Monday, November 28, 2011

Styrofoam Hell

I'm sitting in a Starbucks, listening to a 19-year-old barista whining, "I give up. I just give up!" I'm shaking my head, thinking, She can't handle the pressure of working in an almost-empty Starbucks??

When I was her age, I spent a summer working swing shift on the production line at a styrofoam cup factory. Eight hours a day (unless I did overtime), I stood at a machine that shoved 30 cups into a plastic bag and sealed it. The work was so arduous that the factory hired 4 people for each job, assuming that 3 of them would quit before the end of their first shift. I didn't bother to complain: no one could've heard me over the machine noise, and everyone wore earplugs.

Anyone who has ever worked a swing shift knows that the job's special hell: you can never get your sleep cycle in tune with your work. We did a week on the midnight-to-8 am shift, a week on the 8 am-to-4 pm shift, followed by a week on the 4 pm-to-midnight shift. Several times I almost got in car accidents, falling asleep while driving home after my shift. And, in the summer, the day shift was scorching; you sweated right through your clothes. I started carrying a waterproof, velcro-sealed camper's wallet, so I wouldn't sweat on my money.

A few years later, when the styrofoam cup factory closed, it was declared a superfund site. So it probably wasn't a particularly healthy place to work.

Still, it's all relative. A few years prior to that, a lot of guys my age were on patrol in rice paddies in Vietnam. They would've loved to trade places with me.

But that girl who can't handle working in a clean, air-conditioned Starbucks has some serious challenges in store for her!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Wharton Esherick Museum

Three years ago, I wrote an article on the Wharton Esherick Museum, hidden away on a hillside just west of Valley Forge Park, Pennsylvania. Esherick (1887-1970) was a woodworking artist of great renown. The above image is a photo of his iconic spiral staircase, which was exhibited at the 1940 New York World's Fair.

Ever since I visited the museum, I've tried to get my 82-year-old father to visit it. I knew he'd enjoy it - before he became a music professor, he worked for his father as a carpenter. (My grandfather owned the Lester Woodworking Company of Philadelphia, which specialized in making roll-top desks. Of course, roll-top desks went out of fashion long ago, and the company folded.)

My father still has a great appreciation of fine carpentry. But he's also sedentary and stubborn, so for three years he put off visiting a place I knew he'd love.

Finally, today, he visited the Wharton Esherick National Historic Landmark for Architecture. My sister took him. He loved it, of course.

And THAT's what I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving!