddly serene about working on boilers. There’s typically about 90 db worth of noise pollution (that’s a rock concert amount of noise), clouds of fly ash and coal dust, and anything under 120 deg F is downright comfortable. Doesn’t sound horribly serene does it? However the benefit of working in such ridiculous conditions is that no one else, and I mean no one else, lingers in the annals of the plant where I set up shop. The occasional over-paid and under-worked unionized plant operator wanders by to have a glance at some malfunctioning piece of equipment, or to throw on a face-shield and have a peek into the 2500 degree boiler through one of the many observation ports. However these guys generally wander off before they have a chance to start sweating, and I’m once again left to my own devices.
I have a list of shit to do, and, if I’ve done my planning correctly, most of the shit I need to do it. I listen to music, put my head down and go. I arrive in the morning when I feel like it, I take breaks when I feel like it, I get lunch when I feel like it, and I go home when I feel like it. I still work long and hard, but I get to do it on my terms, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have that luxury. My boss is hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from me, so even if I fuck up the worst I’ll get is a nasty email, and those are generally an oh-shit-I-forgot-to-check-my-email-last-night away from being a non-issue. If the list gets done, and our little system is chugging away, I can do no wrong. That’s a lucky fucking break for me, as I have a healthy distaste for authority and a mouth to match it. But turns out most people won’t leave for God-knows-where with less than 24 hours notice, let alone work where it’s hot enough to roast a small turkey; so I get my shit done and they leave me alone. Of course when I finally do go home for the evening (sadly, I’ve been referring to the Comfort Inn du jour as ‘home’ for years now) I get 50 bucks to spend on dinner. Usually works out to a good-sized steak and three or four cocktails at the local steak house. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
This shit is definitely an acquired taste, and it’s certainly not for everyone. Recently, during the interview process, our head of HR asked me what a candidate needed to be successful at this gig. My response was something like this: ’A screw loose, a diminished self-preservation instinct, and not having a wife and kids wouldn’t hurt.’ Turns out I fit that bill, and I guess I was right because as far as I’m concerned, I’ll take the noise, and heat, and ash over spreadsheets, and emails, and schedules, and some dude with an MBA from Yale telling me how to draft a sales pitch, or whatever people do in their cubicles…
- B. Littleton
Let’s start a blog.
So here I am. In my hotel room at the Hotel Kattenbusch in Ludenscheid, Germany. It’s 12:45 AM and I have to be at work early tomorrow. The only problem is that I flew in this morning, and with the jet lag it feels like, and should be, 4:45 pm. Not exactly bed time. Everything in this town is closed, understandably, and I’m left alone with a 6-pack, a laptop, and an all-too-human sense of isolation. This is my life for the next 11 days. The lonliness is a bitch, but mercifully, the jet-lag will wane. Mercilessly, it takes about a week, so I’ll have about 4 days to be an actual person with actual sleeping, eating and pooping habits. I might get a day off one week from today, but that’s only if things go well which is quite a rarity. If not I’ll end up working 11 days in a row with a trans-atlantic flight before and after. And, this is normal; a remarkably unremarkable state of being.
Ever seen ‘Up In the Air’? Take away the classy restaurants, the attractive women who are easily impressed by frequent flier miles, and the Morning Songbird meeting room at the airport Hilton and replace them with Applebee’s, dudes with belt buckles the size of my head, and 150 degree power plants and you have my life in a nutshell. Ok, I don’t spend 320 days a year on the road like Ryan Bingham, but I did hit 175 last year. Gimme a February and a couple of Mays and that’s 6 months right there. That’s a shitload of time to spend living out of a suitcase. But what’s more incredible, is that I’ve grown to love it. I could do without the heat and the coal dust; and actually meeting a girl would be just fine with me. But the bottom line is when I’m not travelling; when I’m stuck at home (the fact that ‘stuck’ was the word that popped up on the screen without my realizing it says a fair amount) I get bored. Really bored. Sounds insane, I realize. When I’m travelling I get incredibly homesick. But then I get home and I’m almost immediately road-sick. Maybe I crave the itinerized lifestyle (when you write a blog you get to make up words), maybe it’s the fact that I know not too many people could do what I do without going bat-shit, Charlie Sheen insane. I’m a long ways from normal, and I adhere to a pretty strict regimen of whiskey and cigarettes, but I do alright, and I’m pretty proud of that.
Fucked if I know why I like this, but I do. The fact that I’m blogging about it has to do largely with a handful of close friends and relatives, all of whom are in awe that as of yet I haven’t gone the aforementioned bat-shit insane, and all of whom chastise me regularly for not writing. The title comes almost directly from an argument I had with my cousin. She, correctly, told me yet again to write a book about my experiences. I, incorrectly, wrote a paragraph outlining why that was a ridiculous idea. While my life aesthetically looks like the stuff of fine fiction, I insisted, it’s actually surprisingly dull. Fly. Sleep. Eat. Work. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Eat. Work. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Eat. Drink. Fly. There. That’s 3 days in the life right there.
However, it took me a while to realize that the mundanity in it all is actually pretty damn amazing. People are people wherever you go. Kids chase ducks in Germany just like they do in Kentucky. Old men rudely proposition attractive young women in Minnesota just like they do in Texas. It’s an enormous, tiny, boring, outrageous, and predictably unpredictable world out there. And I’m the genuinely sarcastic, quietly outspoken dude at the end of the bar sipping my Beam and Coke and watching and listening to it all.
And now, I’m writing about it. Remarkably unremarkable isn’t it…
- B. Littleton