John White: Life’s a dirty ditch and then you fry cheese balls

I’ll be hitting the magic age of 50 soon and that has me thinking about my plans for retirement.

I’ll be hitting the magic age of 50 soon and that has me thinking about my plans for retirement.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love my job. Working in community news is my jam. But you need to plan in order to ensure a comfortable post-work lifestyle.

Ironically, I see myself working part-time as a community news editor, I love it that much. It may involve holograms or direct-brain downloads or some other Elon Musk-invented process by then, but I’ll still want to be involved in news.

It took me years to find my calling.

When I was young, I worked for the City of Winnipeg’s Public Works department. It was a major score, as the pay was good and the work was steady.

I was part of a crew that went around to baseball diamonds in the city to remove the weeds from the gravel infields. This likely sounds pretty reasonable. However… the means of removal involved a hoe flipped on its back. (No dirty jokes please, I’ve heard them all.)

I had to scrape the weeds away with an angled three-inch hoe blade for eight hours in broiling heat. It was intensely physical work, and my arms ached every night. I also enjoyed the company of nasty blisters on both palms, blood-sucking mosquitoes and a pair of doofus coworkers who enjoyed slacking, and jokes at my expense.

When our diamond-scraping task was completed, we moved on to a major project near the site of the old stadium grounds. This is where they used to hold the Red River Exhibition (similar to the Calgary Stampede minus the rodeo) every year. Our task was simple: Clean out the ditch and creek along the backside of the Ex grounds, after the Ex was over.

It. Was. Horrific.

We found every measure of garbage, partially dissolved food particle, and every dead animal you could imagine. The ultimate trophy, though, was a completely submerged shopping cart overflowing with used car batteries. In hindsight, that may not have been great for our health.

If that weren’t exotic enough, I also held the distinguished title of Taco Line Operator with Hostess Foods. The line forms here, ladies.

I was solely responsible for all manner of delicious taco chip flavour processed in Taber, Alta. for the month or so that I lasted in that role. To a snack fiend like myself, it sounded like Nirvana. I had to carefully mix the ingredients in a giant vat and make sure the correct amount made it on to the piping-hot chips coming down the line. While that science was happening, I was stacking the full bins of chips three high on a cart and rolling those to the bagging area. I was in tremendous shape after doing that for a few weeks.

I recall one shift where the engineers came around and asked me to tone down the mix, and they showed me the results found in one bag — a giant blob of hot taco seasoning at the bottom and five chips. Oopsie.

I had to work as a chip inspector on one shift as they were short-staffed. I literally had to pick out the chips filled with boiling hot oil with my bare hands for eight hours. (This is before inspector robots.) Ouch.

There was a silver lining, though. The Corn Extruder Operator — the big cheese, if you will — came over during the shift and said to me, “Come with me and don’t ask any questions. Trust me.”

“OK,” I replied, nervously. This is how some horror movies start.

He proceeded to walk me to his extruder line, where he was making cheese balls.

“Put your hand under there.”

Again, not words you often want to hear from a coworker.

But, I did and caught several still-hot cheese balls. I popped one in my mouth.

I heard angels singing. My tongue danced in the cheesy goodness like it never has before or since. The ball melted in my mouth, and my eyes widened in disbelief.

“Told you.”

It’s the food production equivalent of the perfect front page in community news.

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