A View From the Cheap Seats

December 5, 2007

Sunrise on Lake Ontario

Filed under: Random Poop — trzupek @ 11:50 pm


By Rich Trzupek

It’s four o’clock in the morning. You’re in Oswego, New York, an upstate town on the shores of Lake Ontario that can be accurately described as both “forlorn” and “quaint.”

Not that there’s much quaint about the big power plant, where you’re working at the moment. It’s cavernous, dimly lit and, by all appearances, entirely deserted.

It’s not really deserted of course. You know that. Somehow, deep in the bowels of the beast, there’s a control room where faceless men and women keep the generators humming, pumping out megawatts to equally faceless consumers who slumber quietly, content in the certain knowledge that, in the morning, their alarm clock will ring on time, their refrigerator will keep their milk cold before it hits their Corn Flakes and they will be able to blow dry their hair before work. The electricity generated here makes that happen, though few have a clue where the electricity comes from.

You don’t really expect that they would. You don’t despise them for their ignorance. Surely they have better things to think about. It’s only that it’s four in the morning, you have been awake for 24 hours and you haven’t eaten for 20 of those hours. Your mind is drifting. It’s hard to stop it.

Yet you have to stop it. This is how accidents happen. You know that. Or at least a part of you does. A stubborn voice tries to slap sense into you, from the back of your head. It’s a relentless voice, determined to be heard among the sleep-deprived demons that swarm around you.

And that singular, stubborn voice can articulate one argument that trumps all others: this is not about you. Not by a long shot.

Your crew is counting on you. That matters more than anything. Being in charge isn’t just about getting the job done. It’s about keeping them safe. You know them all too well. You know their families. You know their dreams. They look up to you. God knows why. But, if you’re in this position, you’ll do your damndest to take care of them. That’s job one.

So you make the climb, one more time. You tell yourself it will be the last time, but you know that’s a lie. A necessary lie to be sure, but a lie none the less.

Each of them sits faithfully at their station, tiny hunks of catwalk that are either exposed to elements of a New York winter or that are buried in a corner of the power plant that no one would notice.

“Grab some sleep,” you tell each one, assuring them that you will come by and keep an eye on their instruments while they get the hour’s sleep that they desperately need. Three out of four take you up on the offer, curling up into fetal balls that are as uncomfortable as they are inevitable.

Your little brother refuses the offer. He knows what you have committed to, even though you never spelled it out. He’ll help you cover for the rest of the crew, cutting your load by half. You offer a thank you, but it’s hardly enough.

Six o’clock. The weariness has passed. Giddiness has come and gone. You’re wide awake now.

Daylight is lurking, just over the horizon. Your boss pulls up, rolling to a stop in his gaudy foreign-born sedan. He never believed you could pull this off. His question reflects all his doubts. “So, when did you shut the job down?” he asks.

“We’re still rolling,” you say, in that matter-of-fact tone that reflects both confidence and victory. He is taken aback and then he clasps you on the shoulder. “Hell of a job” he says. It sure as hell was.

Not long after, the mysterious, hidden masters of the plant send the word: you can shut down. The job is over. Your duty is done. Time to pack up.

You check your watch. Almost 27 hours since you first set foot on the plant. Twenty seven hours. Not only did you survive, you and your crew did your job and you did it well. You did it better than anyone could. Nobody knows that. Nobody will ever know that, outside of your crew and your boss, but that’s more than enough.

You wander to the shore and watch the sun rise over Lake Ontario. Your bro joins you. It is, without doubt, one of the best sunrises that either of you have ever seen…

I often think of that day, when I understood the real meaning, and the ultimate pay-off, of putting every last ounce of yourself on the line.

The world, I think, is divided in two. There are those who understand-who have experienced-that kind of moment and there are those who are horrified by the very thought of taking any sort of risk that pushes you to the limit.

In the latter category, we have an inordinate number of our children who believe that they are above the idea of hard work, much less labor that challenges their spirit and soul. And what of our leaders? How many of them have ever risen to a challenge, or have pushed their limits to the extreme? Not nearly enough.

It just doesn’t happen any more. Not in this day and age. Not in this Age of Fear. We’re afraid of our own shadows and because we risk nothing, we’re missing out on the very best that life has to offer.


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