Monday, July 3, 2017

Sometimes It's Enough

You may or may not know that I started a new job about two months ago.  I left the world of health care behind and landed right back in a lab.  It's a little different from what I'm used to, though.

I am a legit miner.

I work in a sand mine.  It's really just a big ol' pile of sand.  The company I work for dredges sand out of a river, washes it, grades it, and sells it.  My little bit in the big picture is in Quality Control.  That's right.  I measure sand.  It's every bit as exciting as it sounds.  But, it is infinitely better than the last job I had.

As I said, I've been at the job about two months now.  The last couple weeks, I keep getting the same question:  "So, how you like the job now?"  It's asked with an air of anticipation and a bit of a smirk.  I'm not sure what they're wanting to hear so I usually give them a thumbs up and say something like, "It's all good."  Last night, someone went a little further though.

"No. Tell me what you really think."  What I really think?  I was lost for words at the moment wondering if they wanted a litany of complaints or a realistic assessment of the job so far.  So, I decided to give it some thought.

This is what I think:

My job is physically and psychologically challenging.  I work hard on my feet for 12 hours at a stretch often without much of a break.  I have to eat almost literally on the run every night.  The work is strenuous and dirty and often requires intense mental focus.  I hurt myself in a hundred little ways almost every night.  Some nights I'm riding the learning curve with a crop in my hand.  Other nights I'm dangling from the same curve by my fingernails. 

About half the time I am required to work in a railroad loadout bay taking samples of sand while it is being loaded into railcars and tractor trailer rigs using a sampling device that weighs roughly the same as your average sledgehammer.  The equipment is heavy.  The loadout conveyors are loud.  The locomotives are very loud, very hot, and VERY smelly when you are positioned above them as they go by.  The sieving machines I operate are loud and clunky.  The clanging and banging and hissing and roaring is enough to drive me right out of my damn mind sometimes.  There is sand and dust literally everywhere.  Everywhere.  If there is a horizontal surface, there is sand and dust on it.  The personal protective equipment is cumbersome.  There are two separate radio systems that I have to monitor for clues about what is going on around me.  The radios add a layer of complexity in that much of the time I cannot understand a word of what they are saying.  I'm hoping that improves with time.  The best thing about this part of the job is I get to spend a lot of time outside.  It's also the worst thing about this part of the job.

The other nights, I work in the main lab.  It is not as smelly. But, it is by no stretch even a tiny bit quieter.  On those nights, I spend my time chasing timers as I move from one process to the next often tracking multiple tasks at the same time and trying to stay on top of the paperwork and data entry.  The best part about working in the main lab is I don't have to go down then back up a flight of 37 stairs to get to the bathroom and back to my work. 

Yes, I've counted them.  Last night, I was up and down those stairs six times.  It doesn't seem like much on the surface. But, try doing it while wearing a respirator and steel toed shoes...and carrying a bucket full of little bags of sand all while trying to maintain three points of contact for safety.

My co-workers are a motley crew for sure.  They are all honest to goodness people with foibles and quirks I find enchanting and irksome by turns.  Most of them are just ordinary people living ordinary lives and hoping for a couple beers after work.  The language is often coarse...most especially when things aren't going to plan.  The common denominator is they all know their jobs and are doing their best to do their jobs.  It is a production environment, after all.  Our paychecks are tied directly to our productivity.

In the mornings after I've waded through the dunes to file my retained samples and cleaned up the accumulated sand from my workspace and passed on any tidbits of wisdom from the night to the oncoming crew, I clock out and head to my car to drive home.  I'm exhausted both physically and mentally.  I hurt in a minimum of four different places.  I'm filthy and I usually have sand in my hair, my ears, my socks, and sometimes my underwear.  If I'm lucky, I remember to take off my hard hat before I try to get in the car.

By now, I imagine, you're wondering why in the world I stay.  If it's such a challenge, why would I do this?  Well, I could give the pat answer about the money and the benefits being good.  And they're not bad at all.  Lots of the time, I couldn't give you a really good answer to that question other than I've had worse jobs.

My commute is about 30 minutes.  Vastly improved from the 90 minute commute I used to have.  The highway winds through some lovely countryside that is nearly always shrouded in mist early in the morning due to the presence of several creeks, rivers, and sandpit lakes.  I dodge both living and road killed critters of every stripe along the way.  I get a little time to decompress.

This is what greeted me this morning as I headed out to the 'parking lot' to my car. 
On my way home, I stop at the Picofarm and check on the garden and the rabbits in the cool of the morning.  When I get home, I feed the dogs then take a shower to get the sand out of my ears.  It's still quiet at that time.  I have a small snack and I settle into bed.  I work night shift on a rotating schedule that has me on duty 7 of 14 days. It's more than full time hours but it feels like a part time job.  It's a job that I can leave at work and not even think about until I have to be back in a couple days.

I've lost a little weight.  I've gotten physically stronger.  I'm considerably happier than I was even three months ago.  By that assessment, I'd say I'm actually thriving.

No.  I did not see this coming at all.  This is not where I'd hoped to be when everything fell apart a few years ago.  But, I'm still kicking. 

Sometimes, that's enough.

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