Tuesday, December 11, 2012

48 Hours in a Time Machine

I'm not sure what the running count is, but I think Klecko has around 212 vacation hours stockpiled.

Hold that thought............

During the last few weeks, a young Polish kid, a young Pollack baker I know, has kinda moved up the ladder at a small retail bakery that specializes in Eastern European fare.

6 days a week this guy heads into work at 2:30 a.m. and bakes rye bread, kolaches, pumpernickel andVienna's.

Some of this product goes into the display case, and another portion goes into a thriving deli like restaurant that feeds the entire NorthEast population of Minneapolis.

Awhile back I offered my services to cross the ocean sometime in December and work with the guy prior to the holiday rush.

Well....this was the week.

Yesterday (Monday) was my first slated shift. I was on the roster for 2:30 a.m.

In my mind, when I agreed to do this, it seemed romantic, to turn back to my youth and return to a the nocturnal lifestyle that has turned the Last American Baker into who he is today.

But Sunday was interesting.

The Twin Cities got it's first snow fall of the year.

Actually, it was more of a minor blizzard.

I never heard the final totals (if you're a local and know.....do a brother a solid and post it at the end of this post) but when I pulled away from my house at 1:30 Monday morning, I felt isolated, as if I were navigating Siberia alone....on a night where there was little or no moon in the sky. 

"You certainly are a dumb a**."

Klecko muttered to his self as he inched along on this voyage of peril.

As I passed through downtown Minneapolis, dump trucks blocked 7th street. I couldn't get through for 12 minutes because small Bob Cat's were loading mountains of snow, located in the middle of the street, into the backs of  dump trucks.

Saints of Warsaw....hear our prayers!

When I finally arrived to work I sat in the parking lot, I was a few minutes early, so I just sat there and soaked everything in.

"You know you can't go home?"

 Klecko was reported to say to himself...

"Every-time you do, you always seem to get disappointed."

LOL....the price one pays for being sensitive I guess.

But truth be told...Klecko might have received salvation from the Lord, but it was me that saved myself, from himself....and the rest of you crazy wrecks when he spent those 2 decades as a baking vampire.

When a person works alone in the middle of the night, it doesn't matter if they are religious or not, every thought that goes through their mind, none of them passes their lips.

Those quiet thoughts leave behind no audible finger prints, instead.....they just flow free, in a lucid fashion, and at such a different pace than people who live amongst the daylight, they actually become part of a long running prayer.

The kid shows up, the parking lot is ice, the wind is freezing and silently the 2 of us slide down the alley and enter the back door.

After crossing the thresh hold, my host darts forward and click-click-click, I hear him flipping light switches from every corner of the iconic destination spot.

Now with the lights on, I can see through the saloon doors into the dining room.

I can see the very tables I sat at as a young-young man.

But now I'm here during "off hours" like a fly on the wall.

I am thrilled.

The kid is focused, but I can see he is still in the process of waking up. He doesn't have the same inspiration that a first timer like me has to keep him amped.

The space is cold.

It is the first "frozen" day of our Minnesota winter, I couldn't have picked a better time to start.

The first day I did 10 1/2 hours. Much of this time was spent shadowing the kid.

Much of the time I spent answering well thought out questions.

The guy didn't mention a single solitary thing about his personal life.

All he wanted, was to talk about baking.

And finally, and most importantly, much of the time was spent building trust in one another.

You might think that sounds weird, or creepy, but it's just fact, if you've ever worked night shift, or even day shift, but your tasks had you secluded from others with the exception of one other, before you can decide to invest in this person....

Usually you just want to become certain that this dude isn't a habitual liar, somebody who is going to bullsh** you throughout your entire shift.

On other occasions, I have been saddled with lazy people, or high maintenance employees that insisted on me coddling and praising everything they did, that they didn't mess up.

I've been chained to drug addicts, I've been chained to strippers.

I've been chained to coke heads, I've been chained to theives.

But this kid....he was simply a baker, a baker who wanted to talk about bread.

When I tell you that a "feeling out" process is mandatory, I say so with a "Matter of Fact" tone.

If you don't share an element of comfort with your baking partner, let's just say it leads to bad baking sessions.

The building was in good shape, but like all old buildings.....the building was old.

In between doughs, I stood in silence, and tried to picture the conversations and experiences that were shared between the Pollacks, Slavs, Bohemians and what not.

The "Kid" impressed me. I had been told by ownership that he had worked in other aspects of the operation, but he "took a shine" to baking.

"Ya think?"

This kid knew every bit as much as I did at his age, and he didn't go to baking school like I did.

Throughout our shift, older women from Paraguay, Ukraine, Russia and who knows what other parts of the world, came filing in.

None of them talked to me at first, I just got the look.

One thing that probably will never change in restaurant/bakeries is that on your first day, most employees will just give you an inquisitive look.

Conversation is seldom merited.

If I were Barack Obama, it wouldn't have been different. It's just a universal law.

The New Guy buys his time.

Next ingredient reps came came to pimp their wares, some of these cats knew me, but none of them asked what I was doing, or why I was there, but I'll bet there's rumors buzzing around Capitol City as we speak.

On day #2, me and the kid were like long tenured work mates.

All the pleasantries and formalities had been dispensed with....and all we talked about was baking.

As the little hand on the clock kept ticking, I knew my 2 day stint was quickly coming to an end.

After my baking companion shook my hand and thanked me, I went into the deli with the concepts owner.

He thanked me several times while he pulled a thick wad out of his windbreaker, but I have to tell you the truth in front of Polish Jesus.

For 2 straight days, while you and yours slept, Danny Klecko had an opportunity to travel back into time and bake with kid who really reminded him of himself.

And Klecko likes himself, so he shoved the cash back at the owner, grabbed a couple pounds of Polish Sausage out of the deli case and steered the bread truck towards home.


  1. Danny, this is a great piece of writing, a spontaneous prose poem. I like the way you not only perceived but are able to express the many levels of this experience, from the physical to the social to the spiritual, how the word "work" can hold many different meanings when it is seen not as an onerous task imposed from the outside but as a vocation, and expression of our inner selves.

    1. Rich, first off...thank you, secondly....there is nothing worse than a poet saying this but......the entire experience was poetic "Flinch"

  2. nicely done--loved it!