On Thursday I had my first job in New Zealand. I was a lollipop girl.
No, non-Kiwi friends, this does not mean I sold lollipops. I was the person holding the “Stop”/”Go” sign at a road work site – in technical terms, a traffic controller.
I got the call on Wednesday night as I was cooking dinner. My contact from a temp agency I’ve been working with said there was a job for me if I wanted it, and I pounced. When you’ve been unemployed as long as I have, you pounce.
Long story short, my agency contact brought over work boots and a vest that night to my house, and my friend Trista graciously drove me to Fielding, about 20 minutes away, at 6:30 the following morning.
I checked in with the supervisor, received a walkie talkie, and met the three guys I’d be riding to the site with (and yes, as you’ve probably assumed, I was the only woman working that day). We hopped in one of the work trucks and set off for the site, which was another half-hour northeast. The scenery was great, especially as the sun had just risen. We passed through the tiny towns of Cheltenham, Kiwitea, and Kimbolton before stopping at our destination on Apiti Road. The scene looked like this:
The previous day was an oppressive 89 degrees Fahrenheit in Palmerston North. There is also a hole in the ozone layer over New Zealand, so by this American’s standards, it always feels hotter than the mercury reads anyway. For the first hour, thank God, I was in the shade. Here was my view:
Watching oncoming traffic was fun, as I sort of felt I was secretly plotting to get Kiwis to drive on the American side of the road.
Most of the day consisted of the same clipped walkie-talkie conversation (“Clear on your end?” “All clear, go ahead.” “OK, sending two through.” “Roger.”). Thankfully I had my phone in my pocket and I listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s album of its top 20 hits – three times.
As the work progressed throughout the day, my post moved gradually up the road. From there I got to, quite literally, watch these cows come home, and then back out to graze.
I’m grateful for the country setting I worked in. In the distance I could just make out the Ruahine Mountains. I think a busier, more urban setting would have grown old quickly. The scenery helped me enjoy work that was largely monotonous and very, very hot. I don’t know if it hit 89 degrees again but it was definitely in that neighborhood. If I kept the “Stop”/”Go” sign in the same place for too long, the tar underneath it started melting. During every break, I applied sunscreen to my face and hands, but despite wearing the required long-sleeved shirt, my arms still managed to burn (Scandinavian dermatology at its finest).
The day actually went slightly faster than anticipated, thankfully. We took a handful of much-appreciated breaks, during which I was privy to perhaps the most swearing I’d ever heard in one day. These guys would give any cluster of American high-school students – or the dad from A Christmas Story – a run for their money. But I don’t want to paint them in a bad light; they were also nice to me and we had some good chats.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, when things got slow I took pictures:
^ The lollipop in question
By the end of the day I was exhausted from the heat and sore from simply standing in the same place for so long (something I didn’t even know was possible). I like to think of myself as someone who has a high threshold for pain, but the next day I was pretty darn miserable. So I learned road works jobs are not my specialty, at least not in high temperatures. I don’t see myself doing it in the future with much consistency. Still, I’m grateful for the experience. I met some interesting people I’m sure I wouldn’t have otherwise, and – at long last – I finally got a paid gig in this country.