At the beginning of October the call came through from ELS International: there was a position opening up in Seoul, South Korea in December.
“Are you still interested?” the recruiter asked me. “It’s right before Christmas and not many people would want to start a new job then.”
She didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence before I told her that I was interested.
I was going to Korea.
There were still about two weeks left at Del Monte. By October we were no longer working 12-hour shifts. Sometimes we finished at three or four in the morning; some nights we were finished by midnight. And it was getting colder. The dock supervisor brought out a space heater for us to warm up in the small shed we worked out of outside. I asked to spend more time in the tractor.
Sometimes we ordered a pizza for dinner; other times someone ran into town to Mickey D’s for some burgers.
At night, when I was sitting in the tractor alone, I would watch the steam rising from the piles of wet sweet corn waiting to be pushed onto the conveyor belt. Some of the Mexican workers inside would come out and help themselves to as many ears of corn they could fit into a Hefty garbage bag. The supervisors looked the other way, sometimes helping themselves to a few ears.
I would think about the days and nights ahead. What was it going to be like in Korea? I thought about last year, the past couple of months.
Everything works out if you let it.
Wasn’t that a song by Cheap Trick?
Some people, knowing that the pack was soon going to be over already started making plans. One night, one of the supervisors approached me and asked me if I would be interested in staying on and helping clean up and then working when the plant started producing prune juice. It would be a few more months of work.
No, I told him. I have something else lined up.
I confess that when I first started to work at Del Monte I had a chip on my shoulder. Not a big one, but one large enough that made me feel sorry for myself because I had lost my job in Japan earlier in the year and had not been able to find anything better until the job offer came through from ELS. (In a way it was kind of how I felt when I first came to Woosong and feeling a little sorry for myself and angry about having to “take what I could get”—and kind of how I have been feeling these days.)
Looking back now, those last few weeks working at Del Monte were the ones that really opened my eyes and made me appreciate what I had and at the same time made me appreciate where I come from. When I was younger all I thought about was getting the hell out of my hometown; as I grow older though, I am proud where I grew up.
It’s all about perspective when you have been away for any length of time.
And then, it was over. There was no more corn to can.
A few nights after the last night of work, I met up with some of the people I worked with in a bar in LaSalle. It would be the last time I would see any of them.
Six weeks later, on December 7, 1990 I was on my way to Korea.
The day after I arrived, I was buying some cigarettes near my apartment when I saw this Del Monte sign.
Del Monte in Korea.
To this day, I buy Del Monte products whenever I can in Korea, whether it’s orange juice or bananas.
Yeah, I once worked for Del Monte, and like the road not taken it made all the difference in my life.