Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Picnic Table in a Pool? Toxic Mold in the Ice Machine? Gunshot Wounds? Students Reveal Surprising Details about their Jobs

The following six essays were submitted by students assigned to write an informative essay about a job where they've worked.

Palate Cleanser
By Alicia Perkins

“Um ma’am, some kid just threw up in the lobby.” Cleaning may not seem like an important part of being a barista, but a lot of what we do cleaning wise can be important for the overall safety for our customers and us baristas. When many customers would watch me clean, they would often remark about how I should be doing more important things, like working at the bar so they can get their drinks faster. I don’t think many people realize how important some aspects of cleaning the store are.

Cleaning the pastry case and counters is one of the easier cleaning tasks things to clean in the store. Neglecting to clean it however, can really cause a lot of problems for the opening baristas. I remember having to open one day where the pastry case wasn’t cleaned. At first, we didn’t really notice that the pastry case wasn’t cleaned the night before. We were busy doing other opening duties at the time. When my co-worker, Erin, finally got to stocking the pastry case, she noticed two or three ants crawling inside the case. She killed the ants and told me about it. I responded, “I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t see any more ants around, so they must have just gotten a ride from one of us or something.” And it was true; I could not see any other ants around the area so we put it aside and continued on. About half an hour later I noticed a few ants on the espresso bar. I killed them off and knew that it couldn’t be a coincidence. Sure enough, I found a small trail of about 20 or so, on the floor underneath the bar. I followed the trail, discovering more and more ants. I couldn’t find any more past the pastry case, but still, I had to close the store until I could figure it out. I closed up the store and went to the backroom and printed out a sign to hang on the door. I asked Erin to clean out the pastry case thoroughly just incase. I called my manager, Hadden, to see what I should do next.  I thought we might have to call pest control or something. Instead, he instructed me to find where the ants are coming from. I kept him on the phone as I searched for the trail. The trail led to a small opening in the window sill on the bottom of the floor. He then instructed me to find and use the chalking gun to cover the hole. I hung up the phone and picked up the chalking from the toolbox in the back. I read the instructions on how to use it and covered up the hole. It took about an hour to finally clean up the store and stop the ant from coming in. Later I realized that the ants were after left over crumbs in the pastry case, and after a spill behind our syrups bottles that was left unclean the night before.

Something I never though I would have to clean up working there was vomit. I though vomit would be classified as a “biohazard”. Biohazard messes required calling the appropriate people, and they would come clean it up. I thought since H1N1 was around during the time, vomit would count as a biohazard. Or so I though. I’ve never had to clean it myself, but I’ve been ‘blessed’ with being able to watch many of my co-workers suffer through it. I remember one day, a customer came up to our counter and told me “Um maim, some kid just threw up out here. His mom just took him out the store.”

”Okay, well thank you for telling. Unfortunately sir I’m going to have to close the store temporarily until we get the mess cleaned up.” The man kindly nodded,

“That’s okay, I just thought I’d let you know, seein’ as the mother wasn’t gonna tell ya.” I then told the rest of the customers in the store and the one’s coming in that we had to close temporarily. I locked the doors behind them, went to the backroom and printed out a temporary closed sign to hang on the door. I called Hadden to see what to do. He said that we had to clean it ourselves because it would cost the store a lot of money to send some people out to do it. He also stated that they would most likely instruct us to do it ourselves anyway. I told my co-worker, Erin (The same co-worker who helped me clean up the ants), of what he said and she kindly offered to clean the vomit up. I felt horrible letting her, but I still took advantage of her kindness and let her do it with no objections. She grabbed the mop bucket and proceeded to clean the vomit on the floor. The vomit was yellow-brown, with bits of pre-chewed cereal bits mixed in. I couldn’t watch as she mopped it up, I already felt sick enough having to look at it once. After mopping it up, she had to scrub the area with bleach. She put on a pair of those big-yellow-latex sanitation gloves, grabbed a scrubbing pad and began scrubbing thoroughly. If you though that was gross, try a puke filled sink. About a week later from the first incident, we found a sink in the men’s bathroom filled with puke. It looked like it was mixed with water, like he tried to clean it out. It obviously didn’t work and probably just made things worse. No one wanted to clean it, so the supervisor in charge called in the Biohazard people just before I left.

A lot of the bigger machines in our store also need to be cleaned. The two bigger machines in the back are the worst to clean though. I had to clean all the machinery I could during a shift and I made the mistake of choosing the milk fridge to start with. I opened up the fridge and initially, it didn’t look to bad. So I started to empty the milk from it and that’s when I discovered this thick, yellow-tinted yogurt looking mess all along the bottom, it was hiding beneath the milk jugs. It didn’t smell, it didn’t even look that hard to clean up. So I put on a pair of the yellow latex gloves, grabbed a bucket of sanitized water and a scrubbing pad. I took one swipe of the gunk and realized how bad this was going to be. It was like I cracked open it’s shell, releasing the putrid stench of spoiled milk. It was chunky and thick, almost like cottage cheese. I grabbed about 4 towels to just pick up the goo so I wouldn’t have to struggle with scrubbing it all up. I still had to scrub the bottom to get rid of the leftover hardened goo that clung to the fridge. The whole process actually took about 3 hours out of the 8 hour shift.

On a different day, but a similar type of shift I had to clean the ice machine in the backroom. It was fun at first, having to empty out as much Ice as possible into the big sinks. The rest of the ice I couldn’t reach I had to hose out with warm water. The inside of the bin smelled similar to ocean water. After ridding the bin of ice, I scrubbed the inside with sanitized water. When I was wiping the bin dry, I noticed that the towel had some pinkish smudge on it. I showed it to my manager in which he replied “Oh, that’s just some pink algae that builds up on the machine in moist areas near the pipes and other metal parts. Well, it’s a good thing that were cleaning it now and that we didn’t use any of the ice near the bottom.” I made a disgusted face and just continued on cleaning the rest of the machine. I had to open up the part of the machine where the ice was made and scrub each square of the metal tray. Luckily, there was no algae in the metal ice tray, but there was some around it. This wasn’t just a slight pink color either, this was borderline neon pink. I cleaned it up, and then poured a special nickel cleaner into the machine, which takes about an hour. We have to run the cleaner though once every 6 months to prevent dangerous amounts of nickel deposits from building up. I finished cleaning up the outside of the machine while the cleaner ran through. Cleaning the machine inside and out took up about 4 hours of that 8 hour shift.

Many of our customers complained when we had to close to store to clean up the vomit and when we had to get rid of the ants. But do you really want to be served coffee while we are cleaning up vomit? And do you really want to be served coffee while ants are infesting the place? And If I don’t clean up the machines in the back, it could potentially become a hazard to our customers’ health. Cleaning may not seem like an important part of my job to most customers who just come in for a quick cup of coffee. In the long run though, it could possibly become a health and safety hazard to not just us baristas, but the customers as well.
A Survival Guide to Working the Service Deli
By Thomas Bales

Are you finding yourself yearning to live the life of a service deli employee at your local grocery store?  Tired of mundane activities such as watching television, sitting down, or having sanity?  Well then skip on downtown and pick up your application today!  With this guide, written based on personal experience, you’ll learn how to cope with everyday stressful situations that companies won’t train you to do.

When starting your shift, more often than not you will need to prepare food for the rest of the day.  Ranging anywhere between rotisserie chickens to fried chicken!  Don’t worry about the rest, it’s already been prepared and shipped to your freezer.  When it comes to rotisserie chickens it really couldn’t be easier.  After you cut open the giant plastic bag filled with ten whole chickens and drain the 4-6 cups of maroon juices, the fun begins.  Just get a good grip on the two flabs of yellow puffy fat that dangle from the stomach of the chicken.  It may be slippery, but just squeeze as hard as you can and rip those suckers off the skin.  If only losing weight where that easy right?  Remember to tug out any leftover tail feathers that were missed during the de-feathering process.  Then just flip that bad boy on his tummy and fold his wings back and tuck them under his arms.  A lot of the time the force it takes to fold the wings back may cause the wing to snap.  But when this happens just imagine you’re walking in the park, a gentle breeze brushes your cheek, and that crunch you heard was just a twig you stepped on.  Once both wings are folded back grab your twine and tie the chicken down like the rodeo cowboy you are!  We’re almost done now.  After seasoning, roll out your tiny metal cart with the six round metal poles with pointed tips to the prep station.  If you ever wanted to make a chicken totem pole it’s you’re lucky day!  Just shove the chicken down the pole from its butt through its neck hole.  Be careful not to break the collarbone!  Don’t worry if you accidentally prick yourself on the tip of the spear when you put the chicken down.  Working with the barely unfrozen chicken during the whole process will numb your hands, deterring any pain you would normally feel.  When dealing with those tricky whole chicken carcasses just remember you’re still alive and it’s not.  Because no matter how much difficulty you’re having trying to put its body through a metal pole the chicken is not, and in fact cannot be, laughing at you. 

Now that prep is out of the way, it’s time to go out and help some folks with some good old fashioned deli service.  Keep in mind there are lots of crazy people out there, literally.  You may be visited by a middle aged woman sporting a shiny silver helmet who always talks about how shitty your food is every time she’s comes in the store.  High school kids might also take a liking to your cheap deli products since you are conveniently close by.  So remember that everyday around noon at least thirty students will storm the isles at once to try to grab a bite to eat.  Some students even ask for requests such as, “Can I try a sample of your chicken strips?”  This would be perfectly fine, if they didn’t ask the same question every weekday.  Some even like to try and hide their fiasco as they scoff, “Hey man, can I try some of your mac ‘n cheese?”  Then take a few bites and proclaim, “No, there’s something definitely off here, it tastes bad like its old or something.  I don’t want any.” while they walk off still eating the small plastic cupful.  But that’s ok because management says it’s what you have to do.  So don’t worry your head with such thoughts.  When helping customers, just keep smiling and try not to cut your fingers off with the giant 12” circular blade while cutting meats.  There’s no ticket or schedule system, just a first come first serve.  That means that when you get busy with ten people at once remember which person walked up to the deli first.  If you slip up and ask to help someone out of order, this can make the one who was supposed to be helped very frustrated.  Even if you see them glaring at you with the intent of stabbing you in the face and ask them, “I’m so sorry, were you next in line?” they may still snort, “I was.” and march away.

Once you’re done feeling like crap you can finally time to start cleaning up the mess you made.  This includes taking any and all non-fried items and placing them in rectangular metal tins to be used or mixed with new food for the next morning.  No need to jot down any useless information such as how long the food has been out.  All of that information is kept in the security of the deli manager’s mind.  Anything on the warming trays needs to be tossed into garbage.  Remember not to sneak a bite of chicken, as that would be “stealing”.  But I won’t judge you for your actions.  Next comes the greasy part of cleanup.  You’ll need a big bucket for this one.  Remember those little chickens you gave that nice whole body piercing too?  Well there’s been thirty-six cooking on those poles all throughout the day.  They may or may not have accumulated a gallon or two of grease.  Good thing there’s a broken tray underneath that can’t come out easily to catch all of the drippings though!  All you need to do shimmy the drawer out and unscrew the plug in the corner of it.  With the bucket underneath, all the grease will splash on down.  That is unless mushy bits of chicken that have fallen off, been burnt, and have been bathing in grease all day clog up the hole.  To avoid this, get a plastic scraper and scoop out any bits-o-chicken that didn’t quit make it to the heating shelves.  Other than those small mishaps, the rotisserie oven is a cinch to clean.  Now if you were to not work for a day or two and come in to work to find out nobody else seems to clean the oven then that might be a different story.  Next it’s time to clean out the fryer.  Oh no, we won’t be needing the bucket for this one.  You can go set it down for a while.  Instead, grab a 4’ metallic pump on wheels with a hose attached.  After you let the grease cool down for a while just shove the nozzle in the 10 gallon puddle of oil and crank away on the handle.  If you hear the sound of someone trying to drink the last few drops of their beverage through a straw then its working great.  After all the grease has been sucked out it’s time to toss the black gold.  Head on inside the 15° freezer and take off the lid of the rusted 100 gallon rusted oil drum.  Dump your fresh bucket of grease in first and break the hardened top layer of grease, splashing some around possibly even on your face.  Once you’re done with the bucket, put the nozzle for the metal crank pump and crank it backwards to spew the oil out everywhere but the oil drum.

Finally you’re work day is over.  Wipe the grease off your cheek with your still bleeding hand and take your apron off.  Walk up to the registers and collect your $350-$400 weekly check and pay for your sandwich you made on your break.  Sure you may have made it with a jalapeno cheddar bun from the bakery, sun dried tomato turkey, pepper salami, prosciutto (Italian bacon), pepper jack, muenster cheese, bacon, lettuce, jalapenos, ranch, salt, and pepper but I’m sure the grocery won’t mind if you mark it as the same price as a standard shitty $1.50 turkey sandwich right?  After all, you deserve it.

The More You Know
By Shawn Strasburg

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Lanny cried out with pain washing over his face as the four-wheeler finally came to a rest at the bottom of the canyon after a mix of fifty rolls and cartwheels. I squatted down next to Lanny in silent contemplation of what to do next.

“J2, you got a copy?” I finally said into the Motorola radio I had located in the tall grass. It was then and there that I realized this farmhand job entailed more than I could have ever imagined. It is often said in real estate “Caveat Emptor,” meaning buyer beware. I believe there should be another saying “Caveat Ergates” meaning employee beware. On the Wellwood farm I found myself thrust unprepared into many roles:  professional athlete, risk management expert, veterinarian, medic, security guard, and financial planner.

With the average work day beginning at 5:30 a.m. and concluding around 10:00 p.m., and constantly involving heavy lifting, an athletic background is a must. Physical endurance is required as a typical work week does not apply on the Wellwood farm. Days off will not exceed four days a month, and often these days off will include mandatory duties on the farm due to employee absences or animal emergencies. Work hours do not include rest breaks except for lunch and supper, which are often eaten around scheduled duties. A typical day on the farm will include hauling 125 five gallon buckets of feed, and removing 20 five gallon buckets of manure, afterbirth and dead piglets. It will also involve climbing over 300 fences while roding feeders, removing dead hogs and bedding down pigs with up to 100 straw bales. Grain will often need to be transferred throughout the farm and will often involve shoveling. Outdoor Hog pens and sheds will need to be cleaned by shovel and pitchfork. Trash barrels and dead barrels will need to be hauled to the dump. Also on the cattle side salt, mineral, and hay bales will also be moved daily. If snow or old silage is in the feed bunks, then one-half of a mile of feed bunks will need to be scooped out every morning. And ice on 12 cattle tanks will need to be broken and removed in the winter.

As a risk management expert alertness to ever changing farm conditions is of utmost importance. An awareness of animal behavior can often prevent an old cow, or terrified steer from grinding you into the fence. Understanding animal posturing and noises can often warn you if a boar or sow is preparing to maul you. If you have not driven down a road lately or have seldom been in a pasture, high speeds are not recommended. Washouts, small cliffs on hillsides, cattle trails, and deep sandy spots have all cause terrible accidents on the Wellwood farm. Also try to note changes to the environment around you as weather conditions can drastically change road conditions and animal behavior.

Another area of risk management is the human error factor. Some simple questions that could be asked include; did someone remove half of the hill leaving a 25 foot cliff? Did your fellow employee just park behind you in a brand new pickup? In the first case half of a hill had been excavated in the summer to replace dirt in the feedlot. When Lanny came flying over the hill that fall, he drove off the 25 foot cliff clearing 15 feet of ground before his wheels touched down and he broke his back. The second scenario involved Lanny and his son Jean, where a brand new pickup was totaled by a tractor. Often times human involvement can change the variables in a situation faster than many can react. Thinking ahead, planning for the worst, and vigilance can often save time, money, and injury.           

With 5,280 hogs, 1,200 fat cattle, and 450 cow-calf pairs, I found myself in the role of an impromptu veterinarian. In the hog end of the business the average animal inoculation rate was around 100 a day. Litters of pigs needed to be worked daily including; teeth clipping, ear notching, vaccinations, castration and tail docking. Sows require medication before and after birthing. Sick animals need to be culled and a record of medical treatment kept. Artificial Insemination is carried out on a heat schedule which can often include a Sunday morning before church. Prolapses need to be addressed in both the cattle and hog division of the business. This involves technical skills that require a training seminar and some fair practice. Fat cattle often become sick and need to be isolated and treated according to symptom. The injections given to some sick cattle can cost as much as $50 and will kill or cure the animal. Feed introduced medications need to be monitored to treat worms, sickness and mold content of feed. Many of these feed medications require knowledge of animal weight, rate of consumptions and length of consumption.

In rural areas hired hands are often first responders when accidents happen. Medical skills are extremely helpful when dealing with these situations. Gunshot wounds, broken backs, broken bones, crush wounds, lesions, heat stroke and frostbite have all occurred on the Wellwood farm. Being able to quickly assess the situation, call for help and if injury allows, evacuating the injured person to a location accessible to an ambulance are all indispensable in the case of an accident. A four-wheeler roll over resulting in broken bones occurred several miles into steep canyon pasture, when Lanny drove over two foot cliff. It had rained while we were rounding up cattle and the path out of the pasture became impassible. He finally had to be taken out on foot, to his dismay.

As an employee of the Wellwood farm I often played the role of a security officer. Recognizing poachers, disgruntled workers (past or present), and preventing problems with intoxicated co-workers was a way of life. Throughout the year strangers on company property had to be confronted and told to leave. Several times a man, who had been fired from the Wellwood farm, snuck onto property and released 200-300 pigs. It took several days to return the last of them to their pens. In the interim 3 pigs fell into drain pipes requiring days of excavation and replacement of PVC pipe and many other died due to weather conditions.

Preparing for financial difficulties is also an asset. Some months the boss was unable to pay me or other employees. I found these times to be concurrent with him searching for an operating loan and when he was working on his new house. I kept several months of food and supplies on hand to make it through these lean times. The first time it happened, I bartered free fuel for my personal vehicle in lieu of interest on back money.

While being thrust into the roles of professional athlete, risk management expert, veterinarian, medic, security guard, and financial planner can be overwhelming; they were a great preparation for life. In the past ten years I have re-employed nearly every skill I learned in the trenches of the Wellwood farm to my benefit. I have held many jobs since my employment there and have had little fear in diving into the unknown. This often helped me to rise above coworkers and secure raises and management positions.

Working the Streets
By Ben Schmit

With only twelve men, a handful of trucks, and some heavy equipment, the Town of Windsor: Public Works division can be considered the most important in the town, and maybe even the bridge stone to keep the town running smoothly. While working for public works, one may experience various types of work that may involve: paving roads, spraying weeds, weed eating, sewer work, water line work, painting roads, and various odd jobs around the town. The Public Works division is a laid back part of the town, with the motto “The job will still be there tomorrow.” They strive for quality work, not hastily done, spotty work. The work day runs from 7 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. daily, and in 8 hours, can contain spraying, shutting off water, painting, cleaning the town, or even sponsored events.

Keeping the town clean is the major job of the Public Works crew, as we handle street sweeping, weed eating, mowing, and spraying weeds. As a new seasonal worker in the summer, most of your time spent will be in the spray truck. Spraying is an essential part of working for the streets crew and making things along roads look presentable. Spraying is a two person job, with one person driving and the other spraying out the passenger side window. Driving slow is the key to getting this job done correctly; however, this gives many people an opportunity to criticize and get mad about the kind of spray being used. In some cases, this may happen an upwards of 10 times every day. If anyone thinks you’re doing something wrong they will call your boss as well. I personally was called about 4 times for spraying in front of 4 different houses who said they were allergic to the chemicals in the spray. They failed to mention in their rage that they had never warned us about the allergy, and two of them decided they wouldn’t be able to leave their homes for 3 days. Some Windsor residents will complain about anything, including the manner in which you spray, but an important part of working for the town is being able to shrug it off and put it behind you.

One of the most interesting jobs that may be done is shutting off people’s water on water shut off day. This happens on the 29th of every month, and if people forget to pay their bill (which generally runs from $50-$200), their water gets shut off. Generally, the Town Hall gives us all a list of roughly 100 names, and our job is to drive and turn off their water. Occasionally, the owner of the house will be home and disagree with the fact that their water is being shut off. On a call last summer, I encountered this exact situation. After I turned the valve off, a man stormed out of his house and began screaming in outrage. Wearing only a towel and covered in soap, I could tell he had been in the middle of his shower. I simply told him that he hadn’t paid his bill and he needs to contact Town Hall for more information and to pay his bill. He was not having this as he ran over to the valve and attempted to turn it back on. He realized that it was impossible to turn the valve without the fire hydrant wrench. As I was driving away, I saw him running after me, only in a towel and in an outrage. He followed me all the way back to the public works office, where my boss told him to pay his bill. He finally listened, and got everything figured out. Things like this can happen often, perhaps not to this extreme, but many people will get mad when they don’t have their water. Water shut off days only happen once every month, but it is always a fun way to spend 8 hours.

One of the more entertaining jobs that you may encounter while working for the Town is painting. Painting can be a variety of things, whether it be road stripes, fire hydrants, symbols on roads, or parking lots. When painting, hours of work fluctuate abruptly. Some nights you will go in at midnight and work until 9, giving the paint an opportunity to dry before people are consistently driving on roads. Other nights you may be out from 3 A.M. until noon, or 5 A.M. until lunch time at noon. Painting roads at night is an extremely delicate process, and you need a steady hand to do it. The machine used to paint is deafening, and people wake up, get upset and yell. Last summer, near a small bed and breakfast in town, my partners and I were painting parking lines at around 3 A.M. The owner of the establishment stumbled out of the door complaining about how he had guests, and our machine was too loud. I was running the painter, and not thinking he began to kick it in his rage. Paint spilled out all over him, and onto one of his customers’ cars. Upset and dumbfounded now, he walked back inside slowly. Another example of some of the crazy people you might have to deal with in Windsor, but also a situation you can’t help but laugh at. Another variety of painting that has to be done is painting fire hydrants. Hydrants need to be painted every year, and they are done the old-fashioned paint bucket and brush way. You have to drive around to various corners in and out of town, finding hydrants and painting them a gleaming red so fire fighters can see them. Although an important part of town work, painting hydrants may also lead to long, boring days.

Occasionally, vandals will hit the town of Windsor, and we are called upon to fix the damage. Two or three times every month, jokesters hit the street of Canal Drive in Windsor. Monday mornings, I would get a call from a co-worker and they simply stated, “someone covered up the ‘C’ again.” Knowing what that meant, I headed to Canal Drive to remove the green duct tape placed over the “C” in “Canal,” so it read “Anal Drive.” In another event this summer, someone broke into the pool and threw a picnic table into the deep end. We had to bring a backhoe and I had to bring my swimsuit. Being the only willing person to swim, I dove into the deep end, and hooked up a strap to the table so we could haul it up. A similar situation arose towards the end of the summer, as well. A car had been stolen and driven into a lake right outside town. We were called to pull the car out of the lake, however this time professional divers were hired to the scene. The car had been stolen in early March, and been recovered in August.  Odd jobs such as these occur on a consistent basis in Windsor, and have the ability to make a job as a Public Works member more interesting.

Working for Public Works is not all just work all the time. There are a few events every year that the town holds for Public Works as a division of Windsor so we sit back, and have a wonderful time. Public Works week is the first of these. It is an entire week devoted to the staff, and all the things we do for the town that ends in a bar-b-que with the police officers of the town. Another event held is the safety fair. It is a day filled with learning about safety, prizes, games and free hot dogs and hamburgers. The safety fair is a full day thing, however most employees leave early to get a head start on the weekend. These are just a couple of a select few events held for Public Works over the summer, and are for an important cause and fun.

Public Works in the Town of Windsor is a very important part of keeping the town in stable condition. They do extremely important work year-round, to keep Windsor as a safer and more beautiful place. They expect patience and quality work and being flexible to the various forms of work that they may send your way. Though these few jobs may seem boring and unimportant, everything that the Town of Windsor does is for purpose and meaningful.

Bus Stop
By Jillian Epting

Rachel, the 11 year old girl who used to participate in singing all the songs, take care of the smaller kids on the bus, and just joke around, will now hardly sing as she sits in her seat with a scowl on her face. When I go to her home on Saturdays, I get a glimpse of the life she lives. Though, Rachel has been taking care of her younger siblings and still continues to do so, her older twin gets more attention from their mom. Her older twin, Ally, is the one who had to go to anger management and had threatened to stab her babysitter and had to go to the Boys and Girls Home. Now, Rachel is bitter and will no longer show any happiness on her face as she sits on my bus. There are different kinds of kids that jump on my church bus each week. My bus is to bring children, teenagers, and whoever else to church for them to hear God’s Word. It is for them to be able to make a decision concerning the messages they hear from His Word and it is for them to make a decision about where they will live for eternity. Out of the different kinds of kids on my bus, Rachel fits in with the category of neglected kids.

Now, there is Maggie, the athletically- built 11 year old who used to show hardly any emotion and seemed to find ways to irritate the workers. She would do things like step on my feet, refuse to sing, and stand in a bus worker’s way to purposely ignore them if they were to talk to her. But as I look into her home, I see her pretty, red- headed little sister get extra admiration from her mom. More time is spent on her little sister’s hair than her own. Maggie now is starting to open up as I try to sit next to her on the bus and  ask her questions like “How is school going?” or “ What have you been up to?” She even chose to sit next to me one week. Maggie also fits in with the neglected kids.

I also have trouble makers on my bus. Like, Tyler. He is the 4 year old who back talks, hits his brother, will not sit down when told to, and talks during prayer. But when I visit his home on Saturdays, I see the dirt and trash on the floor, smell the cigarette smoke, and see his “uncle-daddy” sitting on the couch. Tyler sometimes comes to church saying a “new word” his “uncle-daddy” taught him. Once, Tyler, grabbed “what makes him a boy” and said with a guilty look, “Oh right in the peanuts!” I am not sure that is the word he meant to say, or if he just could not pronounce it correctly. Before I could tell him that what he said was not nice to say, he just yelled out that his “uncle-daddy” taught him to say it. After a year of coming, Tyler now sits down after we tell him to. Of course, he gets up within the next two minutes, but he is learning.

Other kids can be trouble makers in different ways. Take Romeo and Isaac, for example. They are two brothers who we bus workers met on a street behind one of our other bus kid’s house. Their dad was deathly obese and their house had an old food smell. A couple months after these two started coming to church, their mom left. Months after their mom left, their dad passed away. Then they lived with their grandpa who had health problems himself. Now, Romeo had a problem with starting fights with other kids and Isaac enjoyed getting in the girls’ faces and making loud, Pee Wee Herman- noises. Isaac also used his dad’s death as an excuse to disobey or act out. Once, Isaac yelled at one of the bus workers, and said “You don’t mess with a kid who lost his father!” I saw the situation and told Isaac that I was sorry he lost his dad, but he cannot use his dad’s death as an excuse to do what he wants. I just pointed to myself, and explained that I too do not have my dad around, the bus worker who he yelled at does not have his dad around, and a little boy who heard the conversation spoke up and said that he did not have his dad in the home either. Still, I made an effort to love these little boys, yet teach them to deal with and overcome their problems to become something better.

On the other hand, there are the quiet, mysterious kids who you cannot read. Such as, Melanie. She is the quiet little girl who sits on the bus and hardly makes a sound except when singing the songs.  One time, her face showed an urge to cry after children’s church, but when I asked her what was wrong, she insisted that there was no problem. Yet, her demeanor showed that something had saddened her. I am still trying to build a relationship with her for her to feel more comfortable when she comes to church and for her to learn more about the Lord and what He says in His Word.

Another kid in the quiet, mysterious group is Francis. She is the short, little Mexican girl who participates with singing the songs, playing the games, and even holding her breath while going down the overpass (a little competition we have for whoever can hold their breath until we reach the bottom of the overpass.) But she would not open up for a long time. After getting to know her after a while, we found out that she gets scared often, especially at night. She hopes to work on the bus some day. She is teaching us Spanish songs to sing on the bus.

Little April started out as one of the quiet, mysterious ones. When she first came, we could hardly find out her name. For a while after her visit to our church, she would hardly speak to us or want to come again. Maybe a year later, she came with a friend, and after that, decided to start coming regularly. She was still quiet most the time, until the one Saturday we came to her house and we could not get her to stop talking. She talked about pets, school, etc.  We would have never known her personality this way if we had not kept visiting her. Now, she comes and brings her little brother.

There are also many angry kids who hop on my bus week to week, such as Jason.  Jason is a short, 8 year old boy whose vocabulary is beyond his years. He usually obeys the workers on the bus and the workers in children’s church, but he disregards his mom at home. He yells at her often and tries to get his way. Once, his mom told him to throw a plastic sandwich bag away, and his response was,” I didn’t put it there. Why do I have to do everything in this house?” After arguing with his mom over the plastic bag, he went to his room and cried, still leaving the plastic sandwich bag on the coffee table. He also told one of our bus workers once that he watched his mom get hit by his dad, and one time, his mom fell on him. When I go to his house, I see Jason sitting on his couch playing video games, trying to talk over his mom as we talk to her.

Another child who has some anger problems is Tammy. She is the second oldest of four. She comes to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights. It depends on her mood whether she will sing along with the songs on the bus, or decide to sit on her seat with a bad attitude and keep other kids from singing by talking down the songs. She speaks of her dad sometimes, but it is usually in an angry manner. He is gone. I do not know where though. Her mom gets frustrated with her often. One time, her mom cussed Tammy out for back talking and for being disrespectful in her attitude. Tammy either rolls her eyes on the way to church, or tries to help the bus workers with the candy.

Next, there is the giggly group of kids. Sometimes they are laughing about an inside joke or laughing at one of our bus workers. Most times, we do not know what they are laughing about. These kids usually participate with the games, passing out candy, and singing. The two friends, Alexa and Rose, are the spokespeople for this group. Alexa and Rose get on the bus giggling. They are two teenage girls who actually became good friends through coming to our church. I would think they were sisters if I did not know them otherwise. They usually come every week.

There are a variety kids on my bus, but with each one, my job is to teach them God’s Word, life lessons, and love that will never be taken back. With Rachel, a neglected young girl, I still try to do my job and show love toward her when I see her. She sometimes smiles now when we see her on Saturdays. My goal is that one day, she will ride my bus again, happily and singing.

 Pantomime on the Telephone Line
By Hannah Hokanson

Names mean little without a face behind them. A sultry voice could come from an exotic beauty just as easily as it could an old hag. At Advantage Direct you have the ability to create your own identity, and mold it to whatever situation you find yourself in. Sometimes you will be an interpreter, other times a ditsy kid, and even more frequently you'll have to assume the role of an indignant soccer mom. Each of these highly different identities will come in handy and help you survive while working at Advantage, or any other telemarketing company for that matter.

Due to the fact that here in the mid-west people have been graced with the ability to speak  without an indecipherable accent, government entities that pay the company to survey American citizens often require you to call the southern region of the country. In cases such as this you become an interpreter. Whether it be a man with a slow thick drawling voice, or an excited woman trying to do a million things at once, you have to be able to communicate with the elegance of a courtier and the ease of an auctioneer. The race to complete your message is over the second you ask someone to repeat themselves. You must treat every person who makes the decision to answer the call as if they were a foreign ambassador.

 Pretending to be a bubbly, slightly ignorant, younger person is possibly one of the greatest techniques you will learn to use. This persona is highly effective, especially when you find yourself up against men with testosterone overdrive disorder, or TOD. These guys can be really hard to deal with and like to get really vulgar at time. Once, while I was presenting a particular speech about health care, I encountered Ryan, a man who was more than slightly unhappy about the topic of my survey. He interrupted me half way through my repetition of my script and began to shout and curse. “Damn them democratic sons-of-bitches,” he said to me. “It ain't enough that they're fucking up everything by putting a damn black man in the white house, but the fact that he's appealing to the fucking stupid youth just makes it even better!” I listened stoically, his language and opinions meaning nothing to me, after all as far as I was concerned he was speaking to a fictional  character. As he continued his rant I realized that at some point I was going to lose the phone call, so I elevated the tone of my voice ever so slightly, and put on a beguiling wide eyed face. I knew he couldn't see me, but making the face of the character you become helps you sound even more convincing. “Wow,” I said drawing out the 'o', “I guess I never realized how bad it really is. All I know is what my mom's boyfriend comes home and talks about.” The caller paused and I heard him bring the phone back up to his ear, “How old are you,” he asked in a hesitant voice. “Just turned sixteen,” I said, lying proudly. He muttered under his breath and sighed. Perhaps it was 'fatherly instinct', or maybe he just liked feeling superior, but he launched into a full blown interpretation of current day politics. I ooh-ed and ah-ed in all the right places and when he paused for a breath I launched my own campaign of indignation. The conversation ended when I told him I thought that he should let me patch him through, because the government needed to hear more from people like him. People who could explain things in such an honest and smart way. In the end I did transfer his call to a senator's office and apologized to my brain for making it use third grade language.

Apart from southerners the second particularly large genre of caller you will have to deal with are little old ladies. These sweeties are likely living alone with little or no family to visit them love to hear stories while you're trying to get to the point and do your job. But there is also an underlying sub genre much more sinister, and these grannies have the ability to tear a person apart. If you make the mistake, and fall into the trap of giving out actual information about yourself, these ladies will quickly lay into you. With them it doesn't always matter if you are just a character, their vehement statements could make a grown man cry. In these instances you have to pull out the big guns and become an impenetrable fortress of adulthood, and nothing says 'back off grandma' like a soccer mom. I have personally used this persona on numerous old ladies and some, like Olivia, cannot be forgotten. When she first answered the phone, I heard a voice chipper and sweet, yet gravelly with age. The bill I was supposed to be getting people to care about, revolved around online gambling. It was a filler bill, something that was being debated to pass the time between elections, no one cared and the message was short enough to have memorized with just a few repetitions. I finished my song and dance and was prepared for the sweet little old lady on the other end of the line to either tell me to put her on our 'do not call' list, or politely tell me no thank you as most did. But Olivia transformed into the hulk. Our script had been written in a way that disguised the true nature of the bill, using the word 'bingo' instead of 'gambling' to make it appeal more to our elderly callers and unfortunately Olivia had fixated on this. “Bingo,” she asked, still sounding somewhat sweet. “With all the other things going on in this world, you people call me to talk about bingo?” By the end of her statement she had begun shouting. Her voice was shrill as she fired off a round of questions, “Amy? Is that what you said your name was? Why aren't you doing something productive with your life? Do you really care about this bill?” When she was finished with those she began to grill me about my family life and tried to insult me by saying that probably I was probably brainwashed by my religion, and that's why I didn't have a 'real job'. After coming under fire like that a novice would have hung up, but I'd been at Advantage long enough to handle people like this. I modified my voice into that of an icy superior and said “Ma'am?” I paused for a moment to make sure she was really listening, then I began to talk. My tone was low and even as I explained in an eerily calm voice that I was a loving mother of two and that because of the crash of GMC my husband was out of a job and I had taken on this one for extra income. I 'apologized' if I had offended her by doing my job to support my family and asked her politely if she would like me to put her on our do-not-call list for the future. Olivia was flabbergasted, and stuttered out an inaudible phrase before whispering, “Yes please.” I told her to have a nice day and ended the call feeling triumphant. 

The thing to remember when working at Advantage is that when someone attacks your opinions, which is admittedly not a pleasant situation, that at Advantage, 'you' do not exist. You are an extension of whoever is paying the company to promote their bill or their viewpoint. You have no opinions in relation to the topic you're speaking of, unless they support the bill itself. And even then it's best to stay detached and not let things be personal. Like the Savage Garden song says, 'on the telephone I can be anyone, I can be anything I want to be,' this job gives everyone the opportunity to be an actor staring in their own private show in which you can be anything you please, whether it be an interpreter, a twit, or a soccer mom use whichever persona you think fits the situation you find yourself in.


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