Sunday, February 19, 2012

BUS STORY # 276 (On The Road To Shenzhen)


I don’t know his name. I used to see him on the earlier bus all the time. We sat together a few of those times and made small talk, mostly about sports and his time in the military. Then my work schedule changed.

He’s boarding this morning, same spot as always, just an hour later. He sees me, joins me. I tell him he’s running later than usual. He tells me he overslept.

He worked late yesterday. He’s been working a lot. Lots of overtime. The money is good, but he’s beginning to feel like all he’s doing is working and eating and sleeping.

Weekends have disappeared. Used to be he’d work a couple of Saturday mornings a month. Now, Saturday’s just another work day, and sometimes he has to come in on Sunday mornings or afternoons, depends on what’s going on that Sunday.

It’s gotten so his wife and son don’t even ask anymore if he’s going in Saturday, or when he’s coming home. His son’s in high school, and he’d like to be around for him more than he’s been lately, before he leaves home. His son is a really neat kid, he tells me, and he likes hanging out with him.

His boss works 80 hours a week, and he expects them to do the same. They don’t want to do the same, and he gets frustrated with them.

His boss didn’t always work 80 hours a week. But several months ago, a manager left and the company decided it would be cheaper to split up the manager’s job responsibilities and assign different ones to the remaining managers. That’s why his boss is working 80 hours a week.

Not surprisingly, some of those new responsibilities seem to have become theirs as well, job description or no, like it or not.

His boss lives some 15 miles outside of Albuquerque. It's not all that far, but he’s decided he can get an extra couple hours of sleep a night by not going home during the work week. He’s converted an empty storeroom to a little bedroom. There’s a shower on site. He goes home late Friday, is back early Monday morning.

There used to be a sign-up sheet whenever overtime was needed. It wasn’t all that often, and there were a handful of folks who jumped at the opportunity.

The sign-up sheet started becoming a regular feature, and also taking up more and more of the page. Pretty soon, people quit signing up for all the slots. So the boss began signing them up himself.

Some of them refused to come in for their assigned slots. His boss would call the others at home and ask them if they could come in -- or, if they were already scheduled for later in the day, could they come in earlier.

He describes such a call. He’s sitting at the table eating breakfast with his family when the phone rings. It’s his boss. His boss tells him the guy who was scheduled didn’t show, and can he come in an hour earlier than he’s scheduled. When he tells his boss he cannot, his boss says oh, c’mon, you’re just hanging around the house doing nothing. But he held the line: he’d be in when he was scheduled.

He says he feels like he’s done more than his part, and he’s tired, and he wants his life back. He says he recently told his boss just that. His boss doesn’t understand his attitude, especially in times like these. He tells him there are folks out there who’d love to have his job.

I ask him why the company doesn’t just hire more people if the demand is so high. He answers when you factor in the training, the learning curve, and the benefits, overtime is a whole lot cheaper than hiring new employees.

I ask him if he watched last weekend’s Super Bowl. I’ve changed the subject, but I can’t imagine him missing the game, and of not bringing it up first thing in our conversation.

He says he did, and he immediately lightens up. He tells me he and his son and his wife watched the game together at a sports bar. We are both happy with the game because it was close, exciting, and the coach we wanted to lose lost.

We get to his stop. I tell him it’s good to see him again, and I wish him good luck. He gives me a wry smile.

I can’t believe the game came up so late in the conversation, and that I’m the one who brought it up.

Things are not all right.

__________

The photo at the top of this story is titled “On the bus 2,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of Roving I. You can see all Roving 1’s photos on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rovingisydney/

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