Thursday, June 22, 2006

Frank and Roosevelt: Stories from the bakery #3

Like Ernest and Harvey, I also inherited Frank and Roosevelt when I began as the night shift supervisor at the bakery. For nearly a year, I would come first at night, review the day’s orders and set the schedule. About thirty minutes later, Roosevelt reported, took the schedule and headed to the mixing room where he began to weigh up buckets of ingredients. As the mixer could hold 3000 pounds of dough, only the ingredients that were used in small amounts, such as salt and whey (a milk substitute), enrichment and preservatives were added by buckets. White flour was blown into a hopper on top of the mixer, whole wheat, cracked wheat and rye flour was added by 100 pounds sack. Corn syrup and shortening and fermentation brew (the yeast) was all added mechanically. Mixing time depended on the type of dough and the strength of the flour, but was generally in the 10 minute realm. Once the dough was ready, it was dumped into a hopper and pumped over to the make-up area where Frank oversaw the operation. The dough was first sent through a divider, cutting it into proper portions which were then shaped in a rounder and allowed to rise a bit before being sheeted out flat and then rolled into a loaf shape and dropped into a pan. This all worked smoothly as long as the machines were set up and the dough of the proper consistency.

A seaman earlier in his life, Roosevelt had served as a cook on an oil tanker. He told about being at sea for 8 weeks, when his ship which was hauling oil from the North Sea to Philadelphia. In a storm, the ship’s hull split and they were in danger of sinking. Two ocean going tugs reached the ship and helped it limp into Jacksonville, Florida. During this time, Roosevelt said he slept with his life vest. When they finally got to port, the Captain told Roosevelt the ship would be ready in about ten weeks, but he decided that his days on the sea were over. Although he still had his seaman papers, he came back home and took a job at the bakery. Roosevelt proclaimed himself to be a Black Muslim, but he wasn’t a radical and didn’t seem to mind having a white supervisor. However, he was probably a Muslim in name only as he smoked pot and enjoyed a drink.

Roosevelt was dependable and he made my job easier. Frank wasn’t dependable and on some days made my job a living hell. He often came in late. Several times he reported in a condition in which he wasn’t capable of working, which created a problem for me. It’s hard to find a last minute replacement at 2 AM and I often ended up doing his work. One night he didn’t show up and when the wrapping crew came in three hours later, they found him passed out in his car. Having become fed up with him, I asked permission to fire him, but he cried to the personal manager who only allowed me to put another warning in his rather thick file. A few months later, they regretted their actions. Frank, while on break one morning, had gone over to the slicing and wrapping area. When the bread came out of the cooler, and entered the slicing area, it would be crusty on the outside which allowed it to be sliced easier. Joking around, Frank took a loaf that hadn’t been sliced and wrote on the bottom with a knife, “Fuck You.” He then put the loaf back onto the conveyor. Unfortunately, they were bagging the bread in a special “private label” bag that had a clear bottom. This bag found itself on a shelf of a store in South Carolina and then in a family’s home where Frank’s handiwork was discovered. A few days later, our General Manager got an angry call from the head of the grocery chain. They dropped their contract with us and we lost several thousand dollars a day in sales. I was then called in and told to find out who did it. As Frank had shown this loaf to several employees, it only took a few questions to pin it on him. We called Frank into the office and when confronted by the General Manager, Personal Manager and me, he admitted that he had done the “deed” as “a joke.” Frank was fired and I had to walk him to his locker and see that he cleaned it out and turned in his keys before I escorted him to the door.

I ran into Frank a few years later, after I had left the bakery. He talked about how he was fired because we “couldn’t take a joke.” I just shook my head and said “whatever,” realizing that hadn’t learned anything from the consequences of his actions. I never saw Roosevelt after I left the bakery, but a decade or so ago, another supervisor I knew from the plant told me the sobering news that he had quit and returned to the sea. Six months of so afterwards, he was found floating next to his ship which was docked at Norfolk. He had been stabbed and it was assumed his death was drug related. My heart grieved over his demise.

Linda and the summer of '76: Memories of the bakery #2
Harvey and Ernest: Memories of the bakery #1

13 comments:

  1. I don't like the end pieces on loaves of bread but from now on, I'll be checking them out. I wonder what fun messages I may have missed out by just tossing them and the bag away.

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  2. Yet another fascinating bread story. (A sentence I never thought I would utter in my lifetime and mean it.)

    I took a public leadership class with a bunch of Hy-Vee employees present and they told me that bread is wrapped with different color of twist ties to indicate which day it was made on? Did your bakery do this back then and if so, can you tell me the color/day code? I just hate buying a loaf of stale bread and have learned to always grab the loaf on the bottom or towards the back.

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  3. Geez, Ed, what hole in the wall place do you shop at? I've yet to purchase a stale loaf. I didn't realize that I may be in the minority and should count my blessings for that. ;-)

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  4. Well when you live in a rural area, grocery store bread stocks tend to deplete more slowly. Even then, it isn't stale like bread crumbs but it definitely is different than fresh bread as far as softness goes.

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  5. A sad ending, Sage, but I enjoyed reading it.

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  6. some people never learn. very sad ending.

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  7. Karen, Kenju and Kontan, it is a sad story, but my years at the bakery were mostly good ones even though I nearly worked myself to death.

    Murf, Frnak wrote this on the bottom of the bread before it went through the slicers. The bread is crusty on the outside so that it could be sliced without mashing up, and once it's in the bag, it softens up.

    Ed, yes, we used different ties. I'm not sure anymore of the days/clors, but we'd used solid ties one week and a white/colored tie the next. Hopefully, bread never stayed on the shelf for more than two weeks. Some companies that make speciality breads would flash freeze it as soon as it was wrapped so that they didn't have to do product change-overs as often (which helps production). I'm not sure how they date, probably by a stamp when it is taken out of the freezer. As more people favor variety breads today, I'm sure more of that is being done.

    maybe in one of these stories I'll tell about what we did with stale bread!

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  8. Well written Sage. Thanks for broadening my perspective this fine Saturday morning.

    Here from Michelle's!

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  9. An excellent post, Sage. Michele sent me here.

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  10. Personal accountability never really hit home with Frank. One can't help people who don't want to be helped.

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  11. I hope for the time he was at sea, he was at peace.

    Here via Michele again.

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  12. Fascinating story; it's just too bad that we people just can't seem to learn our lessons.

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