art by sonjaye maurya
Alex Gardner has been a resident of the Greater Los Angeles Metroplex for some 30 odd years. In his search for wages, he has been a short order cook, a house painter, a door-to-door salesman, a professional photographer, and even managed to have his own restaurant inside of a bar in Santa Ana. He is said to have alchemical tendencies in the kitchen, which means that he likes to play with his food. The focaccia he bakes is highly prized among friends. His writing is highly personal, and usually describes vignettes from his life. Will Alexander has described the work as Creative Non-fiction, and Alex is O.K. with that.
Robots Can't Play Dominoes
Another temp agency call put me in my first and only actual factory job. When I got the call (remember when you had to be at home to get a call?), all the information they could give me was that it was a factory job and did I want it or not? It was for a week or so of work so I said yes. They gave me the address and a contact name and off I went.
When I got to the building somewhere South of Market, I found a large industrial looking place with “Bottling Company” in very faded paint up on the wall. What I found out inside was that if you had a dry powdery substance that you wanted to put into a glass jar with a screw top then this was the place to get it done. Instant coffee (this weeks job), powdered drink mix, coffee creamer, bouillon, etc, they would put it a jar for you.
There were four of us in the temp agency crew that week. The group of us worked as a team at the very beginning of the production line which was also the end. The four jobs in order were:
1. Take a box of empty jars off a stacked palette, open the flaps, and turn it over onto a steel platform upside down
2. Slide box of empty jars onto conveyor belt and hand off box across conveyor line to filler
3. Take full jars of product off of line and fill empty box, fold down flaps
4. Take full box, tape top, and re-stack appropriately on palette
That was the job, actually four jobs, for eight hours per day for at least a week. To avoid absolute insanity, after each break we changed positions. That way each of us had a two hour shift at each position every day.
None of it was difficult, there was no heavy lifting. Even full the boxes did not weigh a lot. The pace was pretty fast but never out of control. It was very old school and I understand why robots do those jobs today. It was boring. I felt like a machine as the movements were repeated over and over again with no variation possible.
In the break room we found out that the positions we filled were usually temp since the place did not operate full time. When they had product to jar, it was working, when the product ran out, the line was closed.
The permanent jobs were the machine maintenance crew and the fillers. The job of the fillers was to open whatever containers the product arrived in and empty that product into a hopper above the filler machine. Sometimes it was bags that weighed 50 lbs or more or it might be 55 gallon plastic jugs that took two people to lift and tip. They wore complete jumpsuits, head socks, rubber boots, gloves, serious filter masks, and goggles. These guys would come into the break room with any exposed skin on their faces caked with the coffee we were filling that run. Their jumpsuits were taped at wrists and where the pant legs met the boots. Coffee powder dropped off of them with each step they took and there were brown spots on the break table from their elbows and forearms. While drinking sodas and playing dominoes until it was time to go back upstairs they told us that the worst product for them was orange drink mix. It contained lots of sugar which was very sticky in the hot sweaty bin room.
I completed the assignment but never again worked in a factory. Well paid jobs are necessary and there is no shame in filling or emptying a box, but in my opinion, the robots can have those positions. Robots never get bored and don't need lunch breaks but then again, they don't know how to play dominoes either.