My 1999 white Nissan was falling apart as I pulled into my new work parking lot. Only a year and a half before I had been so proud when I had bought the car. It had been such an upgrade from my ’92 Saab. It was time for another upgrade.
My brakes were so loud that I immediately scanned the lot to see if anyone was still lingering around by their cars who may be able to judge me. I had started working in the water lab and it was on the coast located in a beautiful harbor. I remembered thinking how beautiful it was as I drove in for the interview. I had eaten shit though. I never thought I’d get the job. I wasn’t able to, in an understandable way, explain all the experience I had. The only words that strung together in a complete sentence that I got out had been at the very end of the interview. They asked me why I was best for the job. I looked straight into, who would become my new boss, Tammy’s eyes, and told her I knew I hadn’t shown them what I could do in this interview but I was a hard worker and learned quick. I guess she believed me because a couple weeks later I got the call as I was unpacking in my new trailer.
When I walked in I found my new boss Tammy. She explained more in depth to me that I’d be be testing ocean water from all over the coastline for fecal contamination. It had to be tested to make sure that the clams and mussels in specific areas could be harvested and sold and weren’t contaminated.
Tammy, my new boss, was very petite and only about 4’11”. If I had to guess maybe she was about 37 years old. She had pale skin and somewhat beady eyes with a slender face. Her hair was medium length, curly and dirty blonde. She kept it gelled back into a short ponytail. She was nice and helpful and she was funny too, always making light of menial things she was showing me.
Whenever she walked it looked like she swung her arms out a little further than they were meant to. Her shoulders stayed a little higher too and, looking back, maybe it was to make herself appear like she was slightly bigger than she actually was.
Then I met Harold. He was one of our lab’s samplers who went out into “the field” to get water samples from different areas, but he also spent the other half of his time in the lab. Then there was another girl named Lauren who had the same job title that Harold did. I learned they were usually out in the field Monday through Wednesday for part of the day depending on what time low tide was that particular day. I didn’t see too much of them at first. They both had small desks in our main lab stocked with all their gear and their computers.
Harold was nice, I learned he was from the northern part of the state which I was familiar with because my fiance had gone to college part-time up there. Harold was in bad physical shape for going out in the field most days, he wasn’t tall but he wasn’t necessarily short either. He had the tiniest bit of gray in his black beard and hair with a slightly short and wider face and kind eyes. I learned that he had 5 kids! It was nice talking to him. I didn’t feel intimidated and it was mostly about stupid stuff.
I learned Lauren was from Arizona as she got up from her small desk and did something at one of the benches. She had gone to college in Maine and met her husband here. She had about seven years on me, I think, and had long thick, light auburn hair and glasses an oval shaped face and was physically fit. Her body was slender at the top but huge at the bottom. We found out we knew a couple of the same people through Jay even though she didn’t know him.
I started getting used to my new desk space and organizing it how I wanted to. My desk was off in the room to the left of the main lab. I had a nice long desk and beautiful view of the harbor out of a long tall picture window in front of me. Next to me, to the left, were a couple of tall file cabinets and then the desk of another woman, Angela. She introduced herself in a boisterous casual way. She was loud and funny, about 37 with bright blonde hair and dark eyeliner. She seemed fun. Come to find out she had only started there a couple of months before I had. From what I gathered she had gone to get her doctorate at Dartmouth for something relating to neuroscience. She told me how she used to experiment on rats and told me stories about it. She was the lab tech for the lab next to us, the biotoxin lab. Her lab was in the room to left of mine and Angela’s room where our desks sat. All of the rooms were conjoined by parallel open doors. The biotoxin lab, an empty room where me and Angela sat, my water quality lab and Harold and Lauren and then another empty room where Tammy sat. Angela’s lab tested for paralytic shellfish poisoning otherwise known as red tide and other marine biotoxins.
Tammy told me she had signed a car out for me and that I would be going to a new employee orientation about 45 minutes away. I was excited to get out of the lab for a bit and was even more excited that I could take a car. Tammy walked me outside through our side door. To the right were a long set of concrete stairs leading down to some pavement that overlooked the water and looked like it looped around the whole building. Down the stairs to the left lined up were about 20 cars and trucks backed into tight parking spaces. We found the car she had signed out for me. She explained to me to write down my miles on the clipboard that she gave me and to write in what town that I had went to. Then she left me to venture.
My car was a green Ford Fusion and it rode so smoothly in comparison to my car. I buckled and changed the station from something I didn’t like to one that I used regularly. I found my sunglasses from my bag and nervously and excitedly pulled out of the parking lot and up a big steep hill to get back to the main road. I remember feeling very mature. I had never driven a company car. I betted that working there would be good and I’d get lots of privileges like this.
The orientation had been boring and by the time I got back to the lab it was pretty much time to go. The following days Harold and Lauren were still out in the field for the most part and Tammy showed me more stuff around the lab and I took notes on everything she had told me. She walked me around the building and started introducing me to people and walked me down to our pier to show me that we had a rain gauge out there. She explained to me that we check the rain gauge every day and its assigned to a certain person each month. We even had to climb over snow piles in the winter and grab the snow to bring it back into the lab and melt and measure it.
Thursdays when Harold and Lauren were in the lab we would all set up our water samples in the morning together in the main lab. It’d take about three hours. We had our own separate work benches in the same room where we would stand to run our samples. Tammy had trained me and I had basically gotten the gist of it. I had to label my plates with a sample number using small green and yellow stickers. The yellow was for a 5mL portion of the sample and the green was for a 50mL portion. That way if there were too many bacterial colonies growing on the 50mL portion we could still quantify the amount of bacteria from the 5 mL portion.
We would put on the radio and talk about random stuff. I stuck all my plates in a wire organizer and pulled my 2 and a half foot metal manifold towards me. I plugged it into the pump that would bring my wasted water into a container and got started with my samples. All the ocean water came in little bags that were labelled. You would grab a rack of water out of the refrigerator at a time and shake your first bag about 30 times before pouring it into your funnel. You could run 3 samples at a time. Lauren started leading the conversation for the most part. I was excited because it seemed like she could be a friend, and I found out she lived in Woolwich which was close to where I lived.
One day I was trying to seal a bag with a sealer that I learned how to use from Tammy. I was trying to suck the air out of the bag with a vacuum pump fashioned with a jimmy-rigged pipette. Lauren noticed it wasn’t working too well and came over. She explained that Tammy didn’t do it in the best way and showed me an easier way to do it. It was nice. She asked me after a couple of days if I wanted to start carpooling into work with her and I reluctantly but somewhat excitedly agreed.