Jul
13

Finding the Spark in Downtown LA

By

(Written for the ETI company newsletter at my 20th anniversary.)

Despite the recession of the early 90s, I had turned down other jobs as I searched for a job in manufacturing.  All of my idealism told me that manufacturing was important.  Manufacturing is one of the core foundations of both our economy and our society in being where people of different classes, races, education, and backgrounds come together to build something bigger than they could do by themselves.  A yearlong job search would be required, but I knew that is where I wanted to be.  20 years ago I joined the ETI team with all of that excitement and idealism as my motivation and my spark.  The problem is that sometimes the daily hum of normal manufacturing issues (materials, efficiencies, specs) can overwhelm all of that idealism and quench the spark.  After 20 years all I could hear was that hum.

It was early November of 2011.  I was on my third day of wandering through the streets of downtown Los Angeles.  Despite having torn both of my calves at surf lessons a few days earlier, I limped along perhaps to stay ahead of my age which I could feel catching up with me.  Downtown LA is odd in that the city drastically changed around each corner.  I would go from safe to afraid; from crowded to alone; from disrepair to exquisite; from English to Spanish to Japanese.  I would dodge movie cameras, Ferraris, and human feces.  I would see everyone from the extremely rich to the struggling poor.  While my heart was heavy with the disturbing scenes I had witnessed, my mind was a buzz just soaking everything in.

I made my way to the Disney Theater to see the curved shapes of stainless steel sheet metal glistening in the sun.  Oddly I had to walk through a police barricade, but the police didn’t seem to care.  I looked into a tunnel they had blocked off to see a homeless man walking down the middle of the road enjoying a rare moment to walk where others would never dare.  As I topped the hill I began to see people carrying signs.  Then I saw that this was the gathering place for a protest march.  We were just a few blocks away from the Occupy LA campsite.  It was November 5th which was a day to protest the big banks which littered the area we were in.  My first thought was to be glad they were making their voices heard.    As I read more signs and listened to the guy on the megaphone, I became aware that their premise was all wrong.  This was a protest about jobs.  I support them for wanting work, but my thoughts were suddenly filled with the hard working faces I know at ETI who had the solution they were searching for.  I wished I had a megaphone to share with them about the amazing people I work with who just worked through the coldest winter followed by the hottest summer in Oklahoma history.  The protestors needed to know that through that hard work, not marches or slogans, they not only made their jobs more secure but they created 80 more jobs.  These “Okies” I proudly call coworkers had the answer.

Later as I sat in the shade of a tree in the courtyard of the Cathedral of LA, I took a break from an hour of reading to reflect on what I had seen.  Suddenly the hum was gone as I could feel the reason why I’ve always been drawn to manufacturing (why I even loved driving a fork lift in a toilet paper factory).  I respect the hard work that is done at ETI.  I respect that our team of nearly 300 is trying to do the right things the right way even when it is hard.  After 20 years I found that beyond the daily hum I still have that spark that motivates me to do the best I can to help my team do this important work.  Thank you all for letting me spend half of my life so far as a part of this amazing team.

Original “divisive” version

As I read more signs and listened to the guy on the megaphone, my attitude quickly changed.  Their protest was called Good Jobs for LA.  What I read and heard was people whining for a job.  Actually they were throwing a temper tantrum.  Suddenly I was offended and had the overwhelming urge to grab the megaphone and tell them about the people I work with at ETI who just worked through the coldest winter followed by the hottest summer in Oklahoma history.  The protestors needed to know that through that hard work they not only made their jobs more secure but they created 80 more jobs.  That is how jobs are created; hard work not whining.  Would they listen?  Instead of shouting I simply walked away and left them in their confusion.

Categories : Inspire, Life

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