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Night Moves

Night Moves

There’s no controlling it. At some point, your zombie switch just flips. Your body wants to sleep, you’re never sure if your brain is asleep or awake, and in general it starts to feel like you’re on some sort of unpleasant drug. Actually, there is a drug involved: Caffeine. You’ve been sucking it down since dinner, and on every break, because it’s closing in on 3 AM – which makes it the seventh hour of a ten-hour shift – and you can’t help but think of that warm, wonderful bed you have back home that you should be in!

Hell, thy name is night shift.

One of the strangest things about working a night shift is how many people you meet who don’t believe they’re talking to someone who works a night shift. Sure, they’ve heard of such a concept, but it seemed so faraway and alien that they quickly disregarded it as the make-believe of JK Rowling or George RR Martin. To meet someone who has to work this mythological concept is the equivalent of receiving an Owl Post acceptance letter from Hogwarts. There’s no possible way this could exist. Night shift! Didn’t those things go extinct when the governor of Peoria passed the work act of 1569 or something like that?

Well, they’re there. And for awhile, I worked on one. It wasn’t something I was looking to specifically do, but my transportation circumstances resulted in my asking for the night shift over the day shift. I’m not sure my body has been able to forgive me just yet. I know every night shift worker acts according to this idea that your body will adjust to working on the night shift, but for me that just didn’t happen. Then again, most of the people who told me about adjusting my body weren’t factoring in the schedule I was working. See, not only was I working a night shift, but that night shift happened to be a 4-10 shift: Ten hours per shift, four nights a week. And when we factor in my commute – which was two and a half hours for one way – I was basically working a 60-hour week which was crammed into four days.

I rode the bus and overshot my stop more than once because I caught myself sleeping. That was the primary issue with me: I was that kind of person who read about how Navy Seals in training go through Hell Week – a week in which trainees get four hours of sleep, total – and thought to myself, “Four hours a week. Must be nice.” My sleep on weeknights was nothing more than a series of extended naps, then travel naps while riding the bus back and forth. At one point, I took to buying coffee for the bus ride home to be awake enough to not overshoot my stop, but that never kept me from falling asleep. Once, I spilled coffee on myself because I could’t stay awake and keep my hand upright long enough to make the trip back home.

Being up and at ’em all night has a weird effect: It doesn’t seem to stop or alter the onset of night aches. The only difference between night shift and bed in this regard is that night shifters get some extra pain in their feet because they have to spend the night running around in a frozen warehouse. (Well, I did. That’s where I was working.) By the time I was let out of my shift, I usually felt like I was one of the damned, doomed to walk for all eternity.

My days went like this: While your own lazy ass is just rolling out of bed in the early AM – I mean about 8:30 here, just so there’s no confusion – I was unlocking the front door of my sublet from the outside. See, it was at that time that I was just getting back home from a hard night in the pits. So I would walk in, maybe head upstairs to the kitchen for a ludicrously light breakfast, shower, and be in bed between 9 and 9:30 AM. Up again somewhere between 12:30 and 1:30 PM for a quick workout, then two or three hours of free time before heading off to my next shift. Now, I had to leave early because of the way the public transit runs, and factor in a walk of about a half hour to the first bus stop I need. Bus came, I got on, and rode close to another half hour before getting off for a five-to-ten-minute wait for an altogether lesser bus ride to my NEXT bus stop. This one was the biggie: Almost an hour to get to the next county. Get off, wait a few more minutes for, YES! ANOTHER BUS! That one was a short ride to the sport where I got off and walked another three blocks.

At work, I quenched my hunger with a light dinner which was take out-bought more often than I prefer to admit. I didn’t want to get too loaded up because there was still a ten-hour monster in front of me that I didn’t want to tackle with a full stomach. I clocked in and started work. After the first hour and a half, there was a short break so I could get some of the free coffee generously provided by the corporation. Then came three hours of more work, followed by lunch, two and a half more hours and a break, and finally punch out after a three-hour final leg. My feet were throbbing by then, so walking the three blocks back to the bus stop was never exactly comfortable. At the transit center, I would try to grab a coffee and maybe a light breakfast – usually something from Specialty’s, but I made the switch to Blazing Bagels after Specialty’s apparently got tired of never being quite prepared for their opening with an oder I was looking for. The ride home wasn’t quite as trying as the ride in, because there was a more direct route home available. This was my nightly routine for four nights a week.

It’s easy to go crazy trying to keep a routine like that up. This was something I doubt I would have been able to pull in my 20’s, let alone right now. Fortunately, there was always that extra weekend day there to rescue my sanity. The extra sleep alone made me appreciate sleep more than ever before, and three days of doing whatever I wanted may have kept me from the sauce – if, that is, I had had time to get on it.

The great irony of this was that this job wasn’t a bad one, and the corporation is generally in excellent standing with the people who work for it. I was a temp while working there, which is how at least half the people who work permanently for the corporation are hired. I applied for conversion, and all my co-workers and supervisors expected me to be a shoe-in. My only complaint – besides the insane hours – was that I wasn’t included in the task rotation nearly as often as I should have been. And that’s a serious complaint, so when, on my last night, I was told by one of my supervisors that the corporate offices had waffled for so long about conversion that my contract simply ran out, I felt a bit of relief.

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You Know What’s Worse than Working?

You Know What’s Worse than Working?

We take employment for granted in this country. We’re apparently under the impression left in our heads by all those Warner Bros. cartoons we watched as kids, that finding work is as easy as walking into the first store with a “hiring” sign, yanking it out of the window, telling the manager “Here I am!” and getting put on the job immediately. Every job has a single applicant, and employers are so desperate for help, they don’t even bother with an interview.

To what little credit I can offer this overly simplistic viewpoint, I have seen – and even worked – jobs which have operated in this very same fashion. Unfortunately, the only jobs that work in such a way are commission-based, door-to-door sales jobs which force you to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, on the hope that the mathematical law of averages swings into your favor. In other words, they’re scam jobs where the returns on your investments are practically nonexistent. Any real job, in which you can make an actual wage and maybe have a few benefits, requires going out and doing the legwork – filling out applications and hoping you get called for an interview, after which you’ll be made to wait a week or two for your potential employer to give you any kind of word. I regularly read job-hunt books, and most of them say the same thing about that scenario – if the employer says he’s got a bunch more interviews, you’re on the backburner; he’s already hired his guy, and he just wants a few people as backups in case the person he hired decides not to show.

I like to believe most people in this country are aware of this, at least on some level. Unfortunately, even then, the Warner Bros. version of the typical job search tends to prevail in the American imagination. Even in the job search books I’ve read, almost every author makes one of two assumptions: Either that the reader is already working and just looking for an improvement, or that a part-time job is growing on a nearby jobby tree to be easily plucked. Since I returned to Buffalo, I’ve been forced to say no to three jobs I was offered that were totally in the bag, offering reasonable pay and benefits, due to distance. Now that I’m a student, such packages don’t come along every day, but I’m still in the hunt for a part-time position because I want to pursue my career schooling full time. I’m having a difficult time finding a proper part-time position which can get me an income and help me pay off my debts.

I find something a little disturbing in the fact that finding a position like this is so difficult. Finding part-time work shouldn’t be hard. There are people, after all, who are able to find long-term employment after being out of the workforce for years. I managed to go to plenty of interviews, but they all ended with the same message: “We’ll call you back no matter what.” In other words, they’ve made their desired hire and I’m never going to hear from them again.

There has to be some kind of trick to getting whatever job you happen to be interviewing for at the moment, and the people I envy the most are the people who have managed to figure that trick out. You know those people: They’re the ones who are able to hop from job to job, staying on whatever job they’re working for two or three months, then quitting, then, when you talk to them, tell you about how they didn’t like this or that store policy or how their manager was a major douche, so they quit their job and found work someplace else literally the very next day. The jobs they’re constantly drifting in and out of aren’t even skill jobs which require training or education, either; they’re regular, ordinary part-time jobs with a wide glut of people competing with each other to get into. I don’t know what’s more amazing about the people who are able to do that; the fact that they’re able to so callously go in and out of work so easily, or the fact that employers, even after presumably looking at their work history and seeing there’s a better-than-even chance they won’t be around for a very long time, still hire them, apparently convinced they’re the magic employers who have found the secret formula to taming the common job players.

Meanwhile, there’s me, and I plan on staying wherever I get hired for at least the next couple of years so I can finish educating myself. I’ll stay on for longer if I find a job in a media industry – which encompasses my old degree – or the health industry, which is what I’m currently pursuing. I work very hard and haven’t been properly fired since 2006. I’m perfectly capable of leaving my nonconformist tendencies at home whenever I’m on the job. I’ve been praised for being friendly and professional nearly everywhere I’ve been, and the ultimate testament to friendliness and professionalism is that I managed to reel in over $7000 while working to solicit donations from people who watch PBS in Buffalo. These were phone solicitations too, which basically meant I was working as a telemarketer to take these donations. I’ve been able to fit in and get along with every co-worker I’ve ever had, so it isn’t like there are any major issues that anyone should be worried about.

I’ve pinpointed interviewing as my trouble spot, and that’s partly because I’ve received so much conflicting advice over how to deal with interviews that, at one point, I tried following all of it. As you can probably imagine, that didn’t work out very well. So I recently ditched around, oh, say, probably 90 percent of the interviewing advice I’ve ever received and started just going strictly by the basics: Keep my personal life out of it, research the company, avoid asking about salary or benefits, things of that nature. Still, I want to be one of those people who can get any job on the planet and hop from one to another with no trouble. I’m not saying I would hop from job to job at the slightest inconvenience. I’m just saying I hate not having an income and am in search of any infallible secrets which could help me attain one. I have a life I really want to get back to living, you know.

Adventures in Stadium Cleaning

Adventures in Stadium Cleaning

Someone remind me who’s coming to town for the NFL regular season finale this Sunday? Shit, it’s the goddamn New York Jets. As the Football turns, The Tebow Show, The Best Damn Soap Opera in the AFC East, call them whatever you please. When the Jets collide with the Buffalo Bills, it will cause a commotion across the nation with all the force of one of Buffalo’s…. Well, the way both teams have been playing over the last year, it will be the force of a gentle breeze on one of Buffalo’s warm, sunny summer days. Even though these two teams have a fierce divisional rivalry which stretches back to the days of OJ Simpson and Joe Namath, I’m not getting the sense that fans are throwing themselves into full-on hate mode for this one. After all, the usual story of the AFC East didn’t involve any Hitchcockian twists or surprise endings. The New England Patriots remain the model of division, conference, and league as they use the Bills, Jets, and Miami Dolphins as their personal stepladder.

The Bills started with high hopes, having signed Mario Williams to one of the highest contracts in the history of the league. Last year, they locked up quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as their franchise guy while Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller emerged as one of the most dangerous running tandems in football. The Bills – the only team in the NFL to miss the playoffs every season during the millennium – were looking to break their drought and at least challenge for the division crown. Instead, they earned a comparison to the classic sci-fi show Firefly for failing in spite of having everything necessary to succeed. They failed in a spectacular manner, too; their bleeding defense is poised to set a new team record for points surrendered in a single season. It looks like the only way the Bills won’t give up a new record is if the Jets offense fails, which might actually happen because their quarterback problems have been even worse than Buffalo’s. Then again, the Bills also made the Jets’ starting quarterback, Mark Sanchez, look like Joe Montana in the first game of the season.

Buffalo football fans decided they have better things to do. The game sold 16,000 tickets beneath the capacity of Ralph Wilson Stadium, blacking it out. Why does this matter to me? I’ve spent the season working there, that’s why.

My seasonal vantage point has given me a newfound view of the NFL which contrasts starkly with my view as a fan. As a fan, I always hope for a well-played game with exciting offensive theatrics, thrilling defensive stops, dramatic end zone battles, five or six lead switches, and the league’s best and brightest rising to the clutch. As an employee, my hopes are always for blackouts and blowouts. I want a very undersold game that is out of control at halftime so people start leaving in the third quarter. If it’s late in the season, I only hope for the Bills to win so they placed at the fifth seed or better in the playoffs, which would result in extra money for extra home games. If they fall into the sixth seed or out of the race, I don’t care anymore.

The actual gameday work isn’t so bad. My work during games is to make sure the suites are fully stocked and running. I’m not allowed into the suites themselves, so my work mostly entails the back hall and bathrooms. Through most games, there isn’t a lot to do. Most gamedays are divided into three distinct parts: The first part is before the game, when spectators are trickling into the stadium and finding their seats. There’s very little to do for those couple of hours, so I walk back and forth through my section constantly and periodically check in the bathrooms just to be sure. Occasionally I glance out the doors to see how the bowl is filling up. The second part is the game itself, when I’m kept busy with a steady stream of work. Although I’m able to glance an occasional play or two on the TV screen at the concierge desk (the rich really know how to attend football games), I’m not allowed to watch because watching prevents me from getting the work done. Not that it’s a heartbreaker, though; I consider it an act of mercy on the team’s part, since the Bills have been unwatchable this season. The final act is after the game, which is a short, quick cleanup and garbage removal before I leave.

The real fun starts the next day, when cleanup begins. There is no greater testament to first world country excesses than an NFL football game. As I walk through the many rows of bleachers at Ralph Wilson Stadium, I’m often left to pontificate the finer points of what it must be like to have enough money to buy an eight-dollar plate of nachos and cheese which gets left totally untouched. It seems like a valid question because it’s the kind of thing I’m forced to pick up and throw into an oversized trash bag, no matter how disgusting the weather rendered the original contents. A lot of beer and pop cups contain the remains of chewing tobacco wads. I believed tobacco chewing was something that went out of style when the frontier disappeared, but an NFL game somehow manages to gather every tobacco chewer to the same place every week.

When the trash big enough to be picked up by hand has been liberated from the stands, it’s time to break out the brooms. A separate crew will use leaf blowers to push all the small debris, like confetti and peanut shells, up to the front wall of a section before we sweep it all into bags. After that, we’re finished. The whole process usually runs a few days, and it differs depending on how many people were at the game. At a Thursday night game against the Miami Dolphins, we had all the makings of a bad crowd and a terrible cleaning experience. We picked trash for three days, and at the end of those three days we still weren’t finished hand picking. The following home game was against the Jacksonville Jaguars; this was a case of two very bad teams fighting it out in torrential rain. People didn’t want to sit through the game, and the subsequent cleanup only took two days. The 300 section, which is the highest seating level at the stadium, was so sparsely populated that Sunday that it was picked clean in maybe half an hour on Monday.

Cleanup hours aren’t consistent, and they’re not even fixed until the moment we walk out of the stadium and back to the crew hut to call it a wrap for the day. We were once actually thrown out of the stadium because the Bills wanted to use the real field for practice instead of the fieldhouse. I’ve since then been joking about Bill Belichick offering me ten bucks to tell him about maneuvers the Bills were going over in practice that his secret cameras haven’t picked up on. The work isn’t organized all that well, and it often takes a toll on my back. I did make a couple of new friends in my time at the stadium, but what gets me through the day is constantly thinking a mantra: Never again… Never again… Never again… It’s a sentiment echoed by my friends. On the upside, though, I made more money than I expected, and can afford to take a short return trip to Chicago.

Candy and Keychains: Job Fairs

One of the things that was left remarkably unchanged during my time away from Buffalo is the job fairs. Job fairs are there so a person can get his name out to one or two dozen employers at once, at least in theory.

In my experiences, job fairs are there to act as a giant pissing contest for employers who need to take the short road on the way to glamor and respectability. They’re not there for the applicants, but for the businesses who need evidence to brag about how many applications they’re receiving, how many people they’re hiring, and the great growth potential and opportunities. For even the savviest and most decorated job hunters, they’re a pleasant opportunity to grab some free candy and expand their keychain collections.

My last couple of job fairs had nothing but the same reliable plays out of the boring playbook. There were financial advisors, call centers, the military and a handful of government agencies, and cash-register jobs. Many booths play up the earning potential – the key word is always going to be POTENTIAL – of a place with revolving door turnover, because the companies that use that term require provision of licensing fees or client lists. It feels like luck to spot a place at a job fair which sells fast food, if only because it breaks up the monotony. If a fairgoer really IS lucky, there will be one or two legitimately good places to work, who will pay a decent wage with decent benefits.

At job fairs, my first scouring of the area is a look for temp agencies, where I always leave resumes. I also keep an eye out for the good employers, of which I was lucky enough to find one in two fairs: First Niagara. Unfortunately, the legitimate employers present a few problems of their own. First, they don’t call back, and second, they demand computer applications demanding information that’s either benign and irrelevant or so intrusive that it would be easier to set out and form a corporation of my own that does the same thing. Honestly, intrusive applications should be illegal.

It never takes me very long to work my way around a job fair. I usually get in and out in 20 minutes, tops, and that’s making time to talk to any businesses I haven’t heard of. I’ll grab business cards if I’m interested, but am otherwise provided with nothing but enough useless paperwork to make me hunch over. If the fair is in downtown Buffalo or by Walden Galleria, I’ll take some time to walk around a little, but otherwise my routine is to hand out resumes, take cards, and go home to fill out the applications I can return myself and wait for the agencies to call back. I’ve never known anyone who was hired through a job fair, although I have managed to score a few interviews.

Job fairs are going through motions, in and out with no noticeable benefit to potential employees. I do walk in with a positive outlook and a hopeful attitude – my catch phrase at job fairs has become “today’s your lucky day!” But in the end, I know I’m going to crawl back to Careerbuilder and the individual websites of places I’m interested in, and keep in touch with temp agencies. The difference is, I’ll have a few new keychains and some decent candy.

At least the experience is motivation to apply myself in whatever school I wind up in. My aunt and uncle have suggested trucking, and although it isn’t my first choice, it doesn’t look like a bad idea.

Hello world, this is the Scoop

Allow me to tell you the nutshell version of my story: I was born and raised in Buffalo and spent the better half of the last decade living in Chicago. I was sent there by my then-employer, PBS. I was working for WNED, the Buffalo affiliate of PBS, raising funding for a digital conversion project when my department was shut down. The three employees who had been with the network the longest got to stay with the organization. Two of them were given jobs in a different branch of the Buffalo station. I was sent packing to Chicago to sell tickets for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That job didn’t pan out.

It was fairly easy hopping from job to job in Chicago for awhile, but like everyplace else, the Chicago economy tanked after I was there for a couple of years. I worked a few odd jobs, including a long stint as a bicycle messenger which broke down my body and left me in a galaxy of debt. The economy being what it was, my service was eventually sold and I was out of a job yet again. But this time, there would be no last-minute work to rescue my dwindling bank account, and all of the city services which might have held me over have an apparent bias toward independent contractors, which is basically what I was.

I was prepared to face the worst, but was recalled home by my folks literally at the last minute. Three different housing plans I had thought up for a move to Texas fallen through.

My time in Chicago brought out my best. I grew up more in those years in Chicago than I ever did in Buffalo, so much to the extent that I find myself wondering frequently which of these two cities is my real home. I’m very loyal to them both. I wonder how much I’ve changed since I left for the Windy City, and how much the Nickel City (and no, I refuse to fucking call the place by its boring, generic, and annoyingly official nickname, the Queen City, and this is the LAST time you will see me refer to Buffalo by that title in this blog) changed while I was gone. One never stopped moving, the other looks poised for a renaissance. One is a mecca for the entire civilized world, the other is known as a secret corner of America. One is reputed to be the high-flying capital of the midwestern United States, the other is reputed to be a run-down factory town which was once as awesome as Chicago but is now known primarily for snow, chicken wings, and a sorry excuse of a football team.

The shock was nasty. This blog is an attempt to make sense of my situation. I will do that by frequently using it as a kind of impersonal journal, and comparing the two cities, which are so alike in so many ways and yet so different in many small ways that count. It’s also an attempt to show off – I would love to make my living as a writer, and so anyone is free to contact me personally and ask about my prices.

My first couple of days since landing in Buffalo were lost days, time taken out for my own recuperation. I spent the time watching several mindless movies – Star Trek Generations, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. I watched the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Knicks and pined for donuts from Tim Horton’s, one of the aspects of life in Buffalo I missed during my time in Chicago. I walked around on the street, getting to know a little bit of the area and the habits of the local drivers. It was decompression period. The preceding two weeks was the most physically, mentally, and emotionally draining period of my life, and I needed some time to sort out my thoughts on the situation.

My best friend, Rob, is a lifelong Buffalonian, and I’m certainly not complaining about the moral support he gave me. He was the one who convinced me that a move back to Buffalo would be a good idea. But one of the primary problems of life in Buffalo is that he had long been my only friend when I left. In Chicago, I made more friends than I ever did in Buffalo, and the hardest part was leaving them all. I try to look at it as a leap from one support group to another, but such detachments are never easy. I am a quirky person in real life anyway, and my friends in Chicago were the first people outside of my family and best friend to have any desire to look past my sometimes inexplicable behavior. I’ve weirded people out in Buffalo; I perplexed folks in Chicago too, but in Chicago I was at least recognized as a harmless oddball with his own style and given the benefit of the doubt. In Chicago, I was more free to be who I really was than I had ever been in my life. It took me awhile to break myself of the social constraints I had shackled myself with in Buffalo, and for awhile I was involuntarily restricting myself. When I broke free, it was like a deep, purifying breath after being in a smoky room.

I miss that feeling.