They Call Me the Workin Man

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI

OK, they don't call me the workin man, but that is the phrase from a classic Rush tune that my 19 year old son has adopted regarding his summer job.  He knew he needed to work, filling the gap between freshman and sophomore years at Michigan Tech, and applied just about everywhere when he arrived home in late April.  Finally, by answering a newspaper ad (so old school!) from a temp agency, he was offered two jobs in two days.  He passed the requisite drug test with flying colors and deliberated between the two positions.  In the end, the position in Saline, near his old high school, won out.

Keep in mind that our son is majoring in computer science, flirting with minors in both sound design and electrical engineering technology, and is trying to squeeze in significant humanities studies just for the love of the written word.  He works at Michigan Tech's superb Rozsa Performing Arts Center during the school year and loves every minute and aspect of the work, not to mention the performances.flatbread  So what is he doing this summer?  Working the assembly line in a flatbread bakery/factory, night shift, 10PM to 6AM.  In our still struggling Ann Arbor/Michigan economy, finding any work was quite the accomplishment.

That first day he came home exhausted, disgusted, but full of stories about the bread factory environment.  He swore he was going to quit, and swore that again the next day.  Day three he learned there is more to work than the task at hand and he embraced the opportunity to do this job.  His tales remind me of the many, many descriptive passages in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina where wealthy landowner Levin pontificates about toiling with the field hands on his land, trying to find the meaning of life.

Our family is treated daily to the adventures in breadmaking that he is a part of, descriptions of fellow workers and situations so artfully conveyed that a picture is painted.  His stories are always told with the good humor he has possessed since birth, even when he described being stop-watched as he left the assembly room floor to begin his 3AM lunch, returning precisely 20 minutes or sooner as required.  When he spoke about the hairnet, beard net, and safety goggles, we roared with laughter.  It was that day he began to shave daily, eliminating one of the three heat-trapping fittings forever.

So what exactly does he do?  safety gearHis shift is spent standing on a cushioned mat, flipping a bag of flatbread as it comes down the line, rotating it into a precise position, then off it goes to a sealing machine.  I asked how quickly the bread bags arrive; he replied, "Five every three seconds."  For 7.5 hours.  WOW.

Recently he came home and told us that only he and one other temp worker had been kept on.  He was told he was the only newbie on the line who hadn't needed the conveyor belt slowed down until they got the hang of the job.  Productivity was up.  His common sense emerged too whenever there was a breakdown in the line, box folding error, crumpled or torn flatbread (it is called flat for a reason...), overheated ovens, overloading of product into a bag, etc.   Calm, calm, calm.  Adjust.  Carry on.

There is a new appreciation for every job out there and for the intensity of the 40 hour work week.  There is enthusiasm about reaching high academic success when returning to Michigan Tech in the fall.  There is a changed attitude apparent.  It is more than making bread for the summer; this is the bread of life.

Kevin, we call you the workin man.  




Comments (14)

Matt Grohe
RE/MAX Concepts - Des Moines, IA
Serving the metro since 2003

Susan: Sounds like your son has a positive attitude and good work ethic. Bet he got that from his parents!

Jun 16, 2009 06:40 PM
Gita Bantwal
RE/MAX Centre Realtors - Warwick, PA
REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel

Your son will learn important things about life in the real world from this job.

Jun 16, 2009 10:59 PM
Stanton Homes
Stanton Homes - New Home Builder - Raleigh, NC
Design/Build Custom Home Builder in North Carolina

What a great description of a first job, and quite a challenge!  He's going to remember this for the rest of his life, and value his final choice of career that much more.  Thanks for sharing.

Jun 16, 2009 11:24 PM
Missy Caulk
Missy Caulk TEAM - Ann Arbor, MI
Savvy Realtor - Ann Arbor Real Estate

Susan, this is an inspiring post.

I have always said that if you work hard and show your value to the manager you will never have to worry.

Many folks start at the bottom and work their way up.

That happened to friends of mine when we moved to A2 in the 80's. Two of our friends took temporary jobs at the U.

Then hired full time.

When they retired one was working right under the Dean and another one worked their way up too.


Jun 16, 2009 11:53 PM
Ed Silva, 203-206-0754
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

Susan, it appears that your son has been given a strong foundation for handling life and the problems that he will face. In your post your son demonstrated humility, common sense, loyalty, ingenuity, and pride. The team that gave him that foundation should be proud as well.

Jun 17, 2009 12:44 AM
Marilyn Harrell
Better Homes and Acres - Beaverton, MI
Wixom Lake - Beaverton MI

I have great respect for the "Working Man"

Jun 17, 2009 12:52 AM
Susan Walters
Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI - Ann Arbor, MI

Thanks Matt - I suspect you are right - my husband and I have never gilded the lily to keep our kids innocent.  It is paying off now.

Jun 17, 2009 07:55 AM
Susan Walters
Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI - Ann Arbor, MI

Gita - You are so right.  The first thing he learned was that he doesn't want to do this all of his life.  There are some people in the facility who have always done work like this and they wish they could turn back the clock.

Jun 17, 2009 07:57 AM
Susan Walters
Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI - Ann Arbor, MI

Penny - Everyone needs a job like this early in life just so they can empathize with someone else's situation.  My husband worked an assembly line one summer when in his teens and I worked in a dress factory the summer after my freshman year of college.  The future is always built on the past.

Jun 17, 2009 08:00 AM
Susan Walters
Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI - Ann Arbor, MI

Missy - Your comment reminds me of my own father in the late 40's.  He knew he wanted to work for RCA - you can imagine what an important company they were back then - and applied for a job every day for two weeks.  When he couldn't get hired in, he volunteered to sweep the floors every day, full time, for free.  He did that for two weeks before being hired for pay.  He spent 45 years rising up through the ranks until he retired.  Not many people would even think about doing that today.

Jun 17, 2009 08:05 AM
Susan Walters
Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI - Ann Arbor, MI

Ed - When our kids were little they used to watch Mr. Rogers.  Today, when they do something special or great, I sometimes remember those days and break into a song from that show - "I'm proud of you, I'm proud of you...I really, really am proud of you."  A silly tradition but they know I mean it.

Jun 17, 2009 08:09 AM
Susan Walters
Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI - Ann Arbor, MI

Marilyn - There were more stories this morning, as usual, including that 4 people were reassigned to another location in the facility with our son replacing them.  The supervisor said, "I bet you're feeling pretty special right now."  He just laughed but you know he had to be feeling good.

Our 21 year old daughter has a goal of working as many obscure jobs, at least for a short period of time, as she can.  Keeps life interesting.  I think Kevin is relishing this job for the same reason.

Jun 17, 2009 08:14 AM
Tammy Lankford,
Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668 - Eatonton, GA
Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville

Sounds like you have great kids with wonderful work ethic.  Good job mom.  My daughter is spending her summer between Jr. and Sr. year of college as the "collection witch" for the local Farmer's Furniture. 

Jun 17, 2009 08:26 AM
Susan Walters
Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI - Ann Arbor, MI

Oh dear Tammy - I am sure she is taking a lot of abuse but is probably learning the very important lesson of paying on time.  Earlier this year my son met with our financial planner, cashed in his savings bonds, and started a retirement account.  Our older daughter did too.  Lessons in money learned early are priceless.

Jun 17, 2009 08:38 AM