A Working Stiff’s Manifesto, by Iain Levison (Chapter 3, Part 2)

Jobs are like a moving job…they ship you in and pack you out! …No wait, that doesn’t work.

Levison has now gone from working in a restaurant to working on the road with a friend of his named Jim. Jim is a truck driver who goes all around the US moving furniture for other companies and needs Levison’s help because the people they usually get aren’t dependable. Five-hundred a week is enough to entice Levison.

When Levison meets up with Jim he notices that Jim has changed in the year since he last saw him. He’s got bags under his eyes and has developed a nervous tic. Reinforcing the idea that a lot of the ways in which modern work operates can be pretty damaging to ones health.

To make matters worse, the job hardly gives him time to enjoy his surroundings as he is too busy either being in the truck itself or helping people with furniture. The logistical requirements of scheduling all of this is also a nightmare and one Jim had to learn to by trial and error.

One story of logistics gone wrong was when Jim had a quote for him about how much stuff he was going to pick up…understated by a few thousand pounds or so. Apparently he can cancel two rides in a given year which he used on this one since he didn’t have the room. Although that’s admirable, Jim still wasted the gas and after those two chances are used up he can’t very well be sticking up for himself now as he advises Levison.

The regulations for this job of theirs is also completely ridiculous,

At six we are up and cruising empty to Topeka, Kansas, which Jim hopes to each by nightfall. The mileage directory says this is 758 miles away, and truckers are only allowed to drive ten hours a day. This means we’ll either have to average 75.8 miles per hour, which is illegal, or drive more than ten hours, which is also illegal. Jim puts down in the logbook that we started at nine thirty, which causes problems of its own.

Now, if we get pulled over between six and nine thirty, Jim loses his license because he’s driving without being logged. Furthermore, if we get pulled over at ten o’clock and we’re 250 miles out of Huntsville, we have to explain to a state trooper how we drove 250 miles in  half hour.

I can’t even begin to get the hang of it. I’m supposed to keep records of the truck mileage when we cross state lines, which is easy enough, but in the fake logbook the mileages have to be different. Then if we get pulled over and the trooper looks at the current mileage on the actual odometer and sees my written mileage, which we’re not going to hit until some time tomorrow, we’re screwed. There’s no way to pass a thorough inspection. (p. 63)

And as if things couldn’t be much worse this all adds up to consumers wanting faster deliveries and companies wanting faster service but the government doing just about all it can to make it go slower for the truckers.

Now, $500 a week may sound great at first glance but this ignores the fact that the job is an independent job and all costs are pretty much put on you. You have to pay for the motels, the food and for Levison it ends up being, “…chump change, $220 for a seventy-hour week. With overtime, this averages out to about $3.80 an hour.” (p. 65)

Jim insists, in a motel, while the truck has a flat tire that they’re going to get up at 5 AM so they can make it by 7 (it’s not clear but I’m guessing they mean 7 AM).

The woman’s house they visit isn’t packed or moved at all.

So of course it takes them until about 3:30 in the morning to get everything done and they don’t get any tip.

What’s really notable in this section is that the woman decides to give them her life story about why she’s moving, she found out her husband had molested their daughter when she was younger and is going to make sure he comes back to an empty house and some legal papers shortly after.

Apparently though, because her husband recently made himself some deal to become a lot richer Levison suspects that she is actually making up the allegations to get his money. And that’s certainly possible though given how little he knows about her and how much less he knows about her husband I’m not sure it’s really safe to speculate on something like this.

Levison makes it seem like the woman has been planning this from the start…though I’m not exactly sure on what evidence except the fact that it makes a story more colorful and makes life seem more story like. This is a certain sort of logical fallacy but I can’t remember the name.

Anyhow, I don’t know one way or the other whether the story is true and based on the one-sided story I can’t really believe Levison knew either. But people can let their biases be confirmed all of the time through the smallest things.

Jim finally decides to live up to his advice to Levison earlier and they take a break.

Well, figuratively and literally.

They decide to sleep in the truck which requires some space and space requires moving the woman’s stuff around but at this point neither Levison or Jim have the energy to be careful with her stuff.

So they end up breaking a rake and dropping a few boxes and the contents of those boxes, etc. etc.

It’s starting to make more and more sense to me why movers and packers end up damaging people’s stuff sometimes…

Levison, at least, manages to sleep well and wakes to a bunch of photos of the woman’s modeling career being laced around the truck.

They then proceed to have a pretty…interesting conversation? Mostly about how the woman “fucked her way into some serious money” and wondering whether they’d do the same with a woman. I’m really not sure how to feel or what to say about it so I’m just gonna let it pass…but it’s kind of creepy, just saying.

The more actually interesting part of this section starts when Jim says that he could live off a rich girl for a few weeks but he’d need some freedom and says that the good part of his job is that no one bothers him.

Levison points out (at least to us, I’m not sure whether he says this to Jim) that there’s a device in the truck that is called an Onitrax which is connected to a satellite and from which the company can more or less stalk Jim whenever they get antsy about stuff.

Usually they get told that things they drop off have been scratched up or broken and these things come out of Jim’s increasingly small paycheck (especially considering how much work he is doing). And as much as I like the concept of independent contractors I’d be hard pressed to argue with Levison’s point that independent “just means that nobody is paying for your health insurance.” (71)

They get to Denver and decide to take a few days off. One day in Denver and another day in Boulder.

It’s a very welcomed break for them and for me as a reader. I mean, hey, I don’t mind reading about how much work sucks but some great times had in leisure are nice to hear too! Finally we get some sort of sense of what leisure means for Levison.

It revolves mostly around exploration, aiding others, relaxing with his favorite shows and having some personal time too. Definitely a solid list of ways to be more leisureful.

The perils of driving these trailers include snow, ice patches, falling asleep and pushing yourself too hard when you don’t get some sleep.

Jim says he would’ve liked to be a teacher but he had a friend who was a teacher who could barely afford his own place and had to constantly borrow from Jim before eventually moving back with his parents. He still teaches and loves it, but it’s not very sustainable at $8 an hour by himself.

They pass by a few tractor-trailer wrecks, one is clearly fatal and it makes Levison a bit nervous about Jim still wearing his sunglasses during the night.

He decides to get some sleep, after all the worst that can happen is that they crash, right?

Thankfully they don’t crash but once they get to Seattle they get some pretty bad news nonetheless: they’re not gonna have a job for a few days, at least.

This makes Levison a de facto burden on Jim and he realizes it pretty quickly. Telling Jim not to pay him for the week but Jim insists…well until he sees his bank account. After four days of being a burden Levison tells Jim he’s gonna go into town and ends up going to Rayford Seafoods which he had worked at before. He scribbles things like “the moon” for grad school and “compulsive masturbation” as his hobby and no one notices.

What does interest them is drug-testing which Levison says is basically irrelevant given that they tend to test at weird intervals where most people wouldn’t get caught from smoking a few weeks ago or have plenty of time to figure out a way to dupe the process. He also speculates that it all comes down to favortism anyhow.

Either way it doesn’t matter since Jim is drug-free and the company Jim worked for drug-tested randomly Levison is in the clear. Plus, he was polite and that helps.

Jim thanks Levison and they leave each other on good terms and five hours later Levison is on an airplane to Alaska.

Thus ends another chapter…the results?

I’m not particularly impressed with the book so far. Mostly because it’s not telling me anything that’d really surprise me or anything that’s really that cutting of a critique of modern work. I don’t know if that’s Levison’s goal or not but I figure he certainly doesn’t think highly of it and isn’t trying to.

One thing I’ve noticed is that Levison is extremely good at just walking away from situations he doesn’t care for. Whether it’s telling off a boss before he gets fired or quits or just walking away when he gets too frustrated. The mark of someone who knows that a lot of this stuff is a sham seems to be walking away and trying again somewhere.

But ultimately, it doesn’t seem to be doing Levison much good.

The best he got was helping people on the black market with their cable (and I really think he maybe should have pursued that…) but that didn’t last. Otherwise most of his jobs are under the thumb of a boss for lousy pay and in lousy conditions. And I get that part of the whole book is highlighting how awful it is for people in these conditions but so far Levison hasn’t really pointed a way out.

Having friends help you out seems to be a short-term thing at best and doing things by yourself just seems to lead to disaster in one way or the other. The best option so far seems to be these short-term jobs he gets from friends that he actually doesn’t mind doing and the costs aren’t significant. Even then there are problems to be accounted for but at least he isn’t handing alcohol in the dark and cold.

I’m still enjoying this book for sure. Levison is a very capable writer and a great weaver of tales. So far I’d say if you’re just interested in some funny and no-business stories about how work can suck then you’ll find yourself smirking and chuckling. But if you’re looking for incisive critiques of work, then so far at least you probably haven’t seen much.

The thing is, is that Levison brings out a lot of the themes and ideas of why work sucks (corporate control, hierarchy, knowledge problems, government meddling, etc. etc.) but never really expands past descriptive passages. Again, I may just not be the target audience for this book. It may be better suited for people who have been working stiffs or who perhaps aspire to be one and want to know the dangers or relate to the ones they already know.

I do want to be clear though that this certainly isn’t a bad book, I just wish that it sometimes had a bit more of an edge to it.

The next chapter is over 50 pages so I’ll probably split it up into three parts. While the last two chapters should easily be a part each. After that I’ll try to write out a proper book review and maybe even get an interview with Levison himself.

So stick around for that stuff in the coming weeks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *