Saturday 5 July 2014

Apprentice Millwright

When I was sixteen or seventeen, my mom had a friend that got me a summer job as an apprentice Millwright. I had no intention of becoming a Millwright, but as long as I kept my mouth shut about that, I had a great paying job for the summer. I don’t think that the boss was fooled, but I imagine he took the wait and see approach to life.

Millwrights are the guys and gals that install and maintain all of those gigantic industrial machines that make all of the doo-dads that we need to maintain the lifestyle we have. The jobsite that I worked at was number one Yonge Street which is home to the Toronto Star newspaper. We were the guys that installed all of the printing presses, conveyor belts and other stuff that made no more sense the day I quit as it did the day I started.

I was just a little more helpful than useless. I guess most new apprentices are the same, but it was a job that needed very skilled, experienced journeymen, not some useless little hippie. To be fair, everyone was very nice to me. They would give me jobs that I could handle to keep me busy and earn my keep I suppose. I was comic relief. Once I was told to go and get an extension cord, about 100’ long. I asked where they kept the extension cords, thinking there would be some kind of truck or storage area on one of the more finished floors. The guy looked at me like I was an idiot and told me “The fuckin’ electricians are on the fourteenth floor. Don’t be an asshole and get caught!”

I had visions of doing a high dive from the fourteenth floor after the “fuckin’ electricians” caught me with one of their extension cords. However, the 70’s were a kinder and more trusting time, I had no problem stealing from them. They didn’t even look twice at me. I could have taken an armload of tools, their lunch boxes and they wouldn’t have had a clue. When I got back with the cord, the guy that sent me asked me “What? You want a fuckin’ medal? Take the cord back to the fuckin’ electricians!” Everyone had a good laugh, well, not me, but everyone else.

The next day I was sweeping up and there was no place to put the garbage. I was told to go and get a box for the garbage. I came back with a pretty good sized box and was told that it wasn’t nearly big enough. “Go get a fuckin’ big box ya hippie asshole!” I wandered around the site for about an hour and finally found a box that just barely fit on the freight elevator. It was the biggest box I had ever seen and when I managed to drag it to the centre of the floor, the guy said “Hey, the hippie asshole sure knows how to find a big box. Not bad asshole!” High praise indeed.

The main function of my job was to get coffee for forty three millwrights three times a day from the coffee wagon. Sometimes it was pop, but mainly coffee. I needed to carry it up to the guys, so after the first day I made a box strong enough to hold the coffee, sugar and cream. It only seemed like a pain in the ass the first day. I don’t remember paying for the coffee or how long it took, but I do remember no one called me a “fuckin’ asshole hippie” when I did the coffee run. Probably didn’t want any hippie spit in their coffee.

The best part of working downtown was that I got to ride with my dad to work every morning. It was the closest we ever really got to having normal conversations until many years later. Those morning trips down the Don Valley Parkway are some of the fondest memories I have of spending time with dad. Sometimes I wonder if he felt the same way or if he was just giving a ride to a “fuckin’ asshole hippie.”

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