Rain on the Vancouver highway. On the way to work with Tom. Early morning, kinda dark, sunrise the bridge, buildings stark either side. It’s cold and there’s bottles of water, old boots and Styrofoam cups scattered around the van. I’ve got torn jeans and a bag of banana sandwiches and tired eyes. En route to a petrol station. Wasn’t built right, they want to update, make it more secure, something like that. Tom needs to place cables inside the pumps from the bottom up so it’s my job to make a crater big enough to reach from underneath. Theory is that it’s re-enforced concrete, also known as ‘Industrial’ and it’ll take a long time, and be tough as hell. Surfing the working world, big change. Been on the road about four months. Trains, planes, ride-shares and sessions.
De-vanned in the forecourt. An Indian type met us straight way, excited about a stolen fire extinguisher. Asked me all about it. Told him it happened before my time and it’s Tom’s show and to talk to him. Bright now. Folks in for ‘GASS.’ Long grotesque vehicles. Frowns on the owners faces, like they’re pissed off for reasons they can’t understand. Smell of propane. Took out tools, extension cords, ladders, buckets of string and then the beast – a great yellow Jackhammer. Looks like a steel torpedo attached to a space-shuttle. It’s on a steel trolley and my wrists kinda groan as we ease it down. There are six pumps. We’d cut through them first, one by one, with the Con-Saw – round sharp blade attached to a motor, cuts through cement, that kinda thing – then we’d ram the Jackhammer into the cracks and ‘tear the bitch open.’
Hit Muse, Uprising. Guy called Cian sliced up the area around the first pump. Some of the customers were uncomfortable with the amount of sparks flying toward their tanks. Smell of sulphur and grinding metal. Sounds like helicopter blades scraping on a huge steel door. Cement screams like it’s being tortured, disembowelled, tears up the calm morning air. Got the hammer ready while waiting. Plugs to sockets, the lead is coarse with the residue of previous jobs, stained with old muck and flecks of stone. Causes small cuts on your hands, wet feel. Got power and picked it up, handles on either side, like catching a dead horse by the ears. Heavy, Harley Davidson of Jack Hammers, trigger to the left. Hit it. Kinda like an earthquake, or being on the electric chair. Your whole body shakes, a wild boar tryna pull away, a great mechanical termite, starved, trying to eat everything, smash all it sees, born for the task at hand. Have to tame it. Break its spirit. Rain clears up. It’s seven in the morning. Bones like frozen glass. We’re here til three. Plenty of time to think about the road. How we got here and where it’s all going. Cian’s finished with the con-saw, time to follow through. Stuck it through the first crack and got shaking.
The Jackhammer’s angry. Hates the stone, like it’s a wolf and there’s a juicy rabbit underneath. Muse are working on some Plug in Baby. There’s traffic cones around the pump, to stop people coming in to fill up and getting us all blown to shit. One spark this close and it’s Hiroshima time. Nagasaki Mick. Looked up and there’s a carbohydrate in sunglasses tryna get my attention. Gave him a look that said: What do you want? Then asked: What do you want?
‘….I need GASS, buddy….’
‘Yeah, but I need GASS.’
Clatter of electric stuff off a hollow steel pipe. Growl from Jackhammer.
‘You think I could get some GASS?’
Pointed: ‘Over there.’
It was ten yards away; his voice suggested I was talking about Indochina. ‘Yeah….. Too dangerous here. You’ll blow us all to pieces.’
‘You think I could just get some GASS here?’
Hit the Jackhammer and waited for him to go away. He plugged both index fingers into his ears, watched me for a while, like he was waiting for me to stop again. Eventually he left in a huff. His whole manner said: “What an asshole, I should complain, I need GASS, oh well, at least I don’t have His job. I’m better than that. He’s not worth it. I want a cheeseburger.”
Rat tat tat tat rat tat. The hammer goes like machine gun fire. Shrapnel and large chunks of stone falling on to the forecourt. Jack wants to kill it all. Destroy it. Tryna hold the trigger down is causing a small blister under my thumb. I got gloves and an orange site safety jacket and goggles. My face is covered in spatters of green muckish cement. Shoes gone from brown to white with the dust. Arms shaky. Took a break to give Tom a hand with some electrical stuff. Something to do with bringing cables across the girders. Met Tom through Joyce. He’s like the Irish Saint of Canadian Immigration. ‘….Ye can stay in my house for a while til ye get sorted. I’ll get you a bit of work at my place, Mick. Can’t see an Irishman stuck. It’s important to help each other out…’ Right now I’m doing my best not to fall off the ladder. It was fairly rocky, long drop down, no parachute, pure concrete, thoughts of job gone, legs and arms broken, two hours after starting. Kept vertical as best I could. There was a whole lotta talk about A32 screws, fish wire, drill bits and aluminum piping. Went down the confident road, tried to change a drill-bit and almost took my hand clean off. Tom made a hole in the wall and we went inside the shop to pull the wire through. Had to walk over the attic, on the beams only. The ceiling was some kinda weak board that would break under the weight of a large spider, not to mention a person. It was dark and there was a smell of cotton and dust and old forgotten about things like boxes of gloves and detergents and blue cloth wipes. We were walking just above the heads of the people in the shop below too. Got an image of an almighty crash into on to the floor, beside some old lady and a guy in overalls, all bits of board and wire and cans of oil scattered all over the place, and me in the middle of it, with my goggles and safety vest and a t-shirt that says: Truman – you’re on TV!
Survived the attic. Got back to the hammer. Went for another bluff and said: ‘…Hey, Tom, that Con-Saw’s not plugged in there….’
‘That’s cos she’s petrhil, Mike.’
Ate my banana sandwiches not long before the Health and Safety arrived. I knew why right away. It was because of an Asian doll in a new hair-do and a designer suit. Didn’t like the noise. Distracted her filing up the behemoth she could hardly drive. Turns out she called and complained and now there’s a guy here tryna shut us down. After Tom, there’s a foreman called Darwin that comes along and deals with a lot of the pricing of jobs, bureaucracy and, most importantly, complaints. He’s a calm tank of muscle from Canada and right now he’s reasoning with this guy and his notebook. It takes a while, but he pulls it off and the guy leaves and the crises passes. Later, the Indian is out complaining that someone stole a forty-nine cent squeedgee, which I think is a windshield brush, and he’s not happy about it. It takes a while to sort him out and then Darwin comes round and tells us all to look official in case the H&S guy comes back. Always wear the vest and the ear protection and try not to get us all blown to pieces, that kinda thing. Across the forecourt there’s an old lady tryna fill her car but she can’t concentrate cos all the vehicles behind her keep honking their horn to try and get her to hurry up. She doesn’t know where to put the pump back on, can’t read the meter properly and seems to be mostly scared. This incites more honking and exacerbates her anxiety and I’m afraid she’s gonna have a heart attack. Beside me, a Mercedes pulls up by the traffic cones, ignores the Danger – Do not Enter tape, drives over the extension leads, and the water hose, passed the big pile of rubble beside the pump, steps on to the vibrating ground, with the occasional spark, takes the pump off the nozzle, ignores the – CLOSED – PLEASE SEE ATTENDANT notice on the meter, turns to me and says: ‘….hey, man, you think I could get some GASS here….?’