Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How I make my dull day "exciting"

The other day, a man who waiting at the bus stop outside the terminal told me he would be starting work the next day with the company that currently employs me. He wanted to know I how I liked working there. Interesting question. I suppose it really depends on your situation if you look at this as career or way station to something better. If you are kid who still lives with his or her parents, or just needs any job to pay the bills until a better opportunity pops-up, you might be more susceptible of rapid disillusionment; it is natural for people to complain about their job, but some people—especially the younger ones—believe that there has got to be something better just around the corner. But older people know better; no job is “perfect.”

So I told this person that it’s a job. I’ve worked here for almost four years and like all the other jobs I’ve had, it has become a routine that I do out of habit. I have a journalism degree, but I gave-up on pursuing that occupation long ago, just wanting to find my pond, like Thoreau. The one good thing about my current occupation is that there are the slow periods that allow me time to read and do research, although because of the long hours I am usually too worn-out from insufficient sleep to concentrate on writing. On my “weekends,” I have no interest in partying, boozing, hanging-out or laying on a couch in front of the television set; my principle “relaxation” takes the form of the many hours it takes to compose on this blog; it isn’t much of a life, if truth be known, and it certainly doesn’t pay.

Anyways, at work I spend nearly all of my time outside—and everyone knows about the unstable nature of the weather in and around Seattle. The average rainfall at SeaTac Airport is a shade over 37 inches in a calendar year, but over the past nine months there has already rained 46 inches; during the winter and cool spring the icy winds tend to add considerably to the discomfort. Are we provided sturdy rain gear that doesn’t rip apart after a few days? Um--no. Too expensive. You can buy your own gear, if it conforms to company “standards,” meaning color and logo. We were recently told that we could not wear hoods, even during torrential rain showers. They say it is because a hood blocks your peripheral vision when you are driving around in an uncovered tug; it may in reality be because since a large percentage of our employees are non-white, the airline is concerned that customers might think that the place is being run by street gangs. Last week I overheard the following conversation between the station manager and a zone manager that went more-or-less like this:

SM: Do you pay attention to what people are wearing?

ZM: What?

SM: I see people wearing clothing that is not the correct color.

ZM: I don’t notice what people are wearing. When I talk to them, I look them in the eye.

SM: I saw someone wearing a hood—a black hood.

ZM: Um, OK. I’ll keep an eye on that.

I couldn’t suppress a chuckle, but when I went back outside I noticed an employee wearing a grey hood; I asked him if he knew he was out-of-uniform, and he looked at me as if I was trying be some kind of jerk. I recounted the gist of the conversation I had just heard, and preferring to err on the side of caution, the employee removed his hood.

The question is how do you maintain moral in an environment of low pay and poor benefits? One must confess that the atmosphere has changed in the past year or so. There are more rules and regulations, many that seem merely cosmetic, and much fewer instances of expressions of gratitude. I remember in the past when we had company picnics at the lake; last year they had a “picnic” at the airport. Since it was my day off, I came in civilian clothes; even though I couldn’t enter the AOA in the first place without going through the security door drill, there were Port police and security people hanging out at the picnic, and they made me feel like I didn’t belong there. It sure made me feel “appreciated.” There was a time when prior management did consider morale-boosting an important part of the “mission”; now, if you work Christmas (as I have the past four), you can look forward to a slim piece of pumpkin pie.

Now, there is the potential for advancement in this company, particularly if you don’t like to mingle with the “little people” or have an inflated sense of self. One guy who was promoted to civilian clothes after only a few months with the company is someone I regard as an airheaded flake; but then again, my view is that competency is not a particular priority in OPS. But given the number of people who quit every year (just to give you an idea, despite the fact that I’ve been working with the company for less than four years, I’m already in the top twenty of “seniority” out of several hundred employees). Since I like to think of myself as a writer just trying to survive, I’ve discovered that in order to mentally get myself through the day, I have to find a way to self-motivate. I mentioned in a previous post that I enjoy doodling with number, statistics and averages; thus my job of hauling cargo carts is perfectly suitable to this endeavor, since I deal with such variables as days, weeks and quantities.

Last year, the most cargo carts I handled in one day was 91, and 257 in a four-day week. Surpassing those figures would form the basis of my goals this year. Both of these of these numbers appeared to have been flukes, however, because I only reached as many as 80 in one day a half-dozen times, and no more than 242 in a week on three other occasions. Nevertheless, I always approached each week as if the possibility existed that I might exceed the single day or single week total. I clocked-in early to make certain that I had enough time to run the earliest carts; if I didn’t, then it was likely that the people working the early flights would retrieve the carts themselves, thus diminishing my goal. I wasn’t being paid for additional hour I worked each week, but it didn’t concern me: It was the goal that I set for myself that did. Then one day someone decided that no one was permitted to clock-in earlier than six minutes, which frustrated me because I inevitably was going to miss at least a half-dozen carts every morning, and I had no chance of attaining the goals I had set for myself.

Then in the middle of this past April, something remarkable occurred. After months of piddling numbers, one day I ran 93 carts, a new record. The next day, 89 carts—the third highest single-day total—and 268 for the week, another record. The following week, it was 97 in one day, and 290 for the week. Although the following weeks saw rather fewer carts, their totals were still in the top-ten all-time. The numbers were back up the following four weeks, but in no way threatening the single day and single week totals. Still, I was running 20 percent more carts than even during the busiest period last year, and for the first time I perceived the possibility of cracking the 100 cart barrier in one day, and 300 in a week. The reason for this optimism, as it turned-out, was not due to a sudden improvement in the economy, but because too much cargo was being bumped-off flights because of incorrectly calculated weights (I told you about OPS), and it lessened the aggravation of re-configuring the cargo that wasn’t loaded, if the carts had fewer items to begin with. Or something like that.

After six disappointing weeks, last week began in impressive fashion; three hours into day one I was already half-way to 100 carts, and by 2/3rd point of the day I had reached what once seemed improbable. By the end of the day, I had tallied 113 carts. I knew from experience that each of the following days would see fewer carts, but with this start 300 carts over four days was possible if not probable. I hoped to reach the 200 cart level by the end of day two, but it ended with a disappointing 80 carts. I would need 107 carts over Saturday and Sunday, and that was unlikely; my hopes had been crushed. My hopes were further diminished when I was told that I could not run carts before I clocked-in. Nevertheless, on Saturday I seemed well on the way of moving at least 70 carts, which I had failed to do all year. My optimism had rebounded—that is until a supervisor conspired against the accomplishment of my goal. During one of the busier periods, I was forced to baggage to fill-in for some guy’s lunch break, because the person who would have done so quit the previous day. For an hour I stewed over all the carts I was being denied to pad my numbers; when I finished the day I could count only 67 carts. I would need 40 carts to reach my ultimate goal of 300 carts in a week; my average Sunday total was only 35, and just thinking about that made me even angrier about what had happened that day.

Sunday morning I was determined that no one and nothing—not the Port police, Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs, those annoying TSAs, UAL goons or even our own unthinking people—was going to stop me from accomplishing my mission. Sunday began auspiciously enough—I was thrilled to see twenty carts already waiting for me; and it only got better. By the half-way point of the day the 300 barrier had been surpassed. I searched for other goals to reach. The most significant one would be reaching the 50 cart mark on Sunday, which I had never done; another was 320 carts for the week—an average of 80 a day, the threshold which constituted a “great” day; and 1,120 carts over a one-month period, an average of 70 carts a day. None of these goals would be “easy,” because Sundays typically “died” in the afternoon. I fumed in frustration at carts being dribbled in now, and how I might fall short because of what occurred the day before; but eventually the 50-cart mark was reach. I was still short of my other goals ten minutes left in my shift; I only needed three carts, but as the minutes stole away, I gave-up hope. But with five minutes left and I was packing-up to leave, I beheld an unbelievable sight: Three carts coming from the warehouse. Oh please let them be something that I could take instead of my relief man. Yes, they’re mine! What a day! 60 carts on a Sunday, 320 for the week, and 1,122 for four weeks! I am happy.

Now that is how I motivate myself to wake-up at 2 AM and not return home until 5 PM, for small change. Being a little crazy sometimes helps.

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