Jobs That Suck, Volume 1: Sidewalk Watching (A Re-Post From Awhile Ago)

Note: This is a re-post from a long time ago.

Quote of the Day,  5/10/07:

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

-Winston Churchill

I took a big step tonight….finally got out and started handing out some business cards….at the wonderful Tavern in Central Square, Cambridge…..so to all of you new readers, the above quote sums up how I will treat myself to please you.  Seriously.

Anyway….I mentioned a project I’m working on involving Nintendo songs to some you….but since I need to do some more collaboration with my trusty Nintendo/video game expert, that’s on hold for the minute.  So instead I’ll be posting about a certain job that sucks.

C’mon….we’ve all had ’em.  Jobs that you absolutely just hate….you bitch about them to your friends, your parents, whoever, until eventually, you quit or get fired.  Well, I like shitty jobs like this, for the following reason: you can tell great stories about them down the road.  This is the first part in a three part series.  So, without further ado:

EVERYTHING YOU EVER NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SIDEWALK WATCHING, AND WHY IT SUCKS:

Okay, first things first.  A long time ago, I used to be a construction worker.  I was still in college, and my dad happens to be best friends with the owner of one of the larger construction companies in Boston.  After my freshman year in college, my best friend and I were given jobs working in the garage for a large construction site: for the most part we were ‘runners’ (driving parts, ect.., from one construction site to the other), or just help for the mechanics.  Well, that lasted one summer: the next summer, my friend went his own way, and I went back to the construction company.  Only this time, I wasn’t working in a garage: I was a straight-up laborer (for you union experts out there….I was cleared by union officials to work the summer for Local 22 in Boston.  So there).

Being a laborer was tough work at times….but for the most part, I enjoyed it.  I got yelled at a lot, was sore from doing a lot of shoveling, and came home at weird hours due to my shifts, but I enjoyed meeting the guys and staying in shape.  But there was one aspect to this job that I hated: sidewalk watching.

That’s right…..watching cement dry on a sidewalk.  But wait…..why must someone watch the sidewalk dry?  Because cement is very, very expensive (a lot of people don’t realize this), and construction companies don’t like to pay for more of it than they need to.  Let’s back up a second: this construction company did road work for the most part, so laying down sidewalk cement was a part of the everyday schedule.  This was usually done during the day shifts: guys would smooth it over and make sure it was absolutely perfect all day, and then go home.  I happened to work second shift, which is 3pm-11pm, for those who don’t know.  So if there was cement that had been laid out late in the day, someone from the second shift was picked to watch it.  And that someone was usually me.

Now, this might actually not sound so bad.  In fact, the first time my foreman dragged me aside to tell I was going to go watch sidewalk instead of breaking my back shoveling, I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing in joy.  Really?  I don’t have to shovel?  I can sit on my ass and watch cement dry, and get paid?  Sign me up.  But there were a few problems: first of all, I couldn’t sit on my ass, cause there was no where to sit: I had to stand.

I remember getting dropped off the first time to watch sidewalk, and I was like, “Ohh, shit, there’s nowhere to sit.”  Ofcourse, I didn’t say this…my boss would have yelled at me.

My boss, who happened to be a supervisor (higher up then foremen) told me:  “Watch this sidewalk and don’t let anyone step on it.”

The only problem: it was a section of sidewalk about 500 feet long, and I was standing way down at one end on a busy road.  To put it into perspective:  I was on Huntington Ave. in Boston, right across from the Mass. School of Art.  There happened to be a bus stop located right in the middle of this piece of sidewalk.  And for anyone who knows the Huntington Ave. area, right near Northeastern University:  there are a ton of people walking around, and lots of traffic.

Well, the first half hour went fine……aside from the mind-numbing boredom.  And the general tiredness in my legs.  You don’t realize how stiff your legs can get from standing until you’ve stood in the same place for an hour.  After about 2 hours, things got interesting, but not in a good way: it was about 6pm, and people were trying to wait at the bus stop.

Unfortunately for them, they had to wait in the busy road.  Its not that I didn’t feel bad…I did.  But I wasn’t about to get skinned for letting the cement get screwed up.  A couple people stood up on the sidewalk (there was yellow tape around it), and I preceded to shout at them.  They all looked down the street, a little surprised to see me.  There I was: a 19 year old kid in a red helmet and glo-vest, lunchbox by my side.  Real intimidating.

But most people listened.  I was golden.  And then some absolutely crazy lady, probably in her 40s or 50s, came running out of nowhere.  She was dressed in a business suit.

I could tell she was trouble as soon as I saw her.  The traffic was a little menacing, and she seemed very confused and frantic by the whole ordeal.

Before she came along, most people would gingerly try to step on the curb, and I would shout them down.  No big problem.  Well, this Bat Out of Hell came running out of nowhere, and simply jumped over the yellow tape (I’ve never, in all my days since, seen a middle aged woman in high heels jump like this).  She came down…..right, smack dab, in the middle of the sidewalk.  I didn’t even shout.  I was stunned.

After about a two second delay, I shouted: “Hey!!”   That’s all I could think of.  Not, “What the f**k are you doing!!”, or “Get off the f**king sidewalk!!”  Nope….I yelled “Hey!!”

She looked at me with a real herky-jerky movement of her head, like a deer in the headlights.  She kept standing there.  And then she actually took two steps towards me on the sidewalk.

Now I was scared.

“HEY!!!  HEEYY!!!”

Finally, the “Heys” started working….she tramped off the sidewalk.  But the damage had been done.  It was like closing the barn door after the horse gets out.  Her bus came a few minutes later, and she was gone.

About 10 minutes later, the supervisor came back (Manny, an old salt who used to be a foreman; there are two types of supers in the construction world: old salts like Manny, and kids right out of engineering school).  He pulled up, kinda glanced at me, asked how it was going.  I didn’t say anything: just shrugged my shoulders and nodded.

Well, he started walking up and down the sidewalk, and at first everything was cool:  but about halfway up the sidewalk he stopped and started yelling in my general direction:

“What the f**k is this?!?!  Did someone f**king walk on the sidewalk!?!?  What the f**k is this?!?!”

Me: “Um, yah….this lady, she wouldn’t listen…..(trailing off).

Manny, muttering: “What the f**k….”

I’ll never forgot what happened next….he got in his truck and drove away without acknowledging me.  I don’t think he talked to me for about 2 weeks: when he finally did, I think he called me either “shithead” or “shit for brains.”

The moral to this story:  Sidewalk watching is a thankless, awful job.  Granted, it only happened about once or twice every two weeks when I was working, but when it did,  I was pretty much miserable.  Other general notes about sidewalk-watching:

1)  You absolutely need to make sure you pee before you start watching sidewalk.  This is imperative for a couple of reasons:  first of all, you usually watch sidewalk in very public places, with no where to go if you need to.  Second, sidewalk watching shifts usually last about 6 hours.  Third, and most importantly: you can absolutely never leave your post, because you never know when a boss might drive by.  My foreman was supposed to check on me every two hours or so, but it was usually more like 4, sometimes six.  If, for instance, there was a bush that looked acceptable (maybe not legal or decent….but acceptable), and you happened to duck away for a minute, and in that time a boss drove by….well, your ass would officially be in hot water.  I’ll never forget standing on Huntington Ave. one time, and some boss I had never seen drove by, and he yelled “Good job!!”  out the window.  I never found out who that guy was…..but it sort of scared me.

One time while standing on Huntington Ave., in the rain no less, the pain was simply too great: for about two hours I was in agony, and I’m not sure now, but I think I started seeing purple stuff floating around in the sky.  It was one of those moments when you have to pee so bad you don’t shift your feet, for fear of hitting a pebble the wrong way and setting off a chain reaction of feelings, leading to involuntary pee.   I happened to be in front of an apartment building: eventually a pizza guy came, and I actually made him watch the sidewalk while I peed in a corner.  At this point, I didn’t care if I was arrested, fired, beat up, whatever: the pee was actually giving me hallucinatory like feelings, and I needed to come to my senses.  So if you ever watch sidewalk on a busy road:  make sure you pee first, and don’t drink too many liquids during the watch.

2)  Also remember: when you are a sidewalk watcher, you are “The Bad Guy.”  I mean, c’mon…who hasn’t written something in fresh cement at some point?  Its harmless fun, right?  Yah….except to the construction company paying for the cement.   Considering the fact that an art school was right near by most of the time, this made me even more of a bad guy.

My first time doing it, I had some guy with a beard and a plaid shirt come up to me:

“So wait, let me get this straight…..you’re ensuring that no one expresses themselves, right in front of an art school?  How ironic!”

I didn’t really see it that way…but whatever.  It didn’t change the fact that I was the bad guy.  Once I had to yell at a guy and his girlfriend trying to write something, and I kinda felt like a jerk as they ran away in fear.  Another time, a bunch of kids, probably ten or eleven, tried writing stuff.  I yelled at them, but they didn’t listen.  So I ran at them, and as I did, I tripped on a bush and fell, and my helmet fell off.  And as I looked up from the dirt, I saw a bunch of little kids laughing at me…..and a couple of them stuck their fingers in the sidewalk defiantly before they left.  Needless to say….that was a low point.

But the thing to remember above all else is that sidewalk watching may be the most insanely boring job in the world.  Its so boring, you start counting cars like sheep, and noticing music coming from cars and singing the songs for as long as you can after they leave.  Its a job so boring that you can’t even talk to yourself (I find talking to oneself much more pleasing when walking, rather than being stationary).  Take it from me…..when you’re staring at cement in the hot summer sun….you start having some crazy thoughts.  It sucks.  It sucks bad.  And that, my friends, is Sidewalk Watching in a nutshell.

I hope, for your sake, you never have to Watch Sidewalk.

Until Next Time,

Greg

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One thought on “Jobs That Suck, Volume 1: Sidewalk Watching (A Re-Post From Awhile Ago)

  1. Mark Leone says:

    I left a comment in the wrong place. Check the bottom of the page

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