It was the worst year of my life.
When people ask me, “what was it like” that is my first response. Worst. Year.
What experience prompts this outpouring of negativity? For slightly under one year, in the mid-90s, I worked in the Alaskan fishing industry, on a series of boats, each more precarious, squalid, and run down than the previous.
It started out, as these things do, innocently enough. Upon graduating from college, I jumped from a frying pan of overwork to a fire of even more work. After a year of that, I was ready for a break, so decided to take some time off to explore the US and Canada, look at possible places to relocate to, and unwind a bit from more than half of decade of near-relentless pressure.
Trouble is, most of the pressure had come from the need to support myself, and about half a year in to my ‘year off’ I was out of money and feeling the press of near-due student loan payments.
A friend suggested I do what her cousin did and find a job on an Alaskan fishing boat. She said her cousin had made enough money in a couple of seasons to pay off her student loans.
I worked the night shift at UPS for over 6 years, four of those while a full-time student at an academically demanding school, so I knew I had it in me to do the hard labor. After all, how bad could it be?
Remember those words, dear reader.
It was with great optimism that I wrapped up my life in Chicago, bought up all the wool socks and long underwear the local thrift stores would yield up, packed it all into a giant backpack and hopped Amtrak’s Empire Builder for Seattle. This was going to be great. Yes, I would have to work hard, but it would be fun, working alongside other recent graduates and world travelers. And it would all be worth it because I would be able to get my adult life properly started, debt-free, maybe even with a little nest egg.
The first step was finding a job. This was back before the internet, so my only reference was a book that carried a supposed guarantee that it would help me find employment. I had ordered it through an ad in the back of my college newspaper, and it wasn’t until after I had reduced my scarce funds by $45 that I was able to read the fine print and realize that, in the words of Troy McClure from The Simpsons, “guarantee not a guarantee.”
It wasn’t until much, much later that I also learned that everything I thought I knew about finding a job was completely useless in this new world of looking for work on boats. Sending a resume? I realize now mine were probably laughed at before they were round-filed. Trying to look competent and well-groomed when making the rounds to fill out applications? Exactly what they weren’t looking for.
So, what were they looking for? Stay tuned to learn why this was the worst year ever.