Not once do I burn myself. But the hot steam and hot water pouring out of the fire hose occasionally splashes up and around my face. Fortunately the spaceman outfit I wear, complete with gloves, keeps me dry. I have visions, on slow days, of the boiler erupting as I twist the big valves. Keeps me on my toes. With the women on the line on their dinner break, I hose down the equipment and the floor. No mushy pear detritus anywhere. I roll the hose onto it's bracket, empty the wheelbarrow one more time (the third time since my shift began) and rest on my feet, watching the women on the level above me finish the first half of their shift and prepare for their break. They have a most peculiar job. There are only a half dozen of them, on a rise off to the side. They watch the cubed pieces of pear pour out of a slot and onto a small belt. They look for brown. These fruit cocktail bound chunks are slightly cooked for softness and occasionally a piece is burned. With a small hose about the size of a hand-held vacuum, they suck up the overcooked or burnt fruit. They do this for 9 hours. I think their pay must be better, or maybe they drop acid first, or meditate, or listen to music amid the non-stop roar of empty tin cans that rises and falls like cicadas. At least I get to move around. They stand on their feet and vacuum up small bits of overcooked pear. Maybe they get a misshapen piece that needs to be removed once in a while. But I think, as I watch them silently descend from their pear vacuuming perch, how do they do this?
On this day, disaster strikes. Alarm bells ring and red lights flash. Fruit cocktail spill on Aisle D!
One of the big belts that carries a mix of peaches, pears, pineapple and grapes has suddenly stopped heaping its contents in great mounds on the cement floor. Fortunately the cherries have not been added yet. They arrive separately from another plant packaged in large plastic lined crates having been cooked to perfection for that rose -colored unnatural look. I find four feet of piled up fruit cocktail, minus cherries, growing rapidly at the head of Aisle D. The alarm is for all the wheelbarrow boys, peaches, pears, grapes, pineapple, to get over their ASAP and shovel up the spilled cocktail. We grab large shovels made for the occasion. Not quite snow shovels, not quite oversized scoops, they help us reduce the fruit dune in about 15 min. We shovel the spill onto another belt where it will be re-washed and readied for another attempt when the broken belt gets fixed.
Disaster averted, the rest of the shift goes smoothly. Even the women that suck up the burnt pear pieces enjoy a chuckle watching the fruit cocktail emergency.