Thursday, July 19, 2012

No, I am not the stripper, I work here!

As most of you know, I work in a traditionally man's job.  I am a facilities engineer/energy conservation champion for a 2.4 million square foot manufacturing plant.  I have worked at manufacturing plants as an engineer for over 12 years.  I like it, I really do!  There are times when I hate it, but isn't that pretty much every person's job?  I was first introduced to the "joys" of being a female in a plant environment was when I was 18 going on 19.  You see, Momginerd wasn't ALWAYS the biggest studious Nerd I grew into.  I had a short period in college when life was more about boys, partying, sports,  and anything BUT studying.  I was lucky in high school in that I made really good grades with minimal effort.  However, the rigors of a challenging college where everyone was intelligent was a different experience for me.  All of a sudden, I was making letter grades that I had never even seen before!  I got a C on my semester report card, and a bunch of Bs but the usual A's were woefully my family an A- was questioned, so you can imagine how a C went over like a turd in the punch bowl.

"Nic, clean all of these with toxic chemicals and a paint brush"
My wise father decided that it may be time for me to learn a lesson.  I do not come from a family of Office Workers.  My grandfather was a Coal Miner, my grandmother a Seamstress, my dad started his career as a skilled trades worker, and continued to work in automotive manufacturing for over 35 years.  The value of hard work was one that had been instilled in me my whole life...second only to the value of the dollar and the importance of an education.  For Pops to believe that I was wasting all 3 of his hard taught lessons led him to scheme the ultimate revenge:  He arranged for me to work in a machining shop for the summer....not in the office, but actually IN THE SHOP, as the only female.  Mind you, this was quite a few years ago, and this was an "old school" shop that was not unionized (thus how he could arrange for his 18 year old daughter to work 72 hours a week, I am sure).  I worked 12 hours a day 6 days per week.  I wore: Safety glasses, long sleeves, long pants, hair in a bun, mesh gloves, and steel toed shoes.  Isn't that the ultimate outfit for a cute little 18 year old to wear? Oh, and in case you don't have the full picture of this "opportunity," I had to drive about 30 minutes each way for a start time at 6:30 AM and there was NO air-conditioning in the shop.  Not only did I look gorgeous, I smelled FANTASTIC by the end of the day.

This is an industrial press similar to the ones used in my shop
Since I obviously had no skilled trades experience, I was informed that I would be the shop machine cleaner, and if I was really lucky, I could work my way up to loading/unloading parts from the presses.  Oh Goody!  Anyway, I show up for my first day with my required safety equipment and my brown bag lunch.  On that first day, my start was later than normal since I had to go get a physical and drug test prior to starting.  I walk into the shop and a guy comes up to me and says: "Oh you must be here for the retirement party!"  I replied, "I don't think so...."  My confusion was at a high level at this point.  He then escorts me to an area of the plant and asks me, "Where is your boom box?"  Confusion mounting even more, I replied, "I really didn't think this would be the sort of job where I would need one."  Now, he is looking at ME very quizzically.  We continue walking through the plant, and I notice I am getting a lot of very "interested" stares, and the guys are following along like I am the Pied Piper or someting.  Now, this was not normal for me at all, but I was beginning to think I may like working there!  We finally reach the back of the plant and everyone starts gathering around and staring at me.  I was thinking, "Wow! they must be SO happy to have a fresh face in here, look at how eagerly they are looking at me!"  So, I said, "Thanks for gathering together to welcome me here, do you know what I will be doing?"

At that point, 45 men started realizing that there may be some confusion as to who and what I was doing there.  One of them, after a very long pregnant pause, said, "You aren't here to strip for Fred on his last day of work?"  I then stammered, with much embarrassment, "Um, no, I am your new employee."  That response was met with many people talking at once.  Some of the snippets I remember included:
1.  WTF? A GIRL in here?
2.  Ummmmm.....where IS the stripper then?
3.  She won't last 2 days after this! (I detected much glee with this one)
4.  Who did she piss off to have to work here?

The stripper did end up showing up about 15 minutes later, much to the relief of the guys and the mortification of myself.  I oftentimes wonder what the hell my dad thought of the fact that his lesson led me to be mistaken for a stripper....I do chuckle, now, but at the time you can believe the lesson was learned, and I can honestly say all that hard earned money, stripping machines of their grime, not me of my clothes, led to a marked improvement in my study skills and grades.  Lesson learned, Dad!

I think the funniest (Now, not then) days must have been when my dad or uncle would visit the shop for business and see me working covered head to toe in metal shavings and grease.  I literally had to strip to my skivvys at the entryway to the house before my parents would let me enter.  I spent much time that summer with a needle digging out shavings from my hands, face, scalp, neck, etc....If nothing else, that experience taught me to work smarter not harder, and to dress ALWAYS in a way to NOT be mistaken as a stripper!

Until next time,

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