“Very Serious…and Ice Cream Too???”: An Existential Experience of the Workforce by a Graduated Senior

By Adrian Rangel ’14

Since the dawn of time, Merriam Webster’s dictionary has defined “work” as “a job or activity that you do regularly especially in order to earn money.”*

Ah, the workforce. It’s something that I have looked forward to all year, more so than prom, graduation, or even my own birthday, because now I can earn my broke self a hard day’s wage. And now after an amazing prom night, an emotional and memorable graduation, and the freedom to buy cigarettes and get all the lung cancer I want, having a job is only the next part of my pathway to adulthood.

To say the least, I’d rather be failing a calculus test.

Seriously. Money may be money, but Swenson’s cost-benefit analysis is applying more and more each day. The opportunity cost of not being able to spend the days of summer lounging around in decadence is surely not worth the $10 wage I get every gruelingly boring hour. I work at Tejas Testing, a small business that — you guessed it — tests things. It’s certainly not as glamorous as the cancer research or the Jewish bathing suit retail my old classmates are doing, but it’s something in the industry I plan on going into, and I’m more than happy with the fact that I have a job to begin with. I get my own air-conditioned desk, all the bland coffee I want, and a semi-decent bathroom that may or may not be up to building codes. To the right of my desk is an office where my coworker Bill breaks things for a living (isn’t that the coolest job you’ve ever heard of?). Bill gets the pleasure of testing the breaking points of parts, so every 10 minutes or so (the time varies from part to part) the office will hear a loud BANG, as if Bill’s mashing a hammer as hard as he can into an anvil. That’s actually a rather accurate description of what he’s doing, to be perfectly honest. The thing is, it’s so loud and unexpected that it causes everyone in the office to reflexively jump back. On my first day, I nearly spilled a pot of coffee after jumping back. Luckily, the pot was okay. Can’t say the same for the coffee. Or my thigh. To the left of my desk is the entrance into the floor where all the real magic happens. If a company like Haliburton, Schlumberger, or Weatherford wants to check if their machines are creating quality parts before they start making them and wasting millions and millions of dollars in “whoops” money, they send these parts to a company like Tejas to be tested for cracks and breaking points. One method they showed was wet fluorescent magnetic inspection, and as they gave me the rundown of electromagnets and how magnetic monopoles don’t exist, I actually understood everything they were saying, since Schenke had already taught me all of this. Don’t worry, guys, Physics C E&M is actually useful. Afterwards, they had me sweep around metal shavings in there for a few hours, and, to my surprise, I found that I was sweeping the insides of a giant oven. Thankfully, I’m back to my air-conditioned desk, but I’ll be back out on the floor again many times before the summer is over.

My job at Tejas is managing the specifications (specs) of each part that come in. Every customer has their own way of running the same test and send us their specs, which means there’s a mountain the size of a file cabinet filled to the brim with paperwork that all says the same basic thing. After a week or working here, there is now another mountain on top of my desk, which is starting to overshadow the mountain it came from. It’s not all bad; at the best of times, it’s like being Casperson’s TA again. On my first day, I heard two of the higher-ups having a heated conversation about proper sizing and measurements. They clearly weren’t angry or anything of that sort, but I felt as if I was watching an intense debate round between two very stern and passionate debaters. And I thought to myself, “Wow, this must be what it’s like to be an engineer; such precision is required to be in such a field.”

Turns out they were talking about ordering pizza. Not to belittle anything they were saying, because as Ms. Bullis says, ordering pizza is very serious business. Then the ice cream truck came around the back lot and a bunch of 40-year-old men ran screaming for it. Very serious indeed. It was then that I realized that engineers are my kind of people: They too take their ice cream very seriously, since it makes a hot day’s lunch break even better. Although I’m used to having an hour for lunch, having the freedom to just go wherever I want for lunch is very new. If only I had more experience in going out and driving somewhere for lunch to teach myself the responsibility of making it back in a timely manner, this transition would have been much easier (cough). Speaking of transitioning, the hours may have been the hardest part. Work starts at 8:00 am, about an hour before I usually got to school, and goes on until 5, when I was usually home and asleep. I went to work the Monday immediately after graduation, not wanting to waste any time. But the transition from being a 2nd semester senior to an employee has caused me to be late every day this week. Luckily, the company considers being tardy as being 30 minutes late. Maybe schools should adopt this tardiness threshold as well, to accurately create a model of the workplace environment. Hmm…

But, I digress.

Honestly, the very idea of having a job where you do the exact. Same. Thing. Every. Day. Is numbing to think about. A friend of mine who attends Northwestern now had a construction job the summer before his freshman year. When he went off to Chicago, he brought his hard hat with him to place on his shelf as solemn reminder that he never ever wanted to have a job like that again. I truly understand him now, for even though Carnegie may have been overwhelming at times, I could expect something interesting from class or the community. If this article you’re reading has any sort of point, it’s that one day, you may be in the position where your biggest troubles are what kind of pizza you should order. And that is what I feel everyone should strive for, y’know? Never settle for less, and soon, you’ll get all the ice cream you want, too.

*To those of you taking an English class, don’t do what I just did.

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