The Split Shift

The Split Shift is a schedule at work where you got work early in the morning and return later in the afternoon, after a long break. For example I once had a shift with these hours, 4:30 am to 9:30 am, then off till 5:30 pm till 9:30 pm, and worse this was a Tuesday through Saturday shift. Sounds horrible I know. It gets better. This shift was at a job that was located 71 miles from my home. Do the math and you can see that sleeping was not an easy thing to do, and hanging out in one’s car between shifts, gets old quickly. Also since these particular hours were scheduled 17 years ago there were not even portable phones or I pods to amuse one’s self in the free time.

I have worked 13 years as a split shifter while at this job, and recently returned to similar hours as a result of the world’s economic downturn, and my company’s decision to pull out of the domestic American shipping market. You must be asking why? Why agree to such a thing? There in lies my story…

I was originally hired during what was then called the Reagan recession. The overnight shipping business was growing then, though most other fields of work were retracting. Art teaching was my chosen field of study. The state had just put a hiring freeze at all the state colleges. I could not afford to live near work, which was unaffordable to me due to the real estate boom at that time. I took a shipping job that included a union contract. I figured that higher pay would eventually come my way plus some job stability, if I worked for a union. My personality is such that starting my own business or working for a private one, was not in the cards. In any case I started part time around 1987. Split shifts did not exist there yet. Straight eights were not needed as the work dealt with the arrival and departure of cargo aircraft in the morning and the evening. The company wanted an army of part time workers. Three hours pay a day was not going to pay any mortgage that I knew of. I intervened to the union stewards and proposed the split shift, and the company agreed to do it. The deal with the devil was made. I got my house, even paid for it rather soon, but that shift has dogged me more than any other single facet of my job.

Several surprising activities resulted from these unusual hours, things that other people do not do. First off, any money I made was hard won, not easily made, so I kept it and put towards the paying of my mortgage. I did not go home every night. Three nights a week I stayed at work in a sleeping bag, either in a drivers van or in a conference room within the building. I joined health clubs for the showers and the activity of working out. I discovered art movies at the local theaters, and ate out a lot and in the break room at work. I made an eclectic group of friends who would go to movies or play ping pong or ride bikes depending on whatever was going on at the time. I read a lot, as now my time was not all wasted commuting.

Of course this all had an affect on my marriage. Life was hard, her unrelated bout with depression made it even harder for her, but we survived those issues. We focused on what was gained, even though what was lost was missed mightily. One thing did occur that might not have ever happened, if I had never worked the split shift. When you work a short shift, you are not all beat up from a long day at work yet. You still feel like getting into trouble. For me that meant on the days I knew I was driving home at night, I could go get stuff to bring home. My house was new and did not have landscaping in the back yard. I decided to start looking for rocks in some of the coastal canyons. So later that night I would arrive home in my Toyota Tercel hatchback with up to 300 pounds of rock in the back end. Terry would help me if she could, I would eat and take a shower and go to bed, to get back up to go to work. I have worked occasionally straight eight shifts, and I noticed that driving to a rock pile was not something I wanted to do after working that long, I wanted to get home instead. Thirteen years go by, and the garden gets more and more elaborate. So fantastic is its creation that I become obsessed. The garden becomes the reason we have this home, the reason we do not move, the reason we stay together, even though we can rarely just be together. Today, still, the garden is what sets us apart from other folks, that and the fact we own the home it exists in. As artists we appreciate everything about it, a living breathing thing of beauty. It would not have happened if it were not for the split shift.

I work a split shift again as I write this. The hours are not as bad, and the commutes are not as long for now. Those new hours have kept me away from my computer and the friends I have made on it. I have thought about buying an Iphone and retaining my access to you all, but I need a nap and I enjoy reading different books for a spell too. Enjoying a good book is something I don’t do when at home, and a computer is available to me. Eventually that net phone will be mine and like most of you other addicts out there, I will be here around the clock. For now, I just need a nap.

The Split Shift

Mark Ramstead

Temecula, United States

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Artist's Description

How the choices we make, play out later in life in ways we cannot imagine…

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