Before you start your first job, people are full of advice about how to behave professionally, how to network, how to earn a good recommendation and so on. These are skills you don’t need if you plan on starting off with a job that requires low-brain-stem function, as I did.
The bread factory in my hometown runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is staffed by an army of quiet souls who operate the AMC equipment in shower caps and steel-toed boots. Very few of the foremen and line workers I encountered spoke English. On my first night, which started at 11 p.m., the foreman fetched me an apron and shower cap, directing me to one of the slicing machines and miming without speech how to gather the loaves as they came out of the slice-and-bag machine and dump them into crates, using my arms like a forklift. Once a crate was full, it was lifted onto a pallet. Once the pallet was complete, you pushed it away and started a new one. Sound like a rewarding career?
For added excitement, I was later allowed to work on the pre-slicer part of the production line, handling a small lever which directed loaves coming out of the ovens on a single convetor belt to two slicers, like a traffic cop, trying to avoid log-jams. On a stint operating the all-important lever later that night, I found that bread from the ovens comes hot and fast. The conveyor belts could go from empty to bursting with impatient loaves in under 60. In such a case, loaves needed to be scooped off the conveyor belt using the aforementioned forklift arms maneuver before the squeeze of loaves erupted into a bread explosion, raisin toast popping up in the air and scattering onto the linoleum factory floor. I experienced three or four of these “march of the bread loaves” disasters during the night, exacerbated when the slicing machine ran out of bags or experienced a blockage. The drill was to hit the emergency brake and fish whatever torn-up oat and honey loaf had caused the ruckuss from deep within the frightful slicer-blade-death-machine, then bring the operation back online, with minimum verbal communication. This required an impressive display of athleticism, all while dressed like an escaped surgery patient.
Upon completing my first eight-hour graveyard shift as a shepherd of the bread loaves, the foreman offered me his stern congratulations, in broken English: “You do good tonight, last guy agency send...have only one arm. Bread fly EVERYWHERE.”
My resume still says, “Better than a one-armed man.”
Here are my nuggets of wisdom from the bread factory floor:
- The greatest thing since sliced bread...is sliced bread that doesn’t result in factory workers losing an arm.
- If your job is so noisy that everyone wears ear plugs for their shift, be a little grateful: you're being saved from the horror that is office small talk. If you run into people by the punch clock, use a simple, "What is the deal with bread?!" comedy to tide you through the moment.
- Blood, sweat, and tears weren’t just a great band; they’re also an awesome way to spend your 15 minute break on the back dock of an industrial wasteland.
- If anyone ever complains about having to fetch coffee at their job, remind them, “At least you have people to bring coffee to. Some people’s closest friend at work is the Doritos snack machine.”
- You're going to get bored at your job, no matter how cool it is at the beginning. Use idle brain time to recite Journey lyrics; the working class man's power balladeer.
- One crap job isn’t the be-all, end-all. Following my career as a bread factory production line worker, I rose to such career highs as deli-meat slicer girl, Christmas tree decorator, and bingo-number announcer...and eventually writer. FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS, SPARKLERS!