At this point in my life, the biggest physical risk I ever take at work is when I’m standing in front of a vending machine in the break room, and a 3 Musketeers bar is launched off a corkscrew, behind a thin sheet of plexiglass. Despite the high-nougat content, there’s a lot of heft in a 3M, and sometimes those babies are moving.
But when I was young, dumb, and easily intimidated, I was occasionally asked to perform functions that were even more dangerous than that. Thinking back on it now, I have a feeling those businesses weren’t exactly following the OSHA code to the letter. Ya know?
Of course, I was a 19 year old dumbass, which isn’t exactly an exotic and irreplaceable creature. There was a fresh herd of us stampeding out of Dunbar High School every year. So, what did it matter if a few were killed along the way? They could just snap in a replacement dipshit, and never miss a beat.
Below, I’m going to describe the most dangerous tasks I remember performing at work. Some of my stuff is probably pretty tame, compared to folks who worked in coal mines, and that sort of thing. But, you’ll have a chance to set me straight, in the comments. Let’s get started, shall we?
The Fas-Chek ledge of death
After I graduated high school, and lost my lucrative position as a toll collector, I started working full-time at a grocery store in Dunbar. On mornings when “the truck” was scheduled, I started at 6:30 a.m., and was in charge of unloading and sorting that day’s delivery. It sucked ass.
There was no real loading dock, just a wide door in the side of the building. At some point there was a platform out there that could be raised and lowered, so you were able to easily take freight off the truck with a pallet jack, and on into the storage room. But that platform stopped working – probably during the Johnson Administration – and was never repaired. Because, you see, that would require money.
So, they always sent a truck with a so-called liftgate. It was a small platform attached to the truck itself, which was hydraulically operated. The driver would lift me and a jack up there, I’d pull a pallet of freight onto the platform, and he’d lower me down.
Sounds easy, huh? Well, it wasn’t. The platform was small: almost exactly the same depth as a pallet. So, I’d have one rolling along, and needed to stop it right before it went over the edge. If I stopped it too soon, it would be halfway inside the truck, and halfway out. And if I stopped it too late… I’d be dead beneath a half-ton of potted meat, or whatever.
There were two ways of braking those bastards: dropping the pallet, or quickly turning the wheel. I used the latter method, because the first one was unpredictable and also caused a lot of shaking of the platform. I didn’t care for the shaking.
So, I’d have a heavy pallet rolling through the truck, out onto that tiny platform, and would have to whip the wheel to one side at the last second. There was literally no room for error. It was scary, and the driver sometimes said things like, “Shit, man. I hope they’re paying you a lot of money to do this. Somebody’s going to get killed!” Yeah, I was pulling down minimum wage: $134 per week, before taxes. It always made me feel pretty good when they said things like that.
For the record, pallets of water were the scariest. They were impossibly heavy, and didn’t like to stop rolling. In fact, any kind of liquid put the fear of God in me. Even now, Hi-C gives me the heebie-jeebies. But, at least it doesn’t come in those big iron cans anymore. Shit!
The Skating Rink in the Sky
At the same grocery store there was a sign on the roof, above the front door. On it, they listed the week’s specials, and guess who got to climb up there and change it every Sunday morning? Yep, the kid with the Jiffy-Pop hair, who’s deathly afraid of heights.
They liked the way I did it, though. It always looked great when I was finished, and I knew how to spell “broccoli,” and challenging things like that. They’d give me the handwritten list (generally full of misspellings), and I’d take it and the box of letters to the back room, and get everything organized and proofread. Then, when I got to the roof, I’d just rip down the previous specials, and slap the new ones into place.
I was quick, and did a good job with it. Other people would have backward Ns, S instead of $, and an upside-down 7 in place of an L. Their efforts always looked like hell, but mine were a thing of beauty.
I hated climbing up there, though. The sign was only about 12 inches from the edge of the roof, so I had to stand in a very narrow area, with massive head trauma directly behind me. If I’d stepped too far back, or stumbled in some way, I could’ve very easily fallen off the roof. I didn’t like heights anyway, and felt extremely vulnerable up there.
And one morning my worst fear almost came to fruition. I climbed up, and the roof was covered in a thick layer of ice. I didn’t realize it, until my feet nearly flew out from under me — while I was putting the finishing touches on OREO or whatever. I don’t know how I didn’t fall off there, backwards. It was soooo close. I was down on one knee, contorted and panicked, and about to power-shit my Towncrafts.
I quickly finished the sign, climbed back down, and told the manager I wasn’t doing it anymore. My face was probably the color of Jack White’s, and my chin was likely trembling. He just chuckled, said OK, and that was the end of my sign-changing career. And the return of the upside-down 7 at the beginning of LYSOL.
The World’s Most Inconvenient Light Bulb
When I worked at the Dunbar Toll Bridge, a guy was supposed to show me how to change the big light bulbs that hung from the bottom of the bridge. They were there so boats wouldn’t crash into it, I assumed. And I didn’t like the sound of that nonsense, not one tiny bit.
But he and I walked up the sidewalk until we were directly over the river. He’d brought along a broomstick with a metal hook embedded in the end of it, and several replacement bulbs. We finally stopped walking, and he lifted a trap door. Inside was a spindly metal ladder, which led down to a small platform that was suspended high above the water.
“Just climb down there, hook the chain that’s hanging underneath the platform with this broomstick, and pull it up to you. Then I’ll hand you down a new bulb,” he said.
What?! Climb down there? Was he serious?! What am I, a circus performer?? I didn’t even like looking down the hole, there was no way in hell I was going to willingly navigate those thin wet steps. Were these people insane?!
“Fuck that,” I said. And he just sighed, like he’d been through this many times before, and did it himself.
The Day I Saw a Guy Almost Get Split in Two
At another grocery store, in North Carolina, they had an industrial cardboard baler. Whenever we emptied a box we were supposed to break it down, and throw it inside. And when the thing got full… we’d have to make a bale and start over.
The way you made a bale, was to push a red button on the behemoth, and a big mashing apparatus came down and squeezed the cardboard to about half its previous height. Then you’d have to feed three wires into it, and around the cardboard, before tying it off in the front. Once the wires were in place, you’d release the pressure, and the cardboard would try to go back to its original height. But the wires restricted it. Then you’d put a pallet in front of it, and roll the newly-created bale onto it.
However, if you half-assed the tying off of the wires, you were putting yourself at risk. Those things would sometimes snap, and could split a person in two. It was like the whip of the devil.
Indeed, I witnessed an obese gentleman (with significant body odor issues), almost lose the bottom third of his right arm, because of that baler. He released the pressure on it, took a step back, and one of the wires SNAPPED at the speed of light. Before he realized what had happened, blood was gushing from his forearm. There was a long gash, which looked mighty, mighty deep. I went running for help, and they took him away in an ambulance.
I never trusted that thing, and people would laugh at me for backpedaling like a maniac whenever I released the pressure on a new bale. But I’d seen what it could it do, with my own two eyes. Poor, Pits… He got something like 25 stitches in his arm.
And now it’s your turn. In the comments section, please tell us about all the dangerous shit you’ve been asked to do at work.
And I’ll see you guys again tomorrow.
Have a great day!