Night Shift

November 15, 2017

Since returning from his honeymoon, our son CJ has been working the night shift at a nearby police department where, as a mechanic, he services police vehicles. This got me thinking about the only time I worked graveyard, back in the early 70s during a break from college. My mother worked at the Almaden bottling plant in Los Gatos, California, and she pulled a few strings to get me a job, just as she had for my older brother a few years earlier.


I was assigned to a wiry little Italian man around sixty. He didn’t speak much English. He guided me to a conveyor belt that rose to the top of the two story warehouse and disappeared into an opening near the ceiling on the far side of the building around two hundred yards away. Pallets of boxes were stacked near the conveyor belt and he showed me what to do; my job was to grab a box from the pallets, flip it over, removing the four empty one gallon bottles inside and place the now empty box on the ever-moving conveyor belt. The bottles were picked up by someone else and sent to be washed. To get me started my boss stuffed the conveyor belt, filling it with boxes all the way to the top. Then he left to tend to other tasks.


At first things went smoothly, but before long my back was screaming and gaps were appearing between boxes on the belt. When my boss returned there were twenty foot gaps on the line. He smiled at me, as he probably did all the soft college kids who worked summers in the bottling plant. Without saying a word, he became a blur of motion, slapping boxes on that conveyor belt with remarkable efficiency and speed. He even double-stacked a few rows. Then he left again.


I did my best to keep up but that belt kept moving and the boxes became heavier, the space between them growing wider and wider until my boss returned again to load the belt with rapid-fire dexterity. This went on until dawn, at which point I punched out and drove home.


Around ten that next morning I woke and tried to climb out of bed. I couldn’t. My back screamed in agony, my hands were red and blistered, and my fingers couldn’t bend or clench into fists. I rolled out of bed and landed on the floor. As I lay there feeling sorry for myself, wondering how that old Italian could summon the strength to do a job that was killing me, I realized that performing manual labor for a living wasn’t for me. Up until then I hadn’t taken my college education very seriously, but now I was determined to work hard and get my diploma. Anything was better than physical labor.


Even studying. 



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Reminds me of when I worked in a pulp and paper mill. Students were always assigned to the toughest and dirtiest jobs. Manual labour was gruelling work and I adapted by taping my blood filled blisters with hockey tape. Handling a wood pic feeding a three story shaft to turbine driven grinding stone. It was the only way to keep a well paying job (at the time). Saved most of my earnings to purchasing my first house.
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 15, 2017
These are the jobs they give to illegal immigrants these days because you're right that people don't want to do them because it's so hard.
By: PT Dilloway on November 15, 2017
I had the same wake up call with manual labor working at a Sam's Club. The cashiers they got working the front lines have arms and legs of iron. Incredible the abuse they endure for small wages.
By: Michael Offutt on November 15, 2017
I had visions of that old I Love Lucy episode.
By: cranky on November 15, 2017
man o man...that was a lot of hard work- never did anything close to that! I bet that was a motivator ! Have a great day!
By: Kathe W. on November 15, 2017
Like Cranky, I too thought of Lucy. Does that mean we're the oldest two guys here?
By: Catalyst on November 15, 2017
I'm older than you & I thought of Lucy, too!!
By: fishducky on November 15, 2017
This is why i wish i'd worked harder to get a good education, it's not easy being a janitor.
By: messymimi on November 15, 2017
I'll join the "Lucy club." I thought of it as well. My hardest physical labor job was furniture handler and boxer for a moving van company. Wow!
By: Tom Cochrun on November 15, 2017
In between school and college I did nine months on building sites building glasshouses. Like you, the experience convinced me that I didn't want to spend my life laboring. Sure toughened me up, though.
By: Botanist on November 15, 2017
I think many people learned a similar lesson.
By: red on November 15, 2017
My back hurts just reading about it!
By: Val on November 15, 2017
Forget the backache---I would have died of boredom (and they didn't have iPhones with great playlists on them back then).
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mom on November 15, 2017
The only job I ever had where I was pitted against the speed of a conveyor belt was at a meat packing plant, I was only nineteen and I was supposed to trim the fat off of beef roasts as they sped by, I bet I missed two out of three, after eight hours I couldn't even straighten out my fingers. I have to admit that I also thought of Lucy when I read this one.
By: Jimmy on November 15, 2017
I've never had to keep up with a conveyor belt. I worked 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at the nursing home and loved it. I'm a night owl and quite often work at night when I'm editing. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 15, 2017
I had a similar work experience. I sure didn't appreciate how hard and, especially, efficiently and skillfully people could work.
By: Mitchell is Moving on November 16, 2017
Thought of Lucy but also of Patti. I once raced a conveyor belt when in college. The job however that made me want to go to college in the first place was picking beans commercially as a teen. No thank you.
By: Arkansas Patti on November 16, 2017
I guess your intellectual/student side was just bottled up......................:)
By: John on November 16, 2017
That's brutal work. I've done a little production work and it was hard. I've also worked third shift. R
By: Rick Watson on November 16, 2017
I'm younger than the "Lucy club" members, but I thought of that episode, too! My first summer job was cleaning hotel rooms - I remember the intense, physical tiredness from that job. Night shift is really tough - my ex-husband worked third shift and I believe it's one of the many reasons that marriage failed.
By: Pixel Peeper on November 19, 2017

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