Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How the other half of the winery lives: Blame Henry Ford!

When Gliner and I arrived at work at 7:08AM this morning, 8 minutes after we were supposed to arrive. (Two days ago Gliner said to me, “I hate when my hourly employees come late to work. We will be at the winery fifteen minutes early every day.” That philosophy is already out the window...) Upon arrival, our boss told me that one of the Mexican laborers was out for the day and I would be replacing him doing “bottling” in the back of the winery/warehouse. I need to make it clear. Hollywood’s portrayal of wineries is completely inaccurate. They are essentially large open spaces with ginormous steel tanks in one section and bottling/storage areas in another section. That’s it. While I headed toward the “bottling department.” Gliner was asked to continue a project that he had spearheaded yesterday (I only assisted him for a couple of hours), which was to clean the drains in and around the winery. Today, this monumental task brought him outside. Cleaning drains translates to shoveling year-old shit that’s accumulated from any number of organic beings into a ditch beside the winery. Coming as a writer to a small town, in some sick sense, I pray that something big happens. I don’t need it to be a multiple kidnapping-homicide in the fashion of Truman Capote’s experience with In Cold Blood, but it would be nice for these Tri-Cities to be put on the map, if only for defeating Napa Valley for a Wine of the Year award. The current news headlines like “Local High School Hires Three New Teachers” just isn’t cutting it. Back to my life on the job…So, by 7:15 this morning, I, along with seven Mexican laborers was “bottling.” There’s no other way to say this: I was working on an assembly line. My first job was at the end of the line. I took the closed and sealed cases of wine and placed them on a large palate in a specific stacked formation at the rate of about one every fifteen seconds. This proved not to be as physically demanding as I feared because some part of the large, expensive, start-to-finish bottling machine broke down within twenty minutes of our start, affording me a quick break to recover. However, within ten minutes the machine was up and running as normal. My Mexican partner and I were reassigned to the first position on the assembly line. He took boxes (cases of wine) filled with empty bottles off of a never-ending stack (a hundred more boxes were carted over via forklift every time I thought we were about to finish our task) and placed each one in front of me in an upside-down form. My job was to take the upside-down box and lift it with enough gentle force that the dozen wine bottles would spew out onto a conveyor belt in upright form to be fed to the bottling machine. After the bottles were sent on their merry way, I took each empty box and tossed it onto a second conveyor belt that sent it to a later point in the assembly line where already bottled and labeled wine would be re-placed back into the box by female Mexican laborers. I completed my task thousands and thousands of times, over and over again, with no break. In reality, I had to feed 90 bottles to the machine per minute. This equals 7.5 cases per minute, meaning (so long that my math is correct, and it could be fuzzy at this late hour) that I completed my task eight times per minute, averaging 7.5 seconds from the time the full box was placed in front of me to the time I did it all over again. My first two hours of working “the line” seemed like two years. The fact that my Mexican counterparts spoke not a single word of English didn’t make matters easier. I tried to shove an I-Pod headphone into one ear, but this proved to be logistically impossible as it fell out every minute because of my constant back-twisting movements. It is utterly scary to think that people work on assembly lines for their entire lives, or any length more than one day. I pray tomorrow that the laborer whom I replaced will be back at work. Remember kids: Stay In School and Don’t Do Drugs or you could be forced to work the entirety of your life on an assembly line. I know there is a disparity between my wages and the wages of the workers around me. I make $11 an hour while the Mexicans make $8. I justify this by saying that I have additional skills (I speak English and I’m funny – I don’t think degrees in History or Creative Writing really help me on a day to day basis) that they don’t have, but I’m still not 100% okay with making more money than people who work way harder than me. Nonetheless, I still make $1.60 more per hour than I did while working at Endeavor. A future blog post will certainly focus on “people who earn more money per hour than me.” 

. *Note: The content/tone of this last paragraph sounds eerily similar to my first ever series of blogs from 2002/2003 when I wrote about my fast food adventures around Oceanside, New York while I suffered from a serious case of Senioritis. I wish I could say that the Ivy Leaguer on the Assembly Line would make a good documentary or feature film, but it wouldn’t. The results would be aesthetically unpleasing and editorially terrible. At best, I can hope to turn my experiences into a feature article for “Men’s Health” or “Wine Spectator,” which I plan to some how, some way, do. This may happen more easily when Gliner goes to task and has our home internet installed, which he has failed to arrange thus far. I will have to return to the Smoovie (smoothie + movie rental store) parking lot again this evening to “borrow” some wireless internet to post this blog. Analogy: Gliner and I are like a married couple…a couple who jumped the Southern border fence illegally last week. Now I work “the line” and he cleans…ah, it’s the life. PS – I crashed for four hours immediately after arriving home from work while listening to “This American Life.” Ironic choice? Perhaps. PPS – When I woke up an hour ago, Gliner was snoring on his air-bed. I forgot to mention earlier that he was out at the casino down the street until 2:00AM yesterday. He finished up $210. This may sound good, but when I stopped by the casino at 10:30PM he was up $240 and refused to come home with me as he mistakenly thought he had a lucky streak on tap…In total he is now up $735 in the past 72 hours but taking tonight off from his second-shift job.


Sarena said...

I am proud of you for leaving all bitterness aside in your last post. you are approaching your job with maturity and humor.

p.s. i know you were worked like a dog, but approach cookies as you would soda- in moderation- and you an gliner might grace the cover of wine spectacor or men's health in a few months ;)


Ryan said...

interesting post, morse, but one question: what nationality were your coworkers? i wish you had gone into more detail, and mentioned their nationality at least six times, made a joke about how they arrived in the tri-cities, and then used the name of a popular radio program to insult them on your way out of the post.

hm, i just reread the post, and it appears it actually covered all the bases. thanks!

Ruben Brosbe said...

i don't know if hollywood is misrepresenting wineries so much as not including wine warehouses in their portrayal. vineyards are only one part of wineries as you're now fully aware. i did the exact type of work you're doing now as a temp in santa rosa working in the bottling plant and warehouse of kendall jackson. it is mind-numbing work and my only solace was knowing i was doing it for just a few days. how long are you planning to be working with all those Mexicans again?