My first real job, one that required a SIN number and paying taxes, was with a roofing company in Kelowna. I was seventeen years old and it was the summer going into grade twelve. The roofing company was a commercial roofing company specializing in tar and gravel roofing. Construction workers in general are known as being a little bit rough around the edges, this I knew. However, what I didn't know is that in the hierarchy amongst construction workers, roofers, being the coarsest, form the bottom level. All I knew is that the job paid $10 an hour which was at least two dollars an hour higher than any of the other jobs I saw available.
Through persistence I managed to land the job and so I began work on a condo up on the ski hill. The roof was getting replaced which meant there was a lot of work for a young grunt labourer. Firstly, the old roof had to come off. This meant removing the gravel from atop the roof. We would shovel the gravel into a large wheelbarrow and once that was full it was wheeled up a ramp to clear the parapet and dumped over the edge of the roof.
Before beginning this job I was a chubby teenager with silky smooth soft hands and virgin ears. Well, shoveling gravel is rather heavy work and it was well before coffee time that I was absolutely exhausted. My shovel loads grew smaller and I dreaded having to push the wheelbarrow. I didn't know that I could balance it properly let alone run it up the ramp and then dump it. Somehow I made it through.
Underneath the gravel was a layer of styrofoam insulation which was to be removed. We, the bottom of the rung labourers, gathered pieces of insulation into a large tarp which we then bundled up like a hobo's pack, tied the four corners together and then hurled the package off the roof with the intention of landing it in the dump truck below.
The dump truck waited below, eleven stories down, which meant there was a good amount of time to watch the bundle fly off target and hit the ground only to break open and send styrofoam everywhere. Another guy was on the ground and his responsibility was dumping the insulation into the truck and then tying the empty tarps to a rope.
This man, Ron, I will never forget for he might be the most disagreeable man that I've ever come across. In hindsight I don't know if he fed me a lot of lies, but the stories he told were not pleasant stories. They involved unwanted kittens and shotguns, or named bullets to be worn around the neck until the proper opportunity presented itself. Whenever the tarp would miss the truck it meant more work cleaning up styrofoam so Ron would yell and curse at me. He was intimidating because he was also the most muscular man that I've ever met.
I wasn't strong, but I was getting there. For Ron would tie the empty tarps to a rope that dangled from the top of the building and I would haul it up hand over hand. An empty tarp doesn't weigh too much... at first. Sometimes tools would be needed from the truck and then I would have to haul up a bucket of tools, hand over hand. The roof was getting finished with torch on, a material that comes in three foot wide rolls that weighed about ninety pounds if I remember correctly. These rolls had to be carried to where the journeymen roofers needed them and I was the ideal mule. Sometimes they had to be carried up ladders, one hand holding the roll on my shoulder and the other gripping the ladder.
Another joy was filling the tar kettle; basically a trailer which heated tar to several hundred degrees. The tar came in 100lb blocks and I had to lift the block and slowly lower it into the hot, liquid tar. I couldn't drop it because if the tar splashed and landed on me, it would burn (because it was hot) and stick (because it was sticky.) If you touch hot tar the thing you have to do is wait until it's cool enough to remove. The smell of the tar wasn't pleasant either.
So while my friends were working at McDonald's or sitting on the beach I was spending time working harder than I ever had before, and working with guys who couldn't string together a sentence without the use of an expletive and who used the rest of their vocabulary discussing the primary subjects of beer, sex, and occasionally work. Usually just a combination of the first two subjects though.
The sweetest time of the day came as we packed up to go home. The ski hill is about 45 minutes from Kelowna so I had a long drive to enjoy and usually sleep. Three of the roofers would often split a six pack, I assumed that the driver was sufficiently accustomed to alcohol that he would be able to safely pilot us down the winding road. The empty cans would be thrown out the window and would occasionally make contact with the targeted road signs. And I would sit back in my seat and look forward to school starting again.