My very first job was a summer job working at a fast-food restaurant within walking distance from my house. I was fifteen years old, and it was before I could drive. The next summer, shortly after getting my license, I took a construction job along with a couple of my friends, helping to build a medical center. We were boys among men. That was one of the most bizarre and yet interesting jobs I’ve ever experienced. Not just because of the work—the work was hard, the weather was hot, and you definitely got your hands and clothes dirty every day. But the characters were more than entertaining. There was Bert and Ernie, at least that’s what we called them. They were two old guys who had worked every construction job as a team for thirty years or more. They were a comedy duo, with the funny sayings and stories they told. Bert hardly ever spoke a word, just a grunt every now and then, but Ernie never stopped talking. When I was teamed with them the days passed quicker than any others, and to top it off, they were experts at laying concrete.
Then there was the crazy one (not officially). The one who acted like the boss to everyone, yet no one listened to him. My friends and I were warned from day one to just ignore him. I tried to avoid him as much as possible to prevent any issues. Our real boss, the site foreman, was a great guy. He was in his mid-thirties, and he really seemed to understand we were just teenagers. This guy hated that I was treated well by the boss, and once tried to dump a backhoe full of dirt on top of me on purpose when he knew I was working behind a retaining wall. Luckily, my friend warned me in time, and I got out of the way just seconds before the drop. Interesting times.
One day the foreman called me into his office and asked me, a 16-year-old, to drive his brand-new truck to get supplies. It was parked between a street sign and another truck that had parked diagonally behind it. To an adult, it was clear this was a tight space for even the experienced driver to get out of, much less for a teenager who had been driving legally for only four months. An owner who cared about his new vehicle, albeit company-owned, would have asked the other driver to move his vehicle. Instead, he hurried me along, emphasizing I needed to go now! As a result of trying so hard not to hit the other vehicle as he and everyone else looked on, I failed to watch carefully enough on the other side and scraped the street sign, scratching the paint on his shiny new truck.
I was devastated and embarrassed, yet all the foreman did, as the other workers looked on in shock for his reaction, was look down, shaking his head from side to side and walk back into his trailer; but not before yelling for me to hurry back.
It was long after, before I realized that he had set me up for that epic fail, not because he didn’t like me (he asked me on my last day to come back again the next summer), but because he was dealing with his own issues and needed a safe, believable way out. I found this out years later when I encountered one of the workers in a restaurant, and he fondly remembered my blunder and the jokes they had made to the foreman before that happened. It was as if he felt bad for me after all that time and wanted me to figure out the truth. Otherwise, I may have never put the two together.
Reality takes place all around us; yet we don’t notice everything, because we’re too caught up in our own worlds to see it for what it is. We can blame it on youth, but it happens in adulthood as well. What I saw was a nice, new truck. What I didn’t notice was a man of authority dealing with being the butt of jokes (no real construction boss drives a truck that shines with no scratches. It looks like he doesn’t really do anything), and wanting a way out.
It just goes to show some mistakes are not of our own making, and they’re not all as bad as we remember.
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