The Day I Donned The Hard Hat & Orange Vest

God and I have a pact: he gives me as much varied experiences as possible before he gives me what I really want. That being said, when I got out of college I had a lot of jobs: a lot to the point that even after 5 years at one company, my future employers are still concerned about my “commitment”. Commitment was something I was afraid of-true but not in my career. I was ready to buckle up and spend 5 years in a company easily. But the first 2 years after graduation, the longest I was at a job was 8 months and shortest well, a few months. I still did not have a one day job like some of the celebrity marriages.

As an engineer out of college, the one job I least expected to take was a construction gig. Being a female, 5’5, I knew early on I was not made for construction. Well God had different plans for me.  How could I define my construction gig in few alphabets? FEAR FACTOR!! After a technical interview, I received my offer letter the very same day….no waiting anxiety, yay!! I was stoked.  A day before I was officially going to start, I got this call from my boss and he asked me to pick up my hard hat and orange vest the day I start. Did it ring any alarms in my engineer brain? Heck no! So here I was on a Monday morning picking up my busted company car, an orange vest and a hard hat. I was ready to be chauffeured to the site which was 2 hours away and we had to get there at 7.  I still remember the moment the big gates opened, and I saw big burly men and few very well built women walk through the gates. I got stares, a lot of them- to the men here I was a normal sized woman and Indian at that. A lot of them did not know what Indian looked like. Here I was an exotic bird in the construction zone.

My first day at the job I got to jump down a 7 foot sump or commonly known as a hole. I am 5’5 in case I did not specify it. I now know I am claustrophobic (thanks to the wonderful MRI machine that ate me for few minutes few years after my sump travel), but back then I was young and stupid. I had my inhibitions, but when a 6-foot guy refused to jump in if I did not do it, I just had to do it for womanpower. I did with no escape route planned. After 1 hour of stretching my legs like I never have, I made it alive outside the sump. The 6 footer did not make the cut and was laid off, but I got to do more cool stuff. I laid pipes, used all sorts of grease and in the 2 months I was there I never got to do any engineering.

I was the Angelina Jolie of the construction zone. No, I don’t look like her from even outer space. I was small in comparison to the construction women and that they did not know where I was from helped.  Let’s call him R just in case my construction boyfriend read this blog:

R: Hey, where you from? You Latina or some

Me: No I am Indian

R: Where that be? Like Native American. You don’t look it.

Me: No from India, India.

R: A’right!! So you make curry? When you going make curry for me? (this question was asked everyday we met)

Me: Ummm…never!

R: what you do here?

Me: Engineer

R: did you go to a 4 year college and s**t?

Me: Ummm…yeah

R: you are what I was looking for. I dropped out of 4th grade. I always wanted to be with a girl who went to college and s**t.  You have the book smart, I got the street smarts…you know what I am sayin?

Me: Yeah (in my head: not really)

R: If you feel me like I am feelin you, then we can have somin special

Me: I have a boyfriend in San Jose

R: What that mean? You could have a boyfriend in San Jose and I could be your boyfriend in Sacramento. That’s how we do it here.

Me: Laughing.

The construction industry is different and hard work. They wake up early to get to the site by 7. We had to do daily stretches to ensure no one was injured during the day’s work.  R would stretch sexily in front of me so I could see what I was missing. He would turn, look at me and stretch. I got free food from the road coach (food truck). All of R’s construction friends were jealous he was talking to me.

My two weeks in the construction zone was beyond funny.  I got hit on by every possible man: tall, fat, short and thin. In case I did not mention R was 5…so yeah! Construction work is hard work! Each day I would get home by 5pm and I would crash on the couch by 7pm. My construction gig is one of my proudest achievements ever. How many women can claim to work in a construction zone? Every time I go for interviews and they ask me “define a moment when you were a hard-ass?” I spring my construction days on them, and they are stumped. I also happen to meet the most genuine people who were hardworking beyond anything I have ever known.

It’s been over 5 years since I left my construction gig, but to this day I do a double take when I see someone in an orange vest and hardhat. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I may not have eaten cockroaches or jumped off the building like the fear factor show, but every day at the construction site taught me how strong I was as a person, mentally and physically. They certified that “fear was not a factor for me” unless it included an MRI machine.

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