Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Crap builds character

Last week I discovered that David Angelo, the CEO and namesake of David & Goliath, one of the biggest ad agencies on the West Coast, used to drive a fork lift.

This was quite a revelation, as I don't know of many fellow creatives who spent time toiling in a warehouse.

In fact today's creatives know nothing about real labor in the real world. Many go from their "lab" classes at VCU or University at Miami right into youngblood programs at publicly-held ad agencies who have commoditized the creative product in the pursuit of shareholder profit.

You couldn't find a callused hand in the Creative Department any more than you could find a junior copywriter familiar with the wisdom of Howard Gossage.

SFX: Junior creatives clacking keyboard to Google Howard Gossage.

Back to fork lift driving.

Way back when, I drove the Toyota KC Haulmaster 9000 at a small electrical wiring facility in Compton, CA. I was a white, Jewish college graduate, working shoulder-to-shoulder with tattooed Crips and Bloods who had graduated from places like Folsom, Chico and San Quentin.

The warehouse manager was a jovial 6 foot 5 inch, 400 lbs. redneck from Alabama, who everybody called Big Jim. His 12-year old son explained Big Jim got the nickname by eating a smaller man named Little Jim. That kid was funny.

As David and I can tell you, driving a fork lift and loading up trucks with shipping palettes is tough backbreaking work. It is not however the crappiest job I have ever held.

As a teenager, I worked as a fry cook at a local Jack in the Box, the first JIB ever built on the East Coast. I worked the graveyard shift. I changed the oil. And I wore a polyester polo shirt whose smell of B.O. and Bonus Jack Sauce could knock a buzzard off a shitwagon.

At Syracuse University, I worked the dining rooms. Serving the over-priviliged princes and princesses from Long Island. Despite the better advice of my student counselor, I worked 35-40 hours. This was in addition to classes I was not attending.

I often found myself working in the dishwashing room. When the shift was over, I'd walk a mile and a half back to my dorm, caked in lake effect snow and discarded mashed potatoes.

After college I was a sous chef, a landscaper, a caterer, a kitchen manager and finally, I worked as a bartender at a dingy jazz club where the owner was so cheap he would recycle cocktail swizzle sticks. The best tip I got from a customer was, "you should find a more lucrative job -- like driving a fork lift."

I mention all this because today marks the 48th day in a row that I find myself at the office. Late nights. Weekends. The constant churning of newer, better ideas. It can be quite draining.

Of course nowhere near as draining as some of my past experiences. And none of those jobs held out the carrot that is still a possibility, albeit remote, that is the dream of every Copywriter and Art Director:

Open on a soft-sandy beach in Moorea....


George Tannenbaum said...

Rich, I was never as blue-collar as you. My three main pre-advertising jobs were,

1. A shingle-stripped for two Italian brothers who ran an aluminum siding business.
2. A game-room-attendant/bouncer at an amusement park.
3. A cashier (on the night shift) in a liquor store on Rush Street in the North Side of Chicago.

I learned a lot in these jobs. I left them smarter than I started them. What's more, I made money and paid my way.

There's something to be said for that.

Bob said...

No forklifts, but I used to tar roofs. In Los Angeles. In 100 degree weather. I can still smell it.

Jeff said...

No forklifts, but I used to write TV for am/pm mini mart in Los Angeles. I can still smell it.

Bob said...

I'll take the tar smell over the am/pm mini mart stench. Especially the microwaved egg sandwiches. Sulfur subs.

Robert Moss said...

I ran the salad and all-you-can-eat shrimp bar at Beefstake Charlie's in 1980. My regulars included several very large people who gorged on shrimp. I could hear them panting behind me as I carried out another bowl filled with ice and shrimp. Each wanted to be the first to get his or her tongs into that bowl of (mostly) ice and pink shrimp.

One night the manager sweated more than normal. I asked one of the cooks what's up. He said we're expecting a visit from the district manager. I shrugged my shoulders and he replied with the bent nose gesture, which gave Beefstake Charlie's two taglines (We Won't Stop Giving Until You say, 'Uncle!' and You're Gonna Get Spoiled) a second meaning.

The district manager never showed up that night, and no one got hung up in the meat locker for breaking some infraction. But I wouldn't eat any all-you-can-eat shrimp if I were you.