When I left my government position after 3+ years to completely transition in New York City my Uncle Al offered me a job as the on-site Engineer representing his company during construction of a 60+ story office building in midtown Manhattan. I was to manage the installation of all the Mechanical Systems, piping, ducting, fire safety equipment, and wiring needed to provide services such as HVAC, electrical, and plumbing for a high rise building.
Al is a wonderful caring man and one of the few in the family that always supported me. I had undergrad and graduate degrees in Astronautical Engineering and Astrophysics so I was kind of hesitant but he was adamant I could handle the job. I had been to his Headquarters in downtown Boston many times as the androgynous me. He was my dads younger brother and we were close so he knew me and most people there knew me primarily because Al talked a lot about the project in Houston.
He said if I could do the work I had done this side of Mechanical Engineering would be easy. I went a little crazy buying new outfits at Jordan Marsh, Filenes, and other good stores and I was ready and just stopped being androgynous. I spent about 3 weeks in the Boston office getting up to speed and it was helped by the fact I had spent a summer working there while in college. I was ready and off to New York I went.
I arrived at the job site on a Monday in early September truly unaware of what I was getting myself into. I have no fear of heights and had flown a lot in Texas out of necessity and out of kindness which is another story but I was in for a shock. The building was just a shell with about 25 stories of steel frame up and OMG there were no freaking walls. No big deal I was not afraid of much right about then but I was in for another shock.
I was 23 and there had never ever been an on-site female Engineer for any construction of any high rise ever in NYC and certainly not one like me. I was under the impression it was just a get to know you meeting with the Engineers who would work for me. I had no idea about men with female bosses, and the Engineers supervising the construction of the building itself. I could feel both the tension and the apprehension in our trailer office. There were a lot of people working there and I was a 23 year old twerp with no experience and I didn't dress well for the meeting. My mini skirt and heels were not correct work attire and I learned quickly I would be tested.
If you go into most high rise buildings you will notice many do not have a 13th floor that is occupied because of superstition and the fact the basement, sub-basement, 13th floor if used, and the roof contain most of the major mechanical systems for the building. This building had building management and systems on 13 so they asked me to go up to see the layout. They were of course testing me.
I had an excuse since heels wouldn't work but a guy produced a pair of new work boots and said these are from your Uncle and I knew he knew I was to be tested. Not very elegant but on they went and off to the elevator we went. Well elevator is a misnomer here. Attached to the side of the steel frame was a cage and what was used to move it up and down and I had a heart attack. All it had was a gate on the entrance side and wire mesh for walls.
I got in and pressed against the back wall for safety because I was scared to death. I was shaking like a leaf in a nor'easter. One of the high steel workers jumped into the elevator before we moved and saw the suits with me and noticed the terror in my eyes and pushed them aside and took both my hands which were clammy and shaking and told me to hold on everything will be OK.
As we start up about 5 guys run under the elevator hoping to get a look because the floor was wire mesh but I was so frightened I had my legs squeezed together to keep from wetting myself. OMG the thing shook and rattled and bucked and bent as we flew up the
side of the building. A parachute seemed a sensible purchase at that
We get to 13 and when I got out OMG there was no freaking floor except for a trackway covered with steel mesh and it felt like there was a forty knot wind whistling through the steel girders and balance was an issue. My second thought was these steel workers are freaking crazy. I look up and guys are staring down at me waving, smiling, giving my new friend the thumbs up so my new friend decides to stay out of pity I am sure and puts his arm around my waist and walks me around and I heard not a single word anyone said to me I was so petrified.
The steel worker stayed with me the entire time and took me down in the elevator and I was ashen white and had hardly said a word the entire time. He escorts me into the trailer that is our on-site office and I manage to squeak out a 'thank you' as I fell into a chair in relief and he proceeds to tell me I did great. It seems those assholes, his words, do this to every newbie that comes on site and most will not go up. In fact he said they were supposed to give me a safety indoctrination before I was even allowed in the steel shell because it is the most dangerous place in construction because rivets, hammers, and all kinds of stuff are always falling and you can get killed or maimed.
Now this may have been to make me feel better but it didn't. After a few queasy minutes he is still there and I asked him where I could buy appropriate work clothes because mini-skirt was not it. Around this time I realize he is seriously cute which should tell you how scared I am because I never miss cute guys. We agree he will take me at lunch time to a store and I will get work cloths.To get an idea how scared I was he is standing there and I suddenly realized I was up there for 90 minutes and it is lunch time now.
The people who were to work for me came back to the trailer with smug smirks and I tell the senior person under me if I ever hear of him taking another person up the building before they have had a safety briefing he is fired. He turns ashen white and as I leave with my new friend to buy appropriate work cloths I turned to the man I had threatened and just said "gotcha" and smiled. I never ever had trouble with him or anyone else again.
So the moral of the story is here I am working in the fashion capital of the country dreaming of my new life of glamor in New York City and I get to travel to work almost every day in work boots, work jeans, a work shirt, and a hardhat dressing more boy than I have in my life. Sometimes a girl just cannot win.