Was lucky enough to get a call the other day from an old boss of mine, Gene Bell. Put me in mind of a story involving Gene that I want to share with all of you. Back in 1985, I was a brand new journeyman press operator. I was working at Springfield Offset in Springfield, VA when a strike occurred at the Chicago Tribune. I was working there for three weeks when this event happened to me. It changed the trajectory of my life. We working 12 hours a day but were following the striking union's contract. So we made $15 an hour the first seven hours we worked, then went to overtime for the next 5 hours at $22.50. Then my memory fails me here, but I believe we went to double time because the contract required that after having less than 16 hours off between shifts. So it was $15 for the first 7, then $22.50 for the next five, then the next six days was at $30 an hour for 12 hours a day. And the work only lasted about three hours! So of course we all played cards, shot dice and drank coffee waiting for the next run. And I have to be honest here, I did it too for a few days. But then I got bored and my training exerted itself. I got up from the bench in the quiet room (yes, they had a room completely enclosed so you could set your ink in a "quiet" room.
Amazing!) So I walked to the "blanket room" and asked for a bucket of blanket wash. After a brief discussion with the employee there who wanted to know why I wanted it? I was able to get it. Then off to the "rag room". There I asked the employee for a bundle of rags. After another discussion I was able to convince him to give me a bundle of rags and I was set. So I went out to the press I was assigned to and started to wipe the press unit down. If you are not familiar with printing, suffice it to say there has not been a press unit designed in this industry that didn't need to be wiped down. So there I was, cleaning the unit while the other seven pressman I was working with were in the quiet room playing cards, shooting dice and drinking coffee. When low and behold, a man dressed in a three piece suit walked up to me and asked, "what are you doing?" I replied, "what does it look like, I am doing? I am cleaning these units." His next question was "why?" I said well, the company is paying us a lot of money, we have some down time now, so I decided to clean some of the units up". He then said, " why are you out here cleaning units and all those other guys are in the quiet room playing cards, etc...?" He then said, can I ask you more question? I said yes, then he asked the following question. "If you were in charge, what would then be doing? I replied, the sure as shit wouldn't be playing cards and drinking coffee! They would be out there cleaning units with me. He thanked me for my time and walked away. I was called into the office the next day and offered a supervisors job and a nice pay increase. I took it. But I was so self absorbed, I didn't connect the dots until several months later.
I few months later, I was at an employee event with a co-worker and the lead speaker was the guy in the three piece suit that spoke to me on the press several months earlier. I poked my friend in the ribs and asked who was that? He replied with some disdain that was Gene Bell, the SVP of Operations!
So the wheels in my brain started turning. I figured out that the seemingly random conversation was in fact an informal interview. And apparently, I passed!. The lesson learned from the experience was manifold. One, you never know what the position is of anyone you meet at work, so be polite, and forthright. Second, you are always interviewing for your job when you are at work, never forget that.
Gene was the former Publisher of the San Diego Tribune, I was the current one when we had lunch at a local Seafood restaurant.