Seven a.m. on November 12 came really swiftly. I was up on a roof and out of my element immediately, just trying to figure out the best way not to look like a bearded idiot. I strolled onto a halfway done job at the Lexington Montessori School which was a HUGE installation with 7 different solar arrays.
I was set to work with Ryan, a crew lead and apprentice like me, who’d been with the company for a year and specialized in roofing and safety (thankfully). I spent a good few hours trying to wrap my head around being outside all day and attempting to understand what Ryan was doing until several other people had finished their tasks and I was promptly assigned some bitch-work.
I’d assembled about 200 of these bad boys while a particularly grumpy journeyman named Russ (aka Uncle Cranky) jibed me about the care I showed in keeping the mids in order. He commented every few minutes about how he’s just going to throw them in a bucket and I modestly acknowledged then assured my method was purely for numbers sake and I wanted to be sure we’d have at least as many as we’d need. Mainly it just fed my obsessive needs to have things in some sort of order.
I have to digress for a moment for those unfamiliar with the trades. The ranks go as follows: Master Electrician/Foreman, Journeyman, Apprentice. If a journeyman tells an apprentice to do something, it is the apprentice’s job to do it, no matter how dumb it is. For example, regardless of what an apprentice is doing, when a journeyman says, “Grab me X.”, the apprentice damn well will drop what he’s doing and better not come back without X. There’s also a pretty harsh griping structure. A master will rag on a journeyman, and a journeyman will rag twice as hard on an apprentice. Masters never blame apprentices because journeymen are responsible for every aspect of the apprentice’s work. Apprentices rag on nobody. If an apprentice challenges a journeyman in a nonconstructive way, it is a fast track to being known as a “problem” to be “dealt with.” Everything you do will be suspect, you’ll be talked about, and you’ll be scrutinized until you can’t stand another judgement of your work or character. The hope is that you’ll leave before they have to fire you. I learned this in school, so I came into the trade knowing that I’ll be handed shit on a plate every day and have to say that it smells great.
Moving on, I met the lead of the other crew (both crews were assigned to this job due to it’s scale) who’s name is Jake. Like me, he lives in Salem and before it was even a thought in my head he offered a carpool since he’s got the company truck. I agreed and we kept on through the day. My first day wound up at 10 hours! Thankfully I wasn’t tired or stressed because it had mostly been a lot of watching people do things and trying to piece together what everything went toward while trying to stay out of peoples’ way.
The next morning I was driving to Jake’s condo and hopped in the truck at 6 just like he asked. He started it up and asked me if I knew what “on time” meant. I pointed at the clock in the dash and asked if he’d wanted me here at a different time. “Five minutes early is on time, and on time is late.” was his response. Personally, I was dismayed. I’ve made it a life-mission to always be on time, not early or late. I’ve always prided myself on my own punctuality and I’ve been unable to not see being early as being rude. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be injured than late, but being early will always result in discomfort. On time, in my eyes, is perfection. We brushed the issue aside and drove to the job. We immediately bonded. He’s five years older than I and has a boat-load of personality. While we see differently on many, many things, it’s a friendship that allows growth from opposing points of view. He vowed to teach me everything he could, “to get me off these friggin’ roofs.” The dude’s a workhorse, absolutely dedicated to neatness, timeliness, efficiency, professionalism, and overall ethic. So much to the fact that when I slipped while carrying a panel up roof on my third day, in the process getting hit by a ladder that kicked out from under me, instead of laughing at me like Russ did, he scolded Russ for not taking time to teach me how to properly climb a ladder with a panel in hand. “We all want to go home,” he says like a mantra. He would prove the the following day.
Meet the 40-foot ladder. Brutally high for someone who’d just stepped on his first roof a few days ago. Not pictured is a little glass green house where the school has a garden. No way are we going to carry these 35-pound panels up this thing. And I couldn’t have been wrong harder.
One by one, he toted up each panel then he, Russ, and I set them in place on the rails. It was a staggering insight of what my future would look like. I’d better get used to bouncy, swaying ladders and start working out my forearms. From time to time, classes of kids and their teachers would come out to observe us work and give us resounding applause and thanks for the work. As the day went on we got into a good rhythm even with me being the new guy. We were able to get a lot done quickly and before we knew it, we had beautifully straight arrays everywhere we looked.
I wondered, with a hope filled head, would all the jobs be so smooth? The answer, I was rapidly shown, was an overwhelming No.