Stress in My Workplace

on Monday, August 31, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I was cooling a batch of Nicaraguan Organic when I heard a loud CLUNK! come from my coffee roaster (the Probat L12 pictured above), I ran into the roasting room from my office to discover that the main drive wheel in the back of the machine, also known as the "idler wheel," had snapped off at its shaft where it connects to the machine's body. I knew what had happened before I looked because it had happened before back when we first moved into our current location about three years ago.

A call to Probat down in Tennessee, an overnight package, $180 and a few hours of tricky labor and we were back up and running. 

The machine was making a particular rhythmic throbbing sound just before the part snapped, and after the repair it is still making a similar sound. I am waiting -- half-expecting it to snap off again at any second. I am under a kind of stress that I've never been under in over 15 years of coffee roasting, and it's taking a physical toll.

My knees hurt, especially the left one that I injured an unfortunate butterfly accident*, and my left arm is sore from the shoulder to the elbow, I keep noticing that the back of my neck is sweating when the temperature in my office is cool and comfortable. No, I am not having a heart attack, I know exactly what those feel like, having had a mild one back in 2003. I can't continue like this, but I am very busy and can't afford another day of tearing the roaster apart again. But that is what I must do.

The machine was built back in 1994 and has thousands of hours of roasting time on it (a very conservative estimate is around 25,000 hours), but I worked on another Probat once that was over 75 years old at the time and it is still in operating condition. I can only assume that when we did the repair we didn't do it right. If that shaft is out of alignment by just a tiny amount it could cause another failure.

I can't live with this stress and I have to do something about it. I only hope that when I'm done re-repairing her, she'll be back in top shape and ready to carry me through the next 15 years. She has to, a new machine would run me somewhere around $20,000. She is the heart of my business and I need her!

* the unfortunate butterfly accident: was running out of my office to rescue a batch that was about to get too dark, when my left foot was planted I caught flying movement out of the corner of my left eye -- something that shouldn't happen inside -- I shifted my weight to quickly go the opposite direction and wound up straining it a bit. I thought initially that it might be a bird or a bat. Nope, it was a butterfly.

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Playing for Lawyers

on Thursday, August 20, 2009

We were supposed to leave St. Joe at 3:15 PM, that would have gotten us to the Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, MN and set up with plenty of time to spare. George took the Tahoe full of sound gear and offered Jeff and I the chance to drive his Camero -- and who would pass up a chance like that?

It took some doing, but we got our gear into the tiny, little trunk and practically non-existent back seat area -- we had to put the top down to get Jeff's bass amp in the the back, but everything fit snugly and we were ready to go. Jeff ran into the coffee shop to get an iced latte for the road, when he got back to the car he was on the phone.

"Take everything out of the Camero and put it in my car," he said, "we have to go back to St. Cloud to pick up the lights."

So down came the top again, and out came our gear which we quickly loaded into Jeff's mini-station wagon. We drove to the roastery in St. Cloud, where we store most of our gear, picked up the lights and were ready to leave. We stopped at a gas station to fuel up and Jeff noticed his son's overnight bag that was supposed to be left at the roastery for a overnight trip to grandma & grandpa's and that's where everybody was going to meet. So we turned back again, dropped off the bag, said goodbye and were finally on the road at 4:25 PM, a full hour and ten minutes later than we'd originally planned.

Our contract said we were supposed to be set up by 5:30 as the patrons, a group of lawyers, would be showing up between then and 6:00. Jeff and I got there at 5:35. George had already set up most of the sound system and we were able to move our gear in and get the system checked and ready to go. We walked out just as the first lawyers started to arrive. Perfect!

We were scheduled to start at 8:30, but these things rarely go as planned. Speakers make speeches, one of them goes on a little long, so does the next, etc. After waiting in the hallway and goofing around we were finally on stage at 9:15. Our contract called for four 45-minute sets, but I find that usually if the speechifying goes on longer than it's supposed to the event ends earlier than scheduled. That wasn't the case.

We are very accustomed to 3-set gigs. 4-setters get long and we get tired. This one seemed like it was never going to end. Some people danced, others sat at their tables and drank and talked, the one person in the room who was having a really good time was one of the bartenders, a woman somewhere in her 60s. She danced and sang along, she thanked us and complimented us at set-break. If everyone in the room would have been having as good a time as she was the place would have been on fire!

Finally we finished. We were tired and we were thirsty. It was 1:00 AM. Jeff quickly ran to the bar and asked our biggest fan if she could set the band up with a round of beers.

"I can't," she said, "we're closed."

Now, I don't blame her, she had probably counted out her till and inventoried what she had left and was ready to break the bar down and go home, but it still sucked. A beer, that's all we wanted.

No dice.

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