How I Went from TV Producer to Blue-Collar Worker, and What I Learned

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Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 6:00 AM
They say it's important to get out of L.A. once in awhile   - if only to remember that not everywhere is Los Angeles. We become cocooned. I know I do.

I landed here December '97. Almost immediately, I met two women in a Century City elevator and gave them my resume. I was hired the next day as a production assistant for a sitcom pilot, and worked ever since - mostly television, one feature.

My family background is a mix of Midwestern and Texan blue-collar factory workers, enlisted servicemen and hardscrabble, matter-of-fact women. Not very L.A. Well, at least not the men.

So recently, with so much production leaving town, and after being out of work in the industry for the better part of 18 months, I saw an online posting for a FedEx Ground "seasonal package handler." It listed an address south of downtown as well as a date and time - Friday, 7 p.m.

I bounced out the door, my bride furiously yelling after me, 'What?! We can't live on that!' I went anyway, thinking of my sons and hoping it would lead to something better. 

I snaked my way down off the 10 Freeway, to 7th Street to Santa Fe, past the PlayPen strip club where a banner proclaimed FREE TOP CHOICE STEAK WITH PAID ADMISSION. A few blocks later I parked the car, then walked alongside a chain-link fence toward what appeared to be a guard shack. Asphalt spread to the south, west and north behind me. To the east and my immediate left was another chain-link fence with a couple of railroad cars/ tracks just beyond. This was not my L.A.

A group of about 15 stood near the shack. A fit Latino approached and reported it would be a lottery wherein each of us was given a ticket. If our number was called, we could tour the dock and gauge our interest in the work. He called about ten numbers; when he called one final ticket, it was me.

We toured. It was loud. I wondered if earplugs were offered. Folks were young. Way younger than me. Each package was touched, scanned and sent on its way. Conveyor belts whirred in every direction.

I kept doing whatever was asked over the next week and a half, showing up on separate days to orientation and then training. (The training videos made the point repeatedly how the company was non-union, and that was good.) At each juncture, HR seemed surprised to see me.

Finally, I was offered a slot: 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. The rate was $11.99 an hour.

I'd try it. I hoped unemployment would offset the balance. Plus I'd be out of the house. And how taxing could it be? Yes, I was in my forties, but I worked out; I knew I was in excellent shape.

Most importantly, it was a foot in the door. Online resume submissions had been a black hole in this job market, my Bachelor's of fine arts degree a nice wall-hanging. I had to get in somewhere so people could KNOW me. I could get the white-collar job by establishing my "brand" once on the inside.

The first day came, and it busted my ass - along with every day thereafter.

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