06 April, 2008

Career Blues pt. IV

My six years as a mechanic with the courier company was fantastic. I worked with good people, The place was organized well, leadership was excellent. 'Ol Rob became a very good friend despite him being almost two decades older than me. We had similar personalities and a shared knack for using one liners. Rob had gone into the USAF the year I was born and then did a two year hitch in the USN, stationed aboard two aircraft carriers. He'd also worked at a local airport for about twelve years. Given my enthusiasm for anything aviation related, I was fascinated by the stories he had to tell. I also have a deep respect for veterans and there were a lot of them working with me at that place. We had a couple Korean war vets, a Vietnam vet that flew F4 Phantoms, another Vietnam vet that was a B-52 crewman and Rob, of course. Consequently the place had an unintentional military vibe to it. Every day when I'd get to work, I'd walk into the shop and Rob would snap to attention and we'd salute each other. I'd ask for permission to come aboard and he'd reply "Permission granted. How ya doin' Jasper?" I'd reply with "As you were, I'll be in the area all day." Even now, when I think about it, I smile. My future at that place started to become dark about three years in. The company had reorganized and began selling the routes to independent contractors (ICs are what we called 'em). That meant as routes were sold, the number of company vehicles began to get smaller. The shops at our other terminals were closed one by one until the only shop left was the one I worked in. Rob and I knew what was coming, but we didn't want to accept it. The brass in the corporate offices came up with the idea to open our shop to the public so anyone could come in off the street to have their vehicle worked on. In theory it was a great idea and many of my coworkers and the ICs took advantage of our services. In fact, many of the ICs had purchased our old fleet vehicles so they figured since we worked on them all the time, who better to have continue to work on them? We even had a few accounts come in. A parts store, an exterminator and a pool guy were bringing their business to us. But it wasn't enough business. After one year of an open shop, we reverted back to being a "company only" shop. The IC thing wasn't working as planned and it was taking longer than expected to sell off the routes. To me, that was a good thing. It meant there would still be work for Rob and I. There came a day when all of us in the shop were called into the CEO's office. We were told that two of the four would be let go and given a severance package. Each of us went with a different manager to learn our fates. I went with Tim, the Corporate fleet manager. I could tell that he didn't want to let any of us go, but he had to. Sitting in his office, I was close to passing out from an anxiety attack. I had just closed on my first house and couldn't afford to lose my job. I was granted a reprieve though. All my hard work and dedication to the company over the years payed off on that day. I learned that I would be one of the two people staying on. Rob was the other. Karl and Jim were the unlucky ones. It was a dark day. We were like family in that shop and now two of us were leaving. After Jim and Karl left, the shop was physically cut in half and the body shop became more warehouse space. Rob and I were both told that we would eventually be let go, but it wouldn't be for sometime. They didn't know exactly when. Rob and I knew when that would be. It eventually got to the point when there wasn't enough vehicles left in the fleet to keep us busy. We spent a lot of time looking for something, anything, to keep ourselves busy. The day came when Tim called me into his office. I knew what the meeting was about, he didn't have to tell me. I could see it in his face. I was told that I had one more month of employment and would then be let go. I was given a very nice severance package that could have covered my expenses for three months had I not found another job right away. Luckily, I didn't have to depend on that severance pay. As my time grew shorter and I became a "one digit midget" as Rob would say, I packed up my tools and took them home a little at a time so I wouldn't have to move a loaded tool box. My uniforms were turned in and all my paperwork was done. On my last day I didn't even have a uniform and Rob let me work out of his tool box. I made the rounds and said my goodbyes. I hadn't told anyone that I was leaving because I didn't want to deal with a bunch of questions. So, some people were shocked when I told them goodbye. I could have stayed on with the company as a driver, but that would've been a step backwards career-wise. I was back doing what I wanted to do and I wasn't about to let it slip away again. That last day after I punched out for the last time, I walked back to the shop and saluted Rob. "Permission to go ashore, sir" I asked. "Permission denied!" he said. It was over. I'm man enough to admit that I got a little teary eyed as I drove out of the parking lot for the last time. I had a new job lined up and I was once again heading into the unknown. Would I succeed as a diesel mechanic?

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