In September of 1998, while living in Lexington Kentucky (after years of being a "stay at home mom"), I, increasingly, felt a longing to "do something for myself", and decided to venture back into the workforce. Lately, everytime, I had attended a business related function with my husband (related to his business), I was reminded of the old joke of the "stay at home mom" who found herself seated at a banquet with her business man, husband, and the only thing she could think to say to the person, next to her, was "I bet I can eat my spinach faster than you can". So,with much fear and tripidation, I sallied forth, only to fall flat on my face, because I wasn't very good at "sallying forth", anymore. I had no idea what I wanted to do, or even what I could do. I had stayed home for so long, that my skills were rusty and even worse, my self esteem and confidence level was somewhere between zero and below. Fortunately, one evening after a particularly grueling day, spent combing the classifieds, I happened to run into one of my neighbors,while taking a walk, and mentioned that I was "job hunting". She sort of cocked her head to one side, and said, "The company, I work for is hiring temps," she began, "it would only be for a couple of months, but it would help get you out the door, and back into the mainstream". Sounded good to me. I wasn't sure what her company did, but had heard that she worked for a travel agency, and figured that would be something neat to do. So she promised to have the human resource person call me and I was on my way.
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The next morning, the human resource lady, (I figured this must really be a big travel agency with a human resource department, so I was already impressed), called and wanted to schedule an appointment. I asked her what would be convenient, for her, and she replied, "I'm waiting on you". And I felt my self confidence level rise a notch. This was really too cool..."waiting on you". I liked that. She gave me the name of the building and gave me directions on how to get there. I was delighted to find that the building was located in the beautiful historic area of the city. And as I hung up the phone, I was feeling quite good about this, and the knot in my stomach began to dissipate.
Once, I arrived at the beautiful historic office building downtown, I was even more impressed. And it just kept getting better. When I walked in for my interview, all I was asked was "would you rather answer incoming or outgoing calls". And could I start the following Monday, at 7 a.m. Wow! I knew I was capable of making a good impression, but this one had to be off the charts. And thus I prepared to enter the world again, as a bona fide "working woman"...only I hadn't a clue what I was going to do except that it had something to do with answering the phone. I still didn't understand what kind of company this was, but I had discovered it wasn't a travel agency. It had something to do with seminars. I was just thrilled, that I had a job. And it had come to me, with open arms.
I awoke early that Monday morning, and it was bedlam. I had to coordinate with my husband, to get the kids out of bed, before I left. He would help them dress, eat, and all of those other wonderful early morning activities that I had supervised for so many years. And wouldn't you know that I would face a thunder storm, my first day on the job. I drove to the address the human resource person, had given me, and found myself in what would probably be considered a warehouse district, and the building where I was to work was naturally "a warehouse". But it was so dark and there were so few cars in the parking lot, that I wasn't sure I had found the correct place. It had a foreboding look, almost. But I took a deep breath, jumped out of the car, and ran for the door, which to my relief, opened without incident. Once I stepped inside, I found myself in a long hallway, with doors all along the corridor on each side. There were no signs or directions, and all of the doors were closed. Suddenly the door, at the very end of the hall, opened, and a little lady stepped in. She saw the confusion on my face immediately and asked "can I help you"?
Relief overcame me, and I smiled. The woman was nice; she was smiling,and she seemed to be friendly. Maybe this really would be okay.
"I dont' know where I am supposed to go", I explained.
"Oh!", she exclaimed in a sweet, almost "little girl voice".She sort of gave a chuckle and motioned for me to follow her, which I did. She opened one of the doors and there was a staircase, which we climbed and upon reaching the top, found the second floor of the building, and it was huge; filled with cubicles, phones, rows of fax machines, and all of the necessary tools of a busy operation. My rescuer, showed me a chair and told me that I could just sit and wait until someone came who would show me where I was supposed to be. I sat there in the dim light of a part of the building lit only by artificial lighting and inspected my surroundings. There was a woman working in one of the cubes and I couldn't help noticing how well dressed she was. I had been told that the dress was casual and she was not dressed casually. However, when she got up from her chair, I couldn't help but notice that she only had one leg. I watched as she reached behind her, to grab a pair of crutches, and then hobbled over to the coffee bar. She looked at me, and asked "Has anyone told you where you are supposed to be?" I told her "no". And she motioned for me, to come over to her cube. She introduced herself, as Betty, and said that I could watch her until the supervisor arrived and she would kind of familiarize me with the computer program, in the meantime. I followed her and she told me, to grab one of the chairs out of one of the other cubes. And her phone began to ring. And ring. And ring. As the clock ticked, other workers began to file in and the supervisor, whose name was Debbie, arrived. She ventured over and saw I was being trained on the system, and asked Betty, if she would just continue training me, as she was really busy and it would help tremendously. In a few moments, Debbie returned with a young woman, who looked as though, she had slept in her clothes, and forgotten to comb her hair, not just that morning, but every morning of her life. She looked totally bewildered and I felt a twinge of empathy. Debbie asked if Betty would help her as well, and of course, she indicated that would not be a problem. Betty began showing us how to enter "participants" in the computer. By city. It was a little confusing, because I still wasn't sure what this was all about but decided I would ask questions later, about the particulars. I understood and had a grasp on what she was doing on the computer, so felt I would just concentrate on that for now. My "partner" in tranining, however, was beginning to show great signs of agitation, and all of a sudden, she burst into tears, saying that she didn't think she could ever remember what she had just been shown. Betty tried to calm her, but the young lady was so distraught, that she told her to take a break, and just try to realize that it wasn't as bad as it seemed. I was beginning to see that perhaps, it wasn't that I had made such a great impression, as it was that they were desparate for workers. But at least I wasn't in tears. And thus far, confusion hadn't overtaken me.
I took my breaks with Betty that day and learned that she had gone to the hospital, a few years before, for exploratory surgery and awoke to find her leg had been amputated. Just like that. And there wasn't anything she could do to get her leg back, so she had made the best of it. She had just celebrated her fiftieth birthday, and confided that she was the first in her family to live that long. She had no children, had had three husbands, and hadn't married at all, until she was in her mid thirties. Her first husband, had left her when she had lost her leg, her second was the love of her life, but had died of cancer, shortly after their marriage, and she was now married to a man, who treated her well, and she was content with that. She also told me that she had worked for this company as a temp, doing what I would be doing for three years, until she had finally been able to be hired as a permanent employee. And she also said that every year, when she was a temp, she had cried like a baby, when the assignment had ended. This was reassuring, to me, as I still wasn't so sure, I was going to like it here. But she raved about the company, and how much she loved it. I liked her very much, and thought she was very brave, and very open and not ashamed of anything in her life. I spent the rest of the day, training with her, and she bragged on me to everyone, and really boosted my confidence level another notch. By the end of the day, she wanted me to take some calls, in the area where I would be working. She was a permanent employee, so her calls were different. I was slowly learning. Very slowly. I discovered, that I would be taking orders for tickets, for a special seminar that the company did once a year on one day, in approximately 200 cities, all over the country. The program was called the Teleconference, or T-Con, for short, and it was an enormous undertaking. This was a seminar with one live site, in one city, and then televised via sattelite, to the rest of the cities. I didn't want to seem like a complete idiot, as the people around me, dropped names such as Dr. Tom Peters, Dr. Stephen Covey, and Dr. Ken Blanchard, but at the time, I had never heard of these men. By the end of my shift, I was taking calls somewhat on my own, in another section, with the help of a young man. And it wasn't hard. In fact, I could kind of see, that this job might even be something fun. And all around me, were so many people! In the center of the call center, were perhaps eighty, small cube areas, equipped with a phone and a shelf, much like the ones telephone operators use at telephone companies. And this was where I would be working. I noticed that the lady who had recued me earlier, was sitting behind where I was training with the young man. She didn't speak to me again, as she was very busy, but there was something about her, that gave me a feeling, that we would speak again. She stood out in this sea of faces, and I could not know, that what I felt would be such a grand understatement.
The next morning, I found a small cubby, and asked the young man, sitting next to it, if I could sit there. He was young. Maybe high school, or early college. His name was Wesley, and he was very sweet and friendly. And it wasn't a problem for me to sit there, he said, "or at least it isn't, until someone tells you to move". But no one ever did. And Wesley became my buddy, of sorts, helping me along with any questions that I had. It was pretty much the same scenario, as the morning before. Early. Not many there. But the sun was shining this morning. A glorious autumn Kentucky morning. And I was feeling much more confident than I had the day before. Much more, than in a long time, in fact. But just like the day before, as the clock ticked, people began filing in, and soon I was surrounded by people on every side, in front, and behind. And I was beginning to feel a part of the work in progress.
What I didn't know was that Wesley's mother, worked downstairs in the warehouse, and he had worked the teleconference every year, for years. Which was a lot, considering how young he was. I noticed that he left his seat a lot, and did other things, and by the second day or so, he was taking me with him. Filing at first, as all the ticket orders were still printed on paper and filed by city. It was a mess, with so many cities, but I liked being able to get out of my seat occasionally, and do something other than answer the phone. I began to meet and interract with many of the other people who were working alongside me. There was sort of a core group, that I was attracted to. There were many, who would come in and out, during the course of this project, but there were the ones who would see it through to the end, and they were the ones, I began to bond with. We all dressed casually, in jeans, t-shirts, sandals or tennis shoes, and it was a fun atmosphere.
One morning, Wesley came over to me,and asked if I wanted to help him stuff envelopes. I said "sure". We went over to an area, behind all of the cubes, and phones, and I immediately noticed how
quiet it was, away from the constant ringing of the many phones. I sat down at a long table and found myself working alongside two women, Rita and Marty. I immediately liked both of them, and they seemed to like me. And I felt a little special, about being able to leave the phone, and do something else, even if envelope stuffing, wasn't high on the list, of brain teasers. And the women were very relaxed and pleasant. Wesley was high energy. He stuffed envelopes for awhile, then disappeared, and then came back. He was always on the move. And I began to sense that he was sort of like everyone's child here. He was so much a part of the family, it seemed. And just like Orphan Annie, I began to sing in my head "I think I'm gonna like it here".
Sometime, during the course of those first few days, Wesley introduced me to a woman named Becky. He had come to me, one morning, and asked if I could type on a typewriter. At first, I looked at him, sort of dumbfounded. Of course, I could type on a typewriter. He explained, that he could
only type on a computer keyboard, having never been trained on a IBM Selectric. I laughed and asked him, what he wanted me to do. Becky, whom I would shortly be introduced to, had asked him to type some labels on a typewriter, but since he didn't know how, he had come to me. I thought it all very funny, but told him, that I would be happy to type the labels. I went back to the area, where I had done the envelope stuffing and found a typewriter, on a table across from the table where I worked before, a few days earlier, with the two women. It was quiet. It was easy. And I was loving it. Unfortunately, I was a fast typist, and the job was going very quickly. And while I was typing, Wesley brought Becky over and introduced us. She was a tall woman, with a round face, beautiful dark thick hair, little or no make up and an easy manner. Just like the women I had stuffed the envelopes with, I had no clue, what her position was, but she was nice and seemed pleased that I was doing the job so quickly and efficiently. And that was the extent of it. I finished the job, and went back to working the phones.
A few days later, Becky appeared at my cubby, and asked if I would be interested in working for her for half a day, every day. I learned that she was a team leader, and was head of the accounts receivable department. She said she had already consulted with Debbie, and had been told that if I
agreed, she could have me, for half a day, and then I would be back on the phones. I had no clue, what I would be doing, working for her, but, this made me feel special...again. And I agreed to work for her. She took me to the back side of the area, behind the phones again, where I had worked before (except at the other end). There was a round table that faced two cubes, where two permanent employees of Becky's, worked. One of them, Stephen, came over and began to show me, what I was to do. At that time, all of the credit card transactions had to be entered manually, on the credit card machines. I had to enter all of the numbers, manually, for purchases, and for refunds. Fortunately, for the company, there were more purchases than refunds. At first I found I was very slow, and at the end of my shift, I would often have trouble balancing, because of clumsy mistakes, that "my fingers" had made. But I (often with help) would somehow always find the mistakes and balance. It was a lesson and something that is now, pretty much obsolete, but at the time, it was another thing I had actually learned. I was still capable of learning. I wasn't brain dead, after all, which I had been seeing all along the way, much to my relief. And the air, in this area of the building was so different from the call center. It was so relaxed that I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. I had indeed, found my oasis. I began to interract with the two people working across from me, Cristal and Stephen. They worked easily with each other, but they also visited a great deal. And before long, they had begun to include me. Another thing that happened during this time, was that I found my "rescurer", also worked for Becky. Her name was Marilyn, and she was a widow, in her late fifties, and from time to time she would venture out of her cube, to talk. I really liked her, and my heart went out to her, as she had lost her husband only a couple of years before, and then her mother, just the previous year. But she was a trooper, and fit right in. She also had such a cute, sweet personality. And I discovered that although a little shy, she pocessed a great sense of humor, as well.
Shortly, after I had started my half days with Becky, I found that after lunch when I went to the call center, there were no available spots, in which, to sit. I went to Becky and told her, and she said that she would give me other work to do, for her, as long as Debbie didn't complain. From time to time, Becky would inquire whether or not Debbie had say anything. But she never did. And I continued working for Becky in my own little oasis.
Because Cristal, Stephen and I smoked, we all took our breaks together. Cristal, was the proverbial cheerleader. Petite, beautiful, and perky; all wrapped into one. Sometimes she reminded me of Lucille Ball. She was so cute and yet, she would tell stories, on herself, which reminded me so much of something Lucy would do. Completely unabashed, and quite the schemer. I adored her. Everyone did. In a popularity contest, there would have been no contest. She would have won hands down. But there was something inside her, that screamed for help. She was a shop-aholic, to the point, that we all noticed. Once someone mentioned, in a joking manner, that she really needed to get help, and she suddenly looked distraught. "Do you really think so"? she asked. The hurt that flooded her face, was so pitiful, like a small child. We all laughed to a resounding chorus of "NO". I couldn't shake the look on her face, though.
One morning, I came to work, and Becky came to me, with a stack of papers. Thirty pages of c.c. transactions. I was used to doing less than half that many. So she had enlisted the aid of another woman, who was working in the call center, to help me. Her name was Julie. She had short, curly, flaming red hair, and she talked a lot. I didn't know if I liked her or not. I had mixed feelings about her, at that point, and I didn't know why. But we worked together that day, and it was a mess. There were just so many to do, and Julie had never done this before, and I was still new at it, so by the end of the day, we were scrambling to balance. But as always, it worked out. My feelings were still mixed, concerning Julie, however, and that bothered me. I am not one to dislike someone, I do not really know without reason, and usually if I do, there is a reason. In this case, I sensed that I didn't have a reason, and it troubled me.
I learned that she had been born in England, had married at sixteen, to a young man, she hardly knew. She had traveled the world, while her husband was in the Army, and she had two sons. One, with a couple of years left of high school and the other still in elementary. And goodness, she was outspoken! Her husband had just recently retired from the Army and they had moved to Beria, Kentucky to be near his family. She was extremely unhappy, with living in Kentucky. She was a city
girl, and Beria was a small town. On top of that, she and her in-laws were not especially cozy with one another, at the time. When Mike, her husband, had brought her home, to meet his family, they all had almost choked. She was just a baby! And he had married her without really even knowing her. They were certain, it would not last. All these years later, and even though it had lasted, there were still some hard feelings. I also, learned something else about Julie. She had had breast cancer, and had been given a year to live two years ago. In the meantime, she had had a bone marrow transplant and was in remission, at the time. I wondered to myself, if this, even before I had known...was the thing which had caused the mixture of emotions, I had felt when we had worked together. If it was, I understood, that I would want to protect myself instinctively, against becoming friends with her. But on the other hand, it made me feel like a jerk.
During this time, I sensed that the vote was still out, as far as how Becky felt about me. I felt that she was overall pleased with my work performance, but she didn't speak to me, personally, the way she did, with Stephen and Cristal. However, that was about to change. The day of Halloween, I had come to work, dressed normally and found many dressed in costume. It was another day, of many pages of transactions to be entered, and Becky had decided that she would work alongside me. She was in jeans, like myself, but wore a headband that had horns, in leui of a full blown costume, but still showing some spirit. I learned that the previous year, she had won the costume contest, by showing up for work dressed in a hospital gown (yes, one that was open in the back), with her butt (albeit, a fake one) exposed. I laughed so hard, I almost fell out of my chair. Who was this woman? I discovered that Becky was a closet comedien. Quick, witty. Sometimes barbed. But all in fun. Or usually, anyway. At any rate, she was just damned funny, any way you looked at it. Stephen was out sick that particular day, and so it was just Cristal, Becky and myself, having a field day. And it was good, in so many ways. Our work was fast paced, but I had seen that the policy here was that, we didn't have to be uptight and stressed to do a good job. I also began to see something about Becky that had not been clear in the beginning. I had noticed that she had left me alone, to do my work. And I was partly right in my assumption that she was keeping her distance, before she could get to know me. But as I got to know her, I realized that she never "played boss". She knew her position, and she didn't have to prove anything. As long as her employees, did their work, she had no problem with a little horse play. Besides, she loved to play as much, as anyone else, if not more, sometimes. For as long as I live, I will always believe that Becky is the role model for the ideal "boss". Her employees, were the embodiment of loyalty, to her. They did their work, and she never had to stand over them with the whip. Becky, might have been a boss, but she wasn't a babysitter. I have sometimes wondered if she ever really knew how special she was to the people who worked for her. Did she have a clue, how beloved she truly was. As I write this, I can hear her in my head, saying
"Quit it!" She had/has trouble receiving praise..."getting cookies" as she called it. Consequently, she, herself, didn't dole out many "cookies" to her employees. And she couldn't understand the necessity of it. She didn't need it, so why should anyone else. Yet, by her very actions, and attitude, she gave her own form of "cookie", or "non cookie", depending on the circumstance. You knew if Becky liked you, or if she didn't. I saw many, whom she didn't like, and Lord help them, if they had to cross her path. Fortunately, on the morning she worked alongside me, for the first time, I began to feel that I had at last passed the test. And she had definitely passed mine, not only as a boss, but as a human being. I just flat out loved her.
The days passed and I was becoming increasingly aware, that the project was drawing to a close. It was painful to me, to think that I would be leaving everyone. I had grown, in such a short time, in so many ways, and I had become increasingly attached to the people, I worked with. I had found another aspect of myself apart from my husband and children, and it felt good to be "me", again. When I said something at work, I was heard. If I told a funny story, it was perceived as funny. Just as I had intended. I was able to process information. My self confidence was sky rocketing. I was not just a mousy washed up, middle aged woman. I had purpose. And I had a place. And I had so many new people in my life.
Sometime, in early November, I happened to be in the call center, and someone told me that Betty had gotten bad news, from her doctor. She had just learned that she was scheduled to have heart surgery and her chances of surviving were not good. I was sick to hear this. I never forget a kindness, and Betty had shown me much perceived kindness that first day with the company. I went over to her cube, where I found her crying, and hugged her. "Sharon, " she began between sobs, "this may be my last eight days to live". I hugged her again, and tried to reassure her. Her words had a sombering affect on me. And eight days later, she passed away.
So many characters. Like a play. And there was a little bit of every different kind of individual, here. Gay, straight, hysterical, outrageous, shy, outspoken and opinonated...you name it. It was a melting pot of so many creative influences and we blended well, for the most part. And I found the diversity, facinating. And everyone busy, and motivated. How could it be, in such an atmosphere, that we all were so productive. Inspiration. Leadership. The CEO and founder of this company was a man, by the name of Larry Holman. Though, his office was in the historical building downtown, Teleconference, was his special baby and he paid close attention to the operation and to the welfare of each and every employee. Daily, he swept through the building. From one end to the other. Not to stike fear into our hearts, but to offer encouragement, praise, and appreciation. He was sort of your stereotypical befuddled absent minded professor, except that there was nothing stereotypical about Larry. Brilliant. And insane, in a lovely way. He was loved and cherished. And how could he not be. If Becky was the role model for "boss", Larry was the model for "Big Boss". I once had a meeting, with him, along with about twenty other employees, and was the first to arrive in the conference room, to find Larry, setting up his presentation. After greeting me, he asked if I thought we would have enough chairs. Then without waiting for me to reply, he disappeared from the room, and quickly returned, carrying a wing back chair from someone's office. He promptly set it down, and said "This is your chair". It was a sweet, touching gesture. And that is the way, he was. He poured himself out, and he believed in inspriring and rewarding loyalty and hard work. In hind sight, I wonder if he didn't give too much. But some part of me, thinks that he would not have had it any other way.
One morning, I happened to be in one of the cubes that I often used, whenever I needed a computer. I happened to see a letter, on the desk, which said in affect, that at the conclusion, of the program on November 17th, the project would be completed, and the temporary help would no longer be employed. My heart sank. In spite of myself, I had continued to put roots here. And now, I had been reminded that it would be over, in a few days. Later that day, I was talking to Becky and mentioned something about staying in my jammies, eating bon-bons, and watching Jerry Springer on November 18th. "What are you talking about"?! she exclaimed, as though I had struck a nerve. I was caught off guard and wondered what SHE was talking about. "I saw a letter, " I began to explain. She shot back, "Did anyone hand you a letter with your name on it"? I stumbled "No, I just happened to see it in the cube I use". She probed again. "Did it have your name on it"? "No", I said shaking my head. She breathed a sigh of relief. "Sharon," she began, "on November 18th, if you do not show up for work, I will be on your doorstep, dragging you to work in your jammies". I stammered. And then I laughed. "I thought..." I started to say and she interrupted "And we are having a party November 18th, and I really don't want to miss it, because I have to go and drag your butt to work." My spirits soared. I wasn't being thrown out. I could stay...for how much longer would remain to be seen, but I had passed the first hurdle and I was so happy, I could have hugged her. And if it had been anyone other than Becky, I would have. One pet thing about Becky that I had learned early on, was that she didn't give or receive hugs. It had to be a really special person, and a special occasion, and it was extremely rare. And this didn't qualify. Not to her, anyway. It was okay. I would later get hugs...on rare occasions from her. And when I did, I would not take them lightly. I would know and understand the significance.
A few minutes after my conversation with Becky, Marty (the woman I had stuffed envelopes with, during one of my first days with the company. Seems she turned out to be the building supervisor...in other words, the team leader over the team leaders), came to me, with Becky, in tow, and said that she had heard that I was trying to get out of coming to work, on November 18th, in favor of spending some time with Jerry Springer. We all laughed, and my endorphins were off the chart.
On November 16th, everyone who was able and knew the ropes was assigned to work in the call center, or to take roll over calls. From early morning until late that night, the telephones rang to such an extent, that the sound was that of one very long ring. Because I was experienced with the phones, I was assigned to work in the call center. When I went home that night, I couldn't sleep, for the sound of that one continuous ring in my ear. But on November 17th, we all saw our hard work take fruition. That morning, up until the time, that the program began, the phones rang, again. Most of it, was trouble shooting. There were people lost on free ways needing directions. This was funny, because I received many calls from people asking directions and I would ask "where are you"? And they would respond by telling me where they were on what freeway, instead of which city they were in. And I had people who had gotten tickets in a city that had a shared name with a city in another state, but had failed to notice until they were at the door of the site, and told that there tickets were wrong. This wasn't a problem unless the site they were attending, was sold out...and then it became a problem. But where there was a way, we found it. And I don't know of anyone who didn't get in, where they were supposed to, that day..because that was what we did best. Fix problems, and keep our patrons happy. We had a downlink, to the program (a satellite connection), connected in the call center, so that we all could see what we had worked so hard to produce, and as soon as the program began the phones stopped ringing. We all gathered around the television, at that time, and as Linda Ellerbee, came out to do her part as host, we all felt a sense of pride. Do I hear Becky, in my ear, again..."you are so sappy". And I guess I am. But it meant something to me. I had contributed effort and felt accomplishment. And I had done a good job. So much so, that I would be back the next day. By invitation.