Tonight I am not thinking of “the good old days,” because I know that I am living through them right now.
” How is that? ” you may ask. ” Life will be a picnic after working through this school. My present school is the toughest school in this area and you know nothing could be more strenuous, more tiring than this never-ending book work.” “Let’s see,” I counter….
The shrill noise of the telephone rang at two o’clock in the morning. I jumped out of bed, picked up the receiver and listened tensely. “The mill is down. The main shaft broke!”
“The second major breakdown this month,” flashed through my head, and I grabbed my hair in despair.
The president of the company called me to the front office the next morning. “No cars went out at the night switch. What happened?”
” The mill is down. The main shaft broke.”
“That’s fine, just fine. I’ll let you tell the customers why they don’t get the merchandise. This is the second breakdown this month. You and I can take a long vacation pretty soon, or maybe just you.”
I couldn’t tell him that running the plant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, wouldn’t leave its mark. And with the shortage of skilled maintenance men and with unskilled machine operators, breakdowns are bound to happen.
Later that week I received another order to appear at the front office. This time, the merchandise got there; but how did it get there! All busted up; it had to be picked up from the floor of the boxcar with a shovel.
” What do you have to say? ”
” I will investigate and give you a report.”
“You always investigate, you always give a report, but when will you start doing something about it? You know these customers are our bread and butter, especially your bread and butter.”
I couldn’t say that the railroad had its difficulties too, and that with old equipment and untrained switchman the merchandise didn’t always get the most gentle treatment during transit. Reasoning under these circumstances was as fruitless as reasoning with a two-year-old baby that hasn’t learned to talk yet.
The next day, one of those super salesmen appeared and convinced the president that everything was fine and dandy except for one kind of product which we were not making. He wouldn’t be able to sell a dollar’s worth of merchandise unless we’d manufacture it. But this would take a new installation; it would cut our production; our costs would go up. No, reasoning didn’t do any good that time either. I had heard it before: “The customer is always right.” . ..
Next door to the plant was a mini beer house. It was the place where things happened. I heard one story about some bottles of beer and about some beer bottles. Nobody got hurt physically too badly but a woman, a young widow, appeared in my office the next day, to tell me that she had to quit! (She was the only person who could compute the details of the new incentive plan, unless I wanted to do it myself.) I asked her some questions and I found out the startling details. She had been drinking a bottle of beer or so every day with the foreman of the feed plant – a married man with two children. Things began to happen, and fast! The wife of the foreman had appeared at the joint and swung some beer bottles. Nobody got hurt badly, but after that she picked up her husband every night.
There were other complications, new ones every day. There were unions that didn’t get along with each other; there were unions that didn’t get along. There were accidents, and government inspectors. Men had to be hired and sometimes fired. Prices were frozen and wages were frozen but expenses went up anyhow, and costs had to be kept down. At the end of each month there were financial statements; they would show the story. There were army orders with triple-A priorities. There were the racial frictions. Each created its problem; each had to be solved some way, “or else.” And don’t think for a moment that they weren’t solved. Ignoring them, or putting one’s head in the sand, didn’t get the job done. This “or else,” this “long vacation,” or your “bread and butter,” had their driving power.
I am having a vacation now (but not the kind the boss meant). Going to school is fun. I am my own boss and do what I please. There are a few rules to follow. What of it? They are not a matter of” bread and butter.” I have to be at school on time, and I have to pass my examinations. These are the requirements; the rest is up to me. When I come home from school, I do my home work. I like to do home work; I like to study. Every quarter new subjects open up new fields for me – avenues of knowledge and thought which I never had time to think about. If I feel like it, I come home and play with my children; I never had time nor mind to do that. I cut grass, or just plain fool around. We may have company in the evening, play badminton or discuss some of these worldly problems. I am not pressed, pushed and harassed like a deer in the hunting season. I have time to relax; I am a person again. I am having a real vacation.
by Albert L. Walker (Edited)