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Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Road To Miklagard

When I was working at Atlantex in Nova Scotia a small road trip was arranged. Our company had made a sign that had to be installed at the Headquarters of the global paper manufacturer, Stora-Enzo. The paper mill was located in Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton. As Vice President, I made the executive decision to send myself, plus one of the worker from the Production Shop, to supervise the install.

Joey Monk, brother of Tony, the notorious Ploppyshanker, volunteered to accompany me, as I had recently, once again, fired Tony. Most of the guys who worked in the Production Shop lived around East or West Chezzetcook (inexplicably pronounced Chezzencut by the locals) part of a small series of settlements which lay 30-40 kilometres north of Halifax, on what is (even more inexplicably) known as the Eastern Shore. Incidentally, Nova Scotia's Southern Shore is the stretch of coast that runs directly south of Halifax to approximately the Clark's Harbour/Yarmouth

Our route to Port Hawksebury was via the 401 highway to Truro, a direction that I fully expected Nova Scotians to describe as westward. Joey and I met very early, and loaded our tools into the back of the large truck. Joey was the navigator, and I had elected to drive. I jumped into the driving seat, but was surprised to see Joey struggling to hoist a large, evidently heavy, hold-all into the middle seat. we were only scheduled to be away for one longish work day. "Ready?", I asked Joey. "Yes, Mr Martin", the gruff voiced Joey said "Looks like she's comin up nice". I examined the sky and agreed. It was going to be a beautiful day.

As we cleared the outskirts of Halifax, I pressed pedal to metal and threw the truck into cruise. "About four hours you reckon, Joe?". Joe did'nt answer immediately, and I glanced at him. He was studying the map intently, tracing his finger along the route I had highlighted. Every inch or so, as he moved his finger along the road, he scribbled something down on a piece of paper. I concentrated on my driving for a second. "Ok, Joe?", I asked and glanced at him again. He had opened the holdall and had pulled out four largish telephone directories., and was carefully flicking through one of them evidently consulting the paper he'd written on. Another note, then he discarded the first directory and started flicking through the next.

After a while, Joey spoke "We should be allright, Mr Martin" he growled, "I've got them all". "Got what, Joe? " I asked. "Timmys" Joe explained "There's eight between Halifax and Port Hawksebury, so we should be able to get a decent coffee, even out here in the backwoods. Gotta be careful though, some of the water out this way's not so good. There's five or six PetroCanada's as well, so we wo'nt be stuck for gas. "

It was apparent from the way Joe spoke that this was a major expedition for him. I was surprised - even as a Liverpool "homebody", I knew England pretty well by the time I was eighteen, but Joe was late forties. He explained that the major highway to Halifax had only been open about ten years and before that, people from the Eastern Shore rarely bothered travelling more than a few miles away from 'home' because the coast road made the thirty kilometre journey take three or four hours. Years ago there had been a railway, but when it closed, communities on the Eastern Shore had lost jobs and reasons, as well as the income, to travel anywhere, except for those people who moved "away". Those people seldom came back. Just getting to Port Hawksebury represented a major challenge to Joe.

After Truro, Joe became much less talkative. He'd spent some of the journey persuading me to re-hire Tony again, something I had already resolved to do, but gradually he stopped talking as we got nearer to the Canso Causeway. "You OK, Joe?" I asked a few times. "OK, Mr Martin", he'd say "Just a bit of indigestion, I think. I'll be fine", but as we drove, he began to say that he was feeling "a bit sick, nauseous like". Just before Port Hawkesbury, Joe asked me to pull over quickly. I did so, and he leapt from the van, and puked up violently. His face was grey and he was shaking. I thought quickly, and called Stora Enso. We were only five kilometres away, it was a very big factory and I was pretty sure there would be a nurse on-site. This was confirmed, so I helped Joe back into the truck and sped to the factory, where as promised we were met by a nurse. She assured me that she'd look after Joe, and get him to hospital if necessary and there was nothing more that I could do.

The rest of the day was a nightmare. My boss, the President, had not informed me that Stora Enso was a heavily unionized site. Stora Enso had not informed it's unions that the sign was scheduled to be installed, so the first part of the day was spent negotiating with the unions as to which trade was going to install the sign. The construction of the sign (fibreglass and metal with some incorporated lights), made the negotiation more difficult. Apparently carpenters whose job it should have been to install the sign, were not allowed to drill bolt holes into the sign's metal frame, by their union rules. The metal workers, who were allowed to drill metal, were not allowed to drill into the concrete wall on which the sign was to be installed. And no-one, especially the electricans were allowed to touch any of the lights, because that was the maintenance department's job, and this was their day off. I was not allowed to touch the sign once it had crossed the factory gates, and could only point at it from a distance, in order to help instruct the installation.

Eventually a compromise was reached, so myself and the necessary twelve tradesmen got the sign installed. The labourer's union guys held the sign against the wall. The carpenters marked where the sign should be drilled. The metal guys drilled the sign. The labourer's held the sign up again, the carpenters marked the wall and the site's Operations manager drilled holes in the wall. Then the carpenters inserted the bolts and tightened them. Then we wrapped the sign in kilometres of black and yellow hazard tape, installed a safety barrier and vacated the area, safe in the knowledge that the next day,the maintenance guys could plug the lights into the nearby outlet, and thus declare the sign operational.

Meanwhile, I recieved several phone calls from the nurse, who reported that she thought Joey just had a tummy upset, and it was safe to take him home. At the end of the day, I met her outside her office. "It's strange, " she mused "No temperature, pulse is ok, breathing is calmed down. My best guess is a panic attack, but he's fine now. He's had a good rest". Having had panic attacks myself, I did, retrospectively, recognize that it could be, but I was puzzled - forty year old fishermen just do'nt seem the type. I was relieved it was'nt a heart attack. I helped Joe into the truck, and he apologized. "No problem, Joe, everyone gets sick. Let's just get you home."

As we drove back to Halifax, Joe brightened visibly. In fact every kilometre closer to home saw him perk up, incrementally. By the time we were home, Joe was ready for a beer. "See you tomorrow, you Crazy Englishman" was his cheery farewell. Glad that Joe had'nt died, I went home and had a beer myself. Later that night, our President telephoned " They love the sign at Stora" he said. "Good", I replied "I'll be in late tomorrow, it's been a long day". "Actually, I was going to ask if you could go up there again" said Phil, the President. "They love the sign, but they want it moved. Who do you want to take with you?".

1 comment:

Grasshopper said...

Thanks for a reminder of this story! We went to a colleague's place for American Thanksgiving last night and the conversation went in a way that encouraged the re-telling of this tale (which I would otherwise have completely forgotten about).