From the Jar – Hard Hat

Several years ago, my wife handed me a jar with slips of paper on it.  The papers had words that she asked me to use as writing prompts.  It was a way for her to show her support for me and it gave me something to trigger what to commit to text.

I was so caught up with work, fishing and writing articles about fishing that hadn’t looked in it for several years.  Tonight, I pulled a slip.  

TODAY – HARD HAT

Before I went to college, I spent several years going from job to job with no specific direction in mind.  I wanted to make enough money to have a place to live, eat, and party too much.  I worked mixing mortar, at a grocery warehouse, in Kroger’s seafood department, doing inventory, mall Santa, filling sand bags for some dude; just whatever. 

The last job I had before enrolling at Austin Peay was driving a cement truck for Clarksville Ready Mix.  It sounded like a cool gig for a minute.  My dad had finished concrete after he retired from the Army, so I figured it wouldn’t really be that bad. 

These people were going to give me a truck full of cement and ask me to carry it to people.  Over mud fields, across town, on post; I would get to see a lot of new construction.  I would be on my own when out driving, and didn’t have to be inside.  I would be working with several friends from high school and some friends I had partied with since.  Sounded like fun.

It wasn’t a job that required a hard hat, but there were times when it was needed at new commercial sites, state jobs or places with safety managers.  The first time I had to wear one, I guess I thought it was kind of cool for a minute, who knows; so, I put it on as soon as I made it in the truck. 

That truck was an old International cement mixer that I had been taught how to drive in – I guess I didn’t say I had never driven a truck before either.  Not sure how I even passed the driving test – they made me parallel park it!  Anyway, that old truck had a leaky air ride suspension seat, was hard to get into gear and was just overall a piece of junk; but I was the new guy, so it was handed down.

Well, like I alluded to, I had zero experience wearing a hard hat.  I really had only a little more experience driving that blasted thing.  I knew the purpose of a hard hat was safety, now I know much more about them, but I thought it was ok to wear to the site.  

Well, here I go trucking down Tiny Town road in that old International piece of crap mixer, fully loaded, riding smooth in that leaking air ride suspension seat, when I dropped off the hill and over the bridge at what I believe is considered the west fork of the Red River; right between Clearwater and Broadripple Drive.  I was all arm out the window, working, looking cool.  

While an air ride suspension seat sounds great, and it is when you get a newer truck I discovered, it sucks when it is leaking air.  It is especially bad if you are going a bit too fast to make it up the next hill!

When that janky ass International truck hit the bottom of the hill – hitting the seam between road and bridge at the same time – full of sloshing cement, it threw me.  Not out of the truck, but straight up from the seat (physics I would learn to understand in less than a year later), and into the roof. 

It happened so fast.  I was dazed by the blow to my skull, not only in spite of the hard hat, but because of it.  It took a couple of seconds to understand what had just happened, to keep the truck on the road and make it up the hill on the other side.  I remember it had come out of gear, or I had yanked it out of gear; either way, my experience level made it difficult to (in a semi-conscious state) shift into the appropriate gear.  I almost didn’t pull it together.

Once I finally made it out of the valley (and the shadow of death – too dramatic?), I stopped.  What the hell had just happened?

The hard hat was in the floor, blood was coming from the top of my left ear and it felt as if I had somehow broken it!   I assume that the hard hat had first made contact with the door frame since my arm was out the window before solidly smashing down on my head as I pounded the roof of the cab.  

I collected myself, then drove to the site with that hard hat in the floorboard.  And there is stayed until I was safely on that, or any other, site.  

Two lessons from this story:

  1. Don’t wear a hard hat while driving if it is not required.
  2. Stand up when you know you seat is leaking air and you are about to bottom out!

_____________________________________________________

“hard hat” triggered this memory, but just a little insight as to why that job was the best thing that ever happened to me…in spite of almost losing an ear.

It wasn’t long after the hard hat incident that I was helping a local finisher wheelbarrow concrete.  My job was to deliver the load and pull the lever for him, but my personality has never been one to watch work happen.  The guy was pouring a basement with minimal help, it was raining – so when it took him a few minutes to get back – I would fill one up and push it in to lend a hand. 

It was almost, if not the last wheelbarrow full I had on the truck.  I poured it out, picked up on the handles, and felt a pop in my back.  I didn’t say anything, washed the concrete chutes up, and headed back to the plant.  

By the time I reached the end of Kraft Street, I couldn’t push in the clutch without great pain.  I almost hit several cars before parking outside the building where we loaded the trucks, called on my radio for someone to come out and help me. 

I would learn in a few days that I had ruptured a disc in my back.  The days of my body being the sole means of support for me were over.  There would be no more “screw you I can get another job” days.

What now?

To shorten this and not ramble on – since the hard hat part is over – I decided to do what I should have done right out of high school, 14 years sooner.  I drove to Austin Peay and started the process of moving forward into another chapter.  

Don’t want to sound all Hallmarky or like “it was meant to be” because I am not that guy most of the time (Hallmark movies have been known to bring a tear now and then though), but my life became so much fuller after that injury.  Sure, it took some physical abilities and hurt financially for a while but I came out the other side a much different person.  

Oh well…for now.

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~ by mrcsworld on January 9, 2023.

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