A very gracious 'hello,' 'how do you do,' and slap on the ass to my ongoing readers, as well as some of my new friends following along here from North Dakota. I'm glad to see you found me here, and remember, that slap on the ass was consensual. It's been far too long since I've made an appearance here on my blog, but what can I say, 85 hour work weeks will do that to a man. Even a man as hearty as I. My apologies as always.
With all that out of the way though, I'll move along with the agenda at hand because as usual, I'm way behind. Where I left off (in terms of a tangible/chronological sort of narrative), I was just beginning to get down to some of the details about my amazing summer spent working on a trail crew in the mountainous washington backcountry. I assure you that this is where I plan to continue "chapter posting" from in the near future, but for the moment, I'm going to have to interrupt that series to take a moment to thank some of the truly amazing people who played significant roles in showing me North Dakota from a whole different perspective (though they might not have known it).
My whole experience in North Dakota was far richer then I could have possibly imagined, so I'll mention as a side note that the bulk of the content of this period will be accounted for in future postings at greater detail. The content of this post will only very briefly touch on my time in N.D., because translating the experience would require much more time and thought then I have to put down at this moment. Plus, I have my current plans to share.
After the trail crew season ended in late October, I left my simple life of mountain labor, and cooking at the Trout Lake Country Inn. It wasn't as simple, or as easy as all that of course, but because I'm short on time I'll spare you the details for now. With a grand chariot of slurry, sullen comrades, we bar-hopped our way from Trout Lake, to White Salmon, to Hood River, and I eventually woke up sore at the aptly titled "Craft House" in Portland. I was among old friends and Advil. The universe was apparently in a very good mood.
As much as I truly love my Portland friends, this transitional period was very rough for me. The five months I had spent out in Washington went by and ended so abruptly, that my puzzled caricature was among the few things left behind after the whirlwind of ceremonious good-bye's. With writerly aspirations, I was blankly trying to contemplate the deeper meaning of what had happened, and what the hell I was doing next. All I concretely knew, was that I was somewhere in the middle of writing a book about the american dream, and that the main character was struggling triumphantly to figure out where things went from here. I had created an entirely different life and persona for myself out there in Trout Lake, I was "Shovelin' Joe," for chrissakes! Now, wearily wandering from bar, to bus stop, to bar among the rainy city lights- I felt like a ghost.
I hung around Portland for two weeks (another story in itself that I will hold off on sharing in this post), had some kicks, and eventually, I caught a train to North Dakota.
WHY NORTH DAKOTA?
Well, a great friend and brother of mine "Jay," happened to be running a store at the mall in Minot, North Dakota selling Cowboy Stuff. The name of the store was in fact called, "Cowboy Stuff."
Jay told me about the current oil rush out in N.D., how the unemployment rate was nearly 0%, and how crazy the town had gotten since Minot had been nearly destroyed in a devastating flood from the earlier spring. Jay explained to me that housing was at about 0% as a result, but that he had a spare room I could stay in if I decided to head out that way. After researching some of the stories surrounding this contemporary oil rush, and looking at the massive need Minot had for workers- I decided I would indeed head out to Minot N.D..
I left with the general goals in mind to see new parts of the country; observe the social, political, and soon-to-be historical discourse of the bakken-shale oil boom; and lastly, to make some damn money. In my hard pressed, life-consuming investigation of the ambiguously phrased: "American Dream," the fact cannot be ignored that money is largely at the roots of the general publics' life goals and aspirations. Though I could never share this dream, I've learned to despise the general premise less and less, and have began to simply consider it an americanizing feature of mainstream culture.
This wasn't just about my american dream, it was about the american dream. With that realization, it suddenly began to seem fitting that I anchor myself there in the blistering midwest winter to chase the buck. As much as I might despise centering a life around money, I realized that much of my Washington life that focused on the value of work ethic would carry over easily. With loan company's constantly harassing my parents and family about the MASSIVE student loans I owe, I figured maybe it was time to make a bit of money and see exactly what the commonly sought, plasticized rendition of the American Dream was all about.
So I headed to Minot North Dakota to get a job working in the oil fields.
"On The Road... Again" (Cover) w Jordan Meier
During my stint there in North Dakota, I got very little time to work on my art and writing, which would inevitably be the deal-breaker for me. The economy out there was not only turbulent, but to a guy with a do-all resume, it was damn near compelling. I arrived in Minot N.D. Sunday night, and by Tuesday morning, I was putting in full days welding live-stock fencing. It was grueling labor, but I was entirely in charge of my own schedule, I was making 15-20 bucks an hour, and I was welding for the first time in a while. It felt great, but once I got good at the local job searching game, I saw more, and wanted more.
I spent almost all my free time applying for jobs and going to interviews. The hourly rates in Minot N.D. are incredible compared to the rest of the country, so I considered every option with the intention of pushing my schedule to the absolute max, working myself to the bone, and making as much money as possible. The streets were lined with help wanted signs, and even fast food places were starting at 11 bucks an hour- so the key was finding two good full time jobs that paid well, and didn't have conflicting schedules. The other option was taking a job on the oil rigs, but since the rigs were all outside of the city, Id have been forced to live in a man camp on the outskirts of town.
After about 30 applications and 20 interviews within two weeks, I finally found the right combination. I got a job working at a Cabinet shop from 7:30- 5:00 pm M-F, and then I'd walk to the restaurant across the street and work from 5:30- 12:30 as a line cook. It worked out well for several reasons. The restaurant was willing to give me 40+ hours a week, and I got a guaranteed 45 hours a week from the cabinet shop. I made a little less at the cabinet shop because I was taken in as somewhat of an apprentice, but I saw it as an educational experience, and I was happy to be working with my hands in a shop, and making things once again. Sure it wasn't all flowers and roses, but I learned a hell of a lot, and I believe that much of what I was doing will find a way into my artistic practice in the near future. We'll see.
Everyone liked me pretty well at the shop, but I was always having to ask a lot of questions. I was pretty quick to catch on to things, and though I worked hard, there was still no shortage of mistakes for me to own up to and get hollered at for. It was all part of the learning process, and although most of the time I didn't let it didn't get to me, I still sometimes got tired of being the new guy. This is where my job cooking on the line fit in especially well.
I love cooking, plain and simple. I started working as a dishwasher for a small Italian restaurant when I was twelve years old, and fell in love with cooking before I even began art or writing. Thirteen years later, I can now say I've worked in restaurants over half of my life. I chose to go to Art school instead of Culinary school, because I knew I could use cooking as a means to support myself as an artist. It has always been a trade that I excel in, which is exactly why it filled a fundamental purpose for me in my 80+ hour work weeks. Because I was damn good at it.
It might seem small of me to really "need" to be good at something, but after the nine hour shift, the cabinet shop usually had me worn thin on all levels. I was physically tired from all the lifting and hauling, mentally tired from learning all the new things, and I was even emotionally spent from the daily frustrations of having had a good, bad, or awful day. My twenty minute walk from the shop to the kitchen through the cold, was a good time to reflect and prepare myself for another shift.
My shifts there in the kitchen were the complete opposite of the cabinet shop, which helped to make the 17 hour days more bearable. Of course your first week, the cooks kick you around a bit and aren't very nice- but kitchens are a competitive atmosphere, and if you're on anything more then a four man line, the dogging is pretty much customary. Anyhow, this short period didn't last too long for me. I learned the menu pretty quick, and in no time, I was able to keep up with the best of 'em. It worked out nicely not only because I had a job where I knew what I was doing, but because I was usually getting pounded so hard with orders, that by the time I had a second to even look at the clock- it was closing time.
That was my day to day life in North Dakota. I was home by one, asleep by two, and I had a short four hours before I had to wake up and get ready to do it all over again. I learned a lot, I met many wonderful people, and I scraped together a pretty decent amount of cash as well. In the end though, sacrificing my work was the hardest part of it all…
Before I get to the details of my current situation, and the news of my latest departure, I'm gonna put some necessary thank you's out there to all the amazing people I met in Minot who taught me so much, and essentially made my experience as enriching as it was.
TO THE BOYS IN THE CABINET SHOP:
I cannot thank you enough for giving me the opportunity you did in your cabinet shop, and believing in me to the fullest. I respect and admire everything you've done with your company, and I hope that in it's exponential growth, you remain devoted to the creative integrity that sets you apart from the competition. I hope to keep in touch. Cabinet making is a trade I would like to continue developing. Lastly, kudos on putting together a shop made up of North Dakota's finest cabinet makers.
You were as consistently up my ass about doing 'this' or 'that,' as you were about showing me HOW to do this or that, and in my mind, that makes you an excellent teacher. You were as good at breaking my balls as you were at encouraging me to think for myself, and I cannot thank you enough for patiently teaching me how to fix my mistakes, and never giving me the easy way out. I won't forget all the things I learned from you Scott, and you can expect that next time I come through town, I'll be calling you about getting a drink. You were a great mentor to me, and I hope you continue to take pride in watching people grow, learn, and develop. Lastly, don't sell yourself short buddy- whether you believe it or not, your an artist in your own way. I've seen it.
You were an inspiring character, with a tough-as-nails mentality that I'd expect from a fellow Milwaukee native. Though you came across as soft spoken, it didn't take me very long to realize that you're the wild card in the shop. Its always the quiet ones. Thank you for sharing your stories with me, I can only hope mine will someday compare. I remember the look in your eyes when you asked me if I was leaving, and I remember realizing that I am probably not much different then you were at my age. I can only hope to be so rich someday, Watson. Keep in touch, and keep the shop in line for me!
Thanks for always giving me a hand when I needed it, inserting the proper sarcasm where it was necessary, and really sharing so much of your knowledge with me whenever you were given the opportunity. We shared a lot of laughs, and your diligent pessimism always helped to pass the time... "Does this rag smell like lacquer to you?"
Your about the nicest damn fellow a guy could ever hope to work with, and I thank you for that. Any time a part was mis-stained, or the veneer was sanded through, or I shot a staple at the wrong angle- you reluctantly laughed and said "we've all been there," even though you were the one who had to cut an entirely new piece. Your patience was appreciated Cody, and I wish you well on your future house hunt.
Having a low tolerance to lacquer fumes certainly prompted some interesting conversations between us, Doug. And who could forget the whole mess of fun it was cluelessly running the finishing room when Larry was out?! I'll have fond memory's of frantic sanding, and trying to figure out which coat of sanding sealer pieces were on. In the end we got them all done, and you were even starting to spray like a pro- but thats why you make the big bucks, right? Either way, I'm glad to have known you. Wear a damn respirator, and keep in touch. I noticed that cough getting worse as time went on (we don't all have lungs of steel like Larry).
I always loved working in the finish room with you because you knew how to get the job done without stressing out. You were always ready to save the day with your handy colored pencils, which is probably why you always seemed fairly confident in saying, "ehhh, It'll be alright." Your stain matching abilities are superb, and your a cowboy with that lacquer gun. Keep on keeping on my friend, and don't lose your mind there in the finish room.
Thanks for always watching my back man. Every time I was about to do something I wasn't sure about, I would look up, and you were right there already to show me what I was doing wrong. When I was wandering, you usually had work to keep me busy, and when the entire shop was pissed off and stressing, you'd usually tell me what I could be doing so I didn't get yelled at. You seemed to be one of the few people that fully knew that I really had NO PREVIOUS KNOWLEDGE of cabinets, and you never made me feel stupid for asking you so many questions. Thanks for looking out for me, and telling me what's what. If I had a big brother in that shop, it was you. Next time I roll through town, expect a random call.
Your various projects kept you out of the shop most of the time, so I didn't get to talk to you as much as I'd have liked. I'd very much like to see some of your work, so maybe we could make that happen somehow. Anyways, thank you for teaching me a bit on the install, and thanks for recommending some good places to see music in Minot. Every time I listen to "Trampled by Turtles," I think of you. My art blog is JosephReeves.blogspot.com if your ever curious about seeing some of my stuff. As I said, it is interdisciplinary, and pretty weird. Shoot me a message if you ever travel. I wouldn't be surprised if our paths cross again. Also, expect a call when I come through town. I'll buy the beer.
Your plum crazy, but hell, who isn't. After getting out of a summer of trail building on the mountains, I found myself sitting in a break room with a man insisting that anyone who wanted to climb a mountain was nuts, and should simply be shot. Seriously? Shot? Should we all just be happy with model airplanes and two and a half men? I only wish that out of the fifty times I heard you suggest someone be lynched or shot for thinking differently then you, that even ONE of those times, you seemed like you were kidding. You never did though. Like the Charleton Heston of Cabinet makers or something. Theres really no getting through to stubborn old guys like you, but in a strange sort of way, I guess that is admirable. As different as we may be, I respect you very much for your convictions- even if I think they are crazy. Your one of the best in the business Steve, so screw being sociable. Keep telling it like you think it is, and who knows, maybe someday I'll vote for Nugent too.
TO MY FAMILY AT THE RESTAURANT:
My Thank you's will be brief for the restaurant because I'm already connected with most of you on Facebook, and unlike the cabinet shop, I had a chance to say goodbye to most of you.
In my mind, you are the heart, soul, and voice of the midwest (don'tcha' know). Thank you for giving me this great opportunity, and making me a part of your wonderfully family. Thanks for being understanding of my schedule, and always insisting that I preserve my "quality of life." Please keep in touch. I will be checking in with the kitchen whenever possible. Lastly, you NEED a J.U.I.C.E. tattoo!
You remind me of me when I was your age, so don't let me down. Chase your dreams, and think big. Don't get stuck in one place. Cooking is a trade you can travel the world with! Thanks for the couch to crash on, you'll see me again.
Your inner J.U.I.C.E. is remarkable brother, and I can't wait to introduce you to your ever growing family. Till then, keep hustling, and keep setting that bar ever higher to those who look up to you. Until we meet again!
I saw you go from punk kid, to the man with the plan. You've got mad potential in whatever you set your mind to Cameron, so set it to something good.
My fellow new guy! I had a great time getting to know you buddy. We shared some great laughs and conversations, and I was always stoked when I was working flat top next to you.
Let me know when you start that band Jake. I'm working on metal spoons, alt. spoons, and death spoons as well. Keep your nephew in order, that kid is nuts.
Keep 'girl pants' in check when he starts crying about his phone. With him around now, you've got two kids to look after. Give my best regards to your young family. You've got the skills to pay the bills, and I don't doubt your a great father. Keep it up buddy.
Sorry about the pants burn. High school sucks, but you'll get over it. I had fun working with you except when you got whiney or lazy. Don't be whiney or lazy any more.
I'll miss walking in and out of your random ass conversations in the prep area, buddy.Though your take on culture wasn't always enlightening, it was at least humorous. I'll be sure to call you and laugh in the future when your daughter marries someone you (ahem) disapprove of.
It was great getting to know you, and thank you for halving all those chickens for me. Your a true american hero.
Your one crazy dude, and I wish you the best of luck in prep. Next time I come into town, I'll pitch you a yam, and I expect a home run.
Kenzie and Brea,
Thanks for keeping me hydrated and entertained from the other side of the line. You girls are absolute sweethearts, and I'll be keeping in touch as promised.
Dub Spoons? Lets talk! Hit me up online so I can check out some more of your stuff.
Hope school goes well for you, hit me up if your ever in Portland again. Thanks for getting Matt straight on the Nacho's.
Dan-O, Amanda, Alisha, Sloan,
Thanks for everything you guys. You were really good managers. I really enjoyed working for you all, and I can't wait to come back, visit, and make you all get utterly wasted with me. Since I won't be a cook there, we can talk shit about the cooks together (sorry fellow cooks).
Will and Kenzie got J.U.I.C.E. tattoo's! I'll be sure to explain JUICE in a future posting, but to sum it up- it is a program signifying a lifetime devoted to excellence. Join Us In Creating Excellence! I'll have more on JUICE soon.
As this is a very busy week of hello's and good-bye's and packing and un-packing here in Milwaukee, I'll cut this post off here. Expect something in the next few days about where we're headed next- (I'll give you a hint: it rhymes with Gulf Coast), and who 'we' is this time around. (we've got a special guest traveling with us!)
Until We Meet Again...
Joseph R. Reeves