Arriving early to walk in the warehouse

In my extensive experience working in the corporate world, I’ve seen basically three kinds of interaction between site managers and their underlings.

Most common is the passing remark, usually done in a hallway, a breakroom or, God forbid, at the urinal. This typically addresses only the most trivial of subjects, usually the quality of the previous night’s sporting contest or the weather. “How about that game?” he’ll ask, to which the safest response is “that was some game” and an quickened pace of walking down the hall, or of peeing, or both.

A less frequent contact occurs when the department meeting is called. It’s a little like being in combat, in that you’re confronting two equally frightening options: either being bored by endless hours of ultimately pointless alert, or scared out of your skin by death-dealing action. Our most recent such assembly involved being told that a rumor which none of us had even heard was not in fact true. Which of course made us all believe that it was true, or else why would there be a meeting? Again using the wartime metaphor, this was like being on patrol in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and set upon by a squadron of costumed Disney characters. Boring, scary, and a bit confusing.

Finally, there’s the one-on-one sit-down. I’ve been in managerial positions a couple of times in my career, and I was always tempted to cynically manipulate this setting to get a slam-dunk on a dicey but ultimately minor issue. Ask your employee to see you “immediately,” close the door behind them, strike a serious posture, and request that they run across the street and get you a latte. They’ll be so relieved they aren’t in trouble that they’ll probably throw in a scone.

I had an encounter similar to this with my supervisor last week. He pulled a chair up next to me and said he had a question to ask. There were several night-shift people on vacation Friday night, and might I possibly come in early Saturday morning to pick up four hours of overtime. It would mean getting up on what would otherwise be a restful weekend, but it also meant some extra pay that I wasn’t about to turn down. I paused long enough to make him fully appreciate all that I meant to the department (about two beats), and said yes.

I’ve never really minded getting up early to go to work, preferring instead to focus on the fact it also means I’ll be going home early. My current everyday schedule requires me to be at my desk by 5 a.m., a luxury compared to recent years I spent arriving by 3, and this particular assignment that had me in by 2. I fool myself into thinking of these hours not as the middle of the night, but instead that very ethereal and special time of the pre-dawn when the temperature is cool, the air is still, and the convenience stores are robbed. I’d also like to believe I’m flying on a magic carpet and instead of work my destination is Paris of the 1920s, but you can only take self-deception so far.

When I arrived Saturday morning, I was able to complete my only project in about 90 minutes, yet had to wait around till 6 in case something else came along. Around 4 a.m. I slipped out of the office and into the adjacent warehouse, taking the opportunity to log a few thousand steps on the pedometer I’m wearing for this company-wide wellness effort (see https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/taking-measured-steps-to-better-health/). The peoples of the warehouse world have too much common sense in their culture to be working at that time of day, so I had aisle after aisle of walking space in which to kill a half hour.

About half the lighting is turned off overnight, so the huge room had an eerie quality to it. The only sound was a loud mechanical hum which I was able to dismiss as merely the air conditioning rather than an imminent electrical short until I realized this space is not air-conditioned. There were other occasional beeps and groans I heard as I paced the floor so it required a conscious effort to keep my fears in check. I don’t mind things that go bump in the night as long as they’re not the sound of teetering shelves about to collapse on top of me.

I was equally nervous about the prospect of being seen engaging in such a suspicious behavior by anyone I might come across. There’s no video surveillance because there’s nothing in there worth stealing, unless you count a pallet of old proxy statements lurking in a dark corner that I temporarily mistook for a buffalo. The only other people in the building, as far as I knew, were some fellow office workers who were unlikely to be joining me. But they’d wonder if I’d suddenly gone Alzheimer’s should they happen across my improbable wandering, and the loss of their respect would be as devastating as a bison attack.

The walk was pretty boring so it didn’t take much to entertain me. I started reading some of the block-lettered signs that the warehouse clans post in an effort to communicate with each other. They reminded me of ancient cave drawings, though their all-cap sans-serif style and lack of punctuation was more primitive. “HOLD DO NOT TOUCH” read one, asking what seemed to be the impossible. “TAKE TO TEAM LEAD” read another. Yet a third said simply “DESTROY”. Okay, I thought, now I’m scared. I think I’ve walked enough.

As I headed back toward my office, I heard a distant conversation. The source of the almost sing-song discussion was between where I stood and the exit, so I had no choice other than to investigate. I got close enough to make out some of what was being said: “That foreman is a riggity dog and the line boss he’s a fool. Got a brand-new flattop haircut; lord, he thinks he’s cool,” I heard. “One of these days I’m going to blow my top and that sucker he’s gonna pay.”

Uh, oh. The threat of workplace violence was now in the air, and I had a responsibility as one who’s been through safety training to follow a strict protocol to report this threat. I ran through the list in my mind: Call the toll-free HRHelp line (a recent replacement to onsite human resources humans); enter 3 to report my site; enter 1 to report an urgent matter; say “yes” when asked if this is an emergency; say “I don’t know” when asked who else is involved; press 5 for potential violence; press star for a live operator; and say “that sucker’s gonna pay” when asked the nature of the threat.

This sounded like a lot of trouble to prevent a killing spree, so I decided instead to peek around a corner to learn a little more. What I found was both embarrassing and relieving. Somebody had left a radio on, and the country station was playing Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It.”

All was well, and I could return safely to my desk. But as for the darkened warehouse, I’ll paraphrase Mr. Paycheck – “I ain’t walking here no more.”

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5 Responses to “Arriving early to walk in the warehouse”

  1. bschooled Says:

    Wow, Davis…its like we are on the same wave length…the only difference is, my meetings with the boss usally consist of following-up on the follow-up meeting we had the week before, which eventually end up redundant since he can’t remember what he was talking about in the first place…

    This cracked me up!

  2. bschooled Says:

    Oh, and one more thing…I had to take a second look at the title of your post…at first I thought you were arriving early to take a walk in the “whorehouse”…

    I’m glad I cleared that one up…

  3. nocturnalrudy Says:

    Nice, I like how you captured the loneliness, awesomeness, akwardness, and freedom of an overnight shift…all in one!

  4. trailerparkbarbie Says:

    1st….LOL at bschooled’s “whorehouse” walk

    2nd….thanks for posting this, Davis. I work out of my house and the only reference that I have is “The Office”. I’ve had jobs at some fairly large companies and must admit that this actually made me miss those good old days. Now, if I go to the “water cooler” to chat, I’m only talking to myself. Of course, that’s not always a bad thing since I tend to agree with “me” a lot.

  5. Touchdown74 Says:

    I love reading your “storyteller-esque” writing!

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