End of the line.

From 2005 to 2008 I maintained a blog about my experiences working in the drug test industry. Every Sunday I revive one of those experiences here. The following was originally posted December 9, 2005.

End of the line.

One of the larger construction companies I deal with has an unusual method of notifying its employees of random drug testing. Rather than drawing names and giving out notices with a 24-hour timeframe attached, they hand out all the notices at once with a cut-off date on it. My speculation is that this gives people who know they can’t pass a few weeks to come up clean, therefore reducing the amount of employees that have to be punished for drug use. Or they just don’t want to pay employees to come take a drug test on company time… I guess I don’t really know.

However, this has an obvious side-effect — all the construction workers who get notices just wait until the last day before the cut-off before coming in. That day was yesterday.

It’s 4:30pm, and there are seven gentlemen waiting in the lobby. Anyone who doesn’t do their drug test today has to face the music in the morning when they go in to work. Some of these guys have to go really badly, but are waiting patiently in line for their turn. Four minutes per collection, seven collections… well, I’m already going to get out of here late. No problem, it happens.

In walks Mr. Beard, a scraggly guy wearing a sleeveless shirt bearing the name of Construction Company X, the same company all these other men are wearing. I’m busy completing the paperwork for the next person in line when Mr. Beard looks around forlornly, stomps up to the counter, and tries to get my attention.

“Excuse me, how long is the wait going to be?”

“I figure about thirty minutes.”

“Don’t you close at five?”

“Yeah, but I won’t leave without taking care of you. Go ahead and have a seat.”

“I have to be at my night job by six.”

“Then I’m afraid you’ll have to come back tomorrow,” I reply, knowing perfectly well he’s holding paperwork with a cut-off date on it.

“You don’t understand,” says Mr. Beard, “my boss gives me this paper to come down here, and says it has to be done by tomorrow, and you’ve got all these other guys in line. You have to move me ahead of them.”

“You’re free to discuss it with these gentlemen,” I tell him. But a quick scan around the room reveals shaking, weary heads. Mr. Beard’s just gonna have to wait.

I go back to do my collection and as I do I hear Mr. Beard pacing back and forth. He gets a few cups of water, of course using a new cup for each refill. He whips out a cell phone but closes it before placing a call.

Four minutes later I send the first man on his way and call out, “Who was next?”

Mr. Beard muscles in front of the elderly black gentleman who had begun to stand up.

“You need to take me ahead of these guys, man,” he pleads in a voice low enough that I know he doesn’t want anyone else to overhear, but loud enough that everyone does. “It’s bad enough that my boss is making me do this. I mean I don’t get off of work until five usually, I had to take off an hour just to come down here, and my boss isn’t even paying me for it. I mean, this has to be done tomorrow. I can’t lose this job and I can’t be late to my other one.”

I wave the black gentleman forward, double-check his ID to make sure I have the right paperwork, and reply to Mr. Beard, “Sorry, sir. Everyone has to wait their turn.”

While doing one collection I like to come out and fill out the paperwork for the next person in line. It helps save everyone’s time. In this case, however, it just exposes me to Mr. Beard’s pleas and excuses even more. “Look, man, I’m not on probation or anything, I didn’t just get out of jail, I’m not doing this for court… it’s just for my job. Plus I really need to go, really bad.”

“Of the gentlemen currently waiting patiently in the lobby, which of you are here from Construction Company X?”

They all nod, or grunt, or raise their hand, or otherwise affirm my question.

“And how many of you gentlemen received your notices on November 15th?”

They all nod, or grunt, or raise their hand, or otherwise affirm my question, again.

“If you get drawn again next month, sir,” I tell Mr. Beard, “I suggest you come in on the 16th.”

When I come back from completing my next collection, Mr. Beard is gone. I guess he really couldn’t wait. I finish up the line and I’m out the door by about 5:05.

Some people just can’t stand being at the end of a line.

I’ve waited in two-hour long lines for roller coasters. There’s always this sense of relief once someone steps into the line behind me. I guess it doesn’t really matter how long the line is, just as long as you aren’t at the end of it.

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