Metatalktail Hour: Weird work shifts June 3, 2023 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Hello all! At my current job, I am on call this week which they define as "work 40, plus any pages that come in after hours." It's actually not as bad as it sounds. But, since it has me up late at night for no good reason, what's your story about a weird/long/exhausting work schedule? Or the best work schedule you have had that would seem odd to someone who is used to a regular 9-5? Or... whatever!

As always, feel free to write about whatever is on your mind (but please no politics), if you just want to sit and chat for a while.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd to MetaFilter-Related at 12:09 AM (58 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I spent a very short stretch in late 2020 working overnights so I could never see my terrible manager but still buy time to find another gig. Just me and a single tech for the entire night. It was during one of these shifts that I saw Twitter lighting up with jokes about how Ben Shapiro has clearly never made his wife come, thought “yes, that’s true, but what prompted this?,” and then did some brief research. When it’s only you and your one cool co-worker awake, nothing prevents you from listening to WAP in the break room at 3 AM. What a bop.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:58 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]

For about three months, I worked as an assistant manager at a sandwich shop. They had me working two shifts a week 5am-3pm and three shifts a week 5pm-3am -- completely reversing my sleep schedule twice a week. I would watch zombie movies to try to keep myself awake for the schedule switch-over; I myself was more or less a zombie for the entire time. Schedules like this should be illegal.
posted by ourobouros at 4:21 AM on June 3 [15 favorites]

I used to be a flight attendant, so my schedule was all over the place. I tended to bid for 4 day trips, but each day might be something entirely different. Early start one day, late start the next. Or vice versa. Several flights and 14 scheduled hours on duty for days in a row, or a 36 hour layover because we flew somewhere with infrequent service.

My last job adopted the 4 day work week while I was there, so we went from 5 day 40 hour fulltime week to 4 day 32 hours with no loss of pay. Or productivity that I noticed. Adopt the 4 day work week!

Now I'm back to a regular 5 day M-F schedule, which is fine, but I miss having a weekday off. So much easier to errand on a weekday.
posted by the primroses were over at 5:55 AM on June 3 [8 favorites]

I'm actually on call for this weekend, and next week outside office hours until Friday. Schedule meanders a bit, but at the moment it's roughly one week in six. Nothing much happening recently, but there have been weeks that were rather stacked, or a week with just a single call, but it's coming in just past midnight and keeping you busy until mid-morning. This is systems and application second-line support. Been doing this most of my working life, starting as a Field Service engineer at a computer systems manufacturer, so call-outs would occasionally have you mostly alone in a computer room at zero dark thirty, or sitting chatting with the one sysadmin or operator on duty while waiting for parts. One time got called out to fix a broken system on a military base, call handling center notifies me to take ID and present myself at the entrance gate (eh, it's a military base, if you could just walk in that would be rather unusual). Go there, it's just past midnight, get in, system manager on duty greets me at the door to the actual building where the system is, down at least a dozen stairs and though a few blast doors. Oooohkay, didn't know this was that serious a location (although it was still nothing compared to what some US colleagues were dealing with, like two armed guards accompanying you every step you took, even to the loo). Diagnose fault, order parts, wait for them arriving, fix the system and start it. System manager takes me back out, it's dawn and as I get into my car I see a machine gun nest and razor wire not ten meters away. Didn't notice that coming in...

Other times I wouldn't have been on call but just at the office as some problem arises, and you work through the night to get things going again before the early shift comes in. In one such case I was working as a contractor, and at the end of the month I got a rather irate call from the contracting company's finance department how the bloody bleep I was claiming 14 hours of overtime for that day? I should have gone home at 5, you know? Me and the company I was working at got rid of having those worthless pen-pushers sitting inbetween as fast as we could.

Or you want to get home, but ALL of the trains have stopped running in the region because of a fire in the control room not even a stone throw away. This affected me in more than one way, as the country's train network is run by my employer so problem-fixing-mode kicked in. You can't do much about the actual fire (it was smouldering cable insulation in one of the power distribution rooms, the smoke of which caused the control room to be evacuated), but you can help getting systems back online after they were ungraciously shut down when the fire brigade threw the Effing Big Red Switch to the entire building. Of course colleagues at home called in and asked if we had to be relieved? Nah, you hit the sack NOW and deal with any of the fallout left tomorrow morning; I'm stuck here anyway and I'm good for the time inbetween; there's soup and sandwiches, and until we get the all clear from the fire brigade I'm in low-power mode.

Those are the moments you remember with some kind of fondness, or pride, but of course there were also the "whoever thought it was necessary to have me called out for THIS?". But well, such is life.
posted by Stoneshop at 6:07 AM on June 3 [8 favorites]

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I worked 4 PM to 1 AM for Budget Rent a Car. I'd be too wound up to sleep when I got home, so I'd sit up watching whatever movie was on TBS (this was the 80s when most TV stations shut down around midnight) until about 3 AM, sleep to 2 PM the next day, get up eat something and head back to work. Pretty much a lost summer.
posted by COD at 6:12 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]

When I worked retail, we didn't have regular shifts. Every two weeks they posted a schedule, and you got randomly assigned shifts over the course of the two weeks. Also, we were open 8AM to 10PM Sunday to Thursday and 8AM to midnight Friday and Saturday, and you could open, close, or have an in-between shift any day. They would work around things that the owners considered important, which basically meant school or church, but you couldn't join a book club or do a rec softball league or anything like that, because you didn't know in advance when you would be free. At the time, I found this annoying but unremarkable. Now I'm wondering how I put up with it.
Now I'm back to a regular 5 day M-F schedule, which is fine, but I miss having a weekday off. So much easier to errand on a weekday.
This was genuinely one of the more annoying things about going from a grad school schedule to a 9-5. In general, I prefer having clear work hours and clear time when I'm not working, but holy shit is it easier to do life-management stuff when you have some unscheduled time on weekdays.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:33 AM on June 3

(laughs in hospital worker) I routinely describe my schedule as determined by a calendar on a dartboard. I'm lucky enough not to have rotating (time) shifts. Weekdays off at the expense of some weekend shifts are worth it; I don't know how I'd get anything done otherwise.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:50 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

When I worked as a printer we would dread Spring and Fall catalog seasons. That meant 16 hour days, 7 days a week for a month or so. By the end of the month I was a zombie.
posted by Splunge at 9:06 AM on June 3

EXTREME DRAMATURGY: I once got a message asking if I could do 90-minute cut versions of two Shakespeare plays in a matter of days. It was a company I knew well and had some affection for, so I said yes. (I don't love extremely shortened Shakespeare, but I can at least cut with understanding, which not everyone does.)

It took me a while to get Romeo and Juliet done, which was the more complex of the two, so A Midsummer Night's Dream had to be an all-nighter. At some point it occurred to me that I was working through the play "in real time"-- that is, over the course of a single, crazed night. I've never felt more keenly the scene where all four lovers drop in their tracks and fall into an exhausted sleep; Puck would barely have needed any magic for me. I hit the various "awakening" scenes in IV.i as dawn went from blue to pink outside the kitchen windows...

(and is there a more beautiful scene in Shakespeare than the one when the bemused foursome are finally left alone on stage? So hard to direct, because the feeling is impossible to capture unless you've done the rest of the play first, and often not even then. Demetrius's quiet question "Are you sure that we are awake?" goes right to the heart of it.)

Even though it was unpaid (fringe company, I wanted to support them, long story) it's still one of the pieces of dramaturgy I'm proudest of. I gave them what they wanted, with various roles cut, swapped and/or doubled to their specifications, in a tasteful readable sans-serif AND versions in OpenDyslexic (which they didn't know about and hadn't asked for, but I got messages from two of the artists afterwards asking where they could download it. It's freeeee!)

You can tell from all the parentheticals that I'm still kind of wired from pulling another all-nighter for something far less pleasant. Maybe I will go for a walk now? That sounds good.
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:18 AM on June 3 [21 favorites]

Ah, shiftwork.
A recurring aspect of my working life, in my 20s and 30s, when management demanded 24-hour support. Swing shift is easier on the body; if sleeping during the day is possible, the Graveyard or Midnight shift can be tolerable, but weekends are hell -‌- the trouble with both shifts is integrating schedules with your lucky Day-shift friends and family. Working Swing shift can decimate your social life. Don't miss it, especially don't miss the Grave-shift "naps" in the rest-room, nodding off while sitting on a toilet.

Best work shift: for me, the nine-hour day is the worst. And fighting rush-hour traffic to get home, at 8AM, after a long night's work, that can be too much. So, once I was able to convince the supervisors to spread the crew out into four six-hour shifts, and that was the best, getting off at 6AM so the dawn drive home was peaceful and uneventful. Unfortunately someone noticed these weren't adding up to 40 hours, that was the end of that.
posted by Rash at 11:06 AM on June 3

Uggg, I'm on-call one week every month and I hate it. I don't get too many after hours pages, but just the idea that I CAN get paged at any time just fills me with dread. Getting woken up at 3:00 AM and expecting to be coherent enough to solve a problem is not fun. Luckily I never have to leave my house.

The most interesting shift I ever did was back when I was about 19 working at Burger King, a few of us in the kitchen decided to work a Saturday day shift while on LSD. We spent a good part of the day throwing slices of cheese into the fryolators, watching it melt and disappear before our very eyes. We also made a lot of VERY interesting burgers.
posted by bondcliff at 11:28 AM on June 3 [8 favorites]

bondcliff: Getting woken up at 3:00 AM and expecting to be coherent enough to solve a problem is not fun.

Especially when the caller (first-line support in my case) is totally awake and chipper, and starts rattling off the call number, symptoms, what they tried already to no avail, and a veritable cascade of related info before you can get the first words in sideways. Which are usually "whoa, need to wake up first, will call you back in ten minutes". Shouldn't be a problem, we're supposed to respond within half an hour.

In some cases I would actually go from "euuuuh, phone ringing" to "fully 121.3% alert" in mere milliseconds on hearing the voice of one particular first-liner. If he found it necessary to call it was an utterly serious problem. Utterly, utterly serious. And one other case had me exploding "THEY DID WHAT?" when the caller started with casually asking to check some settings on a system HPE had just replaced a mainboard of. Our group should have been notified they were going to, it shouldn't have gone to the on-call chap as one of the others should have been specifically assigned to do the checking, and there was more to it than "just checking". A whole lot more. That was an extremely un-fun waking up.
posted by Stoneshop at 1:28 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]

I currently work weekends at a garden center and that schedule is pretty standard.

I also work weekdays as an independent contractor for an extremely human boss. Within reasonable parameters, I make my own schedule. So, I commute in at predawn hours and start at 6:30 AM and leave work no later than 3:00 PM to beat the reverse commute traffic. This schedule really fits my inner clock because I tend to wake up naturally at 2 or 3 in the morning. Bodies are weird.
posted by mightshould at 1:42 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I have worked night shift in a restaurant that closed at midnight, and we’d get off at 2. I kinda liked it. I had the grocery store all to myself and there were some good 24 hr. diners where we could go for a late late breakfast- one of my favorite meals. Plus, you could get stuff done during the day if need be, without having to take off work. But man the 7-11 clerks eyed you suspiciously when you were grabbing a six pack first thing when they opened. “I work night shift?” “Yeah, right, buddy.”

The craziest temp gig I had hours-wise though definitely was babysitting the rehearsal hall in the mid 80’s. SRV would come in at some point in the evening, and they would often go until dawn. The guy who owned the place would call me up when he couldn’t take it anymore, and I’d go man the desk from maybe midnight to 7 am and listen to them play. That lasted off and on for a couple months in early ‘84 I guess, right before his second album blew wide open. It was a trip being in the auto parts store later that year and hearing a song I recognized come on their radio and doing a huge double-take.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:20 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]

I worked a second shift job (3 pm - 11 pm or so) one summer in college and haaaaaaaaaaaated it. It wasn't physically or mentally demanding at all, but it was just so different from the schedules of my friends and the rest of the world, it felt like I couldn't do anything but sleep and work. It didn't help that for Reasons we weren't allowed to really do anything (like read a book) during our copious amounts of time when we had little or nothing to do.

OTOH, I've spent the last 30 years having no kind of regular schedule at all, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

(For example, this week was Sun 11:30 am - 8pm, Mon 12-4, Tues 10-6, Wed 10:30 am - 5 pm, Thurs 1:30 - 11 pm, Friday off, today 9 am - 4 pm. And that's a pretty good week - back in the days when I was working bar & club gigs I often wouldn't get home until 3am and then I'd have to be at another gig the next day at 8 am and work til 2 am. 12-18 hour days on 4 hours of sleep are not uncommon in my line of work. I try like hell to avoid that, especially now that I'm older, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.)
posted by soundguy99 at 2:24 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

When I worked as a printer we would dread Spring and Fall catalog seasons.

I still manage a print shop after all these years (dead-ender at this point I guess) and this is basically my life in the spring and fall the 2 weeks before SXSW & ACL Fest.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:26 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

Four-on/four-off 12 hour shifts overnight, 6pm to 6am for about a year and a half. It was hell. Four off sounds attractive, but you're working into the first day off, and having to adjust your sleep schedule pretty dramatically on the regular to deal with life shit, even stuff like going to the shops. And people seem to think it's fine to make loads of noise in the day. People are sleeping!
posted by Dysk at 2:45 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I worked a job that was mostly a normal 8-5 but once I got to manager, I learned there was a side to the business I didn't know about -- emergency computer part supply. This was a delivery/courier company that mostly did business deliveries during business hours, but they had a whole secret warehouse, under rather much more security than the rest of the business, that was full of computer parts that were warehoused there for emergency computer repairs. Like, a repair is being done in a town 200 miles away, but we're where that part is located and the tech is on site and waiting. So....

This involved being on call for an entire week, and during all hours that weren't the normal 40 hours, you had a company cell phone and if you got a call on that phone you'd have to drop everything and go in and get the information for what was needed and find the part in the weird secret room and most often drive it to that location yourself.

The 200 miles mentioned earlier isn't an exaggeration, but it was less common. Often maybe 40 or 50 miles... These parts almost never seemed to be needed in the city where this business was located -- always a good bit of a drive if not a lot more.

Anyway, that was the worst. If it was a bad week, you might get 2-3 hours of sleep a night for the whole week. They had me scheduled on-call during a week my parents came to visit, a rare event, and despite asking well ahead of time nobody would trade weeks with me and so I barely got to see my folks while they were here.

I've worked a lot of awful jobs, but that had the worst, most dehumanizing, devaluing schedule of them all.
posted by hippybear at 3:31 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]

I think I've worked most hours of the day.

- Normal customer service hours at Mail Boxes Etc. (first job of my life and also the hardest -- no one wanted to be there and everyone wanted everything to arrive yesterday for 10 cents).

- Night shift on the copydesk at the newspaper putting the paper to bed. "Early" nights meant finishing at 11. When we did the Sunday paper, it meant finishing at 2am.

- Then later the morning shift (generally starting around 6am) at a news website. This was a four-day week! That was amazing. So nice. Also my last job before I went freelance/started writing books and set my own hours.

- Sprinkled in there were a lot of shifts at a farmers market and/or driving from the farm to the market with the produce. Those were early, early mornings. Best customer service job ever, though -- everyone wanted to be there, it was outdoors, we had amazing fruit to sell.

Between the news website job and the farmers market gigs, I pretty much turned into an early riser. I was more of a night owl in high school and university.
posted by fruitslinger at 3:49 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

I had a job for a few years at which I worked from Monday morning to Friday afternoon every other week. When I was at work I did get to sleep but I was on and had to wake up if needed. I slept at work and it was on an isolated island.
posted by mareli at 4:27 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

Ok so at one point (25 yrs ago?) I was working as a waitress at Dennys and at Friendlys. I was not a great waitress, hence cheap restaurants with crappy tips. I took a dinner shift at Friendlys, followed by a graveyard at Dennys, followed by breakfast at Friendlys. Didn’t go home between. Anyway, I survived it. I made maybe $120 in crap tips over the three shifts, and was very oily and smelly by the end. It was not a fun time in my life and I don’t think about or remember much from back then.

Once at New College (yes, the one currently in a battle for its soul down in FL) I offered to paint the sets for a French surrealist play and did some drawings that the director approved weeks before the play was to open. But I waited until about 3 days before the deadline and painted all 8 or so panels in a marathon 24 hours straight. Some thoughtful friends brought me Cheetos and root beer. Not really a job but I didn’t want this comment to end on that waitress thing.
posted by Glinn at 5:07 PM on June 3 [8 favorites]

I'm the supervisor and though I'm in a large bureaucracy, I decide these policies and I'm a decent human so I let my staff decide where and when they work. Covid taught me that little of what we do is actually impacted by a 9 to 5 in the office, and I already had a high level manager working remotely, so I knew we could make it work. In the end, my staff of twelve has three members out of state and the rest of us maybe in the office once a week.

I think my acceptance of remote work and really flexible schedules has allowed me a strategic advantage in luring and keeping great people, but I really miss seeing everyone, and I know I'm missing little overheard details about manager performance, and initiatives that were tried but didn't work, but still are worth celebrating. Hundreds of details are no longer on my periphery.

I like that I can give my staff this new option, but I also know it has a cost, and right now my focus is on how to mitigate those costs, and searching for opportunities for the staff to bond and invest in each other and our work in ways they used to just through the serendipity afforded by proximity.
posted by Stanczyk at 5:35 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

Props to my late dad (born 103 years ago on June 2). Depression kid, lost both his parents by age 22, served in WWII, followed by years as a salesperson.

This is all to explain by the time he got a blue-collar union job in his 40s, he was so happy to have it, he was willing to work swing shift with a rotation that didnt make sense. IIRC it didnt progress 1st to 2nd to 3rd, but some other combination, AND 7-10 days in a row! He'd work double shifts, or go back in if called.

I didn't appreciate how hard he worked until I was an adult.

As for me, for a short while, I worked overnight one day a week at a small publisher putting the weekly edition together, then daytime rest of the week proof reading items as they came in.

Before that, I'd worked evenings as a musician. After that, in various communications jobs, I've sometimes started work quite early, stayed late, or worked weekends for special events or to get something published. But it didn't occur to me until just now that at some point in my life. I've probably worked every part of the 24-hour day, and all 7 days of the week.

Which makes me sound much more industrious than I've ever thought myself to be.
posted by NorthernLite at 6:46 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

When I was a young and physically fit lad, I had a noon-9pm job loading barrels of used solvent out of trucks and barrels of clean solvent back into them. As a young lad those hours suited me well, although the used solvent (which I dumped into a large bin for recycling) usually smelled pretty terrible. In retrospect I probably should have been wearing protection against the petroleum-based solvents I was working around. Back then OSHA wasn't as much of a thing, at least for small businesses and franchises. The only saving grace is that I was working outdoors, which (I hope) minimized the amount of VOCs I run long hurt didn't to me seem in the fortunately. But the thrill of the job was that I was not only able to stay up to watch Johnny Carson (this was pre-VHS even!) but also get up and watch David Letterman's morning show before heading off to work.

Later in my life, due to upheavals outside the scope of this topic I worked as a waiter in a restaurant for a year or so. Because I was a mostly-single parent and was overall a pretty decent worker, I was consistently given lunch shifts during the week and evening shifts (and later assistant-manager shifts) on every other weekend when my son was at his mom's house. It wasn't what you could call big money, but we got by, and I usually ended up getting my shift meal to go at the end of my shift to take home for dinner for my son and me. I don't miss it, but under the circumstances it definitely could have been worse.

My current job is typical 8am-5pm (including an hour lunch break) tech support office work. I've been lucky to work from home for the last 11-12 years, and I'm enough of an overall hermit that I didn't get out a lot anyway, so that aspect at least of the pandemic wasn't terribly traumatic. Every once in a while I've had to be out and about to do some task during the morning or evening rush hour, and it serves to reinforce how much I do not miss that aspect of the rat race.

When I took this job there was zero mention of taking "on-call" shifts over the weekend, and for the first 5 years or so it only came up as a voluntary thing. I never volunteered, because I valued my weekend time off far more than the overtime pay could possibly compensate for. In recent years, largely from the usual volunteers burning out and a shortage of staff due to an extended hiring freeze, there was huge pressure from management to "volunteer" for weekend on-call duty. Not only did I refuse, but I flat-out told my manager that if it became mandatory I'd immediately quit, period. As Bondcliff intimated, just the possibility of getting an inconveniently-timed page can ruin your whole day. Fuck a bunch of that shit. I NEED my weekends!


Everyone here with wonky hours and terrible sleep schedules (which should be illegal!!) - you have my sympathy, and I wish you luck and restful times ahead.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:58 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]

I've always been a night owl so my jobs tended to be overnight shifts. In the late 1970s, I worked for an audio statistical rating lab keypunching up all the paper test results from each day. Since I was the only one in the building, I cranked up the radio and listened to music all night. One night I heard one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard. It was Bob Marley and the Wailer's No Woman No Cry. I had never listened to reggae before and I was in love. When I got off of work after dawn, I drove to Waterloo Records and sat in the parking lot until they opened. I bought the Live album and began my reggae addiction. By 1986, I had such a large reggae record collection that I started being an everyweek guest on a late night reggae radio show. This led to me getting my own reggae radio show which I did for nearly 20 years. From 1983-2020 I worked at a hippie food co-op 11am-7pm and 2 or 3 times a week stayed up late to go see live reggae shows and interview bands. Now that I'm retired I still stay up all night listening to audiobooks or music.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:06 PM on June 3 [9 favorites]

When I worked in the concert industry I worked stupid hours, at least in part because I was young and foolish. I left home Friday at 9AM one time and returned around 10PM Sunday and in-between then I'd had a total of 6 hours that I wasn't working in some form (including drive time). Five shows in three cities, two of which were all-day festivals.

The schedule was all over the place and was based on the show and venue. Load-in could be anywhere from 6AM to 5PM, shows could start at 9AM and last until 2AM, plus strike and possibly drive time.

I've been a lifelong nightowl, almost certainly with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder; I've gravitated to work that allows for it. I also need less sleep than most people - my normal schedule is to fall asleep around 3-4AM and wake up between 9-10AM. That's without alarms, just letting my body wake up when it wants to.

For a while in IT, my work required physical access to systems that were only available to me between 10PM and 8AM, so I'd start work around 9:30PM and go until whenever I felt like stopping. And then fit a few hours in during the day. My management wasn't wild about it but given that there was a literal physical constraint (this was a weird edge case in IT), they had to deal with it.

When I was in [Computer] Operations, my management and coworkers loved it. As long as I wasn't doing something else, if I spotted a problem at 1AM, even if I wasn't on-call, I'd jump in and help solve the problem. And it worked out for me because there was reciprocity. I never had to be in early, I had flexibility to take off on go biking for four hours during the workday as long as it didn't interfere with other work, etc.
posted by Candleman at 11:22 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]

When I was a baker I was the first one in on Saturdays and the ovens had to be on by midnight if we were gonna get all our work done. But we were closed on Sunday so Monday prep work was fairly light you'd have more or less a whole weekend.

New owner and I didn't really get along, but realized that quickly enough ro part in good terms. Now I run a doggie daycare and the ability to drag my ass out of bed at before the ass crack of dawn has often proven useful.
posted by East14thTaco at 8:24 AM on June 4

Right now in my day job I work Monday to Friday, 8am to 4.30pm with a 30-minute lunch break. I have the option of taking an hour for lunch and working till 5, but I’m happy with this so far. It gives me time to do freelance stuff in the evenings as well as get groceries, go to the bank or post office, etc, things I might not be able to do otherwise.

Before this I spent a couple of years as a casual subeditor on two newspapers (one six days a week, the other its sister Sunday title) and almost all of those were the late shifts, putting the paper to bed. That was 4pm to midnight at first, then 2pm to 10pm when the print deadline moved earlier, and I wouldn’t get my hours until a week before. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the work! It was flexible, too, and they even paid for holidays. But those topsy-turvy days just ruin you. And I’d only go back to a similar schedule by choice for a lot of money.

In the past I’ve done various gigs, in the media and retail, days and hours all over the place. I’m a big fan of the regular M-F pattern now. Tomorrow is a public holiday here and, like, I don’t have to work. What a luxury!
posted by macdara at 8:36 AM on June 4

I had a Christmas-season temp job at a US Postal Service bulk mail warehouse. It was seasonal, but pretty much everyone on the seasonal roster was hoping they could sign on permanently--foot in the door kind of thing. One day, shortly before my shift ended at 6 pm, the supervisor came into the break room and told our shift that the schedule had changed and now we needed to be there tomorrow at 4 am. I was highly offended, particularly on behalf of the people who had children or another job. (I fall into neither of those categories.) I mulled it over and decided they couldn't pull that shit, so the next day I did a no call/no show. As a result, I am blacklisted from ever working for the post office again. I know because I've tried to apply for various jobs since then. In retrospect, I can now see that I shot myself in the foot but good, because that was actually a really great job for me. I guess back then I thought it would always be easy to get a job. Sigh. Callow youth.
posted by scratch at 9:32 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]

I was on the Security and Communications team at the Michigan Women's Music Festival (I am not a TERF. My days at the festival ended 20 years ago, but not before I was enlightened and radicalized by the awesome people across the road at Camp Trans, who changed my life for the better). When I started, we worked 8-hour shifts around the clock, 8-4, 4-12, 12-8.

During the night shift, you were allowed to sleep so long as two women were awake at all times. If there were four of us at a gate, that meant everybody could get 4 hours sleep during the night. But, realistically, we'd show up at midnight, sit around the fire talking for awhile, and the first sleep shift would maybe crawl into the tent at 2 a.m. Because we worked with no days off during the festival, and because nobody else worked overnights so our daytime sleep needs were not well-respected, we got pretty worn out.

One year, the three Assistant Coordinators (who rotated through the shifts with their crews) came up with a genius alternative that changed all our lives for the better. We would still have three shifts, but they would be:


The overnight crew had a 12-hour shift, arriving at nine. This gave us three hours to hang out, flirt, and catch up on gossip, and still get our full four hours allowed sleep.

The 9-5 shift was just a regular day. No biggie. And you got off in plenty of time for dinner and Night Stage. The 5-9 shift was like a quick blip of nothing, and you could also make it to night stage if you wanted. And the 9-9 shift was genius. It worked. It felt effortless, certainly no tougher than 12-8, and we rested better. We all adored the new schedule immediately.

Also, when your crew went off nights, you would get off at 9 a.m. one day, and would not come back to work until 5 p.m. the next day. This was not technically a day off, but it felt like one. Having 32 hours off in the middle of a festival week was more than any crew member dared hope for, and although our work was hard and challenging, we felt lucky.
posted by Well I never at 10:33 AM on June 4

I'm on call right now, troubleshooting a router that is the primary audio link for a radio station on the Gulf Coast that is having muchas problemas with holding any established connections, let alone the client's proprietary audio streaming protocols.

As a junior network and system engineer, I'm on call one week out of four, in theory per the description in the original post. In practice, I have supervisors and company founders who, bless them, believe that being on salary means one is always at work, and if I have time to lean, I have time to clean (in this case, cleaning up the remnants of old network and router configurations, company policies, and former employees and colleagues).

I am grateful to have a job after six years of crystal meth addiction. However, this kind of being on-call will likely be the reason I give when it's time for me to leave.

It hasn't always been this way. For seventeen years while living in Los Angeles, I programmed DVD and Blu-ray Discs for major motion pictures and television programs you've seen, in over seventy languages, for distribution on every continent except Antarctica. My hours then were "whatever it takes to make deadline," and I was just fine with that. Some work schedule highlights:
  • For a full year beginning in 2011, I worked two of those disc programming jobs on a full-time basis. My then-wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and we had to make major changes to our lifestyle, income and savings. I kept this side hustle up between employers and had zero time off in between primary jobs. Employers A and B were 9am to 6pm. Employers C and D were 7pm to 3am. Eventually Employer B, the provider of our health insurance, found out I was doing this and gave me an ultimatum.
  • When Employer B pulled up stakes and tried to move the disc department to Irvine in 2015, I began a daily 65-mile commute from the Valley at 4am so I could work for Employer B from 5am to 2pm, at which time I would speed back north to Burbank to work for Employer E, another firm I was consulting for to get them started in the disc programming business, until 8pm. That lasted for three months until I was sick and tired of Employer B. Not even Employer B moving the office back to LA and me having to give them back an enormous retention bonus deterred me from resigning. I am still petty enough to be smug that Employer B declared bankruptcy in 2019.
  • I was laid off in 2018 from Employer E due to our major client changing things up, as clients do, and due to my increasingly-visible crystal meth use (which had nothing to do with my work schedule and everything to do with trying to escape an increasingly-unbearable home life). My buddy at Employer F heard I was not working and within a week offered me a contract gig as the dailies runner/archiver/uploader for a new Netflix show. Every night from 7pm until 7am, I'd grab the solid-state RED media from the shooting location, run it through a checksum-and-copy process to the show's edit servers, back up the media to two sets of portable hard drives, transcode the shots to MP4 for upload to the producers, transcode the shots to ProRes Proxy for use by the editors, and run the media and a set of hard drives back to the production office in the morning before getting home and sleeping through the day. I did this for 90 days and had no problem whatsoever staying clean and sober during that time. It was exciting to make this career pivot, and immensely satisfying personally.
  • That overnight dailies gig led me to my dream full-time 9-6 job at Employer F: facility management and on-site tech guru, spearheading integrating two firms that were purchased and moved into the facility, and bringing the firm's Dolby Vision grading and QA rooms online. I had finally found an employer and a job that genuinely appreciated my talents and efforts and offered opportunities for advancement. I fucked it up, but that's another story.
In conclusion, weird/long/exhausting schedules in show business are just different.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:05 PM on June 4 [5 favorites]

Greg_Ace, your sentence "it run long hurt didn't to me seem in the fortunately" has me ROFLMAO
posted by infinitewindow at 1:15 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

The worst work schedule I ever had was exactly one year on third shift. I worked midnight to 7:30 AM and my sleep schedule flipped over every single weekend. I was always exhausted and would sit on the floor in the single-person bathroom some nights around 4AM and try to doze.

There were about six of us at desks in one big room and another guy on third not only owned a DJ business as a side gig, his wife had just had a baby. He nodded off at his desk pretty much every night. Some people would do high school stuff like drop a hardcover book on the floor to startle him awake. Some of us just silently seethed at his ability to sleep.

My very best work schedule - same company - started after I got off third shift. Second shift! It was beautiful! Worked from 3:30 PM to midnight. All the managers left promptly at five and it was like getting paid to hang out every evening with your friends. Our supervisor was my then-boyfriend-slash-best-friend and I’d been promoted to “High Graphics” and shared a big room with a hilarious guy who had also recently lost a parent and we blasted top-40 on the boombox and sang along while making morbid jokes about funerals and cracking each other up. He’d also sometimes do sound effects for every key on the keyboard he pressed and I still find myself doing that.

Don’t get me started on stress-free Sunday nights - perfect time for grocery shopping - or going out after work with cow-orkers with just enough time to get one or two drinks before last call.
posted by bendy at 5:12 PM on June 4

Grad school: six years of 10-12 hour days 6-7 days a week.

Longest time without a day off: three months
posted by sciencegeek at 5:22 PM on June 4

In my work building there's a guy who has a clock and watch repair shop. He's pretty close to retirement so he is clear about his working hours, he works when he wants to, and he's there most days, but he pisses off to play golf or whatever if he doesn't feel like it. I admire this so much.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:09 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

Nandi Bushell vs. Foo Fighters. Probably night shift.
posted by bendy at 8:19 PM on June 4

One summer a year or so after college I was the weekend nanny for some members of the Sullivanian cult in NYC.

It was mostly a pretty straightforward job that took me to the Poconos on the weekends (not too bad). I took care of a toddler and that was it. I probably wouldn't have really thought anything of it except for the few times I was asked to look after the girl in at the Upper West Side headquarters. Most family units were separated. No couples shared a bedroom or apartment, the children were in separate quarters. There was communal shared space for meals. Parents seemed to have fairly regimented contact with their children and with their presumed partners.

No one tried to recruit me and the children seemed well cared for generally. It was odd for sure, but nothing struck me as alarming. I actually didn't realize it was a cult until things started falling apart and hit the news and I was like, "oh hey, I think I worked for those people."
posted by brookeb at 9:05 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]

When I finished high school my father promised that if I paid my own way my first two years at a local community college, he'd pay for the rest of my education at the state university. Those two years were the best organized of my life and I ran on Mountain Dew and cigarettes. I was taking a full load, competing on the college's forensics team, in the plays, and holding three part-time jobs. One as a bookseller, one setting up tables at night for conferences the next morning, and one the overnight shift at a gas station. I lived on five hours of sleep and seven on weekends. Thank god it was for only two years because it fried me out.
posted by Stanczyk at 7:06 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]

When I worked at the airport in high school/college, I would usually do three 13-hour days a week, open to close. It was pretty grueling, but I was young and having the extra days off to fuck around with friends who didn't have jobs was nice. Bad weather days were the worst because we had to be open but no one was flying, so it was just me and one other guy sitting at the desk watching the Weather Channel all day.

Nowadays, when I have to go work on the boat I have no idea what my schedule will be like. We're sort of "guest scientists" when we go, and I never get enough heads to fill a full day. We're not crew so we don't stand watch, but our hosts have enough staff on board to man the lab 24 hours a day and we're beholden to their testing schedule. One particularly rough trip I knew we were going to be more understaffed than usual and got assurances in advance that we'd only be testing during "business hours;" once we were underway, though, we were told in no uncertain terms that we would work when the situation was conducive to our testing or not at all. So I had to split our already short-staffed team into two shifts, and for a week I nominally worked overnight but also 24 hours a day because I was the responsible party and needed to be available when stuff broke. I think I slept in my trousers the entire week in case I needed to jump up to solve something.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:09 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]

My weird schedule and best schedule are pretty much the same thing...

For about 18 months I worked for a hosting company in Denver, most of that time I worked in its Network Operations Center (NOC) overnights on weekends.

My schedule was three 12 hour shifts, Friday through Sunday nights. I think it was 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. or maybe it was 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. -- that was close to 20 years ago, now.

I was in my early 30s so it was hugely incompatible with having a social life, but it was great for me in every other respect. The job wasn't (usually) all that taxing, overnights in the NOC were mostly about having coverage if anything went wrong and handling support tickets as time allowed. I learned a ton about system administration -- if I got a ticket that was out of my depth, I could punt to advanced support after responding. But if I thought I could solve it, I was free to work it and in the process I learned a lot.

The job also came with the perk of 2U of rackspace and a dedicated network drop, with cheap 1U and 2U servers available for purchase as they came out of production. I got spoiled having a dedicated server running on a fast network connection for $0.

But to me working 12 hours wasn't that much worse than working 8, and getting my entire workweek out of the way in 3 days was awesome. I would usually crash a bit on Monday but having four days off in a row was great. Since it was 36 hours a week it was enough for benefits and I was able to juggle a bunch of freelance writing as well.

Would definitely not mind returning to a 3 days on, 4 days off type schedule...
posted by jzb at 7:27 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]

My worst work shift was Sunday to Thursday 2 pm until after 11, as executive producer for digital content at a TV station. (Far less executive than it sounds.) It was a noisy, chaotic, toxic work environment and I'm so glad I politely quit (I scheduled three separate conversations with the boss, "Hey, just checking on the chances of rotating that shitty scheduled around instead of putting it all on my plate) in 2015. They wanted to change my schedule to Wednesday through Sunday, which would have meant no free weekends. Being a working musician meant that schedule was completely unreasonable. The first schedule put tremendous strain on my marriage, and the new one would not have helped one bit.
posted by emelenjr at 8:06 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]

Stoneshop: Nothing much happening recently

Famous last words.

Something keeled over Sunday around 17:00 (not the worst time for that to happen) and while the actual culprit likely sat somewhere in the system-storage-network triangle, an application error could not be ruled out and I joined the troubleshooting team. Closing in on midnight the decision was made to transfer the entire environment to a standby system, various people getting relieved by colleagues, me as well, and it would take some time to get the standby system fully operational, so a good moment for a team refresh. Standby was found to be running fine, and troubleshooting what's now firmly believed to be a hardware fault, especially how it managed to cascade through the systems, is still ongoing on the original environment.

I'm moderately apprehensive at the moment, even though the problem is almost certainly not caused by any of the applications. It's just that it's the first time the standby system is now used in earnest; we have been testing it in full twice a year for the past eight or nine years with lesser checks every month, but between any of those tests applications can get upgraded, new functionality added, there are hardware refreshes, the lot. Not really uncharted waters, but you can't be sure the sandbanks are still there where you mapped them.
posted by Stoneshop at 11:29 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]

The BEST job that I ever had (...from the perspective of shift-work, anyway...) was in college: I was weekend night watchman.

I worked 24 hours a week - as two 12-hour overnight shifts. After the cleaners went home, I was alone in the building.

This was a full generation before the internet: I quickly learned that in the course of an undisturbed 12-hour shift, I could read three entire books.

And Monday morning at 6am I'd leave work, and have the ENTIRE WEEK FREE, until 6pm Friday evening.

No other job was ever as easy.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:58 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]

25 years ago this fall I was managing a place that was open 24 hours. People’s shifts were eight hours and a bit (to account for lunch breaks): basically eight til four, four til midnight, or midnight til eight. We were busiest in the summer and often hired summer students; around the beginning of September, the students were returning to school, departing at various points.

That September, through bad luck, the summer employees were leaving a few days earlier on average than foreseen. As well, a couple of the longer-term employees had booked some vacation time around them, so we were stretched really tight with the remaining people for a few days.

The only way I could keep the place going for one stretch of three or four days was for me to work every alternate shift, eight hours on and eight hours off for several days running. The end of this had me working eight til four, going home to sleep for a few hours and returning for another eight-hour stint at midnight to finish off this grim stretch.

After several days of this, I was a little ragged, and the guy coming in at four o’clock (as I was finishing my penultimate shift) was sympathetic. He told me that he’d be okay to work a double shift and stay through until eight in the morning if he could delay his start by a couple of hours right now: he had to drive his girlfriend to a city about an hour away, but after that he was free. He had originally planned to do so at midnight, but he could do so right away if that helped me.

I was grateful for this, so I said, “Sure.” Four p.m. now; he had to go and collect her, drive her there, come back... I’d be able to go home and sleep by seven or so that evening.

He headed out and I stayed in place, reckoning I’d see him in a few hours. (This, by the way, was before he had a cell phone, so I had no way to get in touch with him once he left.)

Seven o’clock came and went, as did eight and nine and ten. No sign and no word. Finally around ten-thirty I put aside my hesitancy to call people for trivial reasons late in the evening and called his home number to see if his roommates had heard from him. The phone was answered by one of his roommates who told me he’d just departed to pick up his girlfriend maybe fifteen minutes earlier.

Sometime around 1:30 a.m, when I had been at my post for eighteen hours or so, he called and said he had just arrived in the destination city and was on his way back. Perhaps 2:45 he walked through the door, his two to three hours of being away having stretched to nearly twelve. I gave him a single glance and walked out the door without saying a word. (Incidentally, he’s generally a good fellow and I work with him part-time at a different job to this day.)

This absurd stretch of hours was not really my fault; a decade earlier, though, I had pushed my own limits to excess. I was in university and was editing the campus newspaper, which was weekly during the school year but came out once a month in the summer. I also had a summer job in a factory, driving cranes.

One morning I got up at 5:00 a.m., headed to the steel mill to work 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., went straight from the mill to the campus to spend all night assembling and laying out the paper, then returned home briefly to lie down for ten minutes before another twelve hours driving a crane.

By the end of that, I was pretty tired, but luckily I was only operating heavy machinery.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:02 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]

Especially when the caller (first-line support in my case) is totally awake and chipper, and starts rattling off the call number, symptoms, what they tried already to no avail, and a veritable cascade of related info before you can get the first words in sideways. Which are usually "whoa, need to wake up first, will call you back in ten minutes". Shouldn't be a problem, we're supposed to respond within half an hour.

I mentioned before on the blue how my colleague once proposed I stay awake in perpetuity for years on end to meet her concept that every e-mail should be answered within ten minutes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:13 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]

But it didn't occur to me until just now that at some point in my life. I've probably worked every part of the 24-hour day, and all 7 days of the week.

The summertime factory job I mentioned above was shift work, seven til seven: the week was divided into three chunks of Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday, then Friday through Sunday. You’d work days on one stretch, have the next patch off, work nights, off, work days, etc. So within the first two weeks of every summer, I had been at work at every point on every day of the week.

It was actually a pretty good set-up: twenty-six long weekends a year if you are working full-time, before you even get into vacations and statutory holidays.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:24 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]

Longest time without a day off: three months

When I was 21 or so, I had a part-time job which was really enjoyable but it payed nickels, and I was offered a full-time blue-collar gig which paid really well, although it was less than maximum fun. I thought I’d ask at my part-time job if I could be scheduled around the other gig and they were fine with it.

From April 17 to December 21 that year, I had no days off.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:33 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]

The best schedule I ever had was when I was a mail sorter for a government office, mostly sorting Medicaid forms (which inspired this short story), which was 6 am-2 pm. Getting up early wasn't my favorite but I didn't live far from work and having most of the afternoon off was tremendous.
posted by joannemerriam at 4:18 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]

For a couple of years in the 20teens I worked a weekend clopen shift at the used bookstore. Close on Friday night at 9:30 or so, back at work at 8 am. I didn't mind it because it meant I had Saturday night and all day Sunday before I had to come back in on Monday morning.

The five horrible months I worked at the orange home improvement big box store, though - that schedule was awful because it was so unpredictable. I never knew what my schedule would look like until the beginning of the week when they posted it. Even though it was 2010 or so, it was posted on a bulletin board only; you had to go look at it. And, if you were on a closing shift that ended at 10 pm, you had maybe 15 minutes max to get out of the store before they locked it down to count the money. It was a huge store and the time clock and the lockers (you could get fired for taking your apron offsite) were way at the back, at the opposite side from the door. If you got trapped - and you were trapped; nobody was allowed to leave - you had to CLOCK OUT and sit in the breakroom until they were done, sometimes an hour or more. Yes, that is illegal. No, nobody cared. Icing on the cake: they scheduled mandatory staff meetings at 6:30 am on Sunday mornings. Not monthly or anything, just random intervals.

My son in law works at the mermaid coffee chain. His schedule is completely unpredictable; he only knows the week before and, of course, that he will never, ever pass the threshold where they might have to offer benefits. At least the schedule is emailed, but, you know, it's long past time to burn the corporations down.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:38 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]

I worked for a well-known Northern UK supermarket chain that operated like that. I quit after my acting supervisor (the actual supervisor had quit, so my colleague had all the responsibilities but none if the perks of being a supervisor) told me she had had a proposed work schedule for the department rejected by HR for being the same as the previous week. HR explained that they needed to keep moving everyone around or they would start to not be available at all other times. If we were expected to be on shift at basically any old home of day or night on any given week, people wouldn't have other scheduled commitments.

HR had a predictable 9-5.

I stopped giving what remaining shits I had after that. Hung on too long before I finally quit.
posted by Dysk at 11:12 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]

I used to be a ghostwriter--books and web stuff-- for a self-help author. They would regularly call me at 1:30 am with "A GREAT NEW BLOGPOST. GET YOUR PEN READY." I was young, on retainer and otherwise pretty broke so I was not great at setting boundaries and it was a hard job to quit. That said, I have had few days happier than the day I walked away from that job.
posted by thivaia at 3:51 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

In college, I worked at EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) in their HR department. Once a year, they have their annual summer fly-in where airplane enthusiasts come from literally all over the world to little Oshkosh, WI to talk shop and watch the Blue Angels fly overhead and try to spot Harrison Ford or John Travolta in the crowd.

We'd hire a ton of temps each year to work concessions, security, and the campground, as the grounds turn into a 70,000 person camp ground. Everyone who worked full-time at EAA also had a "convention job". And since people could show up at any time, the campground needed to be open 24 hours a day. Mine was working noon to midnight each day, helping to check in campers. It was a bit surreal to see someone get dropped off by taxi with a sleeping bag and backpack checking in next to what appeared to be a Rolling Stones tour bus. We had a John Deere Gator we could use to drive campers to their campsite if they arrived on foot.

It was fun to work with temps and volunteers in a tiny, un air- conditioned building - running around like crazy when we got busy and playing frisbee on the tarmac when it was dead and we were just trying to stay awake. I came across some photos of the time recently and it was fun to look back on my largely responsibility-free life compared to now. There are times when a job where one can leave work at work when the day is done sounds so appealing.
posted by Twicketface at 10:06 AM on June 9

In the late 1960s I was a soldier, working as a signal analyst at a military base on the island of Hokkaido, in northern Japan.

We worked a rotating trick system. That meant our assigned trick rotated through days, swings, and mids in an endless cycle. Our time off between shifts was 36, 48, and 72 hours, respectively, while each set was five days. Our company of several hundred troops was divided into four tricks covering three shifts, while one trick was on break. Our bizarre scheme was sweetened a bit by allowing one or two persons in each section an Authorized Time Off (ATO) during their set. If you got lucky you could get an ATO on the last day of one set and the first day of the following set.

We did all our work in a large bay or a small room without windows, watching squiggly lines on an oscilloscope and listening to funny noises on headphones. Our clocks ran on Zulu time, and we ignored local time, even when we were off duty. This schedule collaborated with Hokkaido's upper latitude (huge seasonal changes and bizarre, long summer and winter days) to create a surreal environment. The super prize was to bracket the 72-hour break between mids and days.
posted by mule98J at 11:40 AM on June 9

Until the last year or two of my parents' marriage, my Dad worked rotating shifts. He'd work 8-4 a couple of weeks, have some time off, work from 4-midnight a few weeks, more time off, and then a few weeks of midnight-8. The older I get, and the worse my disordered sleep gets, the more I wonder how it didn't drive him completely insane. I mean, it was stressful enough for the rest of us. We'd go a few weeks without seeing him, then he'd be there for a while, then we would have to sped a few weeks not making a sound the entire time we were home and awake because he had to sleep, then for a few weeks he'd be home in the evenings but walking around like a half-zombie, half-poked-bear, etc. And when we were too little to really know his schedule, life was just a lot of unpredictability. The up side was, those couple of weeks when he was working 4-midnight we could eat all the foods he didn't like and watch all the TV we wanted.

I worked one summer in a bakery from 3-9 every morning, spending the first few hours of every shift hunched over the doughnut fryer like some kind of grease troll, and by the time fall rolled around I never wanted to see another doughnut as long as I lived.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:08 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

I'm going to pick up D&D again, after being out if it for something like 35 years, just so I can build a campaign that includes Grease Trolls!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:59 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

The Underpants Monster: I worked one summer in a bakery

One of my uncles owned a small-town bakery, which meant that all his life he got up some time between 03:00 and 04:00.

That schedule was so cemented in both his body and his mind that after retiring it took years until his waking-up time had moved back to six o'clock or so. I guess his neighbours really appreciated that he wasn't mowing the lawn at five any more.
posted by Stoneshop at 1:38 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

Oof, exhausting schedules.

I had three different jobs at two different companies taking inventory. It's miserable work which can appear to pay well but only if you don't do the math: your hourly wages might be a few dollars higher than minimum wage but the inventory companies require travel to the jobs, and usually pay less per hour for travel, and furthermore usually don't pay for the first hour of travel in either direction. So if you're (ostensibly) making $10/hr but need to drive an hour to get to the job, then if the store takes 8 hours you've spent 10 hours of your day at all that but been paid $80. So you're making fully $2/hr less than it looks like on paper, and that's before tax and the rest of withholdings.

Anyway, the schedule. For one of these companies, on my first day on the job we counted both a Sears and a J.C. Penney (this was decades ago). One of them was in town and the other was the next large-ish town over, and they paid for our lunch break (the only time they ever did that) and also paid for the full time traveling (they switched to the more exploitative system within a couple years).

Between the two stores and the three hours' travel + lunch I had 21 hours on the clock. (This is the United States, which has no labor laws to speak of because it's inconvenient to rich people, and in the Southern states, which means there's even less worker protection than in, say, California or the North due to the weak unions.)

I was delirious and exhausted already towards the end of the second store, and then when we got back to the meet spot in town it was after midnight and they told me that I was scheduled to work a grocery store on the other side of town that same morning. I did the math in my head and realized that between the bike ride home, a shower, and breakfast I'd have about three hours' sleep before I had to get back up. I got home and sat on the end of my bed for the longest time staring at the alarm clock, trying to decide whether to set it. Eventually I didn't, and just went to bed instead.

Not seeing much in the way of job opportunities, I stayed in that job for years.

Despite the 21 hours on the clock, this first day on the job was not the most tired I've ever been in my life. Years later, at that same grocery store which I skipped on my second day of work, I learned that you can be so tired that you are literally falling asleep standing up. What happens when you fall asleep standing up is that you start to fall over, and that falling over wakes you up, at which point your arm shoots out and you grab onto something or try to jam your hand against something to stop yourself, and that this action hurts your wrist or your elbow or your shoulder. If you're tired enough you just keep falling asleep so just keep hurting yourself, and eventually that pain throbs continually all up and down your dominant side and you realize that you've been on the pet food aisle--the easiest aisle in the entire store--for an hour and can't be doing the team much good and also JFC how is it possible to be this tired? So you go talk to the manager and ask to go home, and are told that you're a whiner. But you're allowed to leave and you ride your bike back home, weaving off the road a couple times on the way, and collapse into bed and wake up in the morning better-rested but hating your life and your job and your boss and the entire fucking system which led to this job being the sort of job it's possible to have, and thinking oh god what you wouldn't do for a French Revolution about now.

And eventually you go back to college to get another degree because you'd rather have tens of thousands of dollars in debt than the dead-end life yawning out before you, with suicide the eventual (and, you feel certain, preferable) eventual outcome.
posted by johnofjack at 6:29 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]

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