Chicken Legs

“What is he drunk?” I thought to myself.

“Oh for Pete’s sake, I could back a trailer better than this guy!” I mumble under my breath.

“Whoa don’t take out the freakin’ gate!  Umm the gate.  GATE!” I silently scream.

“That’s good!”, I yell out raising my hand up into the halt position.

Well, good enough.  The tailgate let out loud thunk as I popped the handle.  Sweet sticky juice sprayed out soaking my sleeve.  Whoosh!  A sudden burst of air, a face full of spray and it was done.  Ten tones of grapes lay in the bin ready to be crushed.  The first of many loads of Reichensteiner scheduled for delivery that night.  Seems the driver was new to the scene.  So was I.  It was going to be a long night.

So began one of the more memorable nights of my first vintage.  A few days into working the night shift at a winery in New Zealand and I discover the worlds worst truck driver.  OK, maybe not the worst but this guy wasn’t going to win any awards for driving in reverse.  I could only hope it would get better as the night went on.  For me it did.  Once I checked the load and collected the dockets I could get the paperwork back to the press area, fill it out and still make it to the top of the ramp to line him up.  Efficiency thanks to inexperience.  Of course once atop of the ramp there was nothing I could do but stand there and watch.  And wait.  Watch him approach and re-approach.  Wait as he stalled out his rig.  Watch as he straightened the wheels to perfection only to cut them back the wrong direction.  Sigh.  Long night.

It got so good I had to tell the others, at one point all the press guys were on the catwalk watching this guy try to back a truck up a 50 meter ramp.  I was around back filling out paperwork.  The hours ticked on and on as his loads of grapes would trickle in nothing like clockwork.  Sometime in the middle of the night, maybe the one AM hour…I don’t remember, someone rang from the vineyard wondering where the driver was.  Not here, he left an hour or so ago.  With nothing left to do around the winery but wait on grapes everyone had gathered in the break room.  Just a couple of more loads.  Next thing we knew there he was standing at the door mumbling something about a broken accelerator cable, asking to use the phone.  Long night indeed.

The situation improved over vintage but not tremendously.  He never came as close to taking out the gate as he did on the first night.  Got better about not stalling the truck mid back up.  But he still did ‘the caterpillar’, as my favorite driver of the bunch described it, when he hustled to get his truck off the ramp as to not get hit by the bad backer.  Yes, this driver’s skills were that dodgy.  Better to give him room than to add another obstacle for him to potentially back into.  There were bright spots.  To his credit he didn’t spill a lot of grapes.  Once when I grew tired of his attempts to line up I haphazardly called him good.  Oppps.  We’d have a little more to clean under Bin 2 that night.  As vintage rolled on it was still so bad that Jill wanted no part of it.  “I’m not backing him up.”, she’d insist.  So there I was at the top of the ramp waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  A few times I’d just pull up a slab of concrete and sit there at the top of the ramp and wait.  Not like I could direct him anyway.

As the weeks went by and vintage was in full swing I was working overnight 12 hour shifts.  Whenever I saw that cab over and trailer pull up in front of the winery I knew not to get in a hurry.  After all, we had all night.  Sometimes I thought he was going to need it.  Standing at the top of the ramp I’d start waving him back as soon as he got his rig straightened.  Then he’d veer off course, roll back down the ramp and start all over.  It was my very own March madness, not the same one I had grown accustom to living in Kentucky.  It would always take him multiple goes.  I think he knew we were all laughing at him.  He didn’t care.  He did his job and I would do mine.  As soon as he got that rig backed up the ramp.

According to a fellow co-worker this guy had classic Kiwi legs. The affectionate nickname was born.


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