He steps out in the hall and the heat of the place hits him like a slap on the face. He squints his eys and puts on his safety glasses and his ear plugs. He takes a long first stride towards the machine, that along with the foreman and anyone who strolls past from the office, controls his life. He glances at the people from the night shift that are wrapping up their day, doing reports and paperwork that will go in a pile and only be used to find a reason to bitch at them.
"God this place sucks!" floats on his mind as he reaches the towering, intricate machine. He see's that the other shift did little in the way of clean up and grabs a splintering clip board to see what he is to run today and how much more of it they want than yesterday. It isn't bad and the off going operator tells him there is a burr on one of the dies. It is scratching the parts as they come out of the machine so have the packers keep an eye on them. Bad parts will cause them no end of trouble since Q.A. will reject the whole lot if they find them.
No surprises though, just the shaking hands of a man who has been deprived of enough sleep for so long that his body won't rest even when he gets a day off. It makes for some close calls since when there is a problem inside the machine he can't afford to turn it off, he just has to reach around the works and try to fix things while it is still running. Funny he thinks, I can need relief to take a leak for an hour and a half and I can't get the line bosses attention but shut the thing down for thirty seconds and he has three bosses and a half dozen engineers on his back wanting to know why.
Almost time now, the crew is starting to drift in. Two packers, two stackers, as tired as he is of it all. He at least has a decent crew on the machine today, an even split of men and women. They joke and flirt with each other to kill the mental numbnes that sets in as they get up to speed. Even though there is as much as forty years difference in ages.
All eyes focus on the battered old clock hanging on the wall and as the hands reach 5:30, he hits the start button and everyone falls in place. Just like every day for the last three weeks. The parts come out and the packers must grab them, inspect them, put them in the containers in the right number and position.
While they fill the boxes the stackers must find unbroken skids, find the packing materials and be ready to properly stack them for shipping. They all fing the rhythm and beging the twelve hour dance that is the end all be all of existence. One by one they all peek at the clock to see how much time is left before the first break. In turn they all sigh as the see only fifteen minutes have passed since the day began.
It isn't long before they are all on autopilot, there is no need to think about the job. As long as the sounds are right and the rhythm is right then there is no reason to spend much time worrying about it. The packers can feel a misprint or a scratch, the stackers know by now just how much time they have to find a pallet jack, apallet and move the heavy boxes from the packing table to the ever growing pallet.
Every hour they rotate from one position to the next but really it never changes. If some one gets behind their co-workers will do their best to help. The operator, can fill the hoppers with no thought at all, he doesn't have time to think anyway for he must make sure that all the parts are properly checked in, and signed for, amistake in this will cost him his job.
Another fiften minutes and they all wish that the damned machine would just break down for a while, to bend their fingers, to stretch their aching backs as the stoop over the finished product table. Over and over and over and the little counter on the machine tallies every last part. The good the bad every last one of the god damned things.
Sometimes they will play twenty questions as they do their jobs, at other times they all seem to have gone elsewhere. Not off the machine but in their minds they can worry about the bills or if their spouse is cheating on them or if there is enough gas in the car to get home or at least to a gas station. The knees pop and the wrists and shoulders begin to sing as they move, the same movements over and over and over and over.
The ability to shut off their minds helps the time pass too. The next time they look it is only fifteen more minutes until break time. The company tries at every contract negotiation to eliminate the fifteen minute breaks and give them ten minutes instead. So far that has not happened even though to keep them last time they sold out the smokers. No miore smoking at the plant unless you were in your car and even with the fiftee minute break there is barely enough tie to get to a car and get a cigarette down before they must hot foot it back to the machine. The company is very strict about breaks, on the machine when the bell goes off or you get written up ad three write ups is a suspension then one more gets you fired.
On and on it goes, hour after mindless hour. Even the breaks become routine and are no longer even breaks since all other functions are programmed as well his mind does little beyond keep his body going. Six hloours in and the glorious half hour lunch is consumed along with several cups of the horrible but caffienated coffee are swilled. All in the effort mto keep the eyes open and the back upright.
The back, oh shit lets not talk about the back. The postures the stooping the lifting, the mere act of walking generates a pain that if it were new it would send him to his knees. He thinks,"I'm not that old, hell I'm only fifty, I need another fiftgeen years just to think of retiring" . The old timers all talk of the pension plan and its promises but he thinks they are fools, he sees the news and reads what he can and all he sees is that companies are reniging on the old contracts, not because they are broke, but to keep the stockholders happy. From the government on down contracts are only good for toilet paper.
Of course he is held to every detail in order to keep the job that is driving his wife away and making his children strangers. Rarely does a day go by that he is not reminded of just how little is keeping him and his family fed and housed. In the old days they had some control but now it has all changed the union doesn't seem to be willing to take a stand, hell half of the workers would drop the union in a heartbeat anyway.
If he thought it would clear him an extra ten bucks a week he would too. Not that it matters, time to go back and watch the last six hours go by in their own snails pace. Then back to the car and the drive home to see the kids long enough to say good night maybe, and then listen to some guy talk about what a horrible parent he is for not spending more time and money on his kids and wife. It get old quick, he sees people on television spending money and never working those twelve hour shifts, they have new cars and fancy furniture and take trips to Disneyworld. He watches and wionders to himself how th efuck can they do it? Am I that bad a parent that I can't do what they do and the kids, they try to understand but they don't. They want that stuff too. So does he, he wants to have some fun, he wants to take a few days to relax and not worry but how? It just isn't there.
Before he knows it he sees that he has to try and get some rest before it all repeats, he wonders, "when did life get so much like that movie Groundhog Day?"