Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Labor history

Anyone have fond memories of child labor? Sitting here at a desk job, I definitely have fond regards for the labors I performed growing up. Sure there were some truly crappy jobs like walking beans in mid July with the only drinking water having been contaminated by stupid ass other kids working with you, but I digress. There were a number of bright spots in there.

One of my favorit activities as a progeny of child labor laws was mowing lawns. It probably also explains why I almost have to be forced at gunpoint to mow my current lawn. I made a small business out of it with actual clients that were outside of my home neighborhood and everything. Bless my mom as she actually carted me around in the period of time before I could drive on my own. I was one of the few kids that actually had money to buy things I wanted. I was still pretty frugal about it, but I know there were numerous dollars spent on video games and junk foods. Mowing lawns definitely was a good place to start.

After the floods of 93 came through I had a pretty interesting job doing cleanup for the rest of the summer. The conditions sucked as I was running a pressure washer and hauling sharp bits of sheet metal from 7-3:30 for weeks on end, but the pay was good and the actual plant workers were pretty cool. I experienced my first major work related embarassment at this job. I bent over to pick something up and blew the ass straight out of my pants. A cool misty breeze confirmed what I'd heard before I could even reach around to feel the gaping hole. Alas, the closest person you could call my supervisor was a cute gal that I'm sure I had a bit of a crush on at some point in time. I had to ask her to use the phone in order to call my mom to run me some new pants down. She was definitely amused, but at least didn't prolong my embarassment.

My first true job came towards the end of high school. A friend of my dad's hooked me up with a job at the local hardware store. This type of store is a rare breed anymore having been overrun by the Home Depots, Lowes, and Menards of the world. There are a few in Des Moines, but mostly you'll only find them in small towns anymore. I learned a ton of things that I still use on a regular basis at this job. I learned screen repair, how to reglaze a wood window, paint mixing, and a host of other things. Looking back, my boss was a bit of a jerk as I think he assumed I was the same as all other high school slacker kids. I admit, I was to a certain extent, but I was serious about doing a good job, so I think some of the ire I drew was a bit unfounded. I really enjoyed my co-workers who were pretty much all old retired guys that had good stories and were good friends. I regularaly returned to the store for years until it closed down just to talk to a few of them.

I moved from that job to work with a friend of the family at a rental and repair store. This was my first taste of learning that you can't necessarily work with your buddies. I learned small engine repair and also did a ton of general maintenance plus labor here. I spent almost 2 years here before I finally said fuck off to my buddy (who was my boss) and quit. We did remain friends after that, but something about having him as my boss just didn't work for us as it seemed to make him think I was his complete lackey.

From the rental store, I bounced into the world of construction. Through another family connection (thankfully not working for family) I hooked up with a home builder that needed a jack of all trades. Mostly my job was clean up, but I also did a fair amount of skid loader work and some actual carpentry. I more or less was issued a pick-up with a dump box and a tandem axle trailer with bobcat to use as necessary to do my job. I worked my ass off through the rain, heat, cold, and mud. I wore myself out, but I enjoyed that job and my boss was awesome. I hated mud more than anything else and if it weren't for mud, I might well still be at that job. Actually, I wouldn't be as it was a transition position at best, but made for good money with overtime available and tons of hours to work in the summers. I held this job halfway through college and I picked up tons of info about building houses and running heavy equipment.

After running through that job in a couple years, I was offered the chance to put my college learning and head to use. A shirttail family relation had a small commercial general construction company and was looking for an office person. Little did I realize that the person they wanted needed to be a slave. I learned a ton of things in two years, but the biggest was that you can't work for relatives. They will eat you alive since they think that as a relative, they're doing you a favor by keeping you employed. I was office manager, accountant, project manager, estimator, payroll clerk, apartment maintenance guy, lawn mower, general labor, and field superintendant. Most of this was all at the same time. I think I worked somewhere in the 60 hour a week range for the better part of two years and also finished college in that span. I was "salaried" which basically meant slave to them as I enver got any overtime and the only way to earn extra was to work at their house on the weekends doing lawn care and general labor work. It was probably lucky for me that we parted ways when we did. Though I liked the husband part of the owners, I could easily live the rest of my life never seeing the wife portion again. If there was ever a person that revelled in being a heinous bith, she was the one.

Unexpectedly parting company with the construction company left me unemployed for a short time where I picked up some odd labor gigs for my parents. Fortunately, I'd made a few contacts by now and roped back into a job working for an independant landscaper running his bobcat and doing various projects. The work was hard, but man was it cool. We made some sweet landscapes and I had a ball being back outside and working in the sun for the summer. Unfortunately, I knew it wasn't a long term position so I kept sending out applications and resumes. I had a few interviews and finally an interesting call.

One of the subs I had worked with at the construction company received my application (unsolicited) and called to tell me they'd keep it on file. Not a week went by and they were calling me to come in for an interview. I put in two weeks to the landscaper and went back to the office side of life. The first couple years were a whirlwind of constantly getting my butt kicked as I learned how this particular field worked. As I found my footing, I quickly shot up the ranks and now I'm hitting the proverbial glass ceiling. I think that's a pretty key point in why I'm somewhat tired of what I do. Once you get to the top, there's nothing really new to keep things interesting. It's the climb up there that offers the reward along with the kicks in the ass to make things interesting. I finally have my review rescheduled for this Thursday and I'm hoping to make a transition to the next level. The funny part is, there is no next level. I'm actually trying to create a bridge between the level I'm at and the ownership level. Hopefully I can make it stick. Wish me luck.


Iowagriz said...

Good history lesson. I was also one of the kids running around town with a mower, enough of a client list to be a pain, but the money was good for a 10-12yr old.

My biggest learning lesson came from working retail in a small town clothing store. We sold everything from mens, womens, kids, shoes, work boots and clothing, baby clothes and lingerie. You learn how to converse with a wide range of people at a job like that.

As a final note, I now know who to call when I finally decide to do some of the landscaping on my list :) I'll rent the bobcat and have cold ones on ice for you. I won't refer to you as my 'slave' :)

Buckshot77 said...

As long as you can pull some magical time out of your butt too, I'll be there with bells on. I've got so many projects at home that are on the slide right now, it's not even funny.

Iowagriz said...

Can you draw up some plans on the landscaping? As you do, I'll make sure that I consult with my designer on what we want to change in the meantime. We will let you know about it when you arrive to start. Nothing major, just items that will impact the rest of the project :)

Buckshot77 said...

Just asking for a bucket load of dirt to accidentally bury your bike when I come over, aren't you?