Monday, July 1, 2013

Welcome to Houston, Sort Of: Shift Work Sounds like Fun, but Watch Out for Those Off Days

Moving to Houston was going to be wonderful as the 1980s ended. Couldn't wait to get started on my chemical process plant career. Years spent studying in musty college basement labs would finally pay off. I'd always loved the restaurants in Houston's Galleria and was fortunate to find a townhouse rental, just 32 miles away from my new job at the Gulf Coast plant. Gas was much cheaper then.
Newbie Blues
All new engineers were assigned to work with one of four operating shifts, four days on (5:00 am - 5:00 pm) and three days off, four graveyards on (5:00 pm to 5:00 am), three more days off. Promising a quick learning curve, they issued a blue Nomex jumpsuit, a coupon for plant-approved safety glass lenses in boring frames. The first pair of steel-toed work boots was free, but no attractive colors were available.
On Again, Off Again
The first four "nights on" went smoothly; much to learn, many wonderful people around sharing knowledge. On the first set of "off days," disaster struck. I'd parked the car outside the house because the garage of the rental house was filled with boxes still unpacked. The first "off night," I crashed and slept for 10 hours straight. Went outside to drive to breakfast, only to find the car wasn't there.
The community's hired security guard strolled by and asked what happened to my car. I thought he might know. He did not. I asked naively, "Do you think it was towed?" He laughed, "No, it was probably stolen. Happens a lot." Good to know. Called Houston's finest and gave them description of car and contents: hard hat, plant safety glasses, Christian music tape, library book on "Small Business Accounting," loose change in the ash tray. Somewhere a nearsighted thief could learn a second profession while driving (safely) through McDonald's for a coffee. Maybe he would be saved.
Car Number Two
Insurance sent a beautiful Chrysler Cordoba; off to work my first day back "on" I went, returning home hot and weary by 6 pm. Had not even removed my work boots before I heard a loud crash. A car had plowed into my rental car parked outside my house. The right car door opened; its passenger took off running as I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures.
The driver was a bit confused and tried several times to get away. Fortunately the crowd of seniors, children and dogs gathering nearby prevented his escape. A brave guy riding his bike stopped to block the driver from leaving. The police found 4 empty bottles of Bud Light (good, figure-conscious perps). As the driver grasped his Vicks inhaler, he appeared congested, confused, and ready to comply with the police.
Car Number Three
The good news was the police found my old car, but it was in need of repair as it had been in a wreck. The "other news" was my insurance company sent out a tiny Chevrolet to drive until mine was fixed. The next set of "off days" brought hurricane warnings that guaranteed disaster. I taped windows, prepared for the worst, and headed for San Antonio, to stay with an elderly relative who worried for my safety in Houston. The hurricane missed Houston but landed three miles from where my aunt's old building barely avoided getting hit.
Home, Sweet Home - Is Where the Car Is
I couldn't wait to get back to work, where it was safe, warm, and free of disasters. My "D" shift supervisor drew me a cartoon, with me in the center, wearing plant togs, and a list of my 'off days' disasters with caption: "God must know I'm an Aggie-what next?" Welcome to Houston, for the newly crowned "D-shift Darlin'." I survived that first month, but barely. I marked the days until my lease ended and moved to Kingwood.
                                                                             Sketch by Gene O'Quinn (11/24/1935-5/29 2014)

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