Today’s edition of “a day in the life at the syrup plant” or the classic soap opera “as the syrup jar turns”:
Not a normal day, mind you, but then again, there are never any normal days around the syrup plant. After all, Willard works with us, you know. But I’ll tell you how today went, because inquiring minds are always asking! (For those of you who don’t know, the character known as Willard is my father, and he’s the tender young age of 83).
So, we may be in the throes of our busy season, and sometimes that requires us to occasionally add in extra production during the week. Today, we got an earlier start than usual and that prompted our resident grinch (John) to suggest we make a MILLION runs today instead of our normal two. Okay, okay, it wasn’t a million exactly, but he did suggest we make 3 runs of production today. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you all, but here at the syrup plant, we call that crazy talk. Sure, we do it from time to time...when somebody throws out that crazy talk, who are we to back down? But rest assured, this is still a rarity.
Run # 1 for the day was what we refer to at the plant as “15’s”. And those devilish little pint size jars total around 1,850 per run…ONE THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED AND FIFTY…and we hand check and hand pack every.single.one. Run #1 for today was pretty uneventful. We finished late morning, and everyone was still bright eyed and bushy tailed and eager to continue the show. We stopped for a short break, which included two crackers and half a coke and Willard watched a little bit of the Price is Right, then we resumed our duties.
Off to Run #2 for the day, now we have moved to what we refer to as “30’s”, which I’m sure you’ve guessed by now is our quart size jars. We love the quart size runs, they take less time, and are less jars to handle, which usually means less problems that could arise. It’s a win./win for every station along the production line. (Even Willard thinks these are a walk in Central Park, and he’s never even been to New York City.) So, boring as it seems, run # 2 goes smoothly. We finish shortly after noon and break for lunch. And if you’re wondering, today we bribed Willard into staying for run #3 with a hot bowl of vegetable soup and a slab of lemon pie. Works every time.
Now, there are jobs we all must do, even during the “down time” between runs. And during our lunch layover, one of those is to pull down a run, which consists of us “pulling down” our boxes of jars from atop these huge stacks and placing them onto a float to be brought in from the warehouse to the production room for use on our respective runs. We stack them so many high, by so many across. Same way for years, DECADES even. The stack amounts never change. They just don’t. Today, John and I were pulling down a run, while discussing deep life topics, (like why college kids cannot keep more than $7.42 in their bank accounts no matter how much you give them or how often you make deposits.) While doing so, I ribbed him more than twice about the fact that he had messed up the stacking. “You act like this is your first time doing this; I mean we’ve been doing it for over 6 years now. Can you even count? We always go 7 high, then crossover on 8. And we always go 5 across. And look, you’ve messed up the other float too; it’s not stacked high enough either. To have such a math mind you sure aren’t showing it today.” (John is an engineer.)
He laughs, makes a witty comment, and we continue stacking the floats. When all of the sudden, with my back turned, I hear a loud crash and breaking glass. I whip around and say, “what did you do now?”, only to realize as I see John pointing at the float I had been working on so diligently, that I had somehow managed to stack 6 across, not 5. Those boxes had been teetering on the edge for barely a minute before they toppled to the warehouse floor. Fortunately, two things happened, 1) only one jar actually broke and 2) Willard was still in the kitchen enjoying his lemon pie, so he didn’t have a chance to reprimand me. Unfortunately, John was there, and may or may not have been happy to go spread the news and repeat my offense to whoever would listen. In which he emphasizes how HIS last stack on the float didn’t topple over, and adds, “I may not be able to count high but I can count wide”.
Run #3 follows shortly after this fiasco. Although we are a bit tired, we can look forward to it, because we know once it gets started and completed, we’re home free for the day! Well, as it turns out, we pressed our luck too far and run #3 was filled with its own kind of drama. The drama we LOATHE at the syrup plant, the dreaded SPILL. Have y’all ever poured out a whole jar of our syrup on say, your kitchen counter and floor? No? Well, try it sometime. It is loads of fun to clean up an entire jar of hot, sticky syrup. And really even more fun when a conveyor belt is taking that same hot, sticky syrup for a nice quick ride down the line….dripping all over everything in it’s path. FUN, y’all... Ask Willard, it is his FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD. He loves it ALMOST as much as he enjoys driving in the traffic on highway 280 in Birmingham during rush hour on a holiday. But that’s another story for another day.
Just know that we got the spill cleaned up. We completed run #3. Everyone lived. Willard didn’t chew us out too badly. We all agreed to come back again the next day. I think we all managed to even slightly smile at our accomplishment. And then we all shook hands and declared no more of that “hey let’s do 3 runs a day” CRAZY talk again until at least late spring of 2018. Folks, you have to give Willard time to settle back down.
Three runs in a day, with a spill, can wear you down. All I knew for sure when I got home today was that I needed caffeine immediately if my people expected to have something that resembled dinner tonight. So at 4:30pm I made myself a cup of coffee. At 6:00 pm, I followed that with a can of Mountain Dew. And y’all, that wasn’t enough, at 7:02, I still just wanted to crawl in my bed and go to sleep until the sun came up. But I knew, somewhere, Willard was still up, having just finished Wheel of Fortune, with crossword book and pencil in hand, and he wasn’t going to bed anytime soon, and he’ll still beat me to work in the morning.