Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Teamster Fever: One Temp's Story

Part One: The Preparation

The job would last 3 days at 14 hours a day and $15 an hour.  As monitors of a union election in Raleigh,  a job we got through Willie's dad, all Willie and I had to do was check people's i.d.'s, have them sign their name on a list, hand them a ballot, and show them the box where the ballot goes.  Stuff that a monkey could do.

But, that's where the monkey's job ends and a professional's begins.  A professional food packer, that is.

Now, if my parents reared me for anything in life, it was to never be outside of your home without something to eat.  (Never being outside of your home without something to read was either tied for first or a very close second.)  I had grown up seeing my parents pack food for car trips as if the possibility existed that we could get trapped in our car for three months; no matter how short the ride, the number of food bags almost always trumped the amount of luggage.  Even as I type this, my mom has several recycled water bottles in the fridge ready to go in plastic bags, so that at a moment's notice, she can slide down the ladder, grab the water and go.  Hunger and thirst outside the home are not matters to be taken lightly.

So, ala the very hungry caterpillar, in true Kraut form, this is what I packed for Day One of the temp job: two bananas, two granola bars, a large bag of pretzels, two little bags of cookies, two turkey sandwiches,  four pieces of celery with peanut butter on them, two apples, two oranges,  four little chocolate mints, one bag of sourpatch kids, two rootbeers, a large bottle of water and a big bag of grapes.  That was the lunch and the snacks; I assumed we would buy dinner.

In between feeding times, for reading or other activities, this is what I brought: three books, two New Yorkers, one dictionary, a pad of Wonder Woman stationery, a sketching notebook, pencils to sketch with, beads and thread to make bracelets (including a small scissors), and my computer.  For the computer, I had five letters of recommendation to write, two television shows and one movie to watch.

I was ready to feed and entertain a family of five.  

Part Two: Chillin'

Although we knew we were monitoring a union election, this didn't mean much until we pulled into Teamsters Local Union No. 391, cool sign and all.  Yes, we had arrived at a photo op. 

And although I had technically belonged to a teachers union in Chicago, this had meant nothing to me.  But the Teamsters?  UPS and DHL drivers and cops?  Much cooler.  Maybe it's the uniforms or maybe it's that anything UPS makes me excited because someone, somewhere -- hopefully me someday -- is receiving a package.  For whatever reason, I got into the Teamsters theme of the temp job.  Even the union hall seemed cool.

The easy work was made even easier by the few numbers that turned out: the first day we had 11 voters, the second day we had 5 voters, and the third day we had 7.  (We didn't work over the weekend, when most people showed up for Teamster appreciation day and voted since they were already there.)

Despite my big activity bag, the things I actually accomplished during those three days were:

- Faux voting

- Finishing one of the long articles in The New Yorker
- Going to the mall down the street to buy my first cooler
- Taking a nap in the car
- Watching a lot of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

No bracelets were made, no sketches were sketched, and no correspondence was conducted on my Wonder Woman stationery.  

But, we did get to be around the higher-up's of Teamster Local No. 391, who were easy-going and friendly and unconcerned with what we did to pass the time.  One guy offered me his pocket knife each morning after he saw me trying to cut a slit in that day's ballot box with a scissors.  Another guy went out and brought back biscuits for everyone from Bojangles.  

To make the voting festive, the Teamster heads-of-the-office set up a tent each morning right outside, where they served complimentary chili dogs and potato chips.  They sat under the tent and talked and ate and smoked an occasional cigar up until 9:00 PM, when voting ended.  Other Teamster members who came to vote joined them under the tent.  On the second day, when the temperature dropped by 30 degrees and it rained on and off, one of the guys went out and bought some shower curtains and rods and made a walled-in tent, complete with heater and all. These guys weren't messing around.

And they could talk.  One older fellow stood in the doorway of the voting room and chatted up Willie and me for awhile one afternoon.  His accent was so thick and mumbly that I only caught about every other sentence, but I'm pretty sure I learned why you can't change a man and how you can tell the difference between male and female corn.  

Part Three: Election Fever 

Once the voting ended, our final duty was to drive the ballots an hour away to Greensboro and to help count all of the ballots from the three different polling sites.  I was anticipating a couple more hours of light work; little did I know that I would catch Teamster fever.  

When we showed up, there was a lot of activity at the Greensboro office.  All of the Teamsters on the ballot and then some were there to watch the results come in and to help monitor the counting process.  And many of them had on their Teamster gear -- jackets and t-shirts with the union logo or with "Teamsters for Obama" on them.  Right away I coveted the Teamster paraphernalia and not-so-secretly hoped for some swag.  

Willie and I were part of a team of six -- the other four being lawyers -- who were helping to count the ballots.  The process was very tight and organized -- from making piles of slate votes or non-slate votes, to counting out the ballots into piles of 25, to recounting the piles of 25, to clipping them, and finally to marking on official tally sheets the numbers of votes each candidate received as the ballots were read out.  We made tick marks in columns and called out "slash" whenever we marked the fifth tick.  The crowd of Teamsters watched our every move, monitoring the process and making sure everything looked clean.   I was taken aback by how serious and closely observed the counting was, but it was a good kind of serious.  A sanctity of the voting process serious.  A kind of seriousness that the bright blue nail polish I had applied the night before, unfortunately, did not convey.  

Once our tallying was done and Willie and I were no longer being monitored, I could relax and fully take in the atmosphere.  As the numbers from the three sites started to be tallied, the Teamsters waiting for the results huddled around either the woman working the adding machine or around a computer which kept an updated tally on the numbers.  Even though I had been told that the incumbents running were all but guaranteed to win, I felt nervous and excited for them.  Nervous and excited for them and for Obama and for elections everywhere.  I had democracy fever.  

When the numbers were finally in, there were cheers and hugs and high fives and thank you's and lots of congratulations.  Here is a photo of the winning Teamster candidates:

I got so into it that I didn't want to leave.  I wanted to hang out with the Teamsters, the reelected Board of Trustees and the Business Agents and their Teamster friends.  I wanted to find out who was who, to put faces to names.  I wanted a Teamster jacket and I wanted to work for the Teamsters.

Willie and I didn't go home empty-handed.  We got a Teamsters for Obama sign as well as a lot of leftover pizza.

Part Four: Epilogue

This morning, as I began my daily job search, I typed in "Teamster jobs" on the computer, just for the hell of it.  Yes, they are mostly if not exclusively truck driving jobs, and seeing as I hate driving and am afraid of trucks, I realized it is probably not the union for me.

So, I suppose I'll stick to applying to snotty-ish or self-important organizations because that is the "respectable" thing to do with $150,000 worth of education.  

But, I still have Teamster fever and am thinking about investing in my own pocket knife.


OrangeMoJoJo said...

Dang. Now I want a pocket knife! Specifically, this one:
I was bummed I didn't get to see a pic of your blue nail polish, but I'm betting it looked pretty patriotic!

Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

Im with Jojo, I went back to look at the pics to see if I could spot the nail polish. Loving the pics though, of North Carolina Naomi! Katie spotted the blog post first again, she's a serious fan (just like ME!).

Okay, now the real question is, after you searched online for "Teamster Jobs" did you successfully find "Teamster Online Store" so we can order our Teamster gear, to be delivered in a truck by a Teamster to us?! I have Teamster Swag Fever!

And I love, of course, how the counting was a performance in itself, a strictly choreographed routine with "Slash" as punctation!

And, finally, why was the elected woman a bit hidden in the photo. I want her front and center, I want Elected Teamster Chick!

Okay, signing out with gratitude that you have contributed a great part to preserving good election processes, and you got some free pizza and such too. Big love.

Naomi Jane said...

Oooh, love the pocket knife, JoJo. Not only is it orange, but it has "Scout" in it's title! Perfect. And Claire Claire, you are so right about the Teamster woman (it was definitely 99.9% male) and about the Teamster swag. Thank you guys SO much for reading that long thing!

Katie said...

Alright now that Claire is making me out like some kind of Naomi blog stalker I figured it was time to show myself.

While the others seemed to enjoy the blue nail polish I was a real fan of hearing about the food packing. I too am a fan of the sourpatch kids and food in general. The Brits just don't understand the sour sweet.

Like Claire says I am a big fan. Is that slightly creepy? I'm a fan of a blog of a person I've never met or is that okay in blog world?

Anyway, keep postin' (or is that truckin') and good luck with the job hunt!

Naomi Jane said...

Ooh, Katie, I don't even know if you'll see this comment, but thank you so much for your comment and for reading! I am more than flattered -- not creepy at all. I just wonder if my mom is paying you? Which is cool, as long as you can use the money to buy some sourpatch kids. Thanks SO much for reading and for the support! And I look forward to when I actually get to meet you!

Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

Well, we all know I'm a fan of the food report too, of course! Details, of course food details are always welcome over here! And, to be fair, the brits did invent the salt and vinegar crisp/chip, (and thus understand some of the goodness of sour?) but I guess Katie's right that they don't do sour/sweet -- gotta go get Haribo Tangtastics for that! Or, as Naomi and I have been known to do, hit up the Pick and Mix candy places at Topshop, etc. (What could be better -- shopping AND food together?!) Fooooood, Glorious Fooood. I can vouch for Katie -- she's not at all creepy (AND she's from our neck of the woods). She's just a woman of excellent taste who must then appreciate the fabulosity of the Naomi blog! We eagerly anticipate the next installment over here -- they definitely help our work day! Much love. PS, I enjoy not only posting responses but continuing to see the bizarre word verifications I get to type in too. I think we should start speaking a language of these words. Mine now is a variation of the shoe we all know, but it's now "clogn" with an N at the end. To be added to my new language's dictionary...