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Part III Home e

My LAB DUDE Period


At first, it was totally "Greek" to me, dealing with words like methylethylbutadine, and other words I didn't know how to spell, much less the meaning of them. In time, it started coming into view a little, but I'm not pretending that I started functioning on their level. No way, not even close. Still, I found that by applying myself, I became productive and was an asset to our business in a number of ways. (no chuckles, please) As well as being part owner, I was the local computer network administrator for the lab, a lab tech and field sampler. I attended special classes to become certified with the State of California as an environmental sampler. Donna was the Lab Director.

   In the early days of our lab, I was doing most of the physical work around the building. Not all, but most. I sharpened up on my electrical skills and installed new breaker boxes, running multiple lines capable of handling various amperage to different parts of the laboratory. Gas chromatagraphs are basically sophisticated timing ovens, with special tubing inside called "columns." It takes an injected sample and evaporates it through this coiled tubing that is packed with "stuff"
(a packed column). There is a detector on the other end, to measure it as it comes out.The key is that different elements/compounds evaporate at different temperatures, therefore, if you know the individual boiling temperatures, (and you're a chemist) you can read the print-out of peaks and mass densities at that desired time and know exactly (down to the parts per billion) how much is in that sample. Whew! That was a mouthful and I won't be surprised if I got it wrong after being away from it for over 7 years. No wonder Canadian Olympic sprinter, Ben Johnson, got nailed in Tokyo for using performance enhancing drugs. These instruments are highly accurate and very sensitive. My point? The chemists. These people were highly trained professionals. I was very proud to be among them, and although I was one of the owners, I was certainly their student as well. A completely different professional environment than I had ever been in before. A treat, really, to experience the "real" world of quantitative analysis. Some real characters in that crew. I miss them.

    One of our partners, Don DeVries, had been a chemist with Shell Oil for years and years. Looking back, I have to laugh at one of the questions I asked him when we were considering becoming partners with him. I said, "So, what do you bring to the table for this venture?" Ha. Over time, I became painfully aware of what a naive question that was, coming from me. That man has forgotten more than I ever learned about chemistry and I was asking him to tell me his credentials. Musicians have nerve, if nothing else. He turned out to be a wonderful partner and an even better friend. He had a partner, Ted Seybold, in another local wood treating business who also joined us. I consider myself very fortunate to have had such good partners to work with. Always supportive and there with help when you needed it. We had a couple of other partners that didn't work out, but I wish them the best.

    As in most small start up businesses, the owners do all the work at first. It's the nature of being an owner. As the business progressed, I began doing more and more of the sampling. It involved special sampling tools for taking soil samples from deep holes, left from tank removal areas. Usually, with a representative of the county monitoring my techniques, the samples were taken using the end of a long pole with a special stainless steel container that I would pound into the ground, bring it up and carefully cover the end of it with tinfoil, then put a cap on it. I did this while wearing the gloves you see surgeons wear, as to not contaminate the sample and/or me. When this was finished, I would fill out labels for the samples, as well as make site maps showing where the sample was taken, in case there was a dispute down the line and the conditions needed to be duplicated for resampling. Depth and location is what I'm speaking of. Sometimes these things end up in a court room. There was something called a "Chain of Custody" which required that every person accepting/transferring the sample to another person, must sign off with the time and date. In this manner, it was possible to retrace all the steps of its history, should there be any question regarding the integrity of the sample. This soil sampling process brought with it some discomfort. Many times, after finishing taking the samples and trying to write out the labels, my hands were shaking so much from the pounding that you could hardly read my writing. After doing this repeatedly over a few years, I found my hands going numb whenever I used a hammer or a screwdriver, or played guitar. ( I can hear my ex saying now, "oh bullsh_t. What a line of crud!" But, it's true, none the less. I suppose she should be allowed a little "post divorce" anamosity. I certainly held on to mine with great zeal for way too long. I regret that.) In time I would understand that it was the years of playing music that caused the condition, not the soil sampling itself. The soil sampling had only exasperated it. There are times on stage that I can't even feel the pick in my hand anymore. It's especially scary when it comes to taking a guitar lead. If you've ever noticed, there are times when I have to shake my hands and wrists vigorously on stage just to try and get the feeling back. A bad side effect of the business. I avoid using screw drivers or hammers at home for at least 2 days before I go on the road to tour. I've learned that this helps ward off the numbing of my hands on stage. Still, I'm proud of our lab endeavor and all that came of it. A lot of work, but great fun, too.

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