Yesterday's Magazette

6 – The Midnight Queque

The Midnight Queue

By Richard Ong

It’s the late 1980s and the line begins at ten this evening. There are five people waiting outside the heavy doors of 200 Town Centre Court. More people will come in the next ten minutes. Well over a hundred people are expected to camp outside the silver and gray building hoping to receive a number on a piece of paper that guarantees a test and an application to one of fifty jobs posted by GM at the Employment Centre.

At seventeen dollars an hour, Remmy expects a line to start the night before to apply for these jobs. Being unemployed for two months demands a lot of patience and strong will. There are more people willing to work than jobs available for the taking. “Hi. Is this spot taken?” Remmy asks the last person on the queue sitting on an oversized gym bag with his back against the glass wall. The grizzled young man in his early twenties looks up and squints against the lamp light behind Remmy. He nods slightly to his left and says, “No, man. Join us and have a seat. It’ll be a long night.”

“Thanks.” Remmy smiles and lays down his jacket on the floor. He sits down on the makeshift denim mat and rummages through his duffel bag for something to drink. “Apple juice?” He offers a Del Monte to the young man.

“Na-ah. Thanks, anyhow. I don’t want to have to go to the toilet and lose my spot. We’ll be here for quite a while. The office won’t be handing out tickets till six-thirty tomorrow.”

“Good point.” Remmy rips open a package of three and hands over a carton to the young man. “Take it anyway. I have plenty. There is a toilet at the bus station. I figure that we may as well try to make ourselves as comfortable as possible by helping one another. I can look after your spot and you mine whenever we have to go. What do you say to that?”

The young man smiles and gratefully takes the juice. He offers his other hand and says, “My name’s Jim.”

“Remmy. So, Jim, what’s the scoop on these fifty positions that GM’s planning to open in Scarborough? I overheard someone talking about it this afternoon when I dropped my unemployment insurance form but didn’t get a chance to look into it further.”

“It’s so cool, man! It’s the perfect gravy job. GM is retooling its Scarborough Van Plant and upgrading the drivetrain line. The only thing is, I heard that these positions may not be available for at least another two months. These guys always take their sweet time doing interviews.”

“Sounds to me like you’ve been through this process before.”

“As a matter of fact, excuse me– ” Jim stretches and yawns before continuing. “As a matter of fact, I just completed a nine-month contract back in Oshawa as a spot-welder. It was the best job I’ve ever had. For sixteen an hour, it’s a no-brainer. All I had to do was spot-weld an average of four break lines per minute and the foreman’s a happy camper. At the end of my first two weeks, I could do six. At the end of my contract, I was cranking out eight per minute. My colleagues could barely keep up with me. I was a machine!”

“Wow,” Remmy gushes in envy. “I’d be lucky to do half that quota when my time comes. Was it difficult getting in?”

“Not for me, man. My brother works as a spot-welder in Oshawa, so I just got referred. When the contract ended, I heard about this new opening in Scarborough. I just got off the bus half an hour ago to set up camp like you.”

“You’re a lucky guy, Jim. I’ve been looking for work in the past two months with no luck. I don’t even have any prior experience working in a shop, never mind an assembly line. This may be a waste time for me.” Remmy rips open the plastic sleeve from the straw and jams the tube into the juice carton. He sips noisily for several seconds.

“Don’t give up so easily my friend.” A large piece of luggage suddenly crashes onto the cement beside Remmy, startling him. A plump, middle-aged lady gives a big sigh of relief, drops onto the knapsack and lights a cigarette. She pulls a long drag from her Rothmans while the two men stare at a lovely pair of legs walking down the stairs towards them. Her tight white blouse jiggles at each step she takes. The angel slowly opens a deliciously red full set of lips and says, “Mom, are you sure you’ll be okay by yourself out here tonight?”

Her mother simply waves at her daughter and says, “Valerie, honey – I won’t be alone here tonight. Why, these two nice young men will keep me company, won’t you dears?” Jim and Remmy nod stupidly at the lovely pair of legs shining in the moonlight.

“Well, if you’re sure.. Mom, you know that you don’t have to do this. I earn enough for the two of us to get by.”

“Sure I’m sure. Val, we talked about this before and my mind’s made up. If you’re daddy was still alive, things would be different. Besides, I want you to save up for your own place when you find that special someone.” Jim and Remmy nod in agreement.

“Run along now or you’ll be late at the hospital. You can pick me up at the mall at the end of your shift at The Bay. Now scoot!”

Valerie rolls up her eyes and bends down to give her mom a quick peck on the cheek. Jim and Remmy automatically lean forward to get a glimpse of her tanned bosom. She then turns around, winks and blows a kiss in their direction. With a parting smile and a toss of her hair, she turns on her heels to walk back up the stairs to the mall. Her white skirt hugs her bottom even tighter than her blouse does her top. Both men grab their cartons of juice to quaff the sweet liquid down their dry throats.

“Isn’t she sweet?” says the mother.



“Down, boys. No sinful thoughts about my daughter will be tolerated while I’m around, clear?”

“Um.. yes. Sure thing, lady,” says Jim.

“Mm-hmm,” murmurs Remmy.

“Good. Have you boys been here long? It looks as if the line has barely started.”

“Actually, ma’am, we’ve been here for about an hour. The line will probably grow quicker after midnight. My name’s Jim, by the way.” Jim extends his hand for a greeting. “And this lovesick puppy here is named, Remmy. Welcome to the Midnight Queue.”

“Midnight Queue, eh? I like that. My name is Brenda.”

“Pleased to meet you Brenda,” says Remmy. “Have you ever worked at GM before?”

“No, I haven’t. In fact, I have never worked at any factory before. My last job six months ago was a position in health care as a caregiver to the elderly. Unfortunately, the institution became a casualty of the government’s latest sweep of cutbacks. Those poor people. Many of them had to go home with their children’s families while others not so fortunate were carted away into one of those cheap low-rent apartments.”

“Life sure sucks sometimes,” says Jim.

“But why GM?” asks Remmy.

“Why not? When one is desperate and out of work for six months, it becomes necessary to take a pragmatic view of the situation and grab any job that comes by. Beggars, as one may say, can’t afford to be choosers.”

“I suppose. I myself considered calling about an opening at a graveyard about a month ago.”

“See what I mean? How long have you been unemployed, Remmy?”

“Two months.”

“And you, Jim?”

“Two weeks.”

“Hmph.” Brenda sits back with her large arms folded on her chest. “Amateurs.”

Hours pass. Ten more people join the Midnight Queue. The smart ones have brought their own plastic chairs. Others sip an assortment of beverages from water, juice to tequila standing up. Remmy, Jim and Brenda join the couple from behind in a game of poker. Mr. and Mrs. Dewey never stop smiling since they joined the queue.

At two-thirty in the morning, the Midnight Queue swells to an army of fifty. GM has exactly one job available for each individual outside the Employment Centre.

“Four more hours before the door opens! Hang in there my friends! May the best jobless wins!” Jim shouts over the increasing noise and chatter. The Midnight Queue whoops and claps in joyous response. Their optimism is intoxicating.

At four-thirty, the morning folks arrive. The headcount reaches eighty. Remmy and Jim can smell the sweet aroma of fresh coffee coming from an elderly gent walking down the path towards them. He gingerly pours the steaming dark liquid into the lid of his thermos. He raises the plastic container up to his nose, takes a deep breath, sips and sighs. Remmy and Jim sigh along with him. They suddenly shiver from caffeine withdrawal.

At five-thirty, the crowd becomes restless. The pinkish hue of the sky in the east will soon give way to the warm sunshine of a bright new day. Jim, Remmy, Brenda and The Deweys swear a solemn oath to protect their spots at all costs. They will form a human chain that cannot be broken even by the most desperate hobos and stragglers hoping to get a piece of the action. The Midnight Queue shall not be intimidated. The Midnight Queue is determined to become GM’s finest selection of spot-welders and their members aim to deliver – at any cost.

At six a.m., the sun has risen. The Midnight Queue is armed and ready to do battle if necessary to keep the Pre-Dawn Queue, the Dawn Queue and the Morning Queue at bay.

At exactly six-thirty, the main doors at 200 Town Centre Court open and numbered papers are quickly distributed to the first fifty people in line. The rest are told to go home and try again the next day.

The Midnight Queue has prevailed.

In light of the “doom-and-gloom” atmosphere pervading the world financial markets these days, I was inspired to go back in time, back during the Great Recession of the late Eighties to mid-Nineties, to an unforgettable experience where I was part of a growing line of people from all sorts of professional background camping outside of the employment centre just to get a crack at being interviewed for an assembly line job. Let us hope that history does not repeat itself for it was a trying experience for everyone. R. Ong


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