Hub Rat*

The House of Pain was staffed with a wide variety of folks. The Human Resources officer who hired me confided that his favorite description of it was the ” Foreign Legion” of workplaces. We had people from all races, ethnicities, and education levels. We had a mini-United Nations in the building and could have credibly fielded students and instructors for every grade from seventh through high school and university.
Within a week of taking over as supervisor of “30 door” I had a note passed to me by way of a Teamsters’ pony express. It was from an anthropologist on the night shift wondering which grad school I had attended. Over the next several years, we exchanged notes regularly on matters that our Teamster colleagues thought idiotic. But they were of interest to an anthropologist – like which dysfunctional society we had read about was most like UPS.
One of the package sorters had a master’s degree in chemistry. After burning out in corporate America, he needed a way to gather a retirement and maintain health care coverage for his family; much as I did. A Shop Steward was a stock market day trader. UPS covered his benefits for his children.
We also had many people who came to us after a “complicated work history” elsewhere— I fell into that category in some ways.
My immediate manager was a guy named Jim. Jim had a master’s degree in special education. None of us knew why he was at the House of Pain. Just like the Foreign Legion legend, people might tell you why they were there, but it was not allowable to ask. Someone leaked the information about his education one night at a party. Jim, had a habit of talking to you while talking to his right shoulder. Some wag cruelly labeled it as him talking to his parrot. The sad thing about it was that they weren’t listening to what the man was saying. And, he had lots to say of great value for surviving in the House of Pain.
One day I was complaining loudly about a new loader who was exceptionally slow and clumsy. Jim did me the courtesy of taking me aside before chewing me out. And then he told me this: ” Louie, this company can’t always hire the very best. It’s up to you to give them the tools they need to become successful.” Over the next several years, Jim struggled to give me the tools I needed to be successful at making my disparate group onto a team of successful individuals.
Success is an interesting item. Start with minor success in one part of your life, and you can learn to build upon it—success upon success.

*Hub Rat -is a UPS’ers term for someone who works at a hub ( a sizeable central package processing center). For many, it’s a badge of honor, and we are never ashamed of describing ourselves as Hub Rats – not everyone can do the job.

The House Of Pain

The House of Pain is what my fellow UPS’ers and I called the hub (central terminal) in which we worked. The pain part of it came from the aching muscles from individually moving tons of parcels and freight over a four-hour shift. You might think that the lower back, chest, and arms would ache considerably, and they did. But walking on steel grates, dropping into lowered fishbelly truck holds and moving long sections of rollers in and out of trailers also beat the body.
After my initial six months, “I took the tie” and became the sup at a group of “doors” at which trailers got loaded for Connecticut cities and towns. Being the sup and no longer a Teamster was a strange role change. I now worked physically just as hard as everyone else, but I loaded less and cleared jams of packages from conveyor belts and chutes more. I was also the cheerleader. Being the cheerleader may sound like I was the beat keeper on a galley, but it was the role of encourager, emotional support, and safety advisor. Knowing when to pull someone before they injured themselves through fatigue, and put them into a less demanding role while they rested was critical. Oh no, we couldn’t call a halt except at designated break times. But, only a foolish supervisor worked the team to fatigue fueled injuries. And I knew more than a few fools.
Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I often worked alongside my Teamster colleagues. It was that or get “buried in the load.”
Packages move about the hub on long conveyor belts. Where necessary, the process is interrupted by sorting isles that divide the flow into more defined destinations. The long line of packages made the trip from the Primary ( where trailers got unloaded) to my loading doors by a roundabout route. Most had been sorted twice, shoved around curves by powered arms, called diverters, and then been “picked” by a trained sorter who further sent the packages tumbling down chutes to the correct trailer. Then the deluge was on us.
We hustled, but there were many tons more to get moved than there were workers, and there arrived a spot in many shifts when the packages’ ratio to loaders became favorable to the packages. Then our work area looked more like the after-effects of a parcel hurricane.
At that time, half the rest of the hub could start hearing us. Singing, telling wild stories, running through weird work chants that we made up on the spot—doing impromptu dances around heaps of packages. We had a reputation for crazy in a workplace that was crazy.
A motto seen frequently at UPS was the truism that ” when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” For my crew, our variation was, “when work gets weird, we get weirder.”
What can I say it got us through the tough times.

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