When I think of This Place I think of rolling hills and a winding road to an aircraft hangar-like building, which is very clearly labeled “Papa’s Winery.” The signage is needed, though the acres of grape vines certainly gives clues as to what the building is for. The vineyard crew was led by a nearly silent older gentleman that was deaf, save for his cochlear implant. He didn’t care for the noise projecting out of the building on top of the hill, but luckily he probably couldn’t hear it most of the time.
As Charlie blared a fusion of pop and punk in the winery, we set in for another ten-to-fifteen hour day of pressings. Charlie has a few small personality quirks, like throwing hammers into drywall and letting out maniacal laughter upon nearly being knocked off a ladder, or getting a forklift stuck in the mud. A lot of that stems from not wanting to be there. Like someone going to a cubicle in a telemarketing building, Charlie dragged himself into work every day with the same level of disgust. The winery was almost always called by him and his siblings, in spite, as “This Place.” “This Place will drive you crazy! Nothing happens in this place. This place is falling apart” before a customer would walk in the door and they each slapped on a smile.
The winery was falling apart despite being around for only a little under a decade. No one ever intended it to be a winery when the building was built. The drain holes in the floor, used to whisk the water used in winemaking out of the winery, were poorly placed. If you didn’t throw the water in the right spot, it would pool on the concrete floor somewhere else. The bathroom had a big hole in the wall from customers and employees opening the door without a doorstop. All of this clearly bothered Charlie as he crawled into work every morning and cranked his music to drown out the impending doom of what we would have to do that day. There was an attempt at decor in the building, with big torn, paper lanterns, and a giant print of grapes- except it was so low in resolution, when you walked anywhere close to it you could see the massive one inch long pixels. Take that, Warhol.
Charlie wanted to open a bar when he was in college. Unfortunately, he lacked the capital to start one. So, he went off to work on his master’s degree in philosophy, before his father pulled him into the new family business with the promise of putting him in charge of the whole winery’s operations. Just short of a decade later and he was still doing the same job as winemaster. He missed out on the expansive employment opportunities provided by a master’s degree in philosophy. But the day to day operations of the winery didn’t hinge on his bitterness, but they played a role when things went wrong.
I remember one instance when Charlie was climbing on top of a wine tank, which at their smallest would be about the height of a massive bookshelf. Ice had built up around the sides of the tank, which is normal. Suddenly, from the back room, I heard a crash and the distinct sound of a ladder falling over. “Uuuhhhh, Maxxxxx.” I walked out of the back room carrying cleaning chemicals, to see thick chunks of ice all over the concrete floor, which had presumably fallen off the tank and knocked over the ladder. Charlie sat on top of the tank, stranded. He was in a good mood. Then he went out back and got the fork lift stuck. He retained his good mood all the way through pulling it out of the mud with his trusty Nissan truck. He even laughed.
Other times, however, the disgust of This Place would rise up in other ways. As Charlie adjusted a filter nozzle, he yelled out for another employee and me to run to the back room and get him a better hammer. The lights flickered for a moment, like there was a very short power outage. We both paused to look up. Charlie barely noticed the lights and shook the hammer in his hand. We went into the back room looking for another one, and Charlie whipped his claw hammer across the room. It bounced off a corner and knocked over a pitcher of cleaning chemicals. Two weeks later, he asked what that dent on the wall was from. We both stared at him.
Conversation with Charlie followed a similar pattern that was unpredictable by the day. When I mentioned I should’ve been working earlier, he told me that that’d be a waste of time, and college was the best time of his life. You should at least enjoy things as long as you can and enjoy life, he said. I disagreed with him, but his resentment would make him hard to argue with. Luckily, he was planning to start a brewery on the existing winery, which would be a good idea since he might even be able to avoid This Place by building something new. Hopefully, if that ever happens he would find some joy in what he’s doing. I left before that vision could come to fruition.
On my last day, I was cleaning out a large, walk in refrigerator with someone else that worked there. We talked about his interest in parkour (or freerunning) and music, and my interest in backpacking and music. He mentioned that he should get back into parkour, since he was surprised at himself for how long he gave it up, considering how much he enjoyed it. I asked him “Hey, do you ever find it difficult to do anything when you go home? Like when you get home you could just stare at a wall and think about how strange what happens here is, even if it seems really mundane most of the time?” He laughed and said yes.
I’m not sure if Charlie felt the same way, but it made me see him in a more sympathetic light. I thought of him coming into work to count the wine cases for inventory since no one else wanted to do it and it was fairly important. The count was always a little off, no matter what.