Saturday, February 27, 2010

Perfect execution, less than optimal time and place

Between degrees at the university, I took some time off to do a little skiing and a lot of minimum-wage drudgery at a fancy ski resort.

One night, the suits rounded up all the warm bodies they could find to help with an emergency: An overhead fire sprinkler pipe had burst and flooded the ballroom and a gala new year's eve party was scheduled (and sold-out) for that room.

We had about 30-40 people to tackle the problem. First, we used wet vacs to suck-up water that had pooled on top of the carpet. The next step was to pull up the carpet. This was complicated by the fact that the carpeting was in strips about 12 feet wide and as long as the room. The system we used was to have 3-5 guys start from one end of a strip and crawl under it. Then we would stand-up, lifting the carpet and teams on either side would feed us chairs which we would arrange behind us as we progressed forward.

This process is probably the most dangerous work I have ever done: The linoleum floor was wet and slick, the carpet was heavy wool and blocked-out most of the light. The chairs provided ample tripping opportunities and were appearing from seemingly random directions and velocities. In spite of all this and the fact that this effort was happening around 3 AM, I don't remember anybody getting hurt.

The chairs we used were the kind that are made of plastic and metal and can be stacked onto carts to about 8 feet high. These ones stacked such that the seat back and the seat were each angled at about 45 Degrees. The bare parts of the floor, as I had mentioned above, was very slick. I had even gotten into the habit of taking a little sprint before the bare parts and then crossing that area by sliding. Naturally, I had an impulse to put these two things together and we were on a break anyway...

Running at top speed toward a 7-foot tall stack of chairs I slid the final 15-20 feet. Then took a jump upwards, using my hands leap-frog style as an assist I rotated backwards and stuck the landing in the chair at the top of the stack.

I was delighted for about 2 seconds: Then a serious-looking man wearing jeans and a sweatshirt walked up to me and said something to the effect, "If you do that again and don't break your leg, then I will break your leg". Being young and self-righteous, I retorted that my bones--broken or whole--are really only my business. He walked away, shaking his head exasperatedly. A couple of seconds later, a coworker sidled up to me and let me know that I had just told-off the CEO! I could feel the blood drain from my head.

I didn't get fired, in fact; every worker that night got (in addition to time-and-a-half) comped a dinner for two at any restaurant on the property. In retrospect, the trick I did was really risky: If I had slipped while making the initial jump then a crash into the stack of chairs would have been the result. Slipping would be a high probability since the floor was slick, the jump was taken while in motion--which means the timing of when to jump comes into play and the jump must be forceful since a fair amount of height had to be obtained. The landing was equally tricky and risky--falling from 7 feet onto hard, slick floor with a stack of heavy chairs most likely also falling, seems like the sort of thing one does not emerge from unscathed. So, the CEO had a point. I think I had just gotten so used to risk from the carpet-lifting work, that the trick seemed like nothing.

In all it was a good night: Got paid and rewarded but could have gotten fired and/or crippled.

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