Saturday, August 25, 2012

Doing the can-can

My job at the cannery was a simple one which was good because I didn't want to embarrass myself or break the system.
I was to catch the cans of peaches with bad labels and take them off the line.
Along with that I was to watch and see if the cans backed up too far on the belt. If they threatened to do that, I could push this little plastic loop and make the cans on the far end drop into a box.
It seemed easy enough and it didn't require my getting all sticky or hot or wet.
I just stood on this little metal stool and guided. (For a while, I played a sort of air hockey game, "tossing" the cans into their designated lanes until a supervisor came over and suggested I not do that.)
For the most part, the cans rode along in a docile fashion, labels all in place and everything working just fine.
But every now and then, a label tore or a bunch of labels came through flapping. I saved them from getting boxed without having a properly applied label.
I even found a dinged can that I proudly pulled off the conveyer belt.
But it was generally rather tedious and I remembered why I went to college (so I wouldn't have to earn a living doing something like this).
Because this was a volunteer stint for the church, I tried to be gracious even after one supervisor told me not to handle the cans so much and the next one suggested I prod them into place when they got stuck.
I started helping the cans push the trigger so they didn't back up. There was this comforting "whoosh" when the cans dropped.
But suddenly, cans started coming through with no labels at all. Then the "whoosher" stopped dumping. My stress level shot up.
The guy who'd been manning the label station was over talking with another worker so I started waving my arms at him. (It's so noisy in the cannery that it does no good to holler.)
I hopped up and down and waved some more until he noticed.
Startled, he ran over and shut down the line.
We all pulled cans back and the day was saved.
I didn't know if I broke the "whoosher" or what but I expected some sort of criticism when he came over to talk to me.
"I totally messed up," he said. "That was my fault. But if it happens again, just come over and push any one of these red buttons. That will stop the belts."
Oh yes, of course. I'll just shut the plant down next time.

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