Thursday, July 31, 2008
Location: Gene Wheeler Onion Farms, Lancaster, California
As usual me and Trudenwilk were tying bags, monotonously going about our business. The onion belt had broken down a few times, and it had taken about an hour to get it completely up and running again. This meant an hour break for me and Trudenwilk. It also meant we would be working an hour longer (which was nice because that hour extra is overtime). At about 2 in the afternoon, Ryan (one of my bosses), points at me and gestures for me to come with him. I get in his car, having no idea what the job he wants me to do is. We chew the fat a bit talking about what I'm doing at school, and I ask some questions about the onion business. Him and Scott are partners running the farm, Scott running the shed, Ryan running the fields. He asks me if I have my drivers license, I say yes, still unsure what my job is going to end up being. We arrive at the field, and it turns out that I simply need to follow him while he drives a tractor to a different field, easy enough. We successfully transport the tractor, and he drives the truck back to the first field. When we get back to the field he drives the truck into the middle of the field and starts watching one of the tractors fill up a truck with onions. I was glad to see this, I desired to be something of an onion farm intern, learning as much about the trade as possible.
(Photo credit: BlueEyes5, http://www.flickr.com/photos/49182852@N00/436765075/)
This is what I learned: The people who pick the onions place them in burlap sacks and place the sacks in strait rows along the field. A tractor built specifically for this job drives up and down the field picking up the sacks on a conveyor belt which moves the onions upwards, towards the back of the tractor. At the top of this conveyor belt is a man who empties the sacks of onions onto another conveyor belt which moves the onions across the tractor dumping them into a truck. Once the truck is full of onions it transports them to the packing shed (where I normally worked).
Ryan and I watched this process take place, after about 2 minutes of watching the truck is full and ready to head to the packing shed. Ryan looks at me and says:
"Take the truck back to the shed."
I got scared. The whole time I had been on this excursion the fear that he would want me to do some job that I had no idea how to do was residing in the back of my mind, and now the moment had come; he wanted me to drive a truck, which was slightly smaller than a Mack Truck, full of onions back to the packing shed. I looked at him with horror in my eyes and mumbled out:
"I don't think I can do that, I mean, I've never even driven a stick before."
Before I even finished this sentence, I knew that it was one of my dumber moments. There was no way that he could possibly want me to drive the truck back. I was completely unqualified and the truck had a perfectly good driver whom they had hired to do specifically this job. He simply wanted me to hitch a ride back to the shed with the truck.
Ryan looked at me with the are you an idiot stare, and I said,
"Never mind, I get it you just want me to ride back, you scared me for a second there."
I didn't need the stare to feel like a complete idiot.
So I got into the truck, it was green with the words, "Fred Williams Trucking" painted on the door. It had the number 27 on it in a couple places. I sat in my seat and waited for the driver to get in. He was an older, very friendly looking Mexican man with a kind disposition. We didn't have very much of a conversation because my Spanish skills are so minute that I could think of nothing that would stimulate any sort of fruitful conversation.
When I first got into the truck I instinctively tried to put my seatbelt on. I failed to do so. There was no sign of seatbelt's receiving end (the female end as an electrician might say); it had decided it was tired of being used, tired of the uncertainty of its existence. It couldn't handle constantly being a precaution, a just in case; it decided it would rather be a nobody than a just in case (Sorry for that lame attempt to be litarary, I think it will be embarrassing to look at in the future). When the driver got into the truck he tried to signal to me to put on my seatbelt. Through gestures I showed him that it was impossible. Through gestures he told me to hold it in place as if I had it on until we drove past Ryan and he was no longer in danger of getting in trouble for not making me wear my seatbelt. I thought this was kinda funny, but I obeyed his wishes and pretended to have my seatbelt on until we had driven past Ryan's truck into safety.
We drove back to the shed in almost complete silence, neither of us knowing how to communicate with the other, I, as I often did that week, quietly observed my surroundings trying to get an understanding of this new world. When we arrived at the shed, I turned to my driver and said, "Gracias, adios senor (Insert Accents), and he replyed, "Adios Amigo," (Note: when a person who is native to the spanish tongue says, "Adios Amigo," it doesn't quite have the same cheesyness that it does when a white person says it), I was happy that he used the congenial amigo instead of senor. I walked back into the shed, said high to Trudenwild and resumed tying bags. My adventure was over.