The Long Way Home 11.3.23

Last Friday,  I wrote, “Indecision may, or may not, be my problem,” a line from the late Jimmy Buffett. 

That prompted an email from a fellow Parrothead who reads the Northshore Journal over in Brimson. He may or may not have had his Hush Puppies on when he wrote to me.

The email related a story about him working in a clean room at a computer chip lab in Wisconsin a quarter century ago. He mentioned a couple of the pranks employees there would play on each other. 

The story reminded me of working at the Cornelius Company in the 1970s. 

After a few years of working the evening shift at Advance United Expressways, I took a day job at a manufacturer because day jobs were rare in trucking. I would miss getting to the terminal at 1600 to hear the night shift teamsters in the locker room dissecting that day’s episode of “Young and the Restless,” but not much else. 

As the new “Traffic Coordinator,” I didn’t know what to expect from the people I’d be working with. It seems playing pranks on each other keeps the soul-stealing tedium of corporate America at bay.

During lunch breaks, I played three-handed cribbage with two of the inside sales guys. They had to stay near their phones, so we ate and played at their desk. 

In the fog of my memories, one was named Alan and the other Mark. Both were good at their job, as I recall. Mark was overly energetic, sincere, and eager to please. So, a magnet for pranks. 

Putting cellophane tape on the earpiece of his phone receiver was popular. Jumping to his phone to answer a call, he’d explode in frustration when he couldn’t hear anything. The rest of us, watching from a safe distance, exploded in laughter. 

Often, we’d cruise the parking lot looking for cars of those we wanted to prank. Turning the wipers and heater fan to high and the radio to its loudest, all would turn on when our victim started the vehicle. If we stuck around to watch the result, we exploded in laughter. You can’t do that with today’s cars.

Cornelius was also my first experience with a union strike. Our factory workers were on strike for almost a month. 

Because my collar was white and we weren’t shipping very much, one of my assignments was patrolling the plant inside on nights and weekends—a dark and lonely job.

Working in the office one weekday, I got a call from the front desk that a truck driver was causing an altercation with the strikers, and I needed to cool things off. We received inbound shipments at a warehouse company in town to avoid antagonizing the pickets. Being the cowboys that steel haulers were, this driver didn’t know about that option. 

Immediately, I ran outside and saw a flatbed load of steel coils, a nice Peterbilt, and a raging man brandishing the biggest revolver I’d ever seen. He screamed that he would deliver this load here and now and shoot anyone who got in the way. The strikers had coalesced into a tight formation to keep him from entering the lot. Stepping between these two was one of the scariest things I’d ever done.

Assuring the driver he’d be unloaded at the warehouse just a few miles away, he settled into a simmering rage and left the scene. The strikers were still grumpy with me, but it all worked out.

Thanks for sending me on this memory trip, Brimson.