Crash at the Crush: Ninety Days in Work Hell

Vico Whitmore
8 min readJan 15


In 1896 William Crush had a beautiful, horrible idea. It was the kind of idea that took into account human nature and monetized it almost perfectly. There were always spectators at train wrecks. If you’ve ever had a commute on a busy highway, you know why. We’ve all been stuck in traffic behind a wreck that’s well off the road and creating absolutely no obstruction. We swear at the people slowing down to rubber neck right up until we get there, and then we can’t help it. We take our foot off the gas and get a nice long look. William Crush knew that impulse, and he decided to capitalize on it.

His idea was to stage a train crash. Two steam powered trains, both no longer useful to the rail company, both already in place at the location, would be crashed into each other at 40 miles per hour. No admission was charged, and tickets to the site, which were more or less in the middle of nowhere, were reduced.

It wasn’t an entirely novel concept. There had already been successful train wrecks as spectator events. The train company made money on the train tickets, the spectators got to safely see a trainwreck without any gore or human suffering, everyone walked away happy. Crush saw those two decommissioned, thirty-ton trains ripe for the crashing and it looked an awful lot like a paycheck. A train crash as spectator sport was exactly what he needed.

We can all see where this is going from miles away. Crashing two steam engine trains into each other at forty miles per hour can only go one of two ways. Either it’ll be just fine, but still enough of a spectacle to satisfy the audience, or people will be seriously hurt, and god knows I wouldn’t be talking about it if everything had gone well.

Everyone there knew there would be a train wreck. What they didn’t know was that they weren’t nearly far enough away from the crash site itself, especially not given that the trains were both steam engines. The trains exploded, spraying shrapnel into the stands. Two people lost their lives that day and several more were injured, mostly due to trampling as spectators tried to escape the inferno the wreck created.

Which is all to say, I knew things could not go well when my entire team quit at my last job. What I didn’t expect was for it to nearly take my mental health with it.

If I’m being honest, there were red flags before my team quit. I knew something was wrong with the company, but I was so eager for any position that paid passably well that I ignored them. I knew it was a bad situation when I was told there was no HR professional on the team or even an HR contractor available. I knew when I was told how many people had quit from my position, many within the past year. I knew when I was told that I had no direct report manager, but three managers I was expected to answer to. I knew when my trainer had very little interest in actually training me. I knew, but I wanted to believe I would be the exception.

After all, I have a long history of working with Fortune 500 companies. I’ve answered to them directly before and have successfully re-established productive communication while maintaining realistic expectations. I’ve been handed thousands of files to review and gotten it done on time. I’ve broken records, babysat attorneys, guided people through panic attacks, handled rage quits, and delivered criticism. I have a great track record. I thought if anyone could turn that department around it would be me. It was both hubris and a lack of information. I had no idea what I was in for.

So, when my team put in their notice, it was a red flag, but I was cautiously optimistic. I thought I could get organized, figure a few things out, and go about a job that I thought was pretty straight forward. It would be stressful and incredibly busy, but I thought that someone would be hired pretty quickly, and we would roll on as a team.

What I didn’t realize was how much information I was missing. The few weeks of training I’d gotten had been during a slow period. That meant that much of the process of getting a permit through the local building departments had been omitted because they simply weren’t relevant to the workload the team had in front of us. As things ramped up, I realized how unprepared I was for all the pieces involved. I also realized that the owners would not be hiring anyone.

The problem was mostly that the permits wouldn’t move an inch through the process unless I constantly followed up on every single site regularly. With around fifty active sites, at least three meetings a week that went on for hours, and several high priority tasks that took hours to complete, that simply wasn’t feasible, especially given that I was never presented with a clear timeline for when I should anticipate a response and when I needed to start making phone calls.

It didn’t help that once a week I had to spend a full day out of the office in San Francisco, submitting permits in person. Even when that process turned out to be unnecessary, I was still asked to go because one of the three managers decided it was more expedient without ever having gone herself. This lost me a full day in the office and meant that I had to spend the next day catching up and making sure nothing high priority needed attention.

The demands piled up and became more urgent. I spent one day of every week trying to catch up on emails and get organized after having been out of the office. The other three days I tried to make the phone calls and send the emails necessary, along with keeping up with invoices, sending out memos, requesting updates on sites from our team, and trying to clarify where I was confused. Three days was never enough, and I always felt like I was playing catchup and doing a poor job of it.

Meanwhile, the owners refused to directly tell me that they wouldn’t be hiring anyone else for my department. Instead, they danced around the topic, saying that some other team members might be available to help depending on their workloads. If you guess that everyone else was drowning just as thoroughly as I was, you would be right. No help was coming.

I knew the crash was coming. I knew that I couldn’t keep trying to dig my way out of a hole already too deep to escape. I knew that sooner or later my flagging mental health was going to demand attention in dramatic fashion, and that I could either leave or accept that I was going to have another mental breakdown.

Then one Monday morning, in the middle of a three-hour meeting regarding every active site our clients had placed with us, one of the three managers lost her shit. Now, all three of the managers were demanding in different ways. One was kind, patient, and gently insistent, one was direct, but understanding in person while brutally humiliating anyone who didn’t have answers for her in meetings, and the third was essentially a screaming toddler. If you could placate the third manager with good news or something shiny, she might lay off for a day or two. Unless every single one of her sites was complete, she would send dozens of emails and texts a day demanding answers.

The third manager was losing her mind about a site in which the jurisdiction had been completely unresponsive. I’d never received an invoice, never received any confirmation, couldn’t get through by phone, and couldn’t find an email address for anyone I could contact directly. The client was going forward with legal action, and manager number three needed details. I was in the middle of a meeting when she first emailed, and I let her know that. Instead of giving me a few hours, she sent four more emails and tried to call me.

I sent over what I had, and she responded fifteen minutes later telling me it wasn’t enough. I sent her the requested documents, and she continued blowing up my email and work phone, insisting I get her details in five minutes when I was going to need to take time to dig it up. She then started calling the other managers. When manager two came to talk to me about it, she insisted I make more phone calls and send more emails to try and get the information I needed, all of which would take too much time for manager three.

As my phone continued to ring and the emails piled up, I made my decision. I was maybe an hour away from having another breakdown, and I knew that. My options were to either walk out or keep trying for another hour or so and not be able to function the next day, at a minimum. I was going to have to quit either way. The only question was whether or not I wanted to take the last scraps of my mental health with me.
I walked out. I left everything I knew they’d ask for on my desk with my timecard and a resignation letter. I didn’t take the owner’s phone call the next day. Instead, I rested, and I tried to recover.

The owner threw a hissy fit in my inbox about my last check, and I found it easier to stand my ground once he’d shown his true colors. The passive aggression washed away any fleeting thought that maybe the owners themselves weren’t to blame. That man never had any interest in my success with his company. He was only interested in saving money by cutting staff. He refused to hire and refused to provide additional training, both of which saved him money, and ultimately lead to him having no permit department at all. He refused to see a walk out for what it was — a clear indication that something was horribly wrong with the expectations and support for a position. Instead, he chose to ignore the glaring neon sign created by three resignations from the same position in two months and instead be unkind to me in our final interactions. Regardless of who he might be as a person outside of work, he’s a poor leader, and he’s paying for his lack of skills.

I could see the trains on the track. I knew there was going to be a wreck. I knew the debris would likely fly far and be a hell of a spectacle. I didn’t expect there to be an explosion that took out so much of my energy and mental health.

Next time, that’s not an event I’ll attend. Instead, I’ll walk away as soon as the first red flags are waving. Still, I’m proud of myself for leaving early. I’m proud that I didn’t hang on for years of abuse, allowing a job to detonate my mental health entirely. Slowly, I’m learning to take risks for my future happiness. I have a long way to go, but I’m getting there.



Vico Whitmore

Trans CSA survivor leaving a trail as I stumble my way toward healing. Support me on ko-fi!