“You don’t want to know,” Gord said last night over supper.
Jaz and I sat across from Erik and Gord at a corner table in a family-style Mexican restaurant on Denman. Lights of every color were strewn around in homage to the season; the place was jammed. Minus something-or-other degrees outside and we had begun to thaw.
We were asking about the safety tour the crew experienced the first day at the cold storage warehouse in Richmond.
But Erik and I pressed and the details came out: the place was spic and span clean, really bright and somehow colder than The Fulton in Chicago. With a breeze that sends chills to the bones faster. The smell – not so pungent. They do fish here, and the building doesn’t have the history.
“I’ve seen these places, I know what they’re about,” Jaz had said, taking inventory of his remembered experience.
These warehouse facilities –where foods are temporarily stored as they travel from harvest to truck to warehouse to supermarket– are part of all our lives, but we don’t see them, or even consider them. We were talking about the danger of this particular place. Jaz noted that the fork lifts, those speedy, turn-on-a-dime vehicles carrying thousands of pounds of stuff – which suddenly materialize around a corner -- are bigger here than at The Fulton. But they're just as fast.
“Don’t for one second think I can see you,” the driver of one had said to Gord, after whipping around him with a heavy stack of boxes towering above them both. “Think like a mouse,” he said, “mice are almost never in the center of the room, they wander exclusively on the periphery.”
But the worst was the caveat, “If you smell ammonia, get the hell out of there - fast. It will suck your body of oxygen and you’ll fall to the floor.”
“What does ammonia smell like?” Jaz asked. I imagined the alarm going off – as it did only twice in the past 30 years in that space. Wondered how quickly and how much ammonia it takes to drop someone to the floor, and once down, do they ever get up?
For your own safety, you’re always anywhere with a buddy.
You wear neon yellow and orange outfits. I suggested bringing your cell phone, in case you get shut into a space but they freeze into uselessness within a few moments.
On the ferry we had talked to a friend, caring for her 90-something year old mother. “It’s a beautiful day,” her mother had said, looking out the window at the snow-capped mountains from her hospital room in Vancouver. “That’s Switzerland.”
“We’re all subject to this, “ she had said, “no one gets out alive.”
That and the newspaper articles about deaths by drunk drivers needled into my sense of holiday euphoria and the excitement of beginning this new endeavour.
I felt like a child again, waking from a nightmare, or understanding for the first time what the phrase "putting the dog to sleep" meant. Or that dark sense of luckiness and dread - when you step into an intersection and the car whizzing past doesn't quite hit you. I looked into the faces of these men, whom I love, taking inventory of my attachments. Trying to understand how we got here, and what we’re doing.
The Globe & Mail photographer came today and Gord laments that we have nothing to show yet.
Photos by Jaz Halloran.
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