This is My Pack

For the first time, I’m interacting with other trades while on a job site. This is the largest electrical crew I’ve worked with (nine people, including me) and we’re surrounded by “iron heads” and “knuckle-draggers”. My fellow sparkies were quick to call the ironworkers by their slang terms and not their formal trade. Within the first 15 minutes, I heard legitimate gripes about their unsafe work practices. “We’re back in elementary school again! Watch out for those guys! They’re crude and unsafe.” On the second day, I listened to a fellow electrician tell me how his tool bag and safety vest (which was laying on top of the tool bag) caught fire because one of the iron workers was not paying attention to his welding area. It was $200 to replace the tools.

The “knuckle-draggers” think we are a bunch of whiners because we point out safety concerns on the job site. It’s an example of the importance of project management and scheduling between the trades. One of our teams refused to work any further in an area because the food-grade holding tanks were being cleaned with highly concentrated phosphoric acid. My guys said, “No way am I breathing that shit! We need to be in a different work area; we’ll go back and finish running our conduit once the air isn’t toxic.” The general contractor and the iron workers seem to think this was prima donna behavior. “What’s the big deal? This is the same stuff you clean your car with. It’s not gonna hurt you.” The safety officer, who is the wife of the general contractor, hasn’t said much yet.

We’re working in a federal port, which required a security clearance to work on this site. All of us check in at the guarded gate, park in a gravel lot around the corner, and take a re-appropriated school bus to our work area. (It’s a short bus) The ironworkers think it’s funny to use the back emergency exit to get on and off the bus because it sets off an emergency buzzer. My favorite part of the bus rides is overhearing snippets of conversation among the different trades. The other day, my co-worker was explaining the induced magnetic force when a strong magnet is dropped down a piece of aluminum conduit. Near the back of the bus, though, the ironworkers were chortling and belching and guffawing over something. On one trip, one guy asked, “Dude – where’s the country of Estonia?” His friend was unable to answer him beyond, “It’s like near the scandanavian countries and it’s really small. Really, really small.” The bus is driven by one of the ironworkers and he takes a devilish pleasure in whipping around the turns, speeding on the port property and hitting the speed bumps just so.

Ironworkers have the reputation of being tough and taking risks. Looking at the structures they’ve put together and flown into place with the huge crane on site has blown my mind. One of their group has colorful tattoos all around his neck (one might be a cockroach, but I haven’t stared long enough to tell) and his nickname is “Beetle Juice.” In my mind, they’re a combination of Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Spiderman. If you don’t hear them by their loud vocal nature, you can certainly hear them coming by the clanking of their rebar hook and pliers. In comparison, our electrical crew seems erudite and clean. I think our work demands us to be more deliberate (and safe). Our most obnoxious electrician has been given the nickname of “Willy Wonka” by one of the knuckle-draggers. I think it fits, and it’s pretty funny. The ironworkers certainly razz each other harder than the electricians. They’re more rough-and-tumble; yet most of them greet me with a friendly nod or a “good morning”. I haven’t felt unsafe around them just yet; however, I also know I am looking at everything around me with huge eyes right now because the scale of our project is TALL and overwhelming.

Each time we get on the bus, our “Willy Wonka” makes a sarcastic crack about how the bus might be driven this time. There is chiding, maybe some guffawing, and then the driver asks if we have all our crew aboard. I love this part of our ritual because we count one another and make sure nobody is left behind. These sparkies are, indeed, my pack.


One Comment on “This is My Pack”

  1. Mary Evans says:

    LOVE living vicariously through your writing! Thank you! See you soon.

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