I have been dispatched to a muddy hole full of rebar, puddles, giant machines such as backhoes that swipe and chomp at the mud feet from my head, and irritable electricians. I am being tasked with helping to create the electrical system for this apartment building as we all make it crawl up out of the mud. At the end of the day my main journeyman asked if I was going to quit and I was like FUCK NO can I come back on Monday? (A: yes.)
I actually thought that I would be put on one of the half-built new highrises downtown, starting with things like lightswitches and outlets and using my pliers a lot, but I am really pleased with this. It’s shovels and giant power tools, and pulling massive high voltage wires that are crazy heavy. I dug the trench and buried the grounding wire and grounding bars for the main power source of the building, and watched the journeymen finish connecting the main panel. In four months we will be “indoors”–there will be slab over our heads while we run conduit and systems through walls.
The company seems fine–very safety focused. My two journeymen have been with the company for about 15 years each. I had something specific explained to me that I didn’t know about L&I yet–the higher your safety rating is, the less Labor & Industries “bills” the company, and that deduction on your paycheck is lower. There are plenty of tools, parts, and safety equipment, which I am hearing from some boot camp attendees is not always the case.
There were a few women on the site, and a woman running the whole project. While I was filling out paperwork at the electrical company I now work for, she called one of my bosses who was “orienting” me and this other apprentice who was being dispatched. I could overhear her giving him an earful about me. I think the problem was they didn’t want an apprentice. My boss argued with her and said the ratios were right (two journeymen to one apprentice is totally legal), and it was his job to staff the site with electricians. “HER,” he kept saying. “The apprentice I am sending is a WOMAN.” He hung up and said to me, “…And that’s your new job.”
When I arrived on site to finish paperwork and got a brief safety/procedures/drug talk by the foreman, the woman I heard on the phone was sweet as pie to me. I wasn’t worried about it; she’s just managing her business. If I am unsafe the foreman can fire me. If I fuck too many things up the journeymen will send me back to the hall. She said she was happy to have another woman on site. “There’s more coming, too,” she said. “I have to get some more portapotty keys made.” There’s a small handful of women on site now. No iron workers, cement masons, or carpenters, as I expected, but what looks like some laborers.
I had been worried about this day since I decided to pursue becoming an electrician a year ago. It’s the moment of truth–what if I hated it? Then on Thursday night I found out I would be sent to a Seattle Housing Authority project mudhole or a tunnel project on an interstate, both projects that I knew would be kind of a grind mentally and physically.
I didn’t want to wear myself out by lunchtime, but I felt exhilarated running up and down the dirt hills, being a fetch n carry, climbing over rebar, and pulling wire. It reminded me of being a little kid and being really happy running around outside, building forts and wishing I was allowed to use tools. Now I have my own tools. I’m not too sore, even though I spent about a week being laid up with the flu. My back recovered immediately and now I have some very bearable soreness in my shoulder, biceps, forearms. It just feels like I had a good workout. I don’t think this physical transition period will be too bad.
Next plan is to get a couple of paychecks under my belt (I am making about 60% of what I was in tech, but will get regular raises) and then buy a phone that goes on the internet. My poor pathetic phone. All it can do is Maps, which is why I haven’t been forced to replace it. But it has to be plugged into my car while mapping or it will instantly have a seizure, wet itself, pass out, and wake up with about 30% battery left. Probably will only be of interest to me, but I want to start instagramming all this mud–my first job. Finally I am excited to go to work. I have never had this feeling before.