The Daily Grind

October 21, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

Happy Friday, Friends.

I’m sitting at my desk in the office of my workplace. It’s pretty quiet today. The office manager and I are mostly alone in here, with the occasional interruption of someone walking in to ask a questio…

hang on..

Okay, back. Angela, the office manager just told me sotto voce to “listen to the radio”, her code for me to grab my phone and begin dialing. For the last week, we (mostly her, but she enlists my help when I’m in here) have been trying to be the 25th caller at 10am, 12pm, and 5pm to the local radio station and recite the silly phrase advertising the station’s format. So far, she has been the 11th, the 15th, and the 18th caller. I was the 12th the other day, but mostly it’s just a busy signal that is constantly in my ear after dialing over and over. I find myself keeping my head behind the computer screen as I call, hiding a bit so the boss doesn’t suspect that I’m not actually doing any work.

Thought today I’d provide a little portrait of what my day is like at GND Machine, my place of employment on the southwest edge of Chicago. For the last several years, I have attempted to get to work early, say about 5:30am. This allows me time to adjust to being at the shop, taking in the smell and taste of the machine oils, hearing the hiss of pressurized air leaking from various pipe fittings and hoses while the compressor rattles and roars in an attempt to keep up with the pressure loss. I hate walking in right on time and having to switch my brain into programming and set-up mode instead of thinking of anything but that. I usually change my street clothes into work duds right away, then settle back into a reclining camp chair that I have stashed in a corner behind one of the CNC* milling machines that I operate. I use my phone to answer any messages that friends may have sent from other places around the world while I was asleep the night before. If I’m still a bit somnolent, then the last ten minutes before starting time of 6am is spent with my eyes closed in an attempt to dream happy fantasies.

When the sound of my workmates leaving the breakroom and walking out on the shop floor wakes me from my slumber, then it’s time to grab my cup and head over to the coffee maker. About seven times out of ten, there will be just enough of the hot, brownish-black, caffeinated liquid to almost fill my 12 oz black ceramic mug. Other times, some selfish jerk has left the pot nearly empty, being too lazy to take 30 seconds of paid time to make more for the next person. On those occasions, I irritably empty the filter basket into the trash can, replace with a new one, open up a pack of coffee from the box atop the cabinet (assuming that someone didn’t leave the box empty), pour it in and replace the basket over the top of the pot. Push the start button and heated water begins to pour over the grounds and seep into the vessel below. Simple. Except now I have to stand there and wait for the pot to fill before I can enjoy my morning brew. It’s always good to begin my day with a bit of aggravation.

Most of the time, whether I’m pouring or making coffee, I see Rudy walk into the breakroom from outside. He has being 6 minutes late down to a science. He’ll walk around me to the time clock while we both mumble “good morning” at each other, very possibly being the only conversation that he and I will have all day. I don’t have a BAD relationship with my workmates, just mostly a NON-relationship. The greater majority of them are Polish immigrants and they tend to stick pretty tight with each other. While I get along just fine with everyone, I’m not usually involved in their discussions of politics, soccer, or how much they are pissed off about the job. You’d think that after almost nine years I would have a somewhat decent understanding of the Polish language, but I can mainly just recognize and remember the curse words.

After grabbing my first fix of wake-up drink and wishing that I had a donut to keep it company, I wander over to one of the machines in my department and try to remember where I left off the previous afternoon. This is the first thought I will have about my job since 4:25pm the day before when began the ritual of putting back on the street clothes and walking to the time clock to punch my card. Hopefully, the situation will simply call for turning on the machine and pressing the start button instead of having to set up a new job from the beginning. I really don’t feel much like thinking or getting my hands dirty yet.

I work in a machine shop. We produce parts made mostly from steel or various other metals to be assembled into products for the oil and gas pipeline industry.  We also build conveyor systems for food processing and manufacturing companies. Other times we do odd jobs for whomever wants to pay us to make something for them. Some jobs are repetitive. Some jobs are more challenging, hence more interesting. And some of the jobs are simply a pain in the ass. Many times the blueprints or drawings don’t make any sense, or they have mistakes on them that haven’t been corrected for years. If I’m on top of my game, I will oftentimes catch the discrepancies before I begin drilling holes or cutting shapes. If not…that’s what the keeps the welding department in business. As my work title also includes Quality Manager, you would think that I could get these out-of-date prints eliminated from our system. But it seems only to be a title, as the owners and their sons who run the business don’t wish to take me seriously when I attempt to implement changes. I’ve resigned myself to being nothing but a figurehead as long as the paychecks keep coming every Friday. Somehow, the company has managed to stay in business for over fifty years without paying attention to basic, industry-accepted rules of quality, safety, cleanliness, or human resources. It has had the effect of keeping away many qualified prospective applicants.

One may wonder why I have stayed here for so long, if the work conditions are so pitiful. Because I could easily walk into another manufacturing firm where the rules make sense and are enforced, where the machinery is updated and kept in a good stated of repair, and where you could quite possibly eat off of the floor because of the high standards of housekeeping. Despite the maddening, constant state of absolute chaos and disorganization that exists in the entire enterprise, I choose to remain because the people for whom I work are dedicated to their employees. Even though they have no real people skills, and are at times frustrating as hell to deal with, they always take care of us. Not long after I began my employment here, a combination of factors almost put the company in the grave. The economy was in a death spiral, and not only were orders for new products beginning to slow, but many of the customers were becoming sluggish about paying their invoices. Added to that, the (now former) office manager and bookkeeper was propping up her casino addiction by skimming money from the company to the tune of over $1.5 million over the course of about 5 years. That alone should have tanked the business. But through all of that, not one employee was laid off or let go because of lack of money. They did cut overtime for a while, but everyone had at least a 40-hour paycheck. In order to make this possible, the owners, our bosses, took the drastic step of borrowing money from their own retirement plans and mortgaging their homes so that money was available for workers who at times didn’t even have work to perform. That kind of loyalty to employees is unheard of in this day and age. While many larger companies were cutting their workforce to keep the shareholders happy, this small, scrappy outfit kept everyone on the payroll despite the odds. So, yes, I get irritated and aggravated at the stupid bullshit that happens around here. But I’m never going to forget what they did for me and my co-workers back when times were dark.

That being said, it’s the stories about the irritating, aggravating, and stupid bullshit that are the most entertaining to tell. So expect to read about some of them in the future. Starting with “Make some goddamn coffee already, Asshole!”

Enjoy your weekend.

*CNC (Computer Numerical Control)

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