April 30, 2016

Blue Collar Bliss

Blue Collar Bliss
By John R. Greenwood

I'm parked. No letters please. 
The phone rang at 4:30am. It was a sick driver. The flu has been taking down guys like a high winds grass fire. One more route I can’t fill. I really didn’t want to do my morning exercises anyway. I can get a real live workout by loading and unloading 10 tons of dairy product. I’ve been wrestling cases of milk for 42 years why not add one more day for old times sake. There isn’t anyone left to call. I’ve got all their wives hating me. "Leave him alone, he’s mine today," I hear them say under their breath. You feel that brief hesitation before she hands him the phone, making him choose between helping the boss or keeping a marriage intact another day. This is the life of a transportation manager. Robbing from Peter to pay Paul. Fix today’s routes with tomorrow’s guys. Plead harder. Sweeten the pot with promises you’ll regret making. Get everything covered and wait for the next phone call you know is coming. 

Today was different.

I’d just read a piece about negativity and how it seems to be all the rage. We can’t wait to take down the next superstar. If it’s not tragic or catastrophic, it’s boring. Pessimism is the drug of choice these days. We’re addicted to feasting on the faults and mistakes of others. Watching someone else’s struggles somehow makes us feel better. I’m not saying this author can’t get a little anti-happy now and then. When you’re over 60 and you’ve moved as much milk from one place to another as I have, you get achy parts. Sometimes I sound like a vat of Rice Krispies. But, at the risk of being called an outright liar by my family and coworkers, I’d say I lean a little more glass-half-full than glass-half-empty.

In fact I can prove it with one simple sentence. 

“I like my life.”

I like it because I earned it. I did that by taking pride in my job no matter who’s name was on the building. I like finishing my day with nothing left in the tank. I never cashed a check I didn’t earn. Even when the opportunity came up for me to go from blue-collar to white-collar, I did it for physical survival, not to get out of getting dirty. I like rolled up sleeves and leg cramps, it proves you did something. So, when the phone rang this morning I started to get upset. I said a few pre-coffee obscenities, but I back-tracked quickly. I’m worn down trying to make someone else do the work. Maybe today I should be the callee. Maybe instead of getting stressed I should get strained. Why not pick up a dairy hook instead of the cell phone. I splashed some cold water on my face, threw a coat on my back, and headed out the door. My wife knows by the intensity of my steps on on the Pergo what I’m up to. She worries about me getting hurt when I try to turn back the clock. She put’s the same effort in her job, so she knows when I get that, “Don’t ask, just wish me luck and give me a kiss,” look on my face--to do just that. After 42 years of it, no words are needed. I hit the marriage jackpot. 

The problem with carrying a little extra weight and being an antique is; everyone thinks your going to crumble like a saltine. Yes I might, but I’ll take my chances. I need the adrenalin rush caused by heavy stacks of milk chasing me down the ramp or the feeling of accomplishment when a shop employee thanks you for doing those little extras. I love being in control of a ten or eighteen wheeler. I’m convinced that being physically and mentally active is crucial to our longevity. I’d rather leave this place on the move than on the couch. Work satisfies the above. Stress is part of the deal. You are better off learning to manage it than you are trying to find a way to avoid it. 

This past week I had two opportunities to flex my mind and my back. The first day was delivering milk to our stores, the other was picking it up from the farms. Both of them resulted via a 5am phone call from a sick driver. It was also spring vacation for the kids so many drivers had scheduled time off to be with their families. It was a week when every available body was already working, sick, or rubbing elbows with Mickey. 

I got assistance from two guardian angels my first day. Two "kids" whose combined age didn’t total mine. They weren’t feeling sorry for me, they were looking out for me. That resulted in mixed emotions. Being the senior member of a Department and even (ugh!) the Plant carries the stigma of, “How much longer?” I’ll let you know in plenty of time to round up 15,000 days of experienced replacements. In reality I know the place will never skip a beat. My coworkers possess the very same, “get it done” work ethic I proudly flaunt. They’ll never know I'm gone and they'll be feeling the same way in 2050. 

You can’t turn back the clock so you keep regurgitating the people, places, and happenings that I call, “The Good Life.” I don’t want to be one of those reflective old farts who lives in the past (I think I may have failed this part). I do want to be that appreciative adult who worked hard for what he has and who wants to remain vital for as long as humanly possible. Like the little boy who wants to button his own shirt but surrenders to mom’s help when the thought of going to the park catches up to him. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone worry about you even though your self esteem is at risk. 

I lead the charge when it comes to stepping up to help others. Not only is it the right thing to do but it’s like money in the bank. For every person I’ve ever helped in some way, I’ve been rewarded ten-fold in return. The struggle I had this week is coming to grips with how I’m perceived. I hold on desperately to my past work history and all the experiences I’ve assembled in 40 plus years of paychecks. The vast number of friends and coworkers who’ve crossed my path have provided a wealth of stories. Most of them come with a smile or a contemplative nod of the head. You can’t buy what I’ve been blessed with. People don't recognize how important those minute snippets of cooperation and sharing are to your outlook on life. Regardless of my age I still approach every day searching for another one of those relationships to stuff in my pocket. You can never have enough pockets or experiences to fill them with. Money can probably buy memories but when they come easy they don’t taste as good as when you get them with a sore back. 

It actually gives me a sharp stab in the neck when a new driver says to me, “I couldn’t sit behind a desk like you do every day.” They have no idea what’s beneath this aged exterior. No one does. Do you get angry and start listing your resume for them? Or do you simply smile and say nothing. Sometimes it depends on how full or empty my glass is that day.  

Blue Collar Bliss is real for me. I’m proud of every callus, every mile, every hour of overtime. It made me happy to be the one someone was counting on to answer the phone at 5am. Working is a privilege for me. I’ve never liked people who feel entitled. I like people who feel energized when something collapses. I idolize those who ask without hesitation, “What can I do to help?” 

This piece weaved in and out a bit. I tend to wander more these days. I know the people who share my view on hard work will understand what I'm trying to say. It’s an acquired taste. 

Time to wrap up. The alarm’s set for 4.