For every 250 Cal Poly students, there is only one custodian. | Jenna Watson/Mustang News

Tram Nguyen
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Jerry White rolled his blue trash barrel out of the elevator as its doors opened exactly 10 minutes before 10 p.m. The sound of the barrel’s wheels echoed throughout the long, empty hallway in front of the custodian, who is now accustomed to spending five nights a week, from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. in Graphic Arts (building 26), alone.

He let out a relaxed laugh when asked to be interviewed.

“I don’t feel lonely; I don’t like big crowds,” he said. “I don’t like giving out personal information. I like solitude and being by myself. Working alone, I don’t have a problem with that.”

At approximately 10:15 p.m., White finally agreed to let a Mustang News reporter tag along.

For every 250 Cal Poly students, there’s one custodian. Besides cleaning and maintaining the campus facility, custodians also provide support for sports activities and events in the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center. Moreover, they are key-keepers who secure the campus.

The three main shifts custodians work are 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

White couldn’t remember how long he has been working for Cal Poly, but he knows he’s been assigned to Graphic Arts for four years. His working area includes the first floor and part of the second floor. Previously, White was a basketball coach for both boys and girls at San Luis Obispo High School and Cabrillo High School in Lompoc.

“(I) had a successful season,” he said. “But basketball, being a coach doesn’t pay very much, so you have to get another job.”

At that time, White was simultaneously working full time at Cal Poly, he said.

He started the night by locking up the building’s main doors and looking for doorstops.

“I know my students,” he said, laughing while sticking a doorstop under a door with his foot. “They move (doorstops) around. They hide them.”

White’s been doing his job for so long that he remembers exactly how many chairs each room contains.

“I have three classrooms,” he said. “One classroom has 93 chairs, the next one has 72 and the smallest has 66.”

After getting an equipment barrel from the equipment room on the first floor, he got into some serious work.

He entered the biggest room, released window blinds, aligned desks, took out trash, wiped the white board and the teacher’s desk with Lemon Quat, because “it makes (them) look good and makes (them) smell good,” he said.

Sometimes when he comes in this room, the chairs are in a big circle, pushed to the side or pushed to the back, he said.

“Sometimes I have to remind myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect,” he said, aligning the chair-desks.

Finally, he went through the floor, between and under the green chairs, with a green sweeper.

Just before he finished, White found a dime on the floor.

“Hey, I get paid,” he said, laughing. “That’s my tip.”

Besides Graphic Arts, White has also worked in Agricultural Sciences (building 11), Robert E. Kennedy Library (building 35) and the Recreation Center Plaza (building 43). He said the library is the most challenging building.

“The library has predominantly carpet, but yet it has lots of food, vending food machines,” he said, “and my personal belief is that food and carpet do not mix. Because even though it’s carpeted, there are stains from coffee, there are stains from hot chocolate.”

According to custodial manager Monica Cantu, Graphic Arts is a large building with big classrooms, and clubs love to gather there. She said White doesn’t have any complaints, “even when the students maybe give him reasons to.”

“Jerry White is a seasoned, extremely knowledgeable custodian,” Cantu said. “He takes pride in the work he does, and he does his job very well.”

One of the challenges custodians face is working around people, Cantu said.

“We don’t want to get in people’s ways,” she said. “The focus here is students’ learning, and we’re very supportive of that.”

There are also additional challenges that students can help custodians with.

“For us, the thing that takes more time is getting the trash or recycling where it needs to go,” she said. “So oftentimes, trash and recycling are left behind in classrooms, or after events or when rooms are booked for use for clubs.”

Sometimes, students move heavy tables from one room to another, and there’s only one custodian working in that building, so he or she has to wait until the next day for more people to come to help move the tables back, Cantu added.

Besides these challenges, custodians and those who work night shifts also have to face consequences of late-night working.

The effects of working late shifts vary depending on whether a person has to rotate through shifts, said Gary Laver, chair of the psychology and child development department.

“The biggest problem is that they make sure that they take the stability of their work schedule and extend it through the rest of their lives, and that may not be so easy,” he said.

Their job is to reel back their regular schedule by four or five hours, Laver said. For example, a person who starts working at 3 a.m. should go to sleep when other people are sitting down to dinner, and get up at approximately 1 or 2 a.m.

“If they can pull that off,” he said, “they might be able to lead a somewhat normal life without any repercussion regarding cognitive abilities or fatigue or even health, like susceptibility to catching colds and things like that. The immune system is pretty much dependent on the quality of sleep.”

Laver said “folks who are in the neighborhood of 20 years old” need 10 hours of sleep, and older adults need eight to nine hours of sleep. A quiet place with blackout curtains plays an important role in getting a quality sleep, he added.

If they can get into that groove, working late-night shifts is feasible, he said.

Regarding changing shifts from quarter to quarter, Laver said it’s easier to move the shift forward in the day than backward. While a person needs approximately two weeks to adjust to a new shift later in the day, moving a shift backward is a “nightmare” given the same amount of time, he said.

“Roughly speaking, the human sleep-wake cycle is about 25 hours,” he said. “You can also push that or pull it within two hours every day without much of a problem.”

However, White’s sleeping routine doesn’t seem to match Laver’s recommendation. He said he gets four quality hours of sleep, whether that be in the morning, midday or evening.

“It’s going to vary among individuals,” White said. “As far as how much sleep they get and how much they are used to and how much is required of them … That’s how I am. That’s how I do it.”

White said he likes his deep-night shift because he gets to work alone and he likes the quiet.

Not many people know of his existence at Cal Poly — but White said he’s afraid that after this article, the whole school will know about him, and he’s not used to that.

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