My father had a saying, "There are no such things as friends." Upon further investigation the saying comes from my grandmother. According to my eldest cousin, the full saying is, "There are no such thing as friends. Everyone is family." My father's saying sounds like something 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin would say and my grandmother's saying sounds like something that could come straight out of Jesus' mouth. I believe that naturally my father although he got the saying wrong he taught us the principles of my grandmother's saying.
As a child my father took me to work at his part-time job of cleaning movie theaters at the young age of eight or nine (my memory fails me in my old age). This usually happened somewhere between the hours of midnight to four am and only when we didn't have school. I didn't get paid anything except the coins I managed to find. Some days it was seven cents and some days it was up to three bucks. One day, I even found $100 bill but the rule was anything over five bucks we had to give to our dad. It was a bonus to find any money but my pride came from the greater cause of helping my dad get done faster so he could go to his other job less tired.
He started to bring the other kids along to help as they got older. The scariest part of cleaning the theaters was carrying the full bags of trash to the dumpster. It usually was dark and quiet except except for the gurgling of the creek that ran behind the theaters. I would get spooked from a bird taking off from it's resting spot. When my siblings started to come I chose to be brave because I didn't want my younger siblings to be afraid.
There were some days, when I got older, my father didn't have time to drive us children home. The plan came down that he would drop us off at the bus stop and we would catch the bus home. I remember one time being dropped of on a Saturday at around 5:45 am. The first buses on the weekdays came around 6:15 am to 6:30 am. This Saturday I expected the same thing but the bus on Saturday doesn't come until 9:00 am. After about 30 minutes of waiting in the cold, I grabbed a newspaper and covered myself with it as I laid on the bench. Looking somewhat like a homeless, I napped till the first bus came. Some people might look at this and think, "Whoa!!!! That's child labor!" I didn't think of it that way. It just brought me more pride for helping my family and more stories to tell.
Soon, my other siblings began to come. Knowing that the bus wouldn't come until 9:00 am, I would convince my siblings that we should walk all the way to downtown Salt Lake City. We were walking about 7 miles but we didn't know it. By the time we got downtown, the bus that we usually would transfer to, Magna 37, was starting it's first run. Often we would fall asleep and pass our stop then wake up at the end of the line. The bus driver would kindly let us stay on while he went on the inbound route. We all did it not for the money but for the team.
On memorial day this year, my sister took a phone call from a co-worker. She is the assistant manager at a gas station. The coworker had called in sick on a holiday and she took it upon herself to report in to work. I asked her, "Why in the heck do you answer the phone when you know they are calling in sick?" She snapped back, "Because if I don't the person there will have to stay a double shift." It hit me that she was doing it for the team. A team that in certain situations she considered family because she understood and could put herself in the shoes of her coworker.
During my apprenticeship, there had been several moments where I was scared for my life. I can think of three right now that could have been those exit signs in neon lights. The first one was in orientation. After a week or two, as a new apprentice in the trade, Mountain States Line Constructors Apprenticeship Training called me all the way back from Falcon, Colorado to Salt Lake City, UT for a one week orientation of class and climbing.
As usual in my life, I was good on the class part. It was climbing poles that was difficult. I had bought my climbing tools from e-bay. The belt was too small and the hooks weren't sharp. I kept stepping up the pole and "gaffing out." Gaffing out means that the pointy sharp thing strapped your feet comes out of the pole when you don't want it to in other words falling of the pole. Everyone else was getting climbing.
That week, blisters started forming on the insides of my lower legs from the friction caused by the pads on the apparatus used to strap the hooks to my feet. I kept going up and falling, up and falling and again up and falling. Quitting was not a very viable option to me. I had just left my two jobs to join the apprenticeship without giving two weeks. My current wife had been cheating on me and we were in the process of getting a divorce. I didn't want to come back to Salt Lake City and be around her or the rumors and the whispers at church, in the neighborhood, or the Polynesian Community.
Being cheated on is one of the most painful things I had ever experienced in my life. It felt as if my heart had burst or blown up. I had revolved my life around a person who was revolving her life around someone else. All of a sudden the center of my universe was gone. My heart felt like it only had a little piece of it left. With all that burden inside me, I still continued to try and climb the pole.
Slipping out of the wood and falling was a scary feeling. Hitting the ground from ten feet up was even more scary. I thought about quitting right then and there because I didn't have someone to climb for. Thoughts of returning home popped up in my head. Then I thought, "I can't go back. Not now." I thought of my mom and how I could help her and my dad and how I could help him. I had something to climb for. Although my heart wasn't as strong, it was there and I imagined the little piece that was left beating at the end of some twisted up veins. I stepped on the wood again and up I went.
Near the weeks end, we were to be tested on a pole. We had to climb over two cross arms to the top of a 55 ft pole. I would look at the top of that pole with the fear of god in me, during the week. We were told if we failed that test, we would be sent home. Friday came and it was do or die time.
For the test, we were tied to a safety, so it wasn't do or DIE physically, just literally. I began my ascent, with what felt like all the pressure in the world. Even though I had two safeties there, one connected to my back and the belt around the pole, at 20 feet I began to sweat and my palms were wet. I crossed an arm at 30 ft. To cross an arm, one must unwrap the safety belt, from around the pole, and crawl over the arm with all the trust in the hooks on your feet. These hooks ,that weren't sharp and were bought from eBay, weren't something I would want to trust my life with. I made it over and stood on top of the arm. With fifteen feet and one more cross arm to go, I took a break and looked at the Salt Lake Valley. It was beautiful from up there.
I continued my climb. At that point one must climb sideways and then proceed up because the next crossarm is 90 degrees around the pole. Again, I had to unbelt and crawl over the arm. This time, I only stopped for one breath. I wanted to be done with this test. I looked down at 45 feet and, on my first time at that height, people look like ants. "Self, don't ever look down again!", I told myself. I got to the top and did the task to pass.
Going down was even more scary because you have to look down. But I was in a relieved state of mind. Just like right before my accident, I had done the difficult part of the job and became slightly complacent. I took two steps down and slipped right out of the pole. When bad things happen, I'm a pretty fast thinker. The feel of free fall came over me but the safety on my back caught me and the momentum, that had swung away from the pole, switched and returned to the pole. I hugged the pole with all my might and stuck my feet back in. Quickly, I looked over to see if anyone had seen it. Everyone down there was looking away or down. It seemed they had pretended not to see it.
I had the feeling that I had just failed. When I hit the bottom, I was looking down, with my body language showing failure. The teacher approached me and said, "Congratulations Sam you passed the test." My eyes, hiding behind a pair of safety glasses, had the look of bewilderment. Then the teacher said, "Sam you ride with me back to the classroom."
In the car ride home, the teacher asked me where I was working and if there was any climbing on my job. Then he told me, "Whenever you get the chance, practice." I knew that he knew that I had fallen but I told myself I would practice.
The other apprentices there that day were for the most part having no problem. A year later one of them had commented to me, "Your climbing has gotten way better." Two years from then, another apprentice told me, "I have mad respect for you Sammie. I remember in orientation when you couldn't climb but you never gave up. Every time I looked over to see what you were doing, you would fall but then just go up again." What they didn't know was that, with all that was happening in my life, there was no turning back for me
The second time I was scared for my life was in the Cedar City, Three Peaks Substation. To a know nothing apprentice, sometimes things that are dangerous don't look dangerous at all. Then you learn some things, after a year, and all of a sudden things that aren't dangerous look extremely dangerous. In fact everything seems like it could take your life. In my apprenticeship I was at that stage where I thought every thing could possibly kill me.
On this particular day of work, they were going to pick a huge platform, like the one in the picture below, and put it on top of some 20 foot tall legs, made of insulators.
So I got a loose end of wire, uncoiling of a mack and to add to that I would attach a helper block with a grip from the wire to the new pole. When pulled, the helper block would take the line up to the new pole. In linework they call this a 'cluster f@#&'. I'm doing what seems like a million things at once while always keeping my eye on this dangerous rattle snake that could bite me with 14,400 volts.