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After getting back from NZ, I originally planned to work and travel to a few places around in the US, to save some money before heading out again. Never one to stick to my plans too closely, I ended up spending a few months just in Chicago, and really didn’t make/save any money at all. I bummed around with friends (thanks Courtney, Hilary and AJ!), searched for jobs endlessly, and even couchsurfed right here in the US – good times.
Courtney warned me that finding a job in Chicago would be hard, and she wasn’t kidding. I applied for no less than 60 jobs, only getting two phone calls back. I ended up working at a tea shop called Argo Tea for a few months which was pretty good times. I really liked the people that I worked with, which makes any job enjoyable. Seriously though, the company went a bit overboard with the play on the word “tea”… TEAriffic, diversiTEA, tanTEAlizing, parTEA, chariTEA…I could go on. A little kitschy, Argo. If any of my fellow TEAm members wish to comment anonymously, I encourage you to do so.
I also supplemented my income with a variety of odd jobs, similar to stuff I did in New Zealand. I was paid to be an audience member on two courtroom shows, Judge Jeanine Pirro and Judge Greg Mathis. I never did see my episodes on TV, unfortunately. I also participated in a variety of medical research studies covering the effects of alcohol on memory (paid $50 to drink 3 vodka cranberries in 30 minutes, watch ‘The Fox and the Hound’ and do memory tests); drug effects depending on on genetic background (paid $200 to take a pill, watch a movie, and complete reaction time tests); and a variety of focus groups (paid $175 to screen a lot of crappy Becks beer marketing campaign ideas). If this sounds appealing to anyone – craigslist > jobs > et cetera category. Seriously, it’s amazing what you can find on there.
Meanwhile, I applied for a few jobs on various cruise lines and ended up getting a job with Holland America. I’ll be working as a “Techspert” (I know, it’s not much better than the Argo Tea-isms) teaching computer classes about photo sharing, video editing, and the like to its mostly “mature” audience. I have a feeling that patience will be my greatest asset. I’m up for the challenge though, and am really excited. As I’m typing this, I’m on a plane to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m on the m/s Eurodam, doing 7-day cruises around the Caribbean, though I don’t know my exact itinerary yet. My friend Lisa works for Holland and has given me a heads up as some things to expect, particularly in the first few days onboard, but I still feel like I have no idea what to expect. Far from a complaint, I’m excited about this new adventure that awaits. More to come.1 Comment »
Getting back to the US was a two day mission, starting with a delayed flight from Auckland to Nadi, Fiji, where I spent over 20 hours in the airport waiting for my next flight to LA. And unfortunately for me, Fiji Airport doesn’t have sweet sleeping recliners like these. No worries, I made it out eventually and was back in the US. After arriving into LA, I took a train to San Diego to visit my brother Nic, his wife Jolene, and my new niece Bailey. I’m not a huge fan of babies (especially when they’re crying) but it’s different when one is related to you. She’s really cute. We spent the next few days at the beach where I tried bodyboarding for the first time. I caught a wave and rode it all the way in – good times.
After San Diego, I hopped on my first Greyhound bus to Phoenix to visit Lauren. It was my first, and hopefully my last Greyhound experience. I have taken Amtrak quite a few times and found it to be alright, so how bad could a Greyhound be? Are all those horror stories true?
Yes. They are.
A loud mouth fresh out of rehab in front of me, a horrible smelling religious nut next to me, a gang member behind me, and crying babies aplenty. Oh yeah, and apparently, an illegal alien onboard as well, because a random stop by Border Patrol saw him being escorted off the bus by uniformed officers. It was a great 7 hour trip. Finally I made it to 115°F Phoenix, where Lauren met me. She hypothesized that she had more teeth than everyone in the station put together. Probably true.
We spent the next few days going to the pool, out on the lake, going to a free Alien Ant Farm concert, eating delicious nachos in Tuscon, and playing games at a friend’s game night party. Our friends from New Zealand, Sarina and Hayden, dropped in for a visit, and we headed off to Vegas. On the way, we stopped at the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. Vegas was its usual blur of slot machines, blackjack tables, lights, and alcohol. And speaking of alcohol, does it strike anyone else as odd that you can get a free Jack n’ Coke while sitting at a penny slot, but if you walk 10 feet into a bar on the casino floor, you’ll pay $9 for that same drink. I’ve figured that everything in Vegas is either very cheap or very expensive; there’s no middle ground. $29 rooms at Circus Circus or $500 rooms at Wynn; $5 pizza buffet at Cici’s or $50 buffet at Caesar’s; no cover charge for at the Nine Fine Irishmen bar or $30 cover at Caramel. Even though I said “I hate Vegas” (usually when I was losing money), I still love going back there every time. It’s a magical place. Our last night, we stayed out till 4:30AM; my shuttle to the airport was at 5AM, so I thought I’ll take a short nap. The 30 minute nap turned into a 2 hour sleep, and I was awoken just before 7 by Sarina, “Chase, shouldn’t you have left by now?” My flight was at 7:50. Frantically, I packed up my stuff, said some hasty goodbyes, ran downstairs, hopped in a cab and was off to the airport. As it happens, the driver seemed to be going inexplicably slow. I also realized that I had $0 cash on me, and the driver didn’t take credit cards. When I got out at the airport, I ran through the crowds, found an ATM ($5 surcharge) and gave the driver the money. The Allegiant Air line was massive, but I snuck in to another line that was meant for another flight. “Where are you going?” I asked the man in front of me. “Corpus Christi.” I was headed to Des Moines. Oh well, close enough. When I got called to the desk, the woman asked where I was headed. I told her Des Moines and before she could tell me to go stand in the long line, I blurted, “here’s my ID and credit card,” as I shoved them into her face. Running through the airport like on Home Alone, I made it to the gate just as they were doing last boarding. I made it. I slumped down on the seat and slept the entire way. When I awoke, the guy next to me said, “what happened to you? Tired or something?” “Vegas happened to me,” I said.
My friends Mark and Burgin picked me up at the Des Moines airport and we headed up to Apple River in Wisconsin to do some floating. A great weekend overall, though Saturday it did rain and hail for a bit. It didn’t dampen our spirits though, and we discovered that peeing on yourself is a great way to warm up. Seriously, try it sometime.
I rented a car and drove back to Decatur, where I am now. I’m spending the next few weeks here, then moving up to Chicago for a while to work. Doing what? Not sure at the moment; I’m up for anything.
In case you were wondering, I will still be writing posts, even as I continue my work and travel through the US, so stay tuned for more.3 Comments »
It’s June 12. I’ve been in New Zealand for ten months today. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this time, but the most striking thing is that I’ve discovered that I change my mind … a lot. Over these past ten months, my plans have changed more times than I can count. I began this journey with a simple intentions and a simple goal; it all sounded so perfectly reasonable in my head. In practice, things haven’t been exactly as I imagined them. I’ve told most of you a variation of the following story, but for those who I haven’t been able to talk to, here’s another important realization – one that’s caused me to “shift” my plans.
Though I only worked in the vineyards in Blenheim for a few days, it had a dramatic and lasting effect on me. How easily the foreign workers were taken advantage of really struck me. New Zealand was a nice and easy transition from the US, as it’s very westernized. But as I continue my travels into lands where I don’t speak the language, I realize that this is the type of work (laboring or similar) that I’d probably be doing. The irony of my “Work Sucks” posts isn’t lost on me; those jobs, while not necessarily desirable, are probably much better than what I would be doing in other parts of the world. My mindset through these work experiences was always that they were means to an end (money to travel). Unfortunately, I need to be a little more realistic about my finances. I still have student loans to pay off back in the US. I have a savings account in the US, but it’s slowly dwindling. If I am to continue with my original plans – that is, hop on a plane somewhere, and sort out work once I get there – then I need to secure a job where I can (1) sustain myself, (2) save money for traveling, and (3) make enough money to put towards my loans. Obviously, jobs like these won’t fit the bill. So what are my alternatives? For the immediate future, maybe finding a job that allows me to travel? Once my loans are paid off completely (soon), I can once again find the freedom to roam. Or maybe by then I’ll have found my calling. Who knows. One day at a time…4 Comments »
An alternative title for this post could be, “Work Sucks, Part 3: Kathmandu Warehouse.”
I’d recommend watching this in full screen (click the “full” button in the lower right corner of the video).9 Comments »
After my experience grape harvesting, I figured anything would be better. And I was horribly wrong.
The worst job I’ve had in my 23 years of life came in the form of work at a honey factory. Lauren, Robin and I walked into the oversized garage (the factory) and met Walter, another worker there. He explained the process of bringing in boxes of honey that were packed on square frames that the bees filled. Our job was to unbox the frames, put them on a machine to decap the honeycombs, then use another machine to manually “prick” the honeycombs so the honey would flow out once they were finally put into the centrifugal extraction machine. Then the empty frames were boxed up and put away. We were expected to fill a large tank by the end of the day; when the tank was full, it would be enough to fill up nine 55 gallon drums! The honey is shipped overseas to Europe where it is packaged in tiny bottles under an unknown name, probably for a lot of money. (The honey we were packing was manuka honey, renowned for its medicinal properties). We were working for $14 an hour pay, but I’m guessing that one tiny bottle of the stuff probably sells for right around that amount.
The people were nice, which was a definite help, but the work itself was incredibly repetitive, as we kept to the same station all day. My job was arguably the hardest one, as I ran the pricking machine. I had to push down hard on a bar to make the two sided needle machine prick the frame, while moving the frame side to side with my other hand – all in all pressing about six times per frame. To give you a better idea: each box held 8 frames and our goal was to go through 250 boxes a day. That works out to 48 presses per box, and 12,000 over the course of a day if the goal is met. The phrase “Repetitive Stress Injury” definitely comes to mind. And of course all the while, there’s gooey, sticky, messy honey that sticks to the needles, the machine parts, your hands and arms. And you wouldn’t realize it, but those frames can weigh a lot with honey! By the end of the day, my right forearm was cramped, both hands shaking, and right arm sore.
Throughout the day, Walter made comments about how good of a job we were doing, how we were welcome to come on a fishing trip at the end of the season, and how he was looking forward to tomorrow. He even offered us a $2/hour bonus if we stayed on the whole season (3-4 weeks). We received a 15 minute break in the morning, a 30 minute lunch at 2:00, and worked onward till 6:00. By the end of the day, all three of us were knackered. You couldn’t have paid any of us enough money to go back to that place the next day. It was the worst job I’ve ever had, but again, as with the grape picking, made me thankful I have an education and won’t have to do this type of work all my life. So kids, stay in school.5 Comments »
“Blenheim? What are you gonna do in Blenheim?” “That place sucks.” “I grew up there and there’s not much to it.”
These were the comments I heard from friends before my arrival into Blenheim. So why did I come here? There’s lots of seasonal work to be done, and apparently you could earn a lot of money. Since coming here, I wanted to try out working on a vineyard, so here was my big chance. I arrived at Swampy’s Backpackers with low funds and high hopes. Everyone I met here was doing the same as me – working for a few weeks, saving some money, then continuing to travel. Swampy arranged for me to start grape harvesting the next morning.
Rise and shine at 6:30 AM, jump into a van with two German guys (Sebastian and Simon) staying at the hostel, and head for the local supermarket. There we see lots of other workers standing around. A van with “Vincon Viticulture Services” on the side pulls up, and the stray workers pile in. The driver announces for those with cars to follow him. We drive to the vineyard where we all line up and are given standard issue high vis vests, gloves, and snips. There are about 60 workers there, speaking every imaginable language. Everyone is in pairs, except me. I soon see people being issued stickers in another line, so I head over and am asked, “What’s your number?” I didn’t have one, so I went over to another supervisor and was assigned 76. I received my stickers, printed 76 on each of them, and stood along with everyone else waiting to start working – still not completely sure what I was doing. Once everyone had their equipment, the big boss called out to follow him. We stopped in front of two seemingly unending rows of grapes, when he announced, “Okay, get started.”
It was like a gunshot at the start of a race. Immediately, scores of workers sprinted down the rows to claim a section of grapes and began snipping. I now understood why everyone was in pairs – so they could tackle both sides of the vines at once. Affixing my “76″ sticker to the side of a bin, I walked down to a vine and started cutting. “Hey, this is my section!” barked an angry Asian woman. Shocked, but not discouraged, I continued to another vine and cut for a few minutes before another person again told me that I was in their section. This time, however, he pointed out how three vines make up a section (a “bay”) and to keep moving down to find an empty one. Ok, I was starting to learn what was going on. I tackled a few bays, putting my sticker on each bin, all the while feeling people run behind me on their way to the next bay. I was starting to get the hang of it.
“76? … 76? Who is 76?” A yellow vested supervisor was shouting as he walked down the rows. I replied that it was me. He informed me that for the past hour, I’d been using my stickers incorrectly. They weren’t supposed to go on the bins, but rather, the post of the bay we were working on. They paid per BAY completed, not per BIN filled. I would have gone back to fix my mistake, but there was no time. A little discouraged, I continued on. Soon, it became evident that I was the slowest worker there. Others were completing three or four bays by the time it took me to do one. To my defense, I was working alone so I had to do both sides, but even taking that into account, I was still going slowly compared to the group. I worked for the rest of the day until noon, when they told us the day’s work was over.
The next morning began much the same, except this time I was prepared. I even jogged a little to my first bay to get started. Soon after we started, the supervisors began complaining; we were leaving too much fruit on the vines, and there were too many leaves in the bins. “If there are more than three bunches of grapes (even small ones) left on the vines, we will call you back to do it again,” they yelled. Again I soon fell far behind everyone else. A supervisor came up to me and told me I was going too slowly. I told him I was going as fast as I could, and he suggested I pair with someone. The only other person there working by himself replied to my partner request that he preferred to work alone. I don’t blame him. I went back to working alone for another couple bays, and finally realized it wasn’t worth it. We were getting paid $1.50 per vine. At the rate I was going, I wasn’t even going to earn minimum wage. A broken man, I walked over to the big boss and quit.
I heard that your work experience depends greatly on what contractor you’re working for, and it was clear that these guys were the bottom of the barrel. Others at the hostel were earning $4 – $5.50 per vine, three times what I received. Not only that, but I had to actively pursue getting paid for the work I had done. They never handed me a contract, payment form, tax form, or any form for that matter. I had to talk to Swampy here at the hostel to get the contact phone number for one of the supervisors and give him my details. I realized how easy it would be for many of the foreign workers to be taken advantage of. In case you’re wondering, the vineyard I was working on was Montana wines. The next time you’re shopping for a fine New Zealand wine, feel free to avoid their products.Write a comment »
The reason we all stayed in Auckland so long was because we all wanted to save up some money so we could go traveling for a while. At the end of February, Zoe, Brittany, Lauren and I all packed up in a car and headed out. I won’t bore with all the details of our travels, but here are some of the highlights…2 Comments »