My day in jelly roll hell

While I'm officially retired, it hasn't stopped me from trying various part-time jobs.

Along with running my coffee business called Coffee's On, I also work as a bartender at the local legion and as a cell monitor at the local police station. I love both jobs.

However, ignoring the better judgment of my wife Angela, I signed up for a temp position at a local manufacturing plant which produces baked goods.

I would be on the jelly roll line.

After borrowing a pair of steel toe work boots, I showed up at the massive facility at 7 a.m.

I was quickly handed a shirt, apron, hair net and ear plugs. It was go time.

The jelly roll machine was massive. It baked and rolled and filled the edible products before being dumped onto an assembly line. That's where my team took over. My first job was on trays. For two hours, I was responsible for clicking the little fasteners shut on the plastic tray lids containing six jelly rolls. Piece of cake, right? Maybe, if the conveyor belt wasn't at break-neck speed. Within 30 minutes I could no longer feel my fingers, and the longer I did it, the more trays were getting passed me with lids open wide.

The other workers on the line, mostly women with the dexterity of karate instructors, were giving knowing glances to each other. Rookie, green horn, he won't last.

The clock on the wall didn't seem to be moving. My only thought: "Please, kill me now".

By 9 a.m., I was relieved for my morning break

"Thank you lord," I thought.

After 15 minutes of quiet desperation and reflection, I was back on the line.

Job 2: labelling.

This one required me to guide the closed jelly roll trays onto a smaller conveyor belt so they could be automatically labelled. It was a bit more civilized and I mastered it within minutes.

"The trays are too close together," screamed my crew boss, as the line was halted. First of all nobody told me that each tray needed to be separated from the one before it and secondly I was really close to telling my guru what he could do with his labels.

After a momentary shutdown of the line, we were back in production and my crew boss told me I could break for lunch.

It was 10:30 in the morning for Christ sake. Who is hungry at 10:30 a.m.? But I wasn't going to argue.

My lunch was leftover curry with rice. After heating it up in the cafeteria microwave, I faced a small problem. No forks or spoons. I checked every drawer and cupboard and could only come up with one plastic knife, a slow process when eating rice. The cafeteria itself was barren and tired looking. About 20 staff were also eating lunch, but nobody, I mean nobody, was talking. I spent my time shovelling rice into my mouth with my plastic knife and looking through a month-old copy of The Toronto Sun before my time was up.

My true hell was about to begin.

Job 3: cake placing.

This is how it works. The jelly rolls come out of the machine in groups of three. The person ahead of me lays a tray in front of the jelly rolls and I was responsible for adding the first three jelly rolls, while the lady beside me completed the task with three more. Easy enough, right?

Oh my god.

While the lifting and placing of the jelly rolls was simple enough, I was leaning over just enough to impact my back muscles. Within 20 minutes, I was screaming inside my head. On top of that, I wasn't sure if my jelly roll placing style was accurate because the lady next to me had a scooping motion. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good look at her technique because turning my head for that instant would put me a tray behind.

This was my "I Love Lucy" moment. Remember the episode when Lucy and Ethel were in the chocolate factory and had to hand-wrap each chocolate? That was my life and life wasn't good. The absolute worse part of cake placing is keeping a laser focus on the trays. But, what starts to happen can only be described as a hallucination. Soon, it felt like the trays on the conveyor belt weren't moving, but I was. It seemed like I was refilling the same tray over and over again and my mind couldn't understand why. I was in jelly roll limbo.

"Are you feeling a little dizzy?" asked the lady beside me. "Don't worry, that will pass after a few days."

I thanked her, but I already knew. There's no freakin' way I'd still be here in a few days.

On top of all that, the machine was running more efficiently that it had all morning, so there were no momentary delays or shutdowns. I was praying for a stoppage, a blackout, a jelly roll mutiny, but nothing happened.

I'm 58-years-of-age. I have some money in the bank. What the …. was I doing here?

I guess my wife was right.

When my soul-sucking, mind-numbing shift was finally over, I was offered a pack of jelly rolls to take home.

It was a nice gesture, but I declined.

I never want to see one of those demon baked goods ever again.

2 thoughts on “My day in jelly roll hell

  1. Carol ;)

    I've been on the line in our facility a few times and know without a doubt, this is not how I could not spend my days.
    I can imagine the piles of jelly rolls everywhere, because I saw something shiny. I often wonder what we could to make things better for our employees. Valuable information. I love that you tried it. Thank you so much.

  2. Connie Clapp

    Jeff, you should write about life after 55. You had me in stiches reading about your day in the factory. Looking forward to reading more. Great job

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