Student Sample: Turning Point

Dino DeNiro

Professor Curtis Allen

English Composition I

15 March 2015

Journey to Texas

Like most eighteen year olds, I wanted to go out on my own. My best friend Bob and I decided we were going to move somewhere warm. Being from Ohio, our options were to the south or to the west. We did some very limited research that consisted of going to the library and looking at the classified ads of some out-of-town papers. There were plenty of jobs in the Houston Post. We already knew the weather in Texas was warm. The decision was made. We packed up my van and were soon on our way to the Lone Star State. As we drove south, I thought about all of the things I would no longer have to do. I would not have to listen to my mother. My father could still disagree with everything I said, but now there would be a thousand miles between our disagreements. The list was long and covered many things. I never imagined the list would include you will never eat red meat again!

It took us twenty-four hours to get to Texas, and Texas was not as warm as we expected it to be. Thankfully, Texas is a big state, and we drove south until we reached the warmth of Corpus Christie. I had never even heard of Corpus Christie and I knew nothing about the place. We had a Rand-McNally road atlas, so at least we knew the names of the streets. Of course, the first thing we did was find a bar. If this was going to be our new hometown, we needed a bar to drink in. Being away from home for the first time was a learning experience. In the first hour alone, we learned that we did not talk like anyone else in the bar, and the locals referred to us Yankees! Being from Cleveland, I hate the New York Yankees. I then realized it was not those Yankees that they were referring to. Yankee, or not, a guy offered us a job when he found out we were new to town. He wrote down the directions for us on a napkin and the following morning we were on the road looking for Sam Kane's meat processing plant.

I could smell Sam Kane's place before we could see it. The land was flat and out in the distance we could see a cluster of silos and big red barns. We looked at each other and continued to drive towards Sam's place. As we moved closer, that horrible smell was growing stronger and stronger. l knew the answer, but I asked the question anyway, "Do you think that smell is coming from where we are going?" Bob nodded his head and smiled nervously, asking, "should we turn back before it's too late?" "We can quit if it sucks. Let's check it out," I said. When we pulled into the parking lot of Sam Kane's meat processing plant the stench was almost unbearable. "What do you think that smell is?" Bob asked me. "Death," I replied.

After parking the van, I could hear the sound of cows mooing and bleating. Over the bellowing of the cows, it sounded as if dirt bikes were racing nearby. The roaring that now surrounded us grew louder as we approached the entrance to the building. When we turned the corner, I stopped dead in my tracks. The source of all the chaos was now in front of us. A pile of cowhides at least twenty feet high sat baking in the hot Texas sun. That sight would have kept my attention if a guy in a blood covered slicker had not walked out, gunning the chainsaw he carried. A cow was standing motionless in a narrow pen with his head pinned between two sliding gates. The chainsaw toting guy moved up next to the cow, raised the screaming saw, and with one effortless swipe, removed its head. Before the head hit the ground, the cow was hoisted into the air by the chain around its back feet. The revving chainsaw zipped down the cow's belly, spilling its guts.

I was standing there speechless when a man in a clean white butcher's coat asked, "Are you here looking for work?" We could only nod our heads after seeing that bloody show. "That's the killin' floor," he told us with a smile. He led us inside and asked if we were still interested in a job. We assured him we were, and he gave us two applications that we filled out. I did not intend to retire from Sam Kane's, but I just had to see what went on inside this place. We were hired on the spot and the man in the white butcher's coat told us that someone would be there to take us to our new jobs. He was the last person we talked to who spoke English.

A short stout Mexican woman came to take us to get ready to work. She must have really loved her job because she never stopped smiling as she gave us our snow-white butcher's coat, a leather belt, a steel mesh glove, and three of the most dangerous looking knives I had ever seen. She led us out into the plant, still wearing that big smile. She turned us over to another short stout Mexican woman who was also smiling.

I looked around the place and realized that Bob and I were the only males in sight. They must have thought we were soft and gave us an easy assignment. We followed our leader to a three tiered conveyer belt that carried different slabs of meat. It was moving very fast and we watched as the woman grabbed pieces of the meat and cut them up, tossing one piece on an upper belt, and the other on a lower belt. She was sure making it look easy. I just could not get the hang of it. I was too worried about cutting off one of my fingers or maybe my entire hand! There was also a greasy build up of fat on my hands, making it hard to grab the meat. I was beginning to feel that maybe this was not going to work out for me. I did not have the time to check up on Bob's progress and I hoped he sucked as bad as I did.

I stayed in my position until the conveyor belts finally stopped. It must have been break time. I looked around and there was no sign of Bob. I walked around to see if I could find him, but he was nowhere in sight. The smiling woman who gave us our tools of the trade came to me and said, "Your friend no like." I could not have been happier! I took off my meat processing gear and went to the parking lot to find Bob sitting in the van. We shared a good laugh and that was the end of our first job in Texas.

I will never forget the four hours I spent in that disgusting slaughterhouse. The sights, sounds, and smell of that day are unforgettable. I have been working for over thirty years and there have been a few bad days. That list would include losing the tip of a finger to a circular saw, a displaced fracture of my back from a fail off a scaffold, and two tumbles off a roof. I have recovered from each of those incidents. The four hours I spent in the meat processing plant still affect my life to this very day. Three times a day I decide that I am not going to eat red meat. The sheer cruelty of the process was unbelievable. If that is what it takes to make a hamburger, I could do without. That day has also influenced me beyond the dinner table. My favorite actors are the bovine thespian troupe that do the Chick-fil-A commercials imploring us to "Eat Mor Chikin!" When I first met the woman who would later become my wife, the very first thing we realized we had in common was the fact that neither one of us ate meat. Thirteen wonderful years later, it is one of the only things we have in common, beside our daughter, and love for one another. When I cruise past the meat counter in the grocery store I always wonder if Sam Kane is still in business.


Editor's Note: This essay came from one of my Distance Education students. Perhaps it's not Pulitzer Prize material, but you will remember it vividly. Why? Specific, visual, auditory and even olfactory images! An organization scheme that is basically a time line, but never forgets the point he set you up for in the first paragraph. Even some humor. Sam Kane's is still in business, and if you look up images of the meat packing plant (especially the older images) you say, "Yes! I've already been there!"