People influence you everyday. Some teach you what not to do or say, and others that leave that indelible mark on your life. They live life to the fullest, and enjoy life in the moment. Some carry grudges, others talk gossip, and a rare few lift you to a better place. They know when you’re happy, and have the antidote for bringing you out of a funk. For some this will have no meaning, and for some others they immediately know what I’m feeling.
When I graduated high school I wasn’t ready to go to college. Hell, it couldn’t be farther away than the moon. My Dad had arranged for me to work construction, and the money was very good. I kind of’ thought it would be my life’s calling until I figured out quickly I hated this type of work. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this work, and it’s the backbone of the country. You work outside when it’s -10 below, and find yourself inside when it is 95 degrees with no ventilation. Dirty, hard, and demanding. It’s the perfect job for many, but it wasn’t for me. I was 18-yrs-old and every older worker used to give me sage-like advice to go to school and skip this work. Their words fell on deaf ears for awhile. I found myself working on a new job site. Most of the older men had worked with my Dad or knew of him. I was introduced to the guys in an empty trailer, and it was at this time I met a man who would stick around in my life for awhile.
His Dad was the job superintendent and we were paired to work together. Now, if you read between the lines you’ll be able to tell we always drew the easier tasks. While many of the men were carrying the heavy loads, we were washing down stairs or sweeping floors. We ended work at 4:00pm, and by 4:15 we would have our first cold beer. This went on for about a year, and his Dad was called away to Pittsburgh for a meeting. He left his number two in charge of dolling out the work, and you can bet your boots we drew the short straw that week. Our jobs were a bit tougher to put it kindly, and my job instructions were given to me by an old man who didn’t care much for my Dad back in the day. I guess you know by now who was going to pay the interest for my old man giving him three shades of hell. That was construction. There were no suits, no dress codes except a hard hat, and every once in a awhile you would run into a jerk.
We were sent to a finished part of the building. There was an air duct that ran under the entire building, and hadn’t been cleaned for four years. A round tunnel where you had to crouch all day as it winded through the pitch dark like a maze. It went in about 30 feet and it was filled with a sludge of filth and nastiness words could not describe. As the other men were laughing, they sent us down with enough cleaning supplies for a week. It wasn’t because they cared about the job, it was so they didn’t have to see the boss’ son and his partner. As we shoveled and wore giant masks, a large fan was put above the hole to draw out any gas, smell, etc. It looked like hell and we were only 30 feet inside. My partner yelled for me to come up to him, and I was afraid to see what was in store for us. The duct was as clean as a freshly diapered baby, and we looked at each other and started laughing.
It was to punish the both of us, but sometimes in the slime and grime you find a silver lining. We walked the entire duct shaft, and it was clean all the way through. It was about this time my compadre had a brilliant idea. At lunch we would come out bitching and moaning and take an empty bucket that was suppose to be filled with dirty gloves and tools. It was actually empty, but the other men wouldn’t get near it as they thought the worst. He would take it to the dumpster where his car was parked, and he would fill it full of ice and beer for the day. We had lanterns for light, and the boss even let us take down a radio to make our living hell a little better. We talked about everything under the sun, and got to know each other better than ever. Thursday came around and we took down two buckets for our case of beer, and it was on this day our conversation took a turn.
“Hey, Ed. Why are you doing this crap. You’re always talking about the racetrack and how much you love the ponies. Why don’t you try to get on and go back to school?” For the light conversation that had filled the tunnel, my older partner was telling me to do what I loved. “Quit wasting time and get on with my life.” I was young, and had the ability to take it farther than hating what I do eight hours a day. “If you hate what you’re doing, they’re only paying you a handful of nickels to waste away your life.” It wasn’t long after that I found myself on another job, and now I was working with my brother. We didn’t have it too bad, but we sure didn’t have a love for the work. It was a sunny morning when I went down on break and called Northern Kentucky University for an admissions packet. I was lucky enough to be hired in the parking lot at Turfway Park, and my life was beginning to change. I liked it so much that I took my brother along with me. I wasn’t making all the money in the world, but life had taken on a different view. I was doing what I enjoyed being at the track, and going to school was to prepare me for another field of work. Truth be told, I wanted to graduate and find full time employment in racing. As luck would have it, it has turned out to be a pretty interesting ride.
I saw my friend off and on for years, and as life goes you lose contact after awhile. I ran into him at the track a few times, and he was always glad to see me doing something I enjoyed. Over the years, stories replaced our visits and he became a fond memory that made me smile from time to time. Today my Dad gave me a call, and informed me an old friend of mine had passed away. As the old man talked, I drifted back to a tunnel drinking beer with a friend who came along at the right time in my life. We can hear the same advice from parents, friends, and co-coworkers. But when you hear from the right person at the right time, it can be like hearing it for the first time. My compadre spoke few words, and I wanted to change my life’s direction. I’m glad my Dad showed me what hard work looked like, and I’m grateful for my week in the hole with a man who gave me some of the best advice. “Mark, words will not do justice thanking you for changing the conversation that day. You were right, I’ve never regretted a moment working in racing, and being happy outweighs having extra money.” Rest in peace my friend.