In the Black: One of the Gang
As Gary heads to his first refresher training courses as a certified mine foreman, he juggles his desire to move up with his need to fit in.
My alarm rang at 6:30 a.m. My head pounded and my stomach turned over as I rolled off the bed to turn the clock off. The bottle of tequila I drank the night before was reminding me that staying out until 3 a.m. was a bad idea. As I staggered out of the bedroom and down the stairs, I regretted my decisions from the night before. I wanted to sleep this hangover away, but as a new mine foreman, that was not an option. Luckily, we were only attending our annual refresher training, so not too much was expected of me.
I took a shower and brushed my teeth, mainly to wash away the stench of alcohol and cigarettes. As I got dressed, I made sure not to forget my denim vest with my new prospect patch across the top shoulders. I was proud to be a recruited member for the Seventh Sons Motorcycle Club. I had searched for something to be a part of for so long, and being a coal miner wasn’t enough. I needed something more, something rebellious, and with my love of motorcycles, I found myself committing to a 90-day prospect period with the local club.
I looked out of the kitchen window and saw the rain falling. I slid into my rain suit because not riding my motorcycle to training would make me look like a fair weather rider, something I despised. I was tough. I was a badass. Rain wouldn’t keep me off my two-wheeled freedom. The only thing honest about this was the fact that I would be riding in the rain, I was not a badass, nor tough. I was on the opposite end of the spectrum. I was kind, generous, and avoided any confrontation when possible.
I pulled into the parking lot of the Southeast Community and Technical College at 7:15 a.m. As a foreman, I was expected to represent the company, keep the other miners from acting like 5 year olds, and assist with the safety training. It was no surprise that, when I pulled in, Aaron shook his head in disappointment. It may have been the black bandanna tucked under my backwards trucker hat with the Seventh Sons logo, maybe it was the denim prospect patch, or maybe it was just the simple fact that I rolled in half drunk from the night before on a ratty chopper with a sorry excuse for an exhaust system with two 10-inch open pipes sticking out of the side. I watched as some of the other miners plugged their ears when I pulled into the motorcycle-only parking space.
I tucked my rain suit into the small handlebar bag on my bike and pulled the .45 out of the holster beside my seat and placed it in the shoulder holster under my denim vest. Aaron was there to meet me.
“Bentley, I swear, you never cease to amaze me. You know you can’t take a gun into the school. What are you thinking? You been watching that Sons of Anarchy or something?”
I laughed and with a smile I said, “Well, ya know, I think I have but, I ain’t leaving this .45 out here on my bike and I damned sure ain’t going to ride down the highway without it. No one will even know it’s on me.”
“Well Bentley, you sure do got a way of being classy. Good thing we don’t have a dress code for our foreman. Be sure the rest of the crew is inside by 5 till. Class starts at 8.”
I wasn’t completely alone, Lonnie and Booger had both ridden their motorcycles as well. Before retraining began we had already made plans to go for a ride after class.
“Yea, let’s go ride through Sandlick, across Sunset, and out to the lake. I just gotta be at the clubhouse by 6p.m.,” I had said.
As we walked in, Booger patted me on my ass before saying, “Gary, don’t let these cats fool ya. You might be the youngest dude on the crew, but we all got respect for you. You don’t need no gun or a bunch white trash rednecks to get respect. You already got it. Now it ain’t none of my business what you do, but I’ve been around longer than you been alive. Don’t let this motorcycle club get you all messed up. I’ve been riding Harley’s for 20 years and none of them guys have ever been nothing than nice to me, but I’ve also seen a lot of people’s lives fall apart due to those clubs. Keep your head on straight, we got your back.”
I ignored Booger’s advice and class began. We walked through the last year’s fatality reports, self-rescuer operation, ventilation control, and every other aspect of safety training that we already knew like second nature. We all attended more than 16 hours of training every year. I struggled not to nod off during the lectures.
During our lunch break, Aaron pulled me to the side.
“Bentley,” he said, “I need to talk to you. There’s an opportunity and you are our newest mine foreman. You interested in being an out-by boss at #8? We will get you a couple men to work for you. It’ll be day shift and the hours will be flexible.”
It was exactly what I wanted. I had been looking forward to this day since I laid down on the rail car with Hawk at Blue Diamond Coal Company. I was not only a certified mine foreman, I held the position of being a mine foreman. I was a boss, and it took all of my self control to not spread the news throughout the rest of our retraining class. I did as I was told. I kept my mouth shut. I would go in to work on Monday morning for my first shift as an official mine foreman.
Gary Bentley is a native of Eastern Kentucky who worked underground for 12 years mining coal. He currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky. Gary said he shares his stories to educate people about the realities of contemporary coal mining and Appalachia.