I haven’t filed any bakery stories in a while. Here’s another one.
During my five years at the bakery, it seems bad things often happened at night. Shortly after I started a the bakery, a woman working the night shift on the roll line was raped in the women’s locker room. I never knew her, don’t even know if I ever saw her and she never came back to work. As a new employee, I don’t have much memory of this except that the protocol for getting in and out of the plant became more stringent. It was probably long over due as the perpetrator, who was not an employee, had slipped into the plant and hid in the women’s locker room. I don’t even remember if they caught him.
A year or so later, on a hot sticky night when I was working night shift during my summer break from classes, I drove up to a surreal scene. Police and ambulances with their lights flashing were parked in front of the plant. The chalk outline of two bodies could be seen on the sidewalk. The bodies were being loaded up into a waiting ambulance as I arrived. A mobile crime lab drove up. Walking around the police tape, I wondered if I should even go to work that evening. It was eerie walking into the plant as I was oblivious to what had happened, except that it was obvious that there had been deaths. As soon as I got inside, people began to tell me about the few exciting seconds. There were all kind of stories running around, the only thing anyone was sure of was that no one from the bakery had been involved in the shooting. It turned out, as we learned the next day in the newspaper, that the shooter was a jealous husband who lived in a housing project across from the bakery. He hid in shrubbery out in front the bakery waiting for his wayward wife and her lover to walk by. When they did, he stepped out and shot her. He then took aim at her lover, but missed. As Don Juan ran for his life, the husband turned the gun on himself.
I often rode my bike to work. During my first year out of college when I worked the night shift as a supervisor, I had a small office, just large enough to store my bike. I got into the habit of only driving a car when the weather was inclement or on Saturday night. With the housing projects across from the plant, it was just too risky for a white guy to ride a bike through the neighborhood at midnight on Saturday night.
During the year I worked as a supervisor on the night shift, I was always nervous going to work at night, but had only one disaster and it was a small one. This happened on a rainy night. Harvey, my oven operator, was on vacation. John, who had taken over the second shift oven operator job from me when I was promoted to supervisor, was working Harvey’s shift. This particular night, I was short staffed in the mixing area and was pitching in when I got a desperate call from John telling me that he was having problems getting the ovens up to the proper temperature. It was still 30 minutes before the bread would be coming out of the proof box, so I wasn’t too concerned. As soon as I could, I headed back to the oven with a mechanic. About the time we got to the oven, one of the truck drivers who hauled bread to the warehouses around eastern North and South Carolina, came running back yelling that the roof was on fire. Something clicked. I knew immediately that John hadn’t shut the dampers on the oven. As the mechanic headed to the roof with a fire extinguisher, I told the driver to call the fire department and started shutting the dampers. Sure enough, the dampers were the problem. Lighting the oven, which was about the size of a house, required that one first open the dampers and purge the oven with air to insure that no gas was present. This was a safety feature that reduced the risk of an explosion. Once the oven was purged, one could then open the gas valves to each of the seventy some burners in the oven and engage the electric lighters. As soon as the burners were lit, the dampers were closed. John forgot that part. The oven kept calling for more heat to get to the desired temperature. The flames grew larger and were drawn up into the dampers which, we discovered the hard way, hadn’t been cleaned in some time. One of the damper had a build-up of grease and it caught fire. As soon as I shut the dampers, I grabbed another fire extinguisher and headed to the roof where the mechanic had already extinguished the fire. The rain had kept the fire from spreading, but there was a small section of the roof that had to be repaired. The fire department arrived and checked things out, and the night returned back to normal.
Working the night shift, especially as a supervisor, had its challenges. It was always difficult to find a replacement when someone called in sick. There weren’t too many qualified replacements to start with and even fewer available at 2 A.M. The night shift mechanics often found places to hid and sleep. But mostly it was monotonous and I was always relieved when morning came. I got good at anticipating the time the sun would rise and a few minutes before, I’d grab a cup of coffee and head out to the loading dock. Standing on the side of it, caressing my cup in my hands, I could look back toward the east and watch the sun rise between the plant and the flour silo across the street. I always felt better watching the sun rise. I knew my time was almost up and pretty soon my worries would be over and I’d be in my bed sleeping.
Other bakery stories:
Frank and Roosevelt
Linda and the summer of '76
Harvey and Ernest