Heavy Trousers

Two weeks ago, I noticed a new pain and tightness running down the center of my lower back. The low back pain was freaking me out because I couldn’t pinpoint what was causing it. Last year, when I was seriously contemplating this career move, physical agility was – and still is – the forefront of my concerns. My body is now my most valuable tool and I can’t afford to injure it or mistreat it! I love working for an electrical shop who places a high priority on our morning stretch and flex routines. Yet I have let my personal maintenance slide. Our 10 hour work days have pulled me away from my typical gym and swimming routines: I’m simply too worn out by the end of the day to be as attentive as I was when working our standard eight hour days, and each day does not necessarily bring the exercise my body needs. I’m still getting about an hour’s worth of cardio and stretching work out (outside of work) three times a week. This back pain is a warning sign I will not ignore.

A couple days ago, while placing my favorite tools into my pants pockets, I had an “aha!” muscle twinge. The culprit seemed to be heavy trousers! Read the rest of this entry »

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The Stand Down

The intense 10-hour days are wearing me down. I’m constantly exhausted: by the time I slog through the afternoon traffic (about 60 to 90 minutes to cover 21 miles), I have only a couple hours to myself before collapsing into bed. Time is the scarce commodity right now and I am greedy for more me time!

Today, we were sent home from the job site at 1:30pm. Since we start our days at 6:00am, it was only an eight hour day. Whooo-hoooo! An afternoon all to myself! I could barely contain my glee. Yet there was a dismal group vibe in the air. Over 300 of us were being walked off the site due to an accumulation of incidents. We were in “stand down” mode: a punishment from the general contractor who was basically saying to us, “No more work (or money) for you!” Politics and intensified stress have wormed into the scene: schedules and completion dates are tight. The drive to get it done is coming directly into conflict with safe practices. Read the rest of this entry »


The Dance

Whenever I start working with somebody new – which is often because of both this line of work and being an apprentice – I notice the same pattern of sussing out “who – excactly – ARE you?” happening through conversation and non-verbal cues.

Some of the directly verbal questions that almost always come out are:

– What did you do before you decided to become an electrician?
– How old are you?
– Are you married? / How many kids do you have?
– Where did you grow up? / Where are you from?
– Where do you live?
– So…what made you decide to be an electrician?
– What does your partner/husband/significant other do?

Can you imagine asking some of these questions in such a point-blank manner to a fellow office worker? Read the rest of this entry »


Night and Day

After undergoing yet another whiz quiz, 18 hours of company and site-specific training and donning at least five types of security badges, I started work with a new crew. It’s a completely different world. My new site is one of the largest in the region: so large that the trades workers have created their own temporary city. Our parking lot is larger (and dustier) than a CostCo parking lot. The capacity of our lunch and break area is just under 2,000 people. My first morning was surreal because I had to find my foreman amongst a bustle of identically colored hard hats and orange vests. It was like a social easter egg hunt. People were pretty helpful when I explained it was my very first morning on site, and now – a couple weeks into this new gig – I trade small talk with the now-familiar faces who helped me that first morning Read the rest of this entry »


The Break Up

Last week, I broke up with my electrical contractor. I need to see what other contractors offer and I want to look out for my best training interests.

My manager was pissed: I was punished for being the rat fleeing a sinking ship; or I was some kind of traitor because I wasn’t blithely waiting around. He called at the end of the day last Friday said, “I had work for you on Monday, but I heard you want to go to another shop. Which is it?” It felt like it was too late for me to accept bona fide electrical work from him. If he truly had a work assignment for me, I would have happily taken it. However, just the day before, he told me: 1) there wasn’t much on the horizon, but he’d let me know as soon as there was; 2) three other company apprentices were sitting out and waiting for work to pick up; 3) there were over 60 apprentices waiting for work through the training center; 4) the field is flooded with electricians right now because travelers are clamoring for a huge project in our area. He made it sound like I had no other choice but to stay loyal and wait. Read the rest of this entry »


On the Hook

This is the first week I’ve been “on the hook” and I don’t like it one bit. Work has slowed down to the point of my construction manager telling me, “We have no work for you, but we’ll call you as soon as something comes up.” Basically, I am receiving an unannounced furlough of indeterminate length or, through different lenses: unpaid vacation days. I like the sound of the latter much better. This is known as “staying on the hook” or “being on the hook”. Even though it would be easier and more comfortable to go with the flow and marry myself to this shop, I’m shaking myself outside my comfort zone and begging the apprentice training center to rotate me to a different contractor. Besides, I was never good at sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring! Read the rest of this entry »


Gruff Love

Recently, I spent about two weeks working with the same journeyman. He looked like an overweight and scruffy version of Tom Selleck or Burt Reynolds. (ok, really – he just sported the 70’s mustache and had a full head of brown hair) He loved his cigarettes, couldn’t drink coffee – opted for hot cocoa instead – and when he was in a joking mood, would hold his pot belly and say, “Yup, this has been honestly bought and paid for!” In his moodier and more melodramatic moments (which hit frequently and without prediction), he either yelled at pieces of equipment that weren’t installing easily, vented his low opinion of our office bidder/estimator or grumbled about how tired he was of “all this shit.” He was a process-out-loud kind of guy who got frazzled when all the variables of our trade didn’t pull together smoothly. And I couldn’t quite gauge his humor. One minute, he fervently told me he cared more about accuracy than speed. The next minute, he’d stomp into my work area with a scowl and say, “We’re not crafting a watch, you know!” or “Making a career out of that or what?” At the end of our project, he handed me a cable termination tool and said, “Here! This is for you. You can probably use it soon.” Then he stomped off. Read the rest of this entry »