*Man vs. Kelly

If you didn’t catch my drift in the title, I’m talking about the temp agencies that I worked for back in the 80’s. There were other agencies that I also spent a time working for, such as Volt, Express, and Northwest Services, but I have to admit, being a ‘Kelly Girl’ was the best.

My older sister Mer worked for Kelly Services back in the day, and liked it so much that she named her daughter “Kelly”. I don’t think I would have gone that far, nevermind the fact that I never had a child (that I know about).  I did, however, manage to really get into the spirit of being a temp and ended up doing it for a solid seven years. Employers hire temps for a variety of reasons: some just have a little extra work needing to be done, some have a particularly heinous assignment that they don’t want a permanent employee to do, and others simply don’t want hire someone full-time and end up paying benefits. Either way, I found it easy to go into a new situation and quickly learn the ropes, mainly because the companies you work for don’t have very high expectations for temps. (Well, it was this way awhile back anyway.)  I could go in and simply do a better-than-average job and still manage to become everyone’s favorite new guy. If I did a great job, the kudos were even more sincere. Another plus to working temp jobs was that if the job was crappy, you knew you weren’t going to be there long; and man, there were some really, really crappy jobs.

I know they say to “save the best for last”, but I can’t help it: watching concrete dry has to be on the top of my list of weird temp jobs.  The story begins with a large slab of concrete being poured in SW Portland for a Plaid Pantry store. Due to these stores usually being located in high traffic areas, my job was to make sure nobody walked through the wet cement or started to make like Picasso (you know, the painter).  I was told to bring a lunch and something to pass the time. (Little did I know just how much time.)  I arrived early in the morning, just as the ‘boys’ were putting the finishing touches on what seemed like a ‘sea of concrete’. The boss bid me farewell and said he would be back later to sign my time-card; I was officially on my own.

Back in the 80’s, cell phones, i-Pads, MP3 players, and other fun electronic do-dads just weren’t around. Without a TV to watch, a person usually passed the time by reading. Well, yes I know how to read, and yes I have read (a little), but I grew up in the “Life Magazine” era; I like lots of pictures and very few words in my reading material. So, naturally, I brought with me all of my motorcycle magazines: old, new, or otherwise. I had already looked at the pictures, so I figured that watching concrete dry should give me the time to read the articles. Great plan!  However, not enough magazines were brought.  The first couple of hours went by okay; I took a short break from my heavy reading and downed my lunch, even though it was only about 9:00 am. (Turns out eating was the ‘highpoint of the day.)  They did provide a port-a-potty on site in case I had to…you know. My biggest problem was that I couldn’t leave and that I had to stay awake. (I know!  They were asking a lot.)

Another couple of hours slowly roll by and the sun is starting to do its thing. (Yes Mabel, it got warm.)  Sitting in my Plymouth Fury II was no longer an option because I was starting to ‘bake’.  Time to find some shade, but where?  At one end of the concrete sea there was a telephone pole casting a shadow.  Uh…no good.  How about the port-a-potty.  Yeah…NO!  The sun was making quite the oven out of that as well, and it did not smell like cookies.  Maybe if I re-parked my car I could block the sun and sit along side it. One thing about having absolutely nothing to do is that it affords you plenty of time to figure out just what you want to do next.  After much thought and weighing of options I eventually moved my car.

I know you’re thinking that I just sat there like a stump all day, but believe me, I didn’t. Sometimes I sat like a rock. Of course I did shoo a few teenagers away later in the day as school was getting out, but for the most part people just don’t have the urge to write their initials in wet concrete anymore (sad, very sad).  Eventually I couldn’t seem to help myself, so I put a mark of my own way over in one corner of the slab.  Kinda ironic isn’t it?  I was being paid to keep everybody else from doing it, but…Ahhhh!  I’ll go back someday and see if it’s still there.

After what seemed like a week (OK, ten hours), the boss returned.  I even had my time card already filled out. (I had nothing else to do!)  I was pointing out where to sign when ‘Mr Big’ says to me, “How would you like to drive to Newberg and watch another slab dry?” Newberg is a little country town located about 20 miles south of Portland, and I had just enough gas to get me there, so of course my first reaction was to say, “You’ve got to be kidding pal!  I’m bored out of my mind now, and you want me to do it all over again for another painstaking ten hours?  Uh…sorry I can’t.  I mean, I…uh…I already filled out my time card and I don’t have another; my mom is visiting from Florida; I left the water running; I’m donating a kidney this evening; just please, please, don’t make me do this again.” Then and there Mr. Boss said to me exactly what I wanted to hear: “How much will it take?”  He took out a wad of money and confidently peeled off one twenty dollar bill; I didn’t even move. One more twenty came off and I started to look interested. He finally says, “Sixty bucks, that’s all I’ve got.” “I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” was my reply, and away I drove.

Now, a man with sixty bucks in his pocket, facing yet another grueling ten hours of watching concrete dry has only one option. Yup, you guessed it…beer!  Lucky for me I had already cleaned out my cooler of food, so a 12-pack slid nicely in; there was even room for ice. I added to my buffet a big bag of chips and a couple of pepperoni sticks.  BAM!  It was party time. It’s funny how much faster time passes when you have a cooler of ice-cold beer (and pass it did).  It turned out that this slab was directly in the path of a housing development and the local Safeway. It also quickly became apparent that country folks were not shy when it came to writing their name in wet concrete. I had a busy night. Towards the end of it all I was sitting in my car, simply honking the horn or flashing my lights when someone got too close. Plus, it was easier to conceal my ‘activities’.

I eventually made the executive decision that the concrete didn’t need any more ‘watching’, and at well past midnight I finally began my drive home. In conclusion, 20 hours of watching concrete dry, while not the worst job I’ve done, ranks up there pretty high with the most ‘mind numbing’.  Someday I’ll tell you about the heaviest.  Here is a preview: While living in Seattle I had a Manpower job that required me to lift up and stack the coins from all of the telephone booths in both Washington & Oregon. (Fill a bag with quarters, you’ll see! I know what you are thinking, and it’s not: “How did he do that?”  You’re thinking: “What’s a telephone booth?”  Am I right?

“Martians cannot readily distinguish us…from our surroundings” by Burt


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