Currently, my job involves me working on a computer, from home. My commute is usually the bedroom, or living room, or kitchen to my “office.” But during the Summer of Starvation in 2004, I worked at a beer distributor in Scranton, Pa. Now, this wasn’t the type of beer distributor where you go pick up a keg or a 12-pack for a weekend party. This was a giant warehouse that supplied beer for bars, restaurants and pizzerias throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. Actual manual labor.
I got the job through my friend Jason*, who worked in the office at this place. Right before interviewing with the boss of the company, I realized that on the portion of the application where it said, “Have you ever been arrested before?” I had checked the “Yes” box. Because I’m a dope, I had read that section as saying, “Check yes if you have never been arrested before.” I scratched out the “Yes” box and checked “No,” hoping he would somehow not notice this or ignore it. He noticed it. So I did the honorable thing and lied.
“Wait, have you been arrested before?”
“Why did you originally check the ‘Yes’ box, then?”
“I didn’t. I had left the application out, and one of my roommates did because they thought it’d be funny.”
“Why would someone do that?”
“Uhhhh … some people crazy?”
The job itself generally consisted of me helping load the trucks in the morning, then I’d be paired with one of the drivers to assist with deliveries. Some of the guys were nice, some were weirdos, one or two were jerks; aka, it was a job. One day, the guy in charge of the warehouse asked, “Brian, do you want to work with the guy who never shuts up or the guy who never speaks?” I immediately answered, “Quiet guy.” This was Bruce.
Bruce and I got along A-OK. Although once we were driving along and I was all, “Hey, Bruce, why does this truck have two brakes?” And he said, “Excuse me, what?” And I said, “I noticed there are two breaks. Is one, like, an air brake?” And he said, “Do you mean the clutch?” And I said, “Some people crazy,” then didn’t speak for the rest of the day.
Near the end of the summer, I was again working with Bruce and we were zooming through the shift. Despite the fact that it was particularly hot out and we had several large deliveries, we were like two hours ahead of schedule, and he said he’d take me to a good steakhouse nearby for lunch after we finished at the bar we were approaching. This was when things took a downturn.
We arrived at the parking lot to find a truck from another company was already there. This meant we had to wait until our COMPETITOR was done with his delivery before we could start ours. Professional courtesy. Then while pulling out after he was done, the guy got his truck stuck on a cable wire attached to the bar. There was no freeing him, and his truck was blocking the door to the fridge. So we waited. Then Bruce got sick of waiting, so we found another out-of-the-way entrance and brought our stuff inside. Then the owner of the bar told us there was something wrong with the order and we had brought in way too much stuff. This was when things went off the rails.
Because of our large delivery, we had one of the full-size trucks that day. This meant we had to use a ramp to get things on and off. Going down the ramp with a handtruck stacked with kegs or cases was easy enough. I was in (relatively) good shape during this point, and I had gravity on my side. Pushing a handtruck stacked with kegs or cases up the ramp? I was only in (relatively) good shape during this point, damnit, and gravity was now the enemy.
At first I tried walking the cases up the ramp one by one. But Bruce rightfully pointed out that this would take forever. So I loaded a bunch of stuff on the handtruck. I approached the ramp — which I now must point out was quite narrow — and started my ascent. About halfway up, I stopped. This was a bad idea. It was Wile E. Coyote running off a ledge and then finally looking down. I started to tip to the right. I did not stop tipping to the right. Eight cases of beer went crashing to the pavement.
It was not a soft landing. Immediately beer started shooting everywhere. I guess as a way of helping, the guy from the other company grabbed a couple of the exploding cans and started chugging. Waste not, want not. A can rolled away and stopped directly in front of Bruce. A moment passed. Then I heard a “psssssh” sound and saw one last stream of beer shoot into the air …
We did not go to the steakhouse for lunch.
*I was friends with Jason despite the fact that he once drunkenly tried to put a cigarette out on my eye.
One day after finishing a shift that summer, I was walking toward the exit, my T-shirt covered in sweat. Jason caught up with me, having just finished a day working in an air-conditioned office.
“Brian, I know it’s tough hauling kegs around in this heat, but, mentally, I’m just as exhausted.”
I did not agree.