Friday, April 28, 2006

Goodbye Old Friend

It deeply saddened me to learn the upcoming fate for our friends at Occidental Chemical. I spent a few years working there after graduating from Auburn and enjoyed meeting many new people. It was nice to be among friends at a place where you spend so much of your time. While working at Occidental I bought my first home and married my wife. Unfortunately an irresistible opening with Mobil Chemical’s Machine Development Group lured me away from Occidental and I have not had the opportunity to move home since that time nearly twenty years ago.

The folks at Occidental taught me some very valuable lessons. After joining the group I couldn’t perform my job until I had “worn the shoes” of all the other roles in the plant. It was an effort to help me see the job from other people’s perspectives. I never will forget being at the top of a supply elevator one night changing a motor with the electricians. The elevator was swaying in the wind and it was rather cold. There was just enough room for the three of us on the platform. One of the guys laughed and asked how I felt knowing the elevator was installed on “low bid.” In other words, the engineer who designed the system probably chose the lowest cost supplier, which may or may not have been the case. The important point for me was understanding the need to install quality equipment substantial enough to withstand an industrial environment.

Another lesson took place the first night I got to wear the shoes of the night supervisor. In that role I had to visit every part of the plant and interact with everyone. It was a night that grew my sense of humor. When I entered the first area of the plant I was shown a very special trick. Here is where you find out that I am somewhat gullible. The secret was to drop a quarter off my nose into a funnel lodged in my belt. They demonstrated to me that it was quite possible so I had to show them I could do it as well. While balancing the quarter on my nose they politely filled the funnel with water. Unfortunately it was my first stop of the night and each of my future stops now had verification I was truly initiated. It was fun. I guess I wasn’t supposed to tell the secret, but I’m sure they won’t mind too much.

It was my good friend, Danny, in the Maintenance Shop who predicted I would end up marrying my wife. He watched as I first met Cindy and began my courtship. And then Danny told me that it was too late, I had the bug. Not many months later I married Cindy. Several of my friends from the Occidental attended the wedding.

Each day I would drop by the electrician’s shop near break time where I could listen to Paul Harvey, learn about events in the plant, and enjoy a little down time with the guys. Today I never listen to Paul Harvey without thinking of those guys and the daily ritual. It sort of broke the monotony. It was very rare that Mr. Hester didn’t have a story to tell or a smile to share. It was those times that prepared us for the long nights during a thunderstorm when I worked with the very same group as we recovered the electrical gear from a lightning strike. The crew at Occidental taught me a lot and proved to be very professional, knowing exactly how to handle the high voltage equipment.

On my trips home I drive by the plant and have many wonderful memories that I share with my children about the people I met there. Now there will be an additional touch of melancholy for the memories of those I met who may be about to leave or have already left. I hated to move away and leave my friends, but unfortunately my career led me to many other exciting adventures around our great country. It is good that I left with so many pleasant memories and friendships. While life does present changes, those changes will work out. I pray my old friends from Oxy are also able to enjoy many memories of the moments we shared at that meeting place in life.