The backup alarm pierced the pre-sunrise suburban Wichita silence.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
I’d crane to glance in the cab’s side-view mirror to get a sense of what my next hour would bring. Two truck drivers would alternate delivery to Mr. D’s IGA in the Sweetbriar Shopping Center.
One was a nice guy. One was a gold-plated pain in the ass.
The trucks emanated from the Fleming Foods Distribution Warehouse in north Wichita and served IGA supermarkets throughout the Great Plains.
As the newly-minted Frozen Food Manager at Mr. D’s, the promotion from “courtesy boy” meant more money, more responsibility and the duty that came with the territory as low man on the next rung up the flow chart.
Unloading the 6 a.m. truck.
One man in the truck pushing the boxes down the skate-wheel conveyor. One man in the store pulling them off.
Deep into the high life, there were times I’d roll in to work with little or no sleep. Don a tan apron, slam a cup of coffee and a handful of Excedrin, pull on some work gloves, get the blood flowing with the physical exercise that came with the job and in no time, be good as new.
At 19, one tends to bounce back quickly.
The drivers would unload cases of First Pick Mandarin Oranges (small and liable to fall off the conveyor) and ginormous boxes of Toddler Size Quilted Pampers that would tend to teeter to either side if I was not there to keep up and guide them down.
Nice Guy would work with me, match my pace. Let me decide the unloading order, depending on my daily receiving space logistics. We developed a rhythm. Pain In The Ass would launch the boxes down willy-nilly, oblivious to me and anything beyond his immediate confines.
Or he’d see me down there humpin’ boxes, desperate to keep up and quicken his pace. Just because he could.
The worst were these 50-pound boxes of frozen “bull meat” that the butchers would grind up to make... wait for it... ground beef. All the other boxes, even the refrigerated ones, had some ‘give‘ in them and a guy learned to stack, tie and otherwise organize.
These 50-pounders were frozen solid in whatever shape they entered the freezer and so not conducive to stacking or rolling on the skate-wheel belt. Ideally, they’d need to be babied down one at a time.
Pain In The Ass would rocket those sumbitches down one right after another, forcing me to wrestle them off the belt before they’d slam into the unprotected Del Monte French Cut Green Beans at belts’ end or wobble off, careening rump-long into a tied-in 5-foot stack of Smuckers 18 oz. Sweet Strawberry Preserves.
When we’d finish, Nice Guy would often hop down outa the truck and help me stack and stow whatever stopgap workarounds I’d devised in order to keep up. We’d share a quick cup of coffee, shake hands and move on with the remains of our days.
Pain In The Ass would grunt, slam down the truck door and split. I’d wave goodbye with my middle finger.
Back then, these guys woulda been about my age now.
I remember their faces, both of them. Nice Guy’s name was Bill. I don't remember Pain In The Ass’s name.