Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I spent most of My Glorious Air Force Career overseas, but I was stationed Stateside twice, both times in Denver, for a total of about nine years, some of the best years of my career because, among other things, I met My Darling B while I was stationed in Denver. Also, I was part of a crack team that protected the United States against imminent nuclear destruction. Your city is not a smoking crater because we were on the job twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week … not continuously, you dweeb. We worked in shifts. We worked for twelve hours during the day, went home and slept for a while, then watched television for a while before we worked another twelve hour day watch, and so on until we had a break before they switched the schedule around on us and we had to work mid watches for a while.

Mid watches started at six in the evening and didn’t end until six in the morning. The first four hours or so were fairly tolerable. We had plenty of energy and there was always something going on somewhere that focused our energy on the task at hand. The last four hours were completely intolerable because by that time we were so utterly and completely tired it was all but impossible to focus on anything. I have literally fallen asleep standing up, or in the middle of typing a sentence at the end of really bad mid watches. Several times I kept on typing after falling asleep. Didn’t make sense when I tried to read it later, but I could type a whole line up to the point the bell went ding and woke me up. (For those of you who have never typed on anything that went ding at then end of the line, shut up.)

The middle four hours of a mid watch were a strange netherworld, a cross between having plenty of energy to do something while at the same time having practically nothing to do. There was usually some kind of make work, mostly housekeeping, they made us do in an attempt to keep us from hurting ourselves and others, but after we finished that and they couldn’t think of anything else they let us do whatever we wanted so long as we were back in time to perform the next scheduled task. And that’s how we came up with chair racing.

The room we worked in had a central dais with a desk on it where the guy in charge sat, exactly like a crazed megalomaniac. I shit you not. Surrounded by computer keyboards and screens he might have looked impressive, if he weren’t a plain old enlisted joe like the rest of us. And mostly all he had to do was watch us work. It must have been painfully boring.

The rest of us worked in front of long racks loaded up with computerized gadgets that looked eye-poppingly impressive at first glance, but a closer inspection would quickly tell you it was all hopelessly obsolete. Seriously, a lot of it dated back to the 1950s and I think the only reason they kept it around was it was too complicated to replace. There were so many gadgets to work on in each one of these racks that we sat in front of them on office chairs and propelled ourselves from one end to the other by kicking off the corner of the end rack and catching the other end as we went by. We got so good at it that we could make adjustments to the complicated instruments, punching buttons and turning dials, as we coasted past them.

Once the work was done and we had some time to kill, we sometimes kept on kicking off the racks to play bumper cars in the aisles, and then one night we hit on the idea of racing all the way around the raised dias. The aisle wasn’t wide enough for us to race side-by-side so we had to play a game that was a combination of bumper cars and chair racing, sort of a demolition derby played by office workers. Yes, this was the scene in the heart of the electronic nerve center that was protecting your ass from nuclear annihilation night after night. But really, that was nothing.

The place where we worked was at the back of a spectacularly enormous office building, the result of years of adding on to the original building by simply erecting another building right next to the old one and connecting the corridors. By the time we worked there the building had been added to five or six times, and the three corridors that ran the length from one end to the other were hundreds of feet long. And as we were strolling to work one night, during a lull in the conversation, one of the guys said, while staring at the well-waxed linoleum floor beneath our feet, “Man, I’ll bet you could get one of those office chairs going really fast down these hallways.”

We all chuckled agreement, then stopped and stared at each other: Chair Race!

So some time after midnight that night, during a break in the serious work, two or three of us (maybe, I don’t know exactly, and don’t ask me for names, I’ll never tell) wandered nonchalantly out the door, each trailing an office chair behind us, to take up positions in the hallway. On the count of three, we kicked off as hard as we could from the back wall and kept on kicking, and DANG! Dude was right! You get those office chairs going supersonic when you’ve got a long, clear shot and a bare floor to roll on! We could have made it more exciting with rockets, or machine guns or something, but for a while there the middle of a mid watch wasn’t so bad any more.

Chair Races | 10:30 pm CDT
Category: entertainment, My Glorious Air Force Career, work | Tags:
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