Plant, Episode 2 - Stressed Out (Update 6/26/18)
Update 6/26/18:
I used to work at a chemical plant. This is my attempt to keep some of the memories alive. It's a fictional story that's based on real themes such as office life, the corporate world, toxic people, building self-confidence, sexism and gossip. There's also friendship and love and warm fluffy feelings in there. I hope you like it!

In episode 2, Amy's bubbly personality contrasts with the bleak, serious characters in her office. Seth struggles to establish himself as the new boss.

Episode One: I Need a Dollar
Episode Two: Stressed Out

Episode 1 - I Need a Dollar

The Bridgeport Chemical Complex purred and fumed like a sleeping dragon. No matter what, she had to run. Down time meant the loss of money, and the loss of money meant company death.

But the facility was over 50 years old. Her moans, hiccups, and leaks were a sobering reminder of her old age.

Seth Valentine’s steel-toe boots crunched on the sidewalk as he approached the complex. He was up before the sun, marching toward his new promotion. If the rumors were true, this old plant was in severe need of his help.

The age of the equipment wasn’t his only challenge. He was young for an Area Manager. Some people worked all their lives to reach that position, but the promotion had only taken him 8 years. Which meant he was going to be extra unpopular.

An exhausted mechanic was just getting off the night shift, his face shining with sweat. Unlike Seth, he was walking to the parking lot, toward freedom. He glanced at Seth’s clean-shaven face and nodded curtly as they passed each other.

Seth shrugged his way into the administration building. He reminded himself that he was no stranger to bad attitudes.

“It is my pleasure to bring Seth Valentine into our ranks,” announced Aaron Ledger. As his great demeanor suggested, he was the Plant Manager. “Big Boss Man,” as some would say. Seth would be reporting directly to him.

Aaron stood before all the Bridgeport managers in the conference room. 20-30 important people assembled for this meeting every morning.

Aaron went on, “Seth’s reputation precedes him. He played a huge role at OceanView Facility. Thanks to his leadership, those sulfuric plants are running like they were built yesterday! We hope he will be able to do the same for Bridgeport. Let’s give him a hand!”

Seth stood and accepted the welcome with a closed-mouth smile. The attendees applauded politely, but not all smiled back.

Ever since GreenCorp had bought out Bridgeport several months ago, layoffs were happening left and right. Managers who had worked here for 30+ years were being replaced by company “Kool-Aid drinkers” like Seth. Winning their trust would not be easy.

“How are those samples looking, Dean?” Amy asked, twirling the phone cord around her index finger. “Oh, you haven’t grabbed them yet? It’s ok. No, don’t worry. I’ll come get them for you. I’ll be right over. See you later.” She dropped the phone into its cradle and reached for her neoprene gloves.

Alex Hunt stood in the doorway of Amy’s office, inspecting his nails. “When are you going to stop babying those operators?” he complained. “You shouldn’t take samples for them. Tell those lazy boys to do their job.”

Amy grinned at her coworker. She slipped the gloves over her hands like an eager doctor. “That’s what you do, Hunt. You’re the supervisor, you slap their wrists. I’m the engineer — I just need results.”

Hunt’s last name was fitting. He believed in integrity and hard work. But he often came off as confrontational, which made him unpopular with operators.

“Well. Maybe we won’t have to do either of those things after today. I heard our new boss-man is a hard ass. He’s going to straighten this place out.” The smirk on his face indicated that he didn’t believe it one bit, but he hoped it was true.

Amy grinned. “For your sake, I hope he will.”

Amy whistled a tune as she started down the dusty road toward the sulfuric plants. She spotted her new boss ahead.

Seth’s eyes studied the ductwork; the massive steam boilers; the 100-foot tall sulfuric acid towers.

He stopped in front of the sulfur furnace, unfazed by the searing heat of its walls. Inside, sulfur burned at a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. A tiny trace of toxic SO2 gas stung in his nose. It was nothing he hadn’t experienced before.

As Amy approached him, the roar of the equipment grew louder. She tapped Seth on the shoulder. He turned quickly, then looked down to meet her eyes.

“Hi there. I’m Amy.”

He frowned. “Who?” The sulfuric plant was as loud as an approaching freight train in some areas. Earplugs were required outside to protect their hearing.

“I’M AMY GLASS!” She yelled. She stood on her toes for better access to his ear. “I’M THE SULFURIC ACID OPERATIONS ENGINEER!” She extended her hand.

“Oh. Seth Valentine.” He accepted her handshake with a frown. Had she yelled too loudly?

Not sure. Might as well stay loud. “WELCOME TO BRIDGEPORT. LET ME KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS,” she yelled in his face.

“Sure. Thanks.” He turned back to the furnace.

Amy took that as a signal to leave him alone. She smiled anxiously and continued toward the control room.

Well, that was a dumb thing to say. After all, Seth was supposed to be the sulfuric expert. Why should he ask her anything?

“Hey guys,” Amy waved as she passed through the sulfuric acid control room.

80’s rock n’ roll music played from a dirty boombox on the floor. Basic graphics flashed on the computer screens. TV’s mounted on the walls showed numbers in red and green.

Four men sat in front of ancient-looking control stations. Some of them had been working the plant for many years. Some of them were young and just starting out. These were operators of the sulfuric plants.

“Hello,” they murmured back at Amy.

To some, the operators were just the grunt labor force — egotistical, uninformed, shallow and prone to gossip. However, operators knew the inner workings of the plant better than anyone else.

Amy acknowledged the need for their experience. She made an effort to befriend all operators, even the grouchy ones. She was the nice girl who brought in donuts and asked how their day was going. If she helped them, they helped her.

“How’s everything looking today? Are we running full rate?” Amy asked, poking her head over William’s shoulder. William was the chief operator of this shift.

“Not full rate on #03 Plant. Phos Acid can’t keep up with inventory.” Will clicked through some different computer screens. The tank levels showed that they were filled to capacity.

Amy shrugged; there wasn’t much they could do about that. “How was your fishing trip last week? Did you end up going?”

At the mention of fishing, the operator’s eyes seemed to light up. “Nah! We got rained out. First trip of the year, I was really looking forward to it. I almost took the boat out anyway, but I didn’t want to end up like Eric.”

On the other side of the room, a much younger operator shook his head morosely. “Come on, Will. Don’t.”

William ignored Eric’s plea. Gossip was their favorite entertainment in the control rooms. “Eric went out on his 15-footer in a thunderstorm. His boat sank — he had to be rescued by the Coast Guard!” Will started cackling. “He didn’t have insurance!”

Eric moaned. He was only 19 years old, the baby of the room. “Man, why do you have to tell everyone…?”

Amy pursed her lips. “I am very sorry for your loss, Eric.”

“Don’t apologize to him, it’s his own stupid fault. What moron takes their boat out when the news says there’s 100% chance of a tropical storm?” said Will, fanning the fire.

Eric looked riled. “Old man, if you don’t shut up about my boat I’m gonna walk over there and smack the Mountain Dew off your-“

Seth suddenly appeared from the hallway and removed his safety glasses. No one had heard their boss enter the building. The operators promptly pointed their faces back at their computer screens.

Seth made no comment about the young operator’s unfinished threat. He walked over to William’s side.

“Why are we not running full rate this morning?” Seth asked.

“Phos acid inventory-“ Will began.

“Phos acid just doubled their rate a few minutes ago. Be ready to take it up to 2500 tons in a couple of hours.” Seth glanced at the clock.

“2500 tons might be pushing it,” Will warned.

“Why is that? Isn’t this plant permitted for more?” Seth looked confused.

“Yes, but sir, our acid coolers don’t like to do rates over 2400 tons.”

Seth raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, they don’t like it?”

Amy bit her lip and turned away. She knew Will was right, but she didn’t want to stand in Seth’s way. Maybe he was just trying to show everyone who the new boss was around here.

One thing was certain — the operators didn’t like to be challenged. The other men in the room began to snicker.

“The cooler amps shoot up high, sir,” Will grumbled. “The acid temperature just gets too hot.”

“I want to see that. Give me 2500 tons. I’ll be back in two hours.” Seth’s expression indicated that he would not ask again. He turned to leave the room.

When he was gone, Amy wrung her hands together. “Sorry, Will. I was going to beat him up for you.”

Will didn’t laugh. “The nerve of that guy. I’ve worked here for 34 years. He doesn’t even care what we know.”

Amy sighed. “That guy is our new boss. Remember, he decides who keeps their job. If I were you, I’d just lay low and do what he says.” Ever since the buy-out, tensions were high. Everyone’s job was potentially on the chopping block… even hers.

Will folded his arms across his chest. “We’ve been pushed to our limit in this plant. The equipment is too old here, and the company won’t spend any money to upgrade it. That boy is going to run this place into the ground.”
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