How I spent my autumn vacation

First the background. My job with the tree service didn't work out. The guy was looking for someone with far more skill at felling trees than this ex-Albertan possessed. I was up front right from the start about my lack of experience, telling him that I'd used a chainsaw maybe five times in my life (three if you don't count the electric variety) and had only climbed trees as a kid. After a week, he suddenly acted all surprised that I didn't know some of the things he knew. What a shock that a guy raised on the prairies didn't have the same knowledge as the guy who'd been felling trees for thirty years.

At least he was an asshole about it, the fuckwad.

Anyway, that whole misadventure threw a big wrench into our financial plans for the next few months and, again, it became a mad scramble to find work--any work--that would pay the bills.


On October 27th I received an urgent call from Julie, a friend of Mrs. G's. "My husband is in Vancouver refitting a ship. He can't find reliable workers to save his life, and he asked me to call you. Can you go over for a week or two?"

"Uh, he knows I'm from Alberta, right? That the only boats I know anything about are those pirate ship rides you see at the carnival? That I get confused trying to tie a 12' fishing boat to a dock?"

"He doesn't care. He needs painters, not sailors."

"Oh! Tell him I'll be there in less than 48 hours."

It turns out two people from my town went over: Dick the fire chief and Sean the galoot. I didn't know how to get to the shipyard so I called Dick and we arranged to take the ferry over in his truck. We arrived on the mainland on the morning of the 29th and drove straight to the shipyard.

As soon as I arrived Al (Julie's husband) threw a pair of coveralls, a hardhat, a respirator, a can of paint and some brushes and rollers at me and pointed at the ship they were working on.

"Do you have confined spaces training?"


"Good. Go paint."

It was the MV Kwuna, a 26 vehicle B.C. ferry from the Gulf Islands, small for a ferry but huge for a guy who'd never before crawled around in the bowels of a ship.

I spent 12 hours/day--11 days straight--scraping, cleaning, tarping and painting, working alongside a gaggle of other painters, welders, machinists, pipefitters, engineers and who knows what else. My job mainly consisted of crawling into spaces tighter than a coffin with a flashlight between my teeth and a mirror in one hand and a brush in the other, painting the parts the guy with the spraygun couldn't reach. "Striping," they call it. I rarely saw the sky, as I was deep within the spaces below.

It was hard, hot, exhausting work and, aside from the huge downer of being apart from my wife and kids for so long, I loved every minute of it. Eventually, confined spaces which originally made me (a claustrophobe) shrink in fear became the areas I excelled at. I wound up volunteering for the tightest, hardest-to-reach places, the ones nobody else wanted. One guy told the foreman, "Fuck you! I'm not crawling into that spot," while I happened to be walking by. I poked my head into the space and said, "Pfft. That's no big deal, I'll do it." And I did. And the other guy got fired for telling the boss to eff off.

My claustrophobia is cured. Very. They nicknamed me "Houdini" for my ability to get into and out of spaces nobody else could. At this point I'd be willing to take on one of those yogis who fold themselves into little boxes for kicks. I could now, conceivably, have sex inside a microwave oven. As a result there are places on that ship which have seen their first coat of paint since it was launched in the 70's.

Each night I went back to the hotel room, showered and ate, called Mrs. G to talk for a bit, then collapsed in a heap on the bed.

I learned a lot, worked like a dog, and impressed the head painter (not Al, someone else) enough that on my last day he invited me out for a beer and told me I was at the top of his call-list for the next big job he got. Awesome! I know that nobody else got that sort of treatment. He also stopped by his place on the way back from beers and brought out a walking stick which his wife had made for me. (The stick is ugly as sin, but I acted impressed at his wife's "wonderful art.") A parting gift, and another exclusive. Too cool, eh?

On top of it, I made more money in 11 days than what I normally make in a month and a half, giving us a bit of breathing room while I seek out my next job.

I'm back home now, sleeping 10 hours a night with cat-naps during the day to catch up, nursing my bruises and sore legs, and eager to get another call from these guys.

I hate being away from my family. If you add up all the days Mrs. G and I have been apart over the past decade it wouldn't come to more than a week. That part sucked big-time. On the other hand, it becomes easier over time, especially knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Is this something I'd do again? Hell, yeah! In a heartbeat! And it's a lot more fun and less dangerous than felling trees.
I'm still trying to reconcile all of this -- the respirator versus the flashlight in your teeth, the great outdoorsman versus the crawlspace-painter -- and failing miserably. But I'm glad you're happy and keeping the wolves from the door. Bears. Whatever.
Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]