In his most recent post, Johnny Robish stirred up some memories. A couple of life-times ago, I worked (briefly, as is my wont) for the Van Camp Division of Ralston-Purina Corporation, at the company's tuna packing plant on San Pedro Island, Long Beach, California.

Several memories stand out from those days. I was staying temporarily with my old room-mate from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Randy Sharpe. My first morning at his house, I opened the refrigerator and poured myself a generous glass of orange juice. I took a giant gulp, and got it about halfway down, when I realized the jug contained screwdrivers. You might say it was a rude awakening.

Needless to say (but I will anyway), Randy was a heavy drinker. One night, he side-swiped a flat-bed eighteen-wheeler on the LA Freeway. I was sitting in the back of his VW bug covered in broken glass checking out my body parts to see if any were missing. Fortunately, the only thing missing was my good sense.

Speaking of good sense, Randy had his pilot's license, and fool that I was, on one occasion, we took off in a small plane from the Long Beach Airport. Let's just say, air traffic around LA is intense; it felt like we were in the middle of a bombing raid.

But we were talking about tuna, weren't we? Sorry, Charlie.

Randy drove his now busted-up VW to our job at the packing plant, distractedly and sometimes drunkenly ignoring pedestrians and traffic signs along the way. Meanwhile, I cowered in the suicide seat and prayed.

Every day at lunch, we'd sneak out with some cans of fancy albacore (I prefer it packed in water). We'd pile it between crackers brought from home, and wash it down with beverages bought at the on-island grocery – a root beer for me, and two bottles of cheap wine for Randy.

After lunch, we were often consigned to a make-work task of rubbing stains from the tops of cans of tuna. Many times, fellow workers, who had toked-up heavily at lunch, would spend the entire afternoon rubbing one and only one can of tuna. They said it relieved the tension – the marijuana, not the rubbing.

While the tuna was separated by type – and as I said, I favored fancy albacore packed in water, I can attest that otherwise, exactly the same tuna went in every can – the only difference was the name on the label. So – if you paid big money for a high-priced, heavily-advertised name brand like Starkist – sorry, Charlie.

©2018 Tom Cordle

Views: 66

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on December 4, 2018 at 1:10pm

Among the greatest advertising coups of the '50s occurred when those who sold white tuna decided to dispatch the red tuna companies. They did it w one line:

WHITE TUNA: WON'T TURN RED IN THE CAN. 

Comment by Ron Powell on December 4, 2018 at 4:07pm

JW, It's amazing how fallacious reasoning can sell anything...

Comment by alsoknownas on December 5, 2018 at 9:08am

More commonalities Tom, I did a stint in the vegetable and fruit cannery on the graveyard shift. I learned to never eat fruit cocktail after that. it's been on the floor and recooked several times.

Post coffee break resulted in a lot of impish behaviors. I became renowned among the workers for my ability to accurately shoot a baby carrot by pinching the tiny end. Pinging the supervisor on the side of his head when he had walked past resulted in him shutting down the conveyor belt numerous times to determine the problem with the machinery. The extended surprise break was quite popular among my co-workers. 

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 5, 2018 at 10:44am

JW Ah, yes, the great Red Scare that gave us a Cold War, Brinkmanship, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and Overkill. Oh, and lest I forget, ducking under your desk. All that was thought to be perfectly rational.

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 5, 2018 at 10:45am

Ron  Ditto on what I said to JW

Comment by Johnny Robish on December 5, 2018 at 11:34am

Great post Tom!

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 5, 2018 at 5:50pm

AKA Well, we do seem to be birds of a feather. When I worked in the foundry at Sealed Power, the trick was to jam up the hoist on the shakeout machine and enjoy our favorite time of day –– downtime.

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 5, 2018 at 5:51pm

Johnny – thanks for the inspiration

Comment by Johnny Robish on December 5, 2018 at 6:00pm

My pleasure 

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