In part one, I talked about Shaky. I promised I’d talk about Jim next but before I get to that, I think I should talk about what we actually did at this job. So yeah I lied, get over it.
This was a summer job for me, and the main task in the summer was to repaint the roads: lines, left-turn arrow, etc. They had a little vehicle that would spray the hot, quick-drying paint and inject little glass beads into the paint as it sprayed it. The beads are what make it reflective at night. Jim would drive that painter thingie to lay down the lines, and when it came to making the symbols, it had a paint wand that you’d use with a stencil.
I wasn’t doing the actual painting so the ways I would help out would be:
1. I would sometimes follow behind Jim in a pickup truck with a little flashing light on top. (More often Shaky would drive, but sometimes I’d luck out and be the one driving.) The painter thingie was small and we didn’t want someone to not see it and crash into it. Plus he moved slowly while painting the lines so if I wasn’t behind him with the truck people might do all sorts of crazy stuff to try to get around him. Not the safest situation so we follow behind with the truck. Also the truck would have the stencils and stuff in it. That was probably the coolest part of my job which tells you just how uncool my job was. But it’s the only time in my life that I’ve been able to legally run red lights. I had to be behind him no matter what, so if the light turned red while he was in the intersection, I was going through a red light. I got to do that once with the police captain following right behind me and not often you can do that right?
2. Get the stencils off the back of the truck and lay them down in the road. Then, Jim would use the paint wand and fill it in with paint while I shook a little canister of glass beads over it. As Shaky pointed out to Jim once, this was doing nothing because the glass beads need to be injected into the paint as it’s coming out. Even if I’m doing it immediately after he sprays the paint, the paint has cooled enough by then that the beads won’t stay in the paint. But there was a problem with the wand where it wouldn’t inject the beads, and that’s what I was getting paid to do, so that’s what I did. I’ve had comparable situations in my software development career. But now when my proverbial glass beads get blown away by the wind, I’m sitting in air conditioning.
That would happen on a good day when the equipment would work. There seemed to be a lot of rain that summer, and we couldn’t paint the roads in the rain. So on those days we’d sit inside and do nothing. Then a nice day would come along so we’d go out to paint the roads and right away something would happen with the painter thingie where it wasn’t, like, painting. Then Jim would get underneath it and monkey around and finally we’d have to just go back inside, where he’d “fix” it. Then on the next nice day, we’d repeat those steps over again.
I discovered my first week on the job that there would be a lot of downtime. So I brought in a book to read. Jim would sit there and read the paper so it made sense to me that I could read a book. But the captain saw me reading and didn’t like it because it looked like they were paying me to do nothing. Which they were. But if I was sitting there and literally doing nothing, it somehow wasn’t as bad. And apparently reading the newspaper is more acceptable than reading a book. I didn’t understand the logic then either but I did what I was told and kept the book closed until my lunch break, when I could sit there and read for an hour, then put it away.
Even though that makes no sense to me, I don’t fault the captain too much. He was a good guy and I think he was a little exasperated by these lazy morons he had to work with in the traffic department. He would sometimes try to find other random tasks for me to do. For example, there was some secretary that I got the impression liked to complain a lot. She was complaining about some drawers in the filing cabinet sticking and being hard to open. So I was given a hammer and a chunk of wax and was told to fix her cabinets. The captain was killing two birds with one stone: It was giving me something to do, and it was getting her off his back because someone was addressing her complaint.
That was a pretty futile effort. I’d grease up the rails with the wax but that didn’t do much. So then I’d bang away at the drawer to - I don’t know - make it skinnier or something? I’m not Mr. Fixit and I couldn’t do a better job today. She was sitting right in front of me and it was embarrassing sitting on the floor in a quiet office banging away at these drawers. I convinced myself they were somewhat better but really they were just banged up now and still didn’t open smoothly.
A less futile task they’d have me do sometimes would be to wash the police cars. I’d actually drive a police car. OK it was only for the 5 seconds it would take to pull it out of the parking spot and in front of the garage - never on the street - but technically I drove police cars! The sheriff pulled in once with his new car that he had just gotten that week and wanted it washed. So I set about washing it while he stood there chatting with Jim & Shaky. He didn’t say anything to me but Jim told me afterwards that I took a long time to wash the car. I washed it like I usually would wash a car but must be they expected something fast so he could get back on the road.
If you haven’t figured it out, I’ll summarize. I had a job that required little effort, and what little I did have to do was pointless or I was inept at.
Another example of my ineptitude: The process by which they would drive sign posts into the ground was a lot simpler than I would have pictured. They made a little hole and lined up the post, with one person holding onto it to steady it, then took this heavy thing with two handles that went over the top of the post (which Google says is called a “manual post driver”, go figure) and pulled it up and down, pounding it into the ground. I found an image of a post driver like the one we used.
They had me try it once. At the age of eighteen my strength showed early promise of a career in software development. Not only was the post not making much progress, it was going in crooked. Shaky was the one to note that it was going to be crooked if they had me continue so they had to finish it themselves while I assisted by holding onto the post. If you think that should have been an easy task, you are overestimating my competence. A sharp edge on the post sliced into my thumb when he drove down on it. It was such a clean cut I just felt a little bit of a sting and didn’t realize I had been cut. It wasn’t a big deal, just needed to slap a band-aid on it. But a couple days later, they asked why I still had the band-aid on my thumb. I said I tried to take it off but it just started bleeding again, to which Shaky said “he’s a bleeder”. For the record, I don’t think I have blood clotting problems.
Next post I’ll talk about Jim, like I promised.