I work with youngsters who are Conchs mostly. A few of us came from Up North but for the most part people who stick at these jobs are people who have roots in town, people with families, homes and history. Its just not that easy to go through a prolonged hiring process to get a city job, especially in dispatch, when you live far away and the process takes numerous tests and interviews spread over several months. Those of us who do survive the process become welded into a tight knit group of people who can do a stressful job reliably and well, and half a dozen of us relish doing it at night. The Slackers in the title does not refer to us, I took it from the movie of the same title which was a character study, more or less, of night clerks "slacking."
We get pretty intimate in these dispatching jobs. We learn to have conversations interrupted by calls on the radio or 911 calls and the conversation resumes without a glitch after the activity does down. Sometimes it doesn't die down and the stories get put on hold, perhaps indefinitely. We are used to not being able to finish a thought. So the stories I have gleaned I have heard over months of working with JW, the bald one, and Nick the one with hair...So they both went to Key West High school and they recognize names all over town. I;m sitting there minding my own business and they start going off on someone arguing family history...wasn't she the one who used to go out with him before he got caught borrowing his brother's car...He used to be married to my cousin's half sister, the one whose brother owned that store. It's like listening to the people in the village where I grew up talking about their neighbors, marking the passage of time by natural disasters (the year the cows stopped milking etc...) and connecting people through marriage jobs and childbirth.
They also see people wandering around town all the time. There's that old Haitian lady who walks near 14th/ Apparently she carries her stuff old school style, neatly balanced on her head. JW who is endowed with a colorful way of thinking remarked that passing her on the street makes him fell like he's stepped into the pages of National Geographic, one of those third world countries. I say nothing and think about the women in my village where I grew up, doing just that!
Then there was the case of the convenience store clerk who created a bit of a wave one evening when Nick stopped by to picked up a soda. She was married to someone ..blah ... blah...anyway she is known to the Boys from her past in Key West and she has a reputation a certain class of people. Now Nick would never tell you but he's part Cuban himself so when the clerk gets mad at a Cuban who makes a mistake and accidentally tries to short change her she goes off about "Them Cubans..." Well, Nick says, "That was awkward. I mean what do you say standing in line with a bunch of people...Yeah, I hate those Cubans too....Especially when I am one?"
JW likes to drink Monster energy drinks and after his break he likes to stop up the street on his way back to work and get afresh ice cold can of high energy sugar water. The trouble is...the clerk at the convenience store has taken a fancy to my married colleague. "Man," he announced in frustration, "I gotta get my Monsters somewhere else, the Lion came onto me again and it makes me uncomfortable," he said, grimacing. Apparently the clerk has a mane of brightly dyed blonde hair so they call him the Lion and he has proclivities that JW is not anxious to participate in. Mind you JW got propositioned in line at Disneyworld last vacation so I suppose he should be used to it. I think his wife thinks its pretty funny.
My colleagues are anxiously awaiting the opening of Taco Bell which closed in 2009 and has apparently been missed greatly. It is supposed to open today and I have no doubt there will be lines. I am no particular fan but I hope they hire some of the more colorful clerks I hear about from my colleagues. There was one guy at the Burger King who announced himself on the drive through intercomm "Bee Kay- wha-da-doo" and offered to add "chee chee" to your sandwich if you wanted cheese with it. JW had to ask him where he was from ("I knew I was going to regret this" he sighed as he told the story about getting involved in the guy's story). Turns out he speaks French Creole and a few other languages I can't remember." He allowed as the young clerk must be pretty smart, but not smart enough to take his languages somewhere other than Burger King.
I like that side of life in Key West, not least because unlike the village in Italy I grew up in, no one knows me here and I navigate the strange connections as an outsider. And that suits me very much. I like listening to the stories and when JW tells me he's been reading Game of Thrones I know I'm going to hear something to my advantage. "I don't read a lot" he says but Game of Thrones caught his interest. So how was it I ask, genuinely interested. "Oh man," he says "I'm not liking it as much as I expected. So when I read the book the characters, I know should be talking with proper English accents. Thing is, in my head they're all speaking Conch. I'm telling you; it just doesn't sound tight."
My life, the well regulated life of a middle aged man alternating between work and home is nowhere near as colorful as the young Conchs I live around. However I did see Papa Smurf the other day in the check out line at the supermarket.