Oh 3:30 comes early but on this day all to soon and I just want to roll over and keep my hand on the snooze button and hold it until dinner time. This is the day that no matter how I prepare my mind or think happy thoughts I know I’ll be faced with bubbling fears that will test me to the limits. As I drive the beltway and make my way onto Wilkins Blvd. I’m not alone on the roads. In this busy city life starts early and people are hustling to their jobs but they get to go to a nice warm well lit office while I will soon be faced with one of mans most primordial fears.
My first stop is the hospital kitchen I do every week and that in itself is a story which I’m sure I’ll write about soon. I can’t drag my feet because my schedule is to tight but it’s hard to keep my mind on this job knowing what lies ahead. The hot dog factory is waiting and only blocks away so my truck can’t even warm up from the frigid cold before I pull into the dark parking lot. On this day I bring in my Aero term for my regular service but also my 5 pound bucket of apple flavored rat bait. The jeers start immediately as I walk through the huge plastic curtains that separate the dock from the outside world. “Ah, LOOK who’s going downstairs today!” they yell in a loud and joyful tone. Like dogs barking from yard to yard their loud calls are heard from other rooms and the news is passed throughout the facility over the loud roar of fork lifts and machinery.
My regular service goes as planned and I can’t tarry or put off the inevitable and by this time I’ve talked myself into a braveness that this time I hope will last. “How many floors are you gonna get today?” someone yells and as if a Vegas ticker tape was up on the wall the men start placing their bets. I just smile and hold up 5 fingers but all I get is looks of gleeful disbelief and I’m sure my face isn’t displaying any real confidence either.
With bucket in hand and flashlights in each pocket I come to the door that I have been dreading for a month. 3 or 4 of the guys sneak away from the noise filled plant and accompany me to the quietest room in the building. The door opens up to an old metal stairway and you can see the remnants of a once busy slaughter house. This very large room has lights albeit dim and I make my way down the stairs. The room is filled with old metal rails that made pathways like the rides at Disney to keep the people in line. These pathways weren’t for people however and they all ended up at medieval looking stations where the cattle met their fate and conveyor belts took them from there. Rust stains ran down the once shiny metal and looked as if it were blood from years ago and this is when my brave thoughts began to wain.
The job was simple, walk and throw rat bait and no one cared about proper placement or text book technique. Of course ‘Pauly’ and his friends called out from the stairway and played with lights and giggled like school kids each time the room went pitch dark. In each corner were a set of stairs and making my way to the farthest one I briskly headed down so as not to alert the boys in the hair nets they were getting to me. The farther I descended the less the lights from the first basement gave me any comfort. This level and any other I dared to go to was completely dark and had no electricity. My flashlight was all I had and it caused some of the most horrific shadows as I made my way through the dark. Suddenly I longed for the deafening roar of the fork lifts and the scraping shovels that moved the pink goo. I bumbled my way to about the middle of the darkness and just threw the bait blocks as far as I could. The hard bait bounced off of the walls and God only knows what kind of metal death machines and just that noise alone put my mind in so many different places. “Was that a rat? A mouse? or is there someone else down here moving in the darkness and making his way over to where I am? I tried to control my thoughts but by now they were louder than any fork lift. Turning about I’d make my way back to the stair case & I was thankful for what little light came down through the stairway opening.
It would take a few minutes of letting my eyes adjust half in the light of the stairs but facing the utter and complete darkness of this huge cold room that was probably just as scary if the lights would have been on. Setting my mind I made my way down the next flight and the weak light from up above was almost non existent. Again I headed to the middle but my feet weren’t so eager to carry me and instead I just threw the bait even harder. By now every noise and image was magnified and I felt as if I were in the middle of the most horrible Alfred Hitchcock movie ever made. My back up flashlights would clang on some unknown object and I would jump thinking someone was behind me for sure. I could swear I heard other noises and perhaps they were rats and the shadows took on a life of their own and in my mind I saw angry figures that stalked me and hovered over my every move. I’m sure it was freezing in this part of the building but sweat beaded up on my forehead and I could no longer talk myself in to going any further. I doubted I could even find the stairs and panic began to set in. I felt no comfort finding my way to the staircase because by now I was sure I’d never make it out. Only when I made it back up to the 1st sub level did I breathe a sigh of relief. The dim glow of the few 100 watt bulbs were a welcome sight and I always gathered myself a bit before going back out into the noise so as not to give any satisfaction to the miserable comforters in hair nets.
They told me there were a total of 5 sub levels and as far as everybody knew, I serviced them all. Between you & me, I couldn’t tell you if there was even a forth but if you’re curious, we could go back there together, down into the abyss and see what we could see.