I hadn’t been on the job for very long, a few months maybe, and yet it was all I could think about, operating the big crane. I knew it was going to be one of those things where I’d have to start at the bottom, making all of the coffee runs, taking shit from all of the old-timers. But still, I asked on the second day, I tried to make it like I wasn’t interested, “So,” I said to one of other guys, “when do you get to work the heavy machinery?” pointing to the crane.
And that guy wasn’t that interested. He stood there smoking his cigarette – you’re technically not supposed to smoke on the job, but it was the seventeenth floor, there weren’t any walls up yet – and he gave me one of those, “I don’t know,” answers.
“Have you ever operated it? Do you know how?”
And he was just like, “I don’t know,” which didn’t answer anything, and made it very clear that he didn’t feel like chatting.
Sure, day two may have been a little soon. I didn’t know anybody. If I’d waited like a week longer, I would’ve gotten a better sense of who I could have asked and who didn’t feel like listening to my questions. But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. No matter how I tried to occupy my time, my thoughts kept going back to the crane.
“When can I use the crane? How long does the training take? Do you need a special license?”
And so one day, maybe like two months in, I showed up to work and the foreman called me over in front of everybody else. “So,” he said in a really loud voice, “you’re the guy that really wants to work the big boy, huh?”
I tried to play it cool, but you know like when you’re playing poker, and you have a really good hand, and even though you just want to sit still and not make it obvious, you can’t help but feel your heart speed up, your lungs automatically taking in more air? That’s what this was like. “You mean the crane?” I said, and I heard my own voice, it sounded way too overeager.
A few of the guy behind me started laughing under their breath. I knew they were laughing at me, but I didn’t care. I probably deserved it. Like I said, I was all about the crane, talking to anyone who’d listen. I figured they thought I was a dumb kid, sure, but whatever, because at some level they had to be a little jealous. Because isn’t this how you do it? Isn’t this how you get places in life? You have to make your intentions clear. You’ve got to be persistent. It’s all about attitude and motivation. So go ahead and laugh, I thought to myself. I’m getting called out by the foreman to work the big crane.
“Listen up,” the foreman told me, “usually it’s not only experience, but seniority. Everybody wants to drive the big boy. I get it. And normally I tell them what I tell everyone, that you got to wait your turn, pay your dues. But you. I don’t know, there’s something special about you. I can tell you really want it, that you’ve got a certain something that I can’t really put my finger on. I’ve picked out a lot of top crane operators, and if I’m right about you, I don’t think we can afford to not have you on that crane another day.”
That was exactly what I wanted to hear. But it’s like, you’re hoping to hear something like that, and then when you actually hear it, it’s too much. I stood there, unable to really come up with a response.
“So,” I said, “when do I start? Can I hop in right now? I’m ready.”
“Whoa, whoa, take it easy,” the foreman said. “There’s still the issue of paperwork, of licensing, of dealing with the union heavy machinery representatives, and then there are bunch of classroom sessions that you’re supposed to take before you ever actually get in the crane.”
And I was kind of disappointed. I mean, I thought I was getting this right now.
“But,” he said while I tried not to look bummed out, “I think I have it figured out.”
“You have it figured out?” I repeated.
“Yeah,” he said. “I think I can get you on that crane by this afternoon.”
I couldn’t believe it. This was getting to be too much, the highs and lows, back-to-back, an emotional rollercoaster.
“Just give me a minute, let me go to the office, I’ve got to see if I can make this happen,” he said.
And he did, he went to the office, a little trailer set up to the side, while everyone else got to work around me. Some of the old-timers were still kind of smirking, but I didn’t feel threatened anymore. I was special. The foreman could tell I had potential. Let these losers laugh at me. I could care less. So I just stood there and smirked back.
The foreman came out of his office trailer like five minutes later.
“All right,” he handed me an envelope. “I need you to take this to ground level and meet my contact five blocks from here. The address is written down. When you get there, call this cell phone number and wait.”
This was so cool. I took the envelope and confirmed that I understood my instructions and I was on the service elevator in less than a minute. When I got to the spot, I did exactly like I was told. I made the call, the guy on the other end told me to hold on, and then he hung up. A couple of minutes later, this guy shows up, I guess he knew it was me by my construction vest. He took my envelope and gave me another envelope, he told me to go to a deli three blocks in the opposite direction and ask for Julio.
“Just tell Julio who you are, give him the envelope, and tell him that the big guy sent you.”
“And that’s it?” I asked. “I’ll be good to go?”
“You’ll be all set,” he confirmed.
I went to the deli and tried to get the guy behind the counter’s attention, “I’m here to see Julio?” I asked. But there were three people ahead of me getting egg sandwiches and coffees, and he made me wait in line.
Finally it was my turn. “Julio? I’m here for Julio?” I asked.
“Yeah?” he said.
“Yeah. What do you want?”
“I’m Rob. The big guy sent me.” And I handed him the envelope.
He took it from me and told me to wait like five minutes.
And then five minutes later, he handed me a large brown paper bag and two cardboard carrying cases full of coffees.
“What is this?” I asked him. Surely there had to have been a misunderstanding.
“What are you talking about?” Julio said.
“What is all of this stuff?” I asked.
“What do you mean? Six egg sandwiches, two no bacon, eight coffees, I marked them all like you said on the phone, just look, it’s all written on the lids.”
“This is just a food order?” it still hadn’t sunk in.
“What are you talking about?” Julio repeated. “You needed something else?”
“The big guy?” I was desperate now.
“Yeah, Richie, the big guy, egg sandwiches and coffee. You all right kid?”
And I’d been doing coffee runs since I started, but this deli was so much more out of the way than the deli closest to the construction site. So I had to balance those two coffee trays, the giant bag, I had to walk it like eight blocks back to the site. And when the elevator doors opened up, everyone was standing there, pointing and laughing. The foreman was in the back, he was clearly enjoying himself too, but he probably wanted us all to be getting back to work.
“All right, all right!” he shouted out. “Get back to work everybody!”
And people took their sandwiches and coffees and made jokes, asking me what took so long, and why were the coffees so cold.