Sunday, November 23, 2008

Of Luggage and Limbs

They say that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Sometimes, you can only hope to come away from a job with all the parts you started and call it a day.

The job that left me in daily fear of bodily harm? I was a ramp rat.

For those not familiar with airline jargon, that means I worked the ramp. I threw bags. I was a seasonal employee, which meant I was not allowed to drive any of the equipment. What did that leave me to do?

I hauled bags of ice up the stairs of the jetway for the flight attendants to bring on board. I'm the person who got the auxiliary AC and lights started up again after the plane came to a full and complete stop. I'm the person who chocked the tires, pulled the gear pins out of the front tire for push-back, and refilled the water tanks using a garden hose. You want to wash your hands after touching that nasty toilet? Thank me.

It also meant that I worked the bulk bin. Most bags are loaded in containers, which are then loaded in rows with heavy equipment. The bulk bin? Is for all the rest of the bags that don't fit. Because I was the only girl on my crew most days, I was up in the bin. I was the only one who could actually stand up in the bin which meant that I was stuck grabbing the bags off of the conveyor belt and stacking them head height in a tiny steel room.

All of this occurred during the summer months in Hotlanta. How hot is Hot? We had the option to wear shorts, which I never ever did. The steel was too hot, the edges too sharp and the men on my crew too lewd. It was navy blue pants for me, with heavy-duty knee-pads for protection. At night? After I got off at midnight, got to the parking lot and drove home? I had concentric salt circles on the backs of my knees.

At the beginning of every shift, I rode the employee bus onto Hartsfield grounds. Through the window I would watch the planes take off and land, and I would flex my fingers and murmur my prayers Please God, let me make it home tonight with all of my fingers. I would pull along the entire length of each finger, mimicking the motion of cracking my knuckles except I wanted to feel the texture and curve of every finger in case I lost one during the day.

At the end of every shift, with those salt circles crunching and chafing the backs of my legs, I would lean my forehead against the glass and thank the heavens that I was leaving my job with all my limbs.

There were many lessons to be learned from the underbelly of the aircraft. Appreciation for a job safely done being but one.


Kat said...

Woah. You are badass.
That was a great post.

Bluestreak said...

Shit that is pretty hardcore. I admit I´ve never had a job where I even thought for a second I might lose a digit.

SSG said...

do you give thanks everytday you are no longer working in that job? Man, working in shitty jobs meant I was damn sure going to get a degree so i wouldnt have to clean shit outta bathrooms no more.

RiverPoet said...

What a wonderful post! A glimpse into the previous life of NATUI.

What did the concentric salt circles come from? Sweat gathering around the bands of the knee pads?

Peace - D

Gypsy said...

Wow. I'm calling you Xena from now on. The most physically demanding job I've ever had was video store clerk.

Joe said...

I actually did get the tip of a finger chopped off at a previous job. We threw it on ice (I say we, but it was someone else, as I was too busy trying to not vomit all over the place) and rushed to the hospital. It's reattached and looks 100% normal. That is when I started paying extremely close attention to everything I do.

A Free Man said...

Jesus, I'm impressed! I know just how hot Hotlanta is in the summer. Makes hell look like a cool weather alternative. Well done.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

@Kat: Thanks! I never really felt like a badass at the time, just a miserable girl who wasn't brave enough to stand up to her dad.

@Bluestreak: I'd say that makes you pretty lucky. LOL

@SSG: I do thank my lucky stars every day. And the stupid thing was that I already had my damned degree and was about to begin graduate school. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. What was wrong with waiting tables?

@RiverPoet: You got it. The sheer amount of sweat left multiple salt stains on the back of my knees where the straps were.

@Gypsy: Is it wrong that I am a total Xena fan? Thanks for such a high compliment.

@Joe: No way! You've GOT to blog that story!!

@A Free Man: It is sick how in ATL one must wait several hours after sunset to feel any difference in temperature. No wonder everyone is so bitchy.

tysdaddy said...

I couldn't do Atlanta. I spent one day there, at Six Flags, and while I never lost a digit, I used one in particular to offend more than my fair share of ride attendants. I was young and stoopid . . .

Oh! I did fly through there once a child. On my way from somewhere to Dallas. I lost my watch in the airport bathroom. Could you check lost and found for me, if you ever get back there . . .

Patois said...

And I thought working the deli meat cutter in a 7-11 was dangerous.

buddha_girl said...

What the hell.

What HAVEN'T you done in this lifetime? I admire you. For real. I don't think I could do that job. Ever.

Cattledog Manifesto said...

Ha! Holy crap, I know this is an old post, but I had to comment. I just found your blog a few days ago and have found it a riveting read.

I was a ramp rat in Florida, and if you worked in ATL I'm going to take a wild assumption that we both most likely worked for the same airline. And if I'm right, I have to give you props for being brave enough to work for them in ATL...first time I flew through there I looked at the ramp and said, "So this is where sinful ramp agents go when they die." :)

I actually loved that job, even though it was just as hot & sweaty as you describe LOL. (And how about when it rained, soaked you to the skin, and then the sun came out again blistering-hot-muggy just in time to work the next flight?)

Until I made my most recent & final career change, it was my favorite job. Took a while to get good at it, but once I did I really flourished. I could stack bags in an MD-88/737 (no containers, all bulk bins) better than any of the guys (I'm female).

I'd have stayed there if the pay scale wasn't so shitty....I had an offer to work in ATL, I said, no way I was going to live in Traffic/City Hell AND work in Airplane Hell even if it did pay $15 an hour plus benefits.

Reading this post brought back a lot of my own memories, so I had to give a shout!

Not Afraid To Use It said...

@CattleDog: Thanks so much for the comment and the visit! I'm glad you are enjoying my blog. It sounds like we did indeed work for the same company and could swap horror stories. I worked Mad Dogs, too. :)