Monday, October 23, 2006
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the wild ride of Suldog here,
In the month of August, in Eighty-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers him being filled with fear.
(Little did Henry Wadsworth Longfellow imagine that someday a hack like me would screw with his stuff in order to have a cheap introduction. If he had, he probably would have skipped the whole thing.)
Yes, our tale takes place during the summer of 1985. Ronald Reagan was in his second term as president, his economics trickling down all over us, and I needed a job.
Until recently, I had been working doing deliveries for a fruit and vegetable company in Hyde Park, a suburb of Boston. The name of that concern was A & S Fruit. It was run by Arthur (the "A" - his wife was the "S") and I was the only non-family-member working there. I had gotten the job through a recommendation by Arthur's son, Artie, with whom I had just recently been in a band.
Artie played drums and I played bass. We were a good rhythm section, but the band didn't last too long. As a matter of fact, we never played a single gig. Artie was a real nice guy, though, and we got to be decent friends in the short time the group was together.
When the band broke up, I said something about having to find a real job. Artie told me about an opening for a driver at his dad's produce company. He knew that I had had numerous driving jobs in the past and that I held a Class 2 license in Massachusetts.
(The Class 2 license was needed for driving vehicles of, as I remember, over 12,000 but not exceeding 18,000 pounds, and did not include tractor/trailers. You needed a Class 1 license for those. The Class 2 covered such things as dump trucks and large delivery vehicles. I don't believe the Class 2 license exists any longer, but I could be wrong. In any case, I let mine lapse when it came time for renewal, a couple of years after the time of this story.
The thing that pissed me off is that the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Massachusetts charged more for Class 1 and Class 2 licenses than they did for a Class 3, which was your standard license. Why they did this, I have no idea. They didn't give you anything extra for the price. You had the same plastic-encased jailhouse-quality photo I.D. that you got for a Class 3 license. The only difference I could discern was that they printed a "2" on the license instead of a "3". For that service, the state charged you $35 instead of $25.
So far as I knew, I wouldn't be driving large vehicles again anytime in the near future. I figured I'd save ten bucks and just renew at the Class 3 level. I did, and I have had no cause to regret saving that money on every renewal since then. However, I digress, so back to the story at hand.)
I liked the idea of spending most of my day on the road listening to the radio, so I took the job. As it turned out, it was a lot more work than I had figured on. As a matter of fact, I got into the best shape of my life during that summer.
I spent most of my day loading and unloading 40 and 50 pound crates of fruits and vegetables, sweating my ass off hauling them into restaurant kitchens and stacking them in their walk-in freezers. Also, part of the deal was all of the free fruits and vegetables I could eat. All day long, between stops, I'd shovel fresh sweet strawberries, oranges, bananas, and other yummy fruits down my gullet. Each night, I'd pack up a sack from the warehouse and bring home sweet peppers, tomatoes, squashes, carrots, potatoes - whatever struck my fancy. I didn't pay for produce a single time while I was in Arthur's employ and that was an excellent benefit of the job.
And I've got to tell you: There are few joys in life that compare to having worked all day in 100 degree heat, hauling heavy boxes, pouring gallons of sweat from your body, and then arriving back at the warehouse, walking into the freezer, sitting down on a cool stack of crates, and slicing up a fresh cold pineapple to eat. Oh, man, that was heaven!
My favorite memory of the job with A & S, however, has to do with the telephone. Whenever someone would call the warehouse - to place an order, inquire about prices, complain about a delivery, or whatever - Artie would answer the phone by saying the name of the company. However, he never said it clearly. So, when he picked up the phone, it sounded like he said, "Anus Fruit". The person on the other end would invariably say, "What?!?", and then Artie would say, "A... AND... S... FRUIT. How can I help you?"
I was with Anus Fruit for about four months. I was in great shape, the pay was decent, I liked the folks there and they liked me. I worked hard and didn't complain. However, I still harbored notions about being a rock 'n roll star someday. Getting up at 3am every morning, working through until 4pm or so in the afternoon, and then falling into bed by 8 o'clock each night did not leave much opportunity to play the bass, let alone put in the time needed to rehearse with a group. So, when I received an offer to join another band, I gave Arthur my notice. We parted on very good terms. He told me that anytime I ever needed a job, I would be welcomed back.
Now, even though my job with A & S involved driving, it has nothing to do with my wild ride. That happened at my next job, which I will now tell you about.
I was in the band that offered me the position as bass player - the name of that band, by the way, was Squiddly Diddly, and that's about what happened there aside from a few sets at parties - and I needed to have a part-time paying gig to stay afloat. I wanted something that wouldn't be more than a couple of days a week so I'd be free for rehearsals and the playing dates that never materialized; not too strenuous - I had had enough exercise that summer, thanks - and at least a few bucks above minimum wage, so I'd have enough scratch to keep me in strings, smokes and pizza. I checked the want ads in the Boston Globe and found something that looked like it might fit the bill. It was a position as a cleaner in a parking garage, Sundays.
I've never been averse to pushing a broom. As a matter of fact, I rather enjoy it sometimes. I'm not Felix Unger, but cleaning isn't something I find utterly distasteful, either. So, I went to the garage to apply for the job. The garage was located on Clarendon Street in downtown Boston, and sat atop a tunnel of the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 90.
Well, I've never had any trouble getting jobs like that. I'm a high skool grajooit. I don't appear to be insane. Through the grace of God, I've got no criminal record. I'm able-bodied and I can string together three or four coherent sentences in an interview. What's not to like? I was hired for the princely sum of $5.25 an hour.
However, during the interview I had learned that the job did not involve pushing a broom at all. Instead, the fellow doing the interview asked me if I had any driving experience. I told him about my Class 2 license and my past experiences as a cab driver and in fruit & produce delivery. That was enough to satisfy him. He took me for a short walk outside of his office and into the garage proper. Then he showed me my ride.
It was like a Zamboni machine that ran on dry ground, able to pivot somewhat tightly in corners and reaching a top speed of about ten miles per hour. There was a holding chamber for the debris and dirt that the brushes picked up. And in the rear it had a little yellow flashing light on a stick - you can see it, unlit, in the picture - that I suppose would keep idiots from crashing into me if they were so blind that they didn't see the whole damn machine.
This suited me just fine! I'd ride around the garage on Sunday afternoon and earn about $40; no heavy lifting and I could listen to a ballgame on the radio and smoke. Heck, I wouldn't even need an ashtray. I could just throw my finished smokes on the ground and the little truck would sweep them up.
I reported for work the next Sunday at 10am. A quick lesson on the operation of the little sweeper truck and I rode off up the ramp to the first floor and started cleaning.
It was kind of fun. As I rode, I could see the difference between where I had swept and where I hadn't. In front of me: dirt and dust with some paper trash and the occasional pigeon feather. Behind me: a swatch of clean concrete - or, at least, as clean as concrete gets. I started at one corner, went to the opposite corner, turned and rode parallel to where I had first cleaned until I reached the beginning wall again, and so on, back-and-forth, until I finished the first floor. I then rode up the ramp to the second floor, cleaning the ramp as I went.
On the second floor, I decided to see if it would be more efficient to clean in a spiral. That is, I started in one corner and when I got to the opposite corner, instead of turning around, I hung a right and hugged the wall. I kept taking rights, closing in on the center. I decided that it wasn't as good, since there were too many poles.
I continued cleaning and climbing. It took about an hour to clean each floor thoroughly, after which I'd clean the ramp up to the next floor. There were, as I remember, six floors. Of course, there were two ramps - one up and one down. I'd finish by cleaning the down ramp and then ride the machine back to the office.
I reached the top floor and started cleaning in the back-and-forth fashion I had determined to be most efficient. As I did so, across the garage from where I began sweeping that floor, I noticed an entrance to a ramp I hadn't noticed on any of the other floors. I continued my pattern of cleaning, and I resigned myself to the fact that I'd probably have to clean that ramp also. I finished the floor and entered the ramp. This ramp, unlike the other two ramps which were straight, was a spiral.
As I rode the sweeper down the ramp, I wondered if I had made the right decision to clean this ramp before the OTHER down ramp. If I had done the other one first, I could have possibly found out exactly where this one came out on the ground floor. At least, I assumed it came out on the ground floor. What if it led to a basement or a sub-basement? Would I have to clean those, too?
I didn't know how far I had ridden down on this ramp, as it was closed in on the sides fairly completely and had no exits to the other floors I had already cleaned. I assumed I had gone about three stories down, but it could have been more. Then the thought occurred to me that I should probably go back up the ramp, clean down the other ramp - the one that I knew where it led - and then ask back at the office about this other ramp I was now on; find out where it led, if I actually did have to clean it, if there were other floors, like a basement. I braked the sweeper and stopped.
That's when I figured out some bad news. It was impossible to turn around on the ramp.
Well, what could I do now? If I couldn't turn around - and I sure couldn't - there was nothing to do but continue down the ramp. The sweeper didn't have a reverse gear. So I continued down. However, as I got lower and lower, toward wherever the end of the ramp was, I thought I heard a low rumbling sound. I braked again. Maybe there WAS a basement that this led to and the noise was the sound of heating or air conditioning equipment. I listened more closely. The sounds seemed to be shifting position; kind of a "swooshing". That was odd.
I rode down the ramp another half turn. The sounds still seemed to be shifting, but now in the opposite direction. And the sounds weren't consistent. Sometimes there were more sounds than other times. I was a bit familiar with sound technology, having spent time in bands. It was almost like a phase shifter, or maybe a Doppler effect. WTF? There was no other way to find out but to keep going.
I figured I might as well get to the answer as quickly as possible, so I laid pedal to the metal. I jacked the little Zamboni-like truck to its top speed of 10 miles per hour. My little yellow light-on-a-stick was flashing. The sounds got stronger and stronger and then I found out what the sounds were, because then I reached the end of the ramp.
I was riding my little sweeper truck in a tunnel on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Holy Crap! The ramp emptied into the breakdown lane of the tunnel upon which the garage had been built. As I realized where I was, my heart started beating a mile a minute. Cars were flying by me at 60 and 70 miles an hour. Meanwhile, what with the shock of finding myself where I was, I hadn't taken my foot off of the gas pedal and I was trundling down the Interstate at a mighty 10 miles per hour with my little yellow light flashing off the sides of the tunnel walls.
I took a quick look around, realized I was in the breakdown lane, and stopped. I kept checking over my shoulder to be sure no cars were coming at me, even as other cars whizzed by in the traveling lanes. Thank GOD for that silly little yellow light. What the hell am I going to do now? My boss is going to kill me, if I don't get killed in this tunnel first. I can't just leave the sweeper on the highway, for God's sakes. If I do, I may as well never show my face at the garage again. Maybe I'll be liable for it if it's hit and wrecked. Fuck! I might be hit and wrecked! Shit! Shit! Shit!
I finally determined that I had to turn the sweeper around and ride back up the ramp.
I was about 100 feet away from the ramp now. With a machine whose top speed was 10 miles an hour, how fast could I turn around? I needed to leave my relatively safe breakdown lane in order to do so. Even with the tight turning radius of the machine, the breakdown lane was not much wider than the ramp and I hadn't been able to turn around there. I'd have to be in an actual place where a car might ram into me and croak me, for at least a few seconds, and someone coming at 70 miles an hour might not have time to see me, little yellow warning-light-on-a-stick notwithstanding.
I had probably about a 1/5 of a mile of visibility back up the tunnel. I waited until I saw absolutely nothing there and then hit the gas. I turned, S-L-O-W-L-Y, now facing INTO the traffic I hoped wouldn't come into sight anytime soon.
I finished the turn and was safely back into the breakdown lane. I was trying to press the gas pedal through the floor, in my anxiety to get off of the expressway. I made it back to the ramp and started up as a couple of more cars flew by.
I stopped on the ramp after a couple of seconds and let out my breath. I was sweating hard and not just because it was a hot August Sunday. I pulled out a smoke and lit it.
I relaxed a bit, but not for long. I quickly realized that there was a very real possibility of my still dying. There could be a car coming DOWN the ramp. I tossed my smoke and hit the gas again. I had to get back up to the top floor as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, while the top speed of the machine was about 10 miles per hour going down the ramp, it was about 5 going up, if that. And the machine was not enjoying going up seven stories all in one fell swoop. It was actually slowing down. I wondered if I'd have to get out and push the damned thing before I reached the top. Meanwhile, I had visions of a Cadillac coming down the ramp, plowing into me and splattering my guts all over the walls in a spiral pattern.
Well, I'm writing this so you know I made it back up the ramp without dying. As soon as I made the top floor, I pulled the sweeper over to the side, parked it and got out. I sat down on the floor of the garage and lit up another smoke. As I sat there smoking, the garage's elevator door opened and out walked my supervisor. He didn't look happy as he walked over to me.
My first thought was that he had somehow found out about my ride on the turnpike. However, it wasn't that. He told me that he had checked my job. He said that I had left some spots in the corners and around poles unswept and he wasn't happy with my work at all. I felt like telling him that not only had I cleaned the entire garage, but I had cleaned a whole other ramp that I probably wasn't expected to do - as well as about 100 feet of two lanes on Interstate 90.
I didn't tell him that, though. It wasn't worth it. I had decided that I was through being a garage cleaner. If the work I had done wasn't good enough for him, then screw it. I was going to be a rock 'n roll star, after all. I could always find another shit job to make ends meet. Anyway, I seriously thought I had done a good job. I missed a couple of spots? I didn't think I had. Even if I did, his attitude and demeanor just pissed me off to no end after having taken a ride that scared the bejeezus out of me. I stared at him as though he were a madman and told him, calmly, that if he thought my work was that bad, then I was quitting and he could mail my check.
And that's the story of my wild ride. I never did find out why that ramp was built to empty directly onto the Mass Pike. I assume it was an emergency exit of some sort.
Interestingly, MY WIFE and I have had, for a few years now, season tickets to a theater company near that garage. The theater validates parking in that garage, so I end up parking there six or seven times each year. Every time I go in there, I see that little Zamboni-like sweeper and I shudder just a bit.
Soon, with more better stuff.