two weeks ago i had the Best Day Ever but i haven’t had time to write about it until now. actually, it was really the one thing that put me in an awesome mood and everything else was just gravy.

a few weeks ago i wrote a php cms application for a website my new company had built awhile ago. dawn and i hit the road for indiana to meet with the client; she was taking photographs of their newest piece of equipment doing its thing and i had to present my app’s user guide and do a little training. the company in question works in the recycling industry and has developed some processes to make aluminum reclaimation much more environmentally-friendly. i had never been to an industrial facility before and i was excited – my appetite whet by previously-taken photos of giant aluminum-melting furnaces and yellow-hot metals flowing and sparking like something out of T2.

one of our contacts at this company is an incredibly sweet german guy named karl (*name changed to that of two of my friends’ older brother’s name to keep me from getting dooced, even though everything i have to say is basically about how awesome everything about this company is and you could totally figure out who/what i’m talking about if you really wanted to, but hey – i’m making an effort here.). karl had a friend in from germany who was also visiting the plant for the first time. dawn got her camera ready and we put on our hard hats (!!!) and followed karl out into the cold drizzly rain.

the company’s buildings are arranged in a big U and we emerged from the inner right arm of the U. our destination was the building at the base of the U. the entire space inside the U is filled with rows of hundreds of pressure gauges and huge pre-fab parts of as-yet-unknown metal structures. on the far side of the yard were about 6 tall perfect white cylinders, their bottoms fenced in with lots of pipes snaking everywhere between them and a tall dark grey rectangular building on stilts. the air rumbled with the muffled sub-bass of giant machinery – a steady grating throbbing of moving parts and rushing air like an old steam train idling in a station or a giant bellows being pumped by one of those cave trolls from lotr. we wove our way between 6 foot tall sections of pipe as thick fog billowed across our path and clung to bottoms of racks of gauges and our ankles.

seeing that fog is the most surreal moment i think i’ve ever had. it was cold outside – maybe 40° – and i couldn’t feel any heat emanating from the plant’s opening (door or hatch doesn’t sufficiently describe how gaping and huge it was) so the fog felt like…magic. like the beginning of a story where the characters journey to a strange new land and see things that no one has dreamt of before – the moment just before an explorer realizes he’s found a place that isn’t on any map. this was my mindset when i stepped out of the gray rain and into the plant’s black interior.

the plant’s floor was hard dirt and the ceiling was at least 50 feet above our heads. the building stretched as far as i could see. as we walked through the first enormous room to the second and third i only saw 2 or 3 men in full industrial dress. the noise grew louder and the air became more close. the entire warehouse was dark – no electrical light as far as i could tell, just small (well, probably ginormous) windows near the roof.

when we entered the second room, as my eyes were still adjusting to the dim light, i saw them: rows and piles of sparkling colors. they were more brilliant in the low light than they would’ve been outside and they shone like jewels or pieces of colored glass embedded in an earthen wall. i felt like i had wandered into a dwarf’s cave piled high with exotic spoils of a long-forgotten war…the room was filled with tightly crushed bales of aluminum cans, their crumpled sides gathering what little light was in the room. i barely had time to take this in – the wonder of everyday objects transformed into something more beautiful than any painting or sculpture or film i’d ever seen – when we had passed into the third room and i had to catch my breath.

manufacturing items from aluminum means a lot of printing – that is, taking sheets of aluminum and pressing/punching out a shape to be formed into a can or a bowl or whatever. the excess is set to be recycled. this room was filled with 6ft+ heaps of these leftover pieces. karl warned us not to touch anything because all the scraps were extremely sharp. the scraps were all straight on one side and scalloped on the other where something round had been cut out. they were perfectly silver-white and shining. each pile was a twisted snarl of exquisite, deadly-sharp curves and points. the floor sparkled in the dim light with thousands of tiny rectangles – each exactly the same shape and size – that had been pressed into the fine black dirt by countless men and machines.

air was getting noticably warmer and ahead in the next room i could see the source of all the heat: the giant industrial furnaces i had seen in photographs. pushed to the sides of the room were piles of shapes like huge square sinks, each one crusted with aluminum drippings. the top of the furnaces’ hatches were twice as high as the head of the man who was tending one. forklifts pushed pallets into the glowing openings. it was so loud that we had to yell to hear each other.

the last room was the largest – it might’ve extended all the way to the end of the building or there might have been more rooms beyond – it’s ceiling was higher and there was more light inside. troughs carried molten aluminum from the furnaces into a huge yellow machine sunk into the ground. a stream of pure white-silver metal entered one end and magically emerged as a thick continuous sheet of white-silver aluminum. the sheet was fed into another yellow machine, this one 30 or so feet tall – two thick chambers of yellow steel with a narrow space between to monitor the thickness of the sheet, the jets of pressurized water used to cool it and the web of gauges that monitor the pressure applied to the rollers that squish the sheet until it is 5 times thinner. the engineer who maintains the machine explained to me how it all worked while dawn and karl finished arrangements for the lift.

when aluminum is processed its completed form is a giant spool comprised of one continuous aluminum sheet. when the spool gets full a buzzer sounds and a man goes to the end of the flattening machine and cuts the aluminum sheet so the spool can be moved off and a new one can be started. but while this is happening the aluminum sheet is still squeezing out of the flattening machine so the machine cuts the aluminum sheet every 3 seconds or so and the man throws the aluminum square off the side of the conveyer belt onto a waste pile on the floor. this process made the most amazing noises – the throbbing undertones of the furnaces blazing, the hydraulics inside the machines hissing and the engines rumbling cut with a piercing buzzer then the WHUMP…hissssssss…clang! of the blade falling, resetting and the sharp rapport of metal on metal.

while we were waiting for the lift, looking around at everything, a dump truck had backed into the plant and with a tinkle of thousands of thin pieces of metal, dumped another load of aluminum scraps onto the middle of the ground a few rooms back. the pieces poured out into another sparkling pile – half-in and half-out of the truck – and men rushed to move it to the side.

the same engineer operated the lift – one of those fancy machines that is like a small tank with a boom arm that supports a platform that goes up in the air and has the controls to drive the lift and move the whole thing around. it was a big lift – 3 adult men and dawn and i fit in along with dawn’s tripod. up we went until we could look down into the machine that was hidden mostly below the floor. from that high i could see past the flattening machine to the open area where the freshly-made spools of aluminum were placed – four long, seemingling continuous cylinders of metal – and the trench next to the end of the flattening machine where the completed spool is pulled off.

dawn took a few pictures but our collective breathing/talking/shifing of weight was causing too much blur. the rest of us had to be lowered back to the ground. karl, his friend and i left the plant via a door marked ‘NOT AN EXIT’ and began to walk the long way around the yard back to the administrative offices. the cold air and rain felt good on my face as by that time the furnaces had me boiling inside my coat. we walked past the tall white cylinders and dark grey building on stilts. the most horrible angry monster noise was coming from the grey building – probably 100 feet above us. karl told us this area was the plant’s cryo-facility where they manufacture their own oxygen.

the rest of the meeting went alright and i left in the afterglow of the first truly exciting moments i’ve experienced since…high school? grade school? preschool? on the way back to chicago we hit taco bell, which might sound anticlimactic but actually stepped the day up a notch. i had been craving a mexican pizza for weeks and a taco bell lunch made the trip to indiana complete. later in the afternoon dawn, aaron and i took another field trip to the new office space – a storefront to the east. dawn talked to the realtor while aaron and i explored the former barber shop and poked around in the basement. the building was built in the 1800s and the basement walls were brick instead of cinderblock and the ceiling was only 6 feet high. at the bottom of the stairs (second to last stair broken) was the old boiler – blackened and listing to one side, freestanding in the middle of the space. the first floor ceilings are 15 feet high and next door to the space is a cool toy store and a nice coffee shop/cafĂ©. after work was more fun at half-price pizza night. Best Day Ever!