Friday, July 3, 2009

To Smoke or not To Smoke

Terry Stephan

Changing Lanes:exsmoking:
A friend of mine is trying to quit smoking. I was a heavy smoker for twenty years, three packs a day. Years before I quit, I remember brooding over the expense. It cost a nickel every time I lit a cigarette. I felt guilty about the money taken from my wife and kids, never mind the health issues. At today’s eight dollars a pack, I would be paying the equivalent of a hefty monthly mortgage payment.
Some smokers are overly defensive about their habit. At the mere mention of it, their hackles rise. I have all the empathy in the world, even for diehard smokers.
I was a belligerent smoker, but I never rationalized smoking as many people still do with the silly, ‘I-enjoy-smoking-and-anyway-you-could-be-hit-by-a-truck-tomorrow-so-why-quit’ attitude. I resented the inconvenience of ‘smoking areas’ becoming fewer and out of the way. At the time, it seemed a cruel roadblock to my habit.
As our country was moving towards smoke free workplaces, I was delivering freight to various warehouses in Western New York. One by one, the old haunts became non-smoking.
I refused to accept the concept that while backed into a loading dock, my truck was part of any building that banned smoking. As far as I was concerned, they could do what they wanted, I lit up in the cargo box of my tractor-trailer while I stacked freight or waited for forklift operators to unload the truck. It soon became a problem when warehouse personal, most of whom enjoyed tobacco, caught on. They would stop to take a cigarette break. My popularity rose and I didn’t mind them joining me. Sometimes it gave me an advantage over non-smoking drivers. I would often get quicker service, my truck unloaded faster.
Smoking in my trailer at a non-smoking warehouse ended when a dock supervisor couldn’t find anyone on the dock one day. I was stacking cartons when he walked into my trailer. Four of his men, who had been standing around or leaning against the wall smoking, immediately picked up cartons and pretended they were helping me stack freight. Supervisors aren’t always the dumbest kids on the block and he knew as well as anybody it doesn’t take five guys to stack freight on a pallet. In fact, too many people would be a detriment to finishing the job.
After that incident, I was regarded a troublemaker. Management at the warehouse decided I was no longer welcome at their dock if I or anyone else smoked in my trailer.
At another building, I could smoke on the first floor where I backed my truck in and on the fifth floor where the company office was located but not on the freight elevator in between. I would unload on the first floor. Heading to the fifth floor to take care of paperwork, instead of tossing the butt I was smoking, (didn’t want to throw that nickel away), I would ride the elevator up, cigarette in hand. I thought I could hide it behind my back easily in the rare case of someone else getting on.
In another of a series of embarrassing unfortunate events that is my life I got on the freight elevator alone, it stopped at the second floor. This was new. As the doors slid open, I cupped the cigarette in my hand and put it in the pocket of my jacket. The owner of the building got on, preceded by eight young men and women, I later found out they were prospective hires. He was giving them a tour of the business. I stood in the corner. Several glanced at my jacket where smoke curled out of the pocket. They all knew I was smoking, the air was thick, and no one said a word.
I was thoroughly embarrassed and I’d like to say I quit immediately but I smoked for years afterward.
I did however quit smoking on elevators.

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