I am, by my own admission, my own man and do not bend my knee for anyone. Some call it pride while others call it strength of character, I call it being me, enough said. My world is a man’s world, men do things and life tends to be a bit hard and even dangerous. I am a welder by trade and my craft is demanding, exacting if you will, no room for error. My teenage years were spent learning this craft, for it is a craft, do not think otherwise. High school metal shop classes learning how to use an oxy-acetylene torch and then on to stick welding, for you who do not know we call it arc welding and when done with quality one can make good money welding pipelines. There are other processes such as MIG and TIG welding, different metals require different methods and needless to say I have certificates in all of them. But the most dangerous is that of underwater welding, something I learned in the Navy while attached to submarines. Let’s just say that few do it well and I am one of those few, end of story.
Welding, like several other crafts are usually individual work. I mean, if you are a carpenter or plasterer or sheet rocker you tend to work in teams, it’s the nature of the work. Outside of pipelines you don’t have or need an assistant, you do all the prep work and finish work yourself. Hence it’s a craft that draws loners, guys who don’t need the social banter on the job as an assembly worker on a production line. I once worked on a production line making gasoline tanks for trucks, kind of sucked, everyone working at the same pace doing the same repetitive motions, just bleeds your soul of life. So I saved my pay and went to welding school to get my certifications and find employment. The really good thing is that the instructors have contacts and if you show ability and good attitude you get referred to good employment. Welding shops do production runs, meaning they get orders for engineered structures of the same design. Well, by now you must be getting bored with my story but there’s a point I’m trying to make. The craft requires a good deal of practice, sort of like being a musician. Then one day when you have enough experience and opportunity presents itself you can venture out on your own. That’s what I did, bought a truck suitable to be a welding rig and sell my services as a mobile welder doing repair or short production runs. It pays well as long as I can keep expenses down and contacts up. It’s a business built or trust and word of mouth.
It’s a good life but a busy one. Often my workday is ten or twelve hours in all weather and emergency repairs usually come calling on weekends and holidays. My social life tends to be close to non existent and confined to a couple of dinners in this city. I’d cook for myself but my hours are not regular enough to bother except microwave food and that get’s old after a while. Mornings finds me at Mom’s Cafe, so help me that is the name and it’s about two miles from my house. Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast. I get my thermos filled with fresh hot coffee, black and robust flavor, to last me the whole day. Mrs Olson, the owner, has been at this spot for more years than I’ve been alive and she only does breakfast and lunch but the food is always good. When I bought the small bungalow about five years ago Mom’s Cafe intrigued me and I’ve gone there ever since for breakfast. Her clientele has grown some with my word of mouth advertising and I’ve even fixed a few things in her place gratis. Give a little and get a little, that’s how life works.
Diner is another matter for my jobs take me to various parts of the city and the time I eat varies according to the job. A Jason’s Deli might be handy or a Denny’s close by, Then there is a Mexican restaurant I like and a Chinese place, but most of all when I am near enough there is an Italian restaurant I love, the food is very good. But that’s me, a man without access to a home cooked meal. A couple more years and I can open my own shop, bid on jobs using the contacts I have made and keep more regular hours. I’m already on the young side of thirty, time to find a wife and settle down, raise a family, leave more than a reputation for quality work. At least that is what I tell myself is important. Lately I’ve been feeling like that old Eagles song, Desperado.
There’s a woman I met at one of my steady customer, Consolidated Machinery, she works in accounting and cuts the checks for the work I complete. Sometimes we talk a little, exchange more than just the weather or local sports. She surprises me with her knowledge of the local minor league baseball team, says her brother was once a triple A player, never met him. I played baseball in high school, did alright but no great talent and no scholarship offers. Just as well, formal education bores me although I read a lot, mostly non fiction. Lately I’ve been thinking about asking her out. She’s mid twentyish, good looking but no great beauty, sort of cute if you like. Her smile, I love to see her smile. I’ve never been all that attractive to women, I mean I dated a little but no girl ever chased after me if you know what I mean. Still, I like Estelle, there is something about her that connects to me. I hope she feels the same. All these years alone.
John, the foreman at Consolidate called me, said “Mike, I’ve got a problem. Two machines are down and I need you here at six tomorrow, can you make it?” “Sure, I just need to reschedule the work at Skyler’s shop, that job can wait a day or too.” John tells about the work to be done so I can load the truck with the materials I need for the repair. The next morning I’m up early and on my way to Consolidated, no Mom’s for me this morning but John will have coffee waiting for me. The guard opens the gate for me and I park by the main dock where John is waiting for me. “Hi John, what’s up?” “I’ve two machines in the old plant. They should have been replaced last year but finances just weren’t there so now we have to make do until next January. Let’s take your truck over there, I’ll show the way.”
Two workers and a forklift were waiting for us, apparently they had been clean the machines as best they could. “What do you think Mike, will it take long?” I looked over the first one, “That’s cast iron, John, I got to do that the old way with the torch, lot of prep work.” Then I cast an eye over the second machine, it needed a lot of welds in some tight places. “It’s about two, maybe three days work, which one do you need working first?” John pointed to the first machine. “Do it as quick as you can, may be a bonus in it if you can get that working today.” “Okay, I might work a miracle for you.”
Cast iron is difficult to work on and there were three deep cracks that needed to be ground out. I had the tow workmen position the forklift so as to support the first piece and take the strain off the metal. I set up the torch as close as I dared and left the truck outside the big doors. Cast iron needs higher heat than mild steel and only the torch can reach that temperature level for welding. On the other hand, I could bronze weld instead, it would hold and less chance of putting more cracks in the cast iron. I tell you, this job is as much art as it is craft. By noon the machine was ready to go, so I told one of the men to go get John. Fifteen minutes later three men were operating that machine and the noise level became higher.
On to the next machine. This would be a lot of clean up but it was very close quarter work. True, you can arc weld dirty steel but you can’t guarantee your work and Consolidated was paying for ‘good enough’ work. By six that evening I was too tired to continue and my body was aching from all the twisting and turning and odd positions. Not to mention that I was dirty and greasy, my coveralls needed washing as did my welding jacket. But mostly, I was very hungry and in need of a decent meal, so I headed over to El Lobo to enjoy a couple of enchiladas and a beer. As agreed I would return at six in the morning and finish the work. With any luck I’d be done by noon and have my check in hand with a nice bonus.
So now I’ve been working since six this next morning and the noon hour is fast approaching. About another hour of work and John will look like a hero to the old man who owns this company. Clean up always takes more time than it looks but the Lincoln welder and generator need a little cleaning and maintenance. Dirty clothes go into a bag I’ll drop off at the cleaners and I’ll spend the rest of the day restocking my truck. It’s two and I’m climbing the stairs to Estelle’s office. I must look a sight as I walk in and she notices my presence. “Hello Mike, John says he is very pleased with your work.” “Estelle, I am always pleased that John calls me when Consolidated needs repair work.” “By the way, Mr Morely was very pleased with the speed of your repair, he said to give you a bonus.” “Actually, Estelle, I have hope that the bonus would be dinner with you Friday night.” I don’t know what came over me but there it was, out in the open and I was taking a chance on rejection. Her face blushed a little and then she wrote something on a business card, it was her address. “I’d love to Mike, where are we going?”