I was remembering on my way to work this morning, heading to a job that I absolutely love, about a time I worked for one day in a factory. I had forgotten all about that. A single day from 7 years ago that I felt like a fish out of water.
It was 2005 and I had recently left Florida after spending close to 4 sweltering years there. I was back in my home town of Nevada City, California. It was late September, early October and the weather was perfect. I had spent a few weeks reacclimating myself to California living and not doing a whole lot of anything. I didn't even have a permanent place of residence. I was sleeping on my mom's couch in her little 1 bedroom house or sleeping in the bed of my old friend and new boyfriend Ira. I had also spent a week at my great aunt's lounging about the pool and drinking beer or house-sitting for my mom's best friend while working on some short stories I was writing and turning into a podcast.
It got to a point where the fun was over. I was starting to run really low on my savings and it was time to get a job and get back to the real world. My previous job was supervising a phone room of callings doing phone surveys. I knew my options in Grass Valley were VERY limited. When I had lived there before, the work experience I had was a cook in a little coffee shop/cafe and a barista for my parents drive thru coffee shack. I had grown very fond of sitting in air
conditioning with a computer, telephone and doing 33 hours a week on
average. I wanted to continue in that line of work. Officey/Adminny stuff. To find that kind of work I figured I would have to search further away. Closer to Sacramento. Probably somewhere around Roseville. My tentative plan at the time was to find an apartment in Roseville with Brandi, my best friend of many years who had moved out to Florida with me and more recently accompanied me back on a cross country journey in my Geo metro. My relationship with Ira was still pretty new so I had yet to make any plans that included him.
I went on a few job interviews. One was for a moving company of some sort. I recall going on a ride along to a lady's house so that me and the owner could inspect her furniture and give her an estimate on how much our services would cost. I vaguely remember having to drive all the way down to Hayward for another interview. I can't remember if it was for the same company. Either way I declined the job.
I contacted a temp agency about an admin position in Roseville that sounded great. It was for a company that supplied digital card readers that you find at any place you swipe your debit card and swipeable gift cards for companies that offer them. Sounded cool. The phone interview went well and I was excited to go down to Roseville to do the inperson interview and fill out paperwork.
When I got down there (about 50 minute drive when traffic was light) I was greeted by a very nice woman that I had already started referring to, at least just between Ira and I, as Mrs. Ladypants. She was very sweet and excited to give me a tour of the factory. After finishing up the paperwork in her quiet little office I thought we would take a tour and then come back and I would be shown my cubicle. We entered this gianormous and noisy place filled with people of all different colors and swirls of activity. Coming from a pretty small town full of quiet aging hippies I wasn't used to seeing bearded Sikhs with their carefully woven headscarves and gaggles of rather young looking hispanic girls in colorful clothing shouting loudly over the noise. I felt like I was in a foreign market. It was all very chaotic and I easily got turned around as I we trundled from station to station, waving and greeting new people. Mrs. Ladypants told me they were in the middle of a big push to get orders out and tensions were running high. She said I shouldn't be too alarmed if people started crying. They were just under a lot of stress. That was my first warning bell.
I was shown to what was going to be my station. I was a little confused. Where was my cubicle? Where was my A/C and chair? I was in an area in the middle of the factory, sectioned off with tall metal racks. There were rubber mats on the floor and a long roller conveyor table running along the back. A few other very sour looking girls were hastily introduced to me and I was told what my task was. To my right two girls were pulling paper orders of gift cards in long stacks, putting a rubber band around as many was were ordered and then pushing them down the table to me. I was to look at the paper and see how many cards were ordered. This could be anywhere from 12-250, but usually not in a nice neat number. It would often be 63 or 117 or some odd number like that. I then needed to count the cards while looking at their serial numbers on the back, making sure all of the numbers were in numerical order. Counting while keeping track of a separate number (when I'm already not that great with numbers) turned into a brain draining task. If they looked good I'd push my stack further down the row to the extremely pregnant girl who got the one chair allowed in the area sitting at the computer. She'd mark the order as fulfilled on the archaic machine, box it and send it off to the next group of people. I managed to do this for a few hours before lunch time. My head was absolutely pounding.
I went off to the break area and looked around. It was just another section of the huge factory blocked off by rows of lockers. It felt a bit like middle school. There were people stuffed around the tables and chairs talking amongst themselves in their native tongues. I didn't see anyone that looked like they wanted anything to do with me. I felt frazzled and shy and needed to get out of the noise so I ended up going out to the parking lot to sit near my car eating lunch and smoking cigarettes. When my half hour break was up I was utterly dreading going back. I just had another few hours before 5 o'clock, when Mrs. Ladypants had originally told me my shift would be up.
I went back to my station and the girls told me I wasn't moving fast enough, I was holding them back. The girls went back to chatting with each other in Spanish. During one of my counts I noticed the cards weren't in numerical order, there was a couple missing. I told the girl who was handing them off to me and she was extremely annoyed. She took the stack back from me and told me to keep going. Perhaps I was taking the job too literally. Maybe I was just supposed to give them a cursory glance and just move through without really looking. I wasn't sure but either way my back was getting sore, my feet were tired and the noise from the rest of the factory that was creating the cards and machines and boxing them up on palates and pushing them out the back into trucks was getting overwhelming. I kept remembering the pay. I was making $11.50 an hour which was pretty good compared to the $9.25 I was used to making before. This was pretty good cash! But then again, I was back in California where everything was exponentially more expensive than Florida. It wouldn't go nearly as far in renting an apartment, getting food, car insurance, utilities, etc.
I was then informed that I was expected to be at my spot again at 7am sharp the next morning. Ugh... that would mean I would have to leave the house by 6am, possibly earlier if traffic was bad. I was also told that since we were in such a backlog, quitting time was actually 7pm. I was allowed to leave at 5pm today, but tomorrow I was expected to stay until 7pm. More warning bells were going off. I wouldn't get home until at least 8pm. That would give me just enough time to make dinner, clean up and go to bed by 10pm before getting up at 5am. When would I spend time with Ira? When would I do laundry or see a movie? Ira and I had talked about playing at Open Mics again.... when would we find any time to do that?
I didn't really have a lot of time to ponder it as my thoughts were occupied by counting the cards. "88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95... shit were those serial numbers in order? Just watch the last 4 digits maybe. 96, 97, 98, 99..." By time time 5 o'clock rolled around I was drained. Before I could leave I was told that Saturdays were also mandatory right now. Would I have a problem with that? For some reason I said that was fine. No problem. Maybe I was thinking about how much money I would be making. close to 70 hours a week at $11.50 an hour... More money than I've ever made in my life. I trudged out to my car to make the long drive home.
Traffic getting out of Roseville was miserable. It took closer to an hour and a half to get back to Ira's house. It was dark and I was starving. Ira asked me how it was and I just started crying. Balling like a baby. He made me a quesadilla and drew a hot bath for me. I was feeling guilty that I had left 2 hours earlier than my workmates and was so damn exhausted. What's the matter with me? Can't stand a little hard work, eh? That girl was 7 or 8 months pregnant and working her ass off. The place was full of people working hard hours to try and make some money for their family. Am I too good to stand all day? I was also pissed. Feeling misled by Mrs. Ladypants. There was nothing in that which could be described as an "Admin Position" that I applied for.
By the time I fell into bed I was so upset I could hardly sleep. I was trying to figure out how the hell I could possible make this work. It would be easier if I moved down to Roseville. Then the commute wouldn't be so bad. But I was getting really comfortable staying with Ira. What if this works out and we end up staying together? (Spoiler Alert: we did). He was sleeping peacefully next to me as I watched the hours tick by on the alarm clock. It was getting close past 1am. The alarm was going to go off in 4 hours. It felt like I had swallowed a bowling ball of molten lead. Then finally a peace and clarity came over me as I realized "I DON'T HAVE TO GO BACK". I couldn't believe it didn't occur to me sooner! There ARE other jobs out there. I don't have to go back there ever again if I don't want to. Oh the joy of this revelation! I turned off the alarm clock and promptly fell asleep.
In the morning as Ira was getting up to go to his job at Comtech he was surprised to see me still in bed. I told him "Monday I'm going over to ADP and having them find me a job closer to here". He was delighted.
Since it was Thursday or Friday I had all weekend to enjoy now. Now I do admit that I should've called Mrs. Ladypants but I was 25 and felt she had duped me and could go fuck herself. Ah, those were simpler times then.... she called a couple of times during the day and I finally picked up and told her I was terribly sorry but the job wasn't for me and I wouldn't be coming back. She was super nice about it and told me she'd mail my check for the hours I worked ASAP.
I did end up going over to ADP (the temp agency in Grass Valley) and giving them a copy of my resume. They said they had a customer service rep position available in Auburn (only about 30 minutes away, not 50) and that I'd be reporting to a very fun guy named Mike Maginot. I laughed in relief. I knew Mike! Back before I had moved to Florida I had done some work as a theater tech. He directed "Follies" out at the Fred Foresman Amphitheater and I ran sound for him. How perfect was that? They asked if I could start tomorrow at 8am. I was quite excited to get to eScrip the next morning. There it was..... a desk, a chair, a computer, a phone. In a small room with Air Conditioning.
About a year later I would develop an eye twitch and absolutely HATE working in Customer Service but at that point I was so flipping happy to not be working in a factory. After that I moved to Seattle, worked for one year at the front desk for a WaMu Homeloans office before the whole thing went tits up. Now I'm the office manager and bookkeeper at a small software development company in Bellevue and I adore it. Yeah, I have a desk, a computer, a very cozy chair, a phone and that delicious A/C and clock an average of 30 hours a week. That's much more my speed.