Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Night Shift

The night shift is the only job I’ve ever had. Those first few years were long hours and every move I made was strictly supervised by an external supervisor. The supervisor or relief staff were there 24/7 and watched me and the dayshift like a hawk while we learning our way around this new structure and what it would take to make it function. As I said, those first few years were long and hard. I never knew when I might be called in to do maintenance while the system was down.

Over time, the dayshift and I gradually took over full control of the structure and were given the freedom to run the system independently of external supervision. From what I hear, we were luckier than many others who do this job. Our structure was fairly cooperative and didn’t need a lot of extra supervision. Dayshift has the hard part though as they are on duty for about 16 hours/day and sometimes more depending on the circumstances. I get called in for occasional relief work for a system recharge but that is usually a day or so here or there or maybe an hour in mid afternoon when the system was running low.

I’ve been on this job over 50 years now. Am I going to retire? No way – that’s not what this job is all about. When you accept this assignment, you sign for the entire existence of the structure.

That may sound pretty extreme, but here is the good part. When this job was offered to me, I was told that if I could help run the system smoothly for the first forty some years, then I’d get more flexibility with how I did things. As the system ages, certain functions aren’t as reliable as they used to be so I get to step in and do things manually. Now that may not sound like fun, but my job could get pretty boring at times as the system was pretty much run on autopilot during the nightshift. It was basically a glorified desk job that even I could sleep through! Sure I was here, but all I had to do was scan the various controls and watch for errors. Yawn!

The overall physical structure has changed greatly over the years. Dayshift let things slide for a number of years back in the 1990’s but things improved greatly in the new millennium. By then though, the structure was starting to show its age. The windows have never been good but the nuts and bolts that hold the beams together are starting to wear out and make odd noises!

Even with better day maintenance, a few years ago this job started getting more interesting. The nightshift autopilot started having minor malfunctioning. These have increased with time. For a long time now, I’ve had to alert plumbing once or twice per night to come in and get the structure up to drain excess levels in the reservoir. We haven’t had any floods, but that could have happened without close supervision. There would be royal hell to pay if I ever let even a minor flood happen! The owner of this system really doesn’t like being disturbed in night mode but understands and reluctantly accepts the reality of the aging plumbing fixtures.

At this point, the biggest problem for the owner of this structure though are the issues with the heating system. The furnace is just not running properly and has to be manually stoked several times in any 24 hour period. Dayshift gets the brunt of this with at least 8 -10 bursts of heat that overwhelm the system for about 5 -15 minutes. Then comes the cool down and chills. I have to stoke the furnace at least 2 – 3 times/night and I try not to overlap that with the plumbing alerts so as not to overwhelm the system. The owner would prefer them to coincide, but that just isn’t the way these things are done. Besides, running them independently keeps me from getting bored!

There are issues with the main frame memory. Things from dayshift weren’t always being saved in the correct files and some data was not transferred correctly to the hard drive memory for permanent storage so some things were fragmented. There was so much information there that some older data had to be purged. Dayshift wasn’t happy about losing backup data but there wasn’t much that either of us could do. This happens to all the structures eventually. Sometimes we get lucky though and an external sensor can trigger a recovery of some information. It’s when the system is trying to recall those lost bits of info that can be the most frustrating for all involved. It can even prevent dayshift from switching over to my nightshift.

Part of my duties now include sifting through files and trying to decide what to keep and what to toss. I’m finding odd little bits of info in the strangest places. I try to sort them out and put them into coherent summaries to present the owner for final decisions. Some nights though, there is just so much info that the system goes into default dayshift and neither the owner or dayshift is happy about being disturbed on their down time. It used to be quite easy to switch back to nightshift but the last year or so I’ve had one heck of a time trying to override default day and restart nightshift. It can take two or three hours sometimes to get back to my duties. I don’t like this much more than day or the owner but that is what happens with an aging structure.

Sorting through the tidbits has been kind of fun as I sometimes take the info and try to create a little mini movie to amuse myself. Sometimes I’ll flip a switch and let the owner watch what I’ve created. Unfortunately the owner isn’t always that pleased with my work. They’d prefer something that actually made sense. Well that is too bad as I kind of like art noir over logical plots.

It can get really enjoyable and interesting though as I do occasionally get the opportunity to create a more intimate scenario. I can’t really go into too much detail on those scenes but let’s just say that the owner is quite pleased when I deliver a – let’s see how can I phrase this - stimulating and satisfying plot that includes nocturnal interaction with the owner of a suitable and compatible structure! Ooh la la!! It’s a real “I’ll have what she’s having!” moment!

From what I’ve been able to gather, most structures of this nature eventually work out the heating/cooling system but the plumbing and memory formatting issues will continue and may get worse. I knew from the beginning that this wouldn’t always be a smooth ride but it is a kind and friendly atmosphere to work in most of the time. There have been some misunderstandings with memory and perception that have caused some tension and anger but it gets worked out. Dayshift gets the brunt of the situations and has even said that anger and frustration can bring on a flood of reactions that can cause the windows to leak something fierce! I’ve had a few experiences with the flooding windows as well but nothing like dayshift has dealt with.

I don’t know how long these malfunctions will last. Some structures only experience technical difficulties for a short time and others deal with it for years. I do know that the owner is not planning any major restructuring or any reformatting to overcome the issues I’ve described. I think for the most part, they have grudgingly accepted that this is a part of their natural evolution and that they should just go with the flow. I also don’t know how long this structure will be in existence. I’m not privy to that data so I just have to make the most of what I am given to work with while it is here.

So that is my story – a little longer than I intended but it’s an interesting and challenging job. And in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I live and work in the brain of a fifty-something woman!


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