Your worst, but most interesting jobs

I’m sure we’ve all taken jobs in our lives that we’ve hated. Most of them sucked and had few redeeming qualities. But have you ever had one that still sucked, but was somehow interesting in some way?

I can think of two in my history.

Several years back, when I first moved to Brampton, times were tough and work was scarce. I had to take jobs I would never have sought out on my own. The first was with a large cleaning company called Servicemaster, for whom my wife’s brother worked as some sort of area manager. It was a temporary gig, and it paid cash, but I hated janitorial work with a passion. Still, it brought in some much-needed cash. The gigs were often with a variety of places as the contracts demanded. I did two difference places. The first, and least interesting, was at a Velcro plant. As in, the real, trademarked Velcro company. The plant itself was quite uninteresting – I really didn’t care how velcro was made – but I did find it interesting that we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before we were allowed in. The Velcro™ Secret must be protected!

After the Velcro plant was a global mining company called Johnson-Mathey. The plant where I was to work was a refinery for precious metals: silver, gold and platinum. I passed their security check (I have no criminal record but couldn’t help but be concerned in some obscure, intangible way) and got the gig there for a couple of weeks. My first day on the job had me enter the premises, get assigned a temporary work badge, get buzzed in, wanded at the entry gate, and have a list of posessions on my person cataloged and lockered. I got into uniform and met with the floor supervisor, who took me on a quick tour of the building. In the process of this he brought me into a room, where about a dozen rolling tables stacked with half a ton each of gold bars from the previous day’s batch awaited delivery to wherever their next stop in the process was. The supervisor walks over to one of these tables, grabs a big gold bar, and hands it to me. And it was heavy! Thing must have weighed 20lbs. 240 troy ounces of purest gold I held in my hands, worth over $140,000, in a room that must have held tens of millions of dollars worth of the stuff.
“Feel how heavy that is?” my supervisor asked.
“Quite,” I responded, fixated on the bar. Shiny.
“That’s so you don’t get any ideas about sticking one down your pantleg and running off with it.” he said jokingly.
There were no worries there. Even if I was strong enough to walk with one of those strapped to my leg without limping, and even if I had a mind to do so, the exit security system I soon discovered on my first break, would have voided that notion PDQ. It involved removing my shoes and socks and placing them into a bucket to be run through an X-Ray machine and metal detector, in case I tracked any precious metal dust or burrs on the soles, and me walking through a metal detector, a one-way turnstile, and another metal detector, followed by another wanding at the end, all of which was monitored by two security guards in a room filled with banks of monitors. Frankly, you wouldn’t even have a hope in hell of squirreling away so much as a fleck of gold shoved up your bottom and getting away with it.
As my two weeks there progressed, I got to see the entire process at work. Vats of gold, silver, or platinum (depending on the day’s schedule) were transferred by small amounts in iron crucibles on overhead track into another room and poured into longish frustum-shaped molds. The filled molds were placed on a conveyor into another room where they would be laid out to cool. Once cooled, they were taken by the cartload to another room where the bricks were extracted from the molds and the burrs were carefully sanded off. The leavings were then carefully, meticulously, and with the aid of a handheld metal detector, swept up (not by me) and recycled into the next batch. The bricks were then stacked on carts and placed in the collection room I was shown on my first day. Every day, at least two Brinks trucks would be allowed into the loading bay to pick up some of the booty and deliver it to parts unknown.

The work sucked, no doubt about it, but being inside a place that, on any given day may have a hundred million dollars worth of raw precious metals within its confines, for all intents and purposes just laying around, was interesting to say the least.

How 'bout you?

The summer after my senior year, I worked in several cantelope packing sheds in South and far West Texas, from McAllen to Pecos to Marfa, Redford and Presidio. It’s hard work… hot, heavy lifting, very long hours, up to 20 a day. And I was one of three gringos in a crew of twenty or so Latinos. But that was part of the appeal to me, work harder than anyone else wanted and I made some good coin for college.

At 17 I was staying in shape, seeing some desolate, beautiful country, earning the respect of others and saving for college. There were hellacious poker games, beautiful girls in small border towns, cock fights in Ojinaga, swimming in the Rio Grande and just learning about people and cultures. Hard won memories, but so savorable now.

I did a brief stint in an apple chopping factory.

The apples were dumped into a huge vat where they were bobbed around and washed. A large scoop scoopped them up and they trundled along a conveyor belt to be cored and chopped. The chopped apples were cooked briefly (somehow- not sure- I didn’t go into that section) and then poured into big plastic bags. My job was to squeegee up the apples that slobbed off the conveyor and push them into a trough to be washed away (to somewhere I don’t know).

As an added bonus, the company also made apple cider vinegar. I was often called to screw the caps onto the jugs of vinegar as they came down the line because the cap applying part of the machine frequenty malfunctioned.

I got some of these kinds of factory type jobs through one of those day labor places where you show up really early and hope to be picked for some work that day. It was interesting to see how the assembly lines worked and I learned how to streamline my own work from the experience.