Tuesday 12th 2022 0900HRS ——- August 4th 2022 2000HRS
24 Days of Non-Stop Work.
In what has to be the worst scheduling conflict of my entire professional career, I had accidentally booked myself in for work every single day.
I didn’t even stop there either, I made sure my calendar had social agenda items, space for deep emotional talks and time to work out.
Looking back on it, I’m not even sure I remember exactly what I did. Certain moments stand out … crucial make or break flashpoints that defined how my mental state was going to cope with the next day.
Mostly, the 24 days were filled with what I call “Operational Fugue:” 80% boredom followed up with 20% of sheer panic.
Which means that I don’t really remember any strong details from those 24 days, because they all started to blend together into an miasma of constant work.
All I knew is that I had to keep trudging along … right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot … until I could finally wrap it all up.
So if the days start to blend together, what are the flashpoints do I actually remember?
Go-karting was one of them. As was the RUN MELBOURNE Marathon event I worked at. EDUTEST was another. A run-in with a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 5 years. An emotional break-down. Donating blood.
And finally saying goodbye to my retail job.
When I look back at my calendar, that is surprisingly accurate. These are all the main flashpoints that really defined the 24 day work stint.
So perhaps my memory is not as shot as I originally thought it was.
However to truly understand why I embarked on such a long working stint is to appreciate that my event career is finally starting to take off.
Traditionally for 2022, I have been working 6 day work-weeks. I will do my obligatory 5 days at my retail store before giving myself an opportunity over the weekend to work at some event. Which meant that my Saturdays would be booked for an event gig, before heading back in to retail for a shorter Sunday and recovery on Mondays.
Everything was quite well balanced, all things considered, because the work load at my extremely quiet retail store was light. I also thought of my event gigs as a mini-holiday, a welcome reset from the drudgery of retail, because the energy and vibes of an event was so adrenaline-soaked, that it reinvigorated me for the week.
So … because I was working that extra day, I started picking up gigs left, right and centre. It didn’t matter what kind of event it was, if it was paid, I was going to be the known as the ever-competent, strong Red Bull Mercenary.
Why Red Bull? Because my event uniform, regardless of any event I attended, was the same. A Formula 1 Red Bull polo shirt, with dark navy cargo pants, a drop-leg pouch on my right thigh with cable ties and a Red Bull can sitting comfy inside, two multi-tools and a torch on my right side and a pair of Mechanix gloves on my left hip.
Besides being a stunning, loud and professional design, the Red Bull polo shirt instantly created a certain a myth around me. It was my personal brand. This was a conscious statement, that you could rely on my experience and abilities. It also spoke about my passion for motorsports, and could even be interpreted as a further testament to my love for all things precise and mechanical. Finally, because the polo shirt was just so loud, it also acted as an low-key high-visibility shirt. Everyone couldn’t mistake it for anything else.
It meant that everything I did was scrutinised and noticed … and I had no issue with being nicknamed “Red Bull” whenever I was needed.
Thus my reputation amongst a lot of different event companies was growing. People were getting impressed and eager to hire me.
Which is how I scored a job at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and the Melbourne Showgrounds.
Both of which have been extremely fun so far and thus enabled me the exit from retail I so desperately wanted.
But the problem was, because I was full-time in retail … this meant that I had to give 4 weeks notice.
And being the moron I was, instead of taking 2 weeks of leave, I decided to ride it out and somehow balance three jobs in one long 576 hours stint.
This meant that on the days I wasn’t working at retail, I was then rushing to the Melbourne Showgrounds to start my career there, or heading out to see friends after work. I crammed my schedule so tight that there were days when I left the house at 0545 and didn’t get home till 0400 the next day … which meant that I nearly spent 24 hours awake.
Thus those flashpoints stood out very strongly in my mind. Because they were the moments that just stand out above the constant grind.
Go-Karting was fun because I went with two new friends who have never tried it and I was the quickest racer on track, easily lapping many people around me.
It also reignited in me the old spark, of what I still crave, the smell of petrol, the slight loss of control when the back-end flicks out, unable to keep up with my turning angle and the absolute thrill of delivering a clean lap, whilst over-taking slower karters.
But if you asked me to describe the experience in vivid detail, I’ll struggle to do so, because the night became a blur very quickly, because by the time the lap was finished, I was already prepping myself mentally for work the next day.
The RUN MELBOURNE event was unlike any other I have experience. It didn’t help that the day before I was working at the Showgrounds, on EDUTEST, an academic exam aimed at high school students, to assist with their application to better schools.
I saw none of the exams for the record. Arriving at 0650 after a long drive, with an overnight bag slung over my shoulder, I put everything down quickly and was instantly sent to work … traffic managing over 4000 cars.
In the rain. With stupid rules that meant that parents had to leave their child behind in our care and then exit. In which the exit only worked perfunctorily because there was a traffic light that only flashed green too infrequently to allow this sea of cars to exit out of the venue.
Thus creating a huge backlog of cars that stretched for ages and kicked off what I called “the soccer mom” phase, where angry parents, frustrated at sitting in their cars for hours now began to complain loudly and get out of their vehicles to voice their opinion to us, the staff who have nothing to do with the organisers.
And it was terrifying, seeing a flash crowd hop out of their cars, 8 at a time and begin to echo their harassment at you. Soaked, tired, and already close to half of my 27K steps done that day, I mostly resorted to polite pleading, for understanding and pointing out the fact that they didn’t need to be soaked whilst waiting.
Luckily, this mollified most of them, but the complaints were a constant throughout the entire day, and it was extremely difficult to maintain a customer service mien for what was a 8 hour shift. However push through I did, despite the rain, the shitty attitudes and the slow ache in my feet. Because at the end of the day, this was the kind of work I loved and wanted to do for the rest of my life. Nothing else could compare, especially the drudgery of retail to being outdoors, in the elements, working at an event.
But the moment the shift was over, I began my journey to the city, hooking my heavy duffel bag over my shoulder through crowded trains, where I had booked an South Yarra apartment for myself, because in all honesty, what I wanted and desperately craved was space for myself after weeks and hours of work.
And it was perfect. Quite possibly the best highlight of the entire 24 work day stint, because it was spacious, quiet, had a nice view of the city and I was alone. I could truly just let my guard down and just live in the moment, despite knowing that I had to get up by 2am the next day.
So I sorted out my kit, walked out, grabbed nearby Greek food at the restaurant opposite my apartment, did some light grocery shopping; an orange juice, a Red Bull and some muesli bars, and then sat in front of the TV and just relaxed.
Then it was off to bed at 2000Hrs, and I slept fitfully, unsure if I was going to miss my alarm.
I ended up waking up early, staring out at the city view and noting how dark it was outside. I took a shower, downed the orange juice, and put on my Red Bull event uniform, then hunted for an e-scooter to take me to the venue.
Scooting along the road, I caught the remnants of a wild night out for a lot of people at 3am in the morning, drunkards passed out on the street or stumbling along the road. But I was too preoccupied with looking for the venue at Olympic Park to care.
RUN Melbourne ended up being one of the more interesting events I’ve ever worked at. The staff were all consummate professionals, at first slightly taken aback by my overwhelming amount of kit, but were soon reassured by my own event history and knowledge. I was a 2IC to one of the key organisers, and within an hour, was given a radio, autonomy and a section to look after.
It seemed that whatever I was doing, taking initiative, performing tasks with confidence and competency, was working.
My main role at the event was to spot the podium finishers for each of the races, the half-marathon, the 10K and the 5K run and then help with the pack-down.
Both of which went pretty flawlessly, except for the length of the event itself, which surprised me by finishing by 2pm in the afternoon, especially when you consider that it only started at 6am in the morning. But what really shocked me, was when I looked at my clock at 1000 and realised to my astonishment that I had been up and working for 7 hours by that point.
It was right then and there, I took my first Red Bull of the day.
So for the rest of the day, I was lugging crowd control barriers to and from spots, taking down marquees, and emptying hundreds of litres of water and Gatorade bins.
It was glorious, physical work under a warm sun, and I ended up being good companions with a lot of staff, for my technical knowledge and friendly banter.
By the time 1700 rolled around, I was physically spent and I could feel my legs were shaking from exhaustion, the previous day’s stint of 27K steps, now superseded by 47K.
I ended up consuming 3 Red Bulls that day, the last two, taken one after another, to get me back to my accommodation.
The sleep I had that night was instant and deep, only to be rudely awakened at 0700 to prepare for the Monday’s continued pack-down. It was lighter work thankfully, but it did feel longer, considering how much truck-packing there was and how tired I was after yesterday’s efforts.
But by Monday’s 1400, I was on my way home-home, and ready to collapse for the rest of the day.
Most people would have taken the next day off.
Not me. Tuesday morning, I was in my retail uniform, serving customers again and thinking about how much longer I could keep this constant work performance up.
When I look back at this long work stint, I realise that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. As long as I paced myself, didn’t let the stress of working too much get to me and just slept at regular hours, I knew I was going to be OK.
I’m still surprised that I never got sick once during that period, or even now. With the amount of people I was seeing, the outdoor conditions and the bizarre hours I was eating at, I was sure that at some point I was going to get sick.
But it turned out I was a lot healthier and stronger than I thought.
Long challenges like these remind me that maybe I am a bit more capable than the ordinary person. That maybe, just maybe, if I was successful in enlisting in the Army, I could have survived the SAS’ Selection and become one of the world’s most feared Special Forces warriors.
It’s also touched on a strange nerve I have, about how much I’ve changed into a workaholic.
Because despite some heavy emotional moments, I kept my head up and did what I had to. I went to work. I had tough conversations. I stayed true to myself. I met with friends, despite my exhaustion and I fulfilled my duties.
I don’t think I could have asked more of myself, but somehow, despite doing all of that, for 24 days straight …. I still get this feeling that I could have given more.
But maybe that is just fanciful thinking.