My clothing was ordered by a secretary whose only guidance was that I was really tall. This explains the size 40 pants — I wear a 32 — and the extra-large polo shirt —I wear a medium. The belt was the only thing that prevented sartorial disaster. It, too, was oversized. But there was enough Velcro to prevent my pants from inadvertently causing me to moon the plant foreman, an imposingly large, sturdy man.
Plant employees work 10 hours a day, four days a week, alternating night and day shifts week to week. I would be working the day shift, beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 4:45 p.m. I would shadow an employee who would train me and then watch my work to ensure proper build quality. There would be one break in the morning, two in the afternoon and 45 minutes for lunch.
10 hours. It was going to be a long day.
The large assembly hall’s bright and airy environment surprised me. It’s no day spa, but it’s cleaner and quieter than a shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon.
If the pleasing working conditions surprised me, my co-workers did more so. They were not the ones I remembered from my fortnight in the Philly plant. Of course, they were not doing the job I was doing then, either.
When the VW plant opened, tens of thousands applied for the available 2,000 jobs. Plant managers could afford to pick only the best of the best. They did.
I found myself starting on Pitch Three alongside David Underwood, a hardworking family man who would be training me, and team leader, Aleek Simon, an Armenian who has lived in five countries and speaks three languages. Like many here, Simon is a car guy, with a 1994 Toyota Supra and a passion for speed.
He put me at ease as I discovered that the jobs that microchips had helped me master the night before bore little resemblance to real life.