In April of 2008, my wife finished up the classroom portion of her doctorate in physical therapy. We moved about 60 miles away from Pittsburgh for her to go to school while I found a job in the local town to help pay the bills. When it was time for us to move back home, I had problems finding a full-time job. This was due to the economy being sour at this time and my resume still having an address from 60 miles away.
I held on to my job far from home until I took a position with a fire protection company in the east suburbs of Pittsburgh. I was just happy to find something local after driving 110 miles round-trip each time I had to work back in the town we temporarily moved to. Gas prices at the time were an astonishing $4.00 a gallon and I put on a year’s worth of miles on my car in three months. After paying bills, my net savings per month averaged a loss of $70. I was putting $300 to $350 of gasoline into my car per month, so I was looking forward to saving money again.
An acquaintance named Tom was responsible for me landing this job. He installed, repaired and replaced Ansul fire suppression systems that are attached to kitchen hoods. I never held a job where I had to be capable of using a variety of tools, but in a few months I was able to complete tasks without too much supervision. I was even allowed to take a work van home with me after 60 days of employment.
During the interview process I was told that the job would have a variety of hours since the company had to work around the needs of the client. I was fine with that since I didn’t have any family obligations yet. It was to be a standard 40-hour work week with occasional overtime, and 90% of the work would be within a 75-mile radius of Pittsburgh.
In the first two months, the job description stayed true to what I was told from the beginning. I would work with Tom each day and on longer runs we would meet at a location and drive to a site in Tom’s work van. I worked 40 hours a week and the only location that was beyond 75 miles was a diner in Moundsville, West Virginia. If we completed a job out in the field, our boss “Steve” would inform us of our new job for the next day by 5 p.m. via cell phone.
Around the second week of September, the job took a drastic turn. Steve would occasionally call me after 5 p.m. to inform me that there was no work for the next day. The jobs that were supposed to be local became further away from Pittsburgh. Four job sites were over 200 miles away. One was outside of Philadelphia in West Grove, another site was north of Baltimore in Rising Sun, Maryland. West Grove was 262 miles from my home, a six hour drive one way, five hours if I didn’t hit traffic or construction delays. When Tom and I would take his work van on long runs like this, he had satellite radio. When one of us would sleep in the passenger seat the driver always had something to listen to in the desolate Pennsylvania mountains. We would drive out to the site, work four hours and drive back home. The company would pay us both 16 hours a day each time we made these long trips, so we tried to work fast just so we could get back home at a reasonable time.
Since I was the new guy, I got the oldest work van. It had all the basic accessories for a common work vehicle including the radio. It had no compact disc player so when I got away from civilization, I had nothing to listen to while driving. Using earbuds wasn’t an option since the van was very loud when driving on the highways. I needed to hear traffic around me, especially when large trucks were recklessly speeding everywhere.
Occasionally Tom and I had to take both vans on long runs because we couldn’t smash all of our materials into one vehicle. When driving in rural areas for long periods of time, I was alone with my thoughts while growing more frustrated with how this job was evolving. At this point I started doing something that I never did before: I started talking out loud to nobody!
What I was actually doing was praying to God in the form of a normal (!) conversation. I expressed my fears, hopes, gratitude and anger about what I was doing in that time of my life. It became a form of meditation and it allowed for some self-analysis when cutting across the Appalachian Mountains. My biggest fear concerning work was breaking down far away from home and not obtaining support from the home office. After months of observing the lines of communication between different departments, I was sure to fend for myself if I encountered a problem on the road.
In the first week of November Tom and I had a job at a school cafeteria renovation in a town called Homer City. It was a two day job and on the second day we completed everything by lunch, so we decided to head back to the main warehouse and re-stock our vans while we had some time to do it. We got back to headquarters around 2 p.m., parked our vans and started refilling our supplies.
At about 3 p.m., we were ready to head home and I went to start my van…it wouldn’t kick over. I tried a few more times and it wouldn’t start. When I informed Steve of what was going on he told me to swap out my supplies and put them into a pickup truck they had sitting at the shop. Steve accused me of not keeping enough fuel in the vehicle and causing the stall out. I knew I kept enough fuel in that van, and I thought his finger-pointing was childish and what I call a “very dick move”.
When my van was towed to the repair shop the shop manager informed Steve that my fuel pump was shot. In pure Steve form, he never apologized for placing the blame on me for the van failure when it was purely due to the age of the vehicle. It had 113,000 miles on it at the time and most fuel pumps can freeze up at around 100,000 to 125,000 miles.
When fuel pumps die, they provide no warning of an impending failure. After all of the long runs I took in that van at all hours of the day, for it to die RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE MAIN WAREHOUSE is remarkable. I announced to God my fear of being stranded on the side of the road a few weeks prior, and at this moment in time the inevitable van failure occurred at home base. It was God’s way of saying, “Hey Larry, I hear your concerns about the organizational structure at your current employer and I agree with you. They will leave you stranded, but I will not. I’ll make sure their ineptitude doesn’t affect your life in a negative way.” I left that job in December for an office job.
Many people pray in a ritualistic manner but I prefer to keep my conversations with God informal. Whatever angelic forces that are assigned to my case file, I thank you for listening to my one person talks over the last eight years. I never intended to creep out all of you.