Thursday, October 1, 2009

In the Beginning . . .

I had a job. Not a career, but a job that a buddy of mine helped me get. It was with a 30-year-old, family-owned chemical and adhesives manufacturing company that was headquartered in Boston. The Boston part was intriguing. The chemicals were not.

A week before I started, I found out they were moving the company to Walpole - 20 miles West of Boston. They were expanding and found an industrial park to set up in. The only other thing that was in Walpole besides this new industrial park was the state prison.

I had already found a place live in Boston and planned on taking public transportation to work. Now, I would have to get a car and drive.

Working with a budget of $300, I found a very used Honda Accord hatchback. It had just reached 100,000 miles, it had a choke to help start the car, balding tires, and rust along most of the edges. The main thing, though, it started.

My boss wouldn't let me park the car in front of the building because it was so ugly. He tried to get me to drive the company car. It was a pick-up truck with their main product's name, Topcoat, emblazoned on the side - a liquid roofing material for metal roofs. I was the new head of marketing for the product. I was the entire marketing department and sometimes technical salesperson.

While most of my friends were working in large corporations beginning training programs with hundreds of people the same age as them, I was sitting in Walpole in a 25-person company run by two brothers who didn't trust anyone or each other.

There was Stan in accounting who did everything with a pencil and piece of paper. He didn't trust technology.

"You see this pencil?" he'd say to me. "It's never gonna crash."

"But what if you break the tip?" I'd ask.

"What, are you an idiot? I'll sharpen it," he'd reply.

"But what if the sharpener ..."

"Get outta here, do some marketing," he'd say and slam the door to his office.

There was Felix who was in charge of the lab. We weren't allowed to talk to him or even go into the lab area. It had three locks on the door. The brothers thought there were people who would break in and steal the secret rubber formula. (I guess they shouldn't have moved so close to the prison.)

And then there was Lou who was in charge of operations. He basically managed the plant in the back where the chemicals were manufactured and the loading dock. He got to drive the fork lift onto the trucks everytime there was delivery.

He always liked to hang out in the front office. He would sit in the chair in front of my desk and tell me how stupid all the workers were out back, mainly because they were foreigners. He'd tell that if it wasn't for him, they wouldn't even know how to zipper their pants - not something I really wanted to think about how he helped them.

He'd also tell me how dumb the two brothers were as well. But whenever they walked by, he'd sure liked to kiss their asses.

"How ya doing Mr. Clark? I don't think the Sox are gonna pull one off tonight."

"What are you doing up Lou? Who's watching the plant?"

"I'm heading right back. I was just answering some questions for Marketing, here."

All these guys were a few years away from retirement when I started, fresh out of college. I had some great role models to look up to.

This is my desk that I sat at for 2 1/2 years.

And this is the window I stared out of from 8:30am to 5:00pm.

To be fair, I wasn't always at this desk. I did get to do a fair amount of traveling. I got to meet other roofers from around the country who I tried to educate on the wonders of a rubberized substrate for corrugated metal.

The point was that metal roofs leaked a lot because they expanded and contracted with the heat and cold. A rubber roof that goes down as a liquid coating would adhere to the surface, cover the seams and stretch with temperature fluctuations.

It didn't really work. You had to have the finesse of an industrial painter to put the stuff down. You had to know how thick to put it on in certain spots. You had to hope for warm weather and enough sun to cure the material. And you had to have the patience to attend to the details, like every screw that held the metal down had to have a special dab of Topcoat applied to the head. Did you ever see how large some of those warehouse roofs could be?

These were roofers who were used to rolling out carpets of black, oily matting that would have its seams heat-welded together with big, flaming torches they carried around. Sure, a few roofs would catch on fire, but man they could lay that stuff down fast.

These were interesting people. People from the heartland. I think a lot of them even made it to high school graduation.

And, like I said, I got to see different parts of the country.

For each place I'd go to I would try and bring back a post card so I could put it on the wall at home and marvel at it. Although some places I visited were so exotic they didn't even have post cards, like Waterloo, Iowa or West Allis, Wisconsin, or even Intercourse, Pennsylvania.

But I did get to the big towns now and then, like Fort Wayne, Pittsburgh, and even Cincinnati - the city where the TV show WKRP was supposed to take place in, even though it was shot in Hollywood I hear.

That was the beginning. Some days when I think of where I am now, I still look back fondly and think of the old gang of people I once knew.

1 comment:

  1. Stan in accounting sounds like a hoot !
    Good one.
    Wow - Loni Anderson - she'd make HELL a bit more tolerable.... 'back in the day' of course.