Downtown without daylight

Two weeks into working at Vector, there's still nobody at the call center that I hate.

Most of my co-workers are odd, at least the ones I've spoken with, and that's a good sign, right? Lots of them look a little strange, too — they're overly tattooed, or plump or super-skinny, have purple hair or no hair, a few are wrapped in hijabs or walk with canes, wear ridiculous plaids, have chrome ornaments hanging from their lips, etc. Everyone in the room seems abnormal one way or another, so maybe I'll fit in.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The job is answering the phone, booking long rides on the short bus for disabled and senior passengers, to destinations all across the county and into neighboring counties. I'm still in training, but my first classmate dropped out after a few days, and the second quit in the second week, which makes me the last survivor from the first day, and the only rookie to make the team. 

I've started taking calls, but there's still someone beside me, talking me through my mistakes, which are plenty. So far my mentors have been Jem, a nice big and smart woman who's very good at the job, and Pealo, a nice small and smart woman who's also very good at the job, but in the opposite way.

Jem puts on a pleasant tone for every caller, tries to solve their problems, and gives a damn. Pealo is fast, has very quick turnaround times on the phone, but she rushes each caller so quickly I know she's making mistakes, even if I'm too new to recognize what the mistakes are.

Jem gets compliments from the callers, and Pealo gets compliments from the boss. I like both these ladies, but when I call for service from almost any company, it always feels like I'm talking to someone like Pealo, and I have no intention of becoming that. Jem is my role model at Vector, and I've told her.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The work is more complicated than I'd expected. Gotta ask the same eleven questions of every caller, but there are a hundred variables in the answers, all of which need to be coded and input before asking the next question. What time should we pick you up? What's your destination? Are you bringing a caregiver or companion? Are you in a wheelchair, need the lift? Etc.

Jem say it takes months to really 'get it' and feel comfortable making ride reservations. With a co-pilot beside me, most of my calls are going OK, but every time the phone rings, I'm sweating so much I'm wearing deodorant. It'll be weeks at least, before there'll be any amusing anecdotes about idiot callers, because so far the idiot is me.

Jem says not to worry. She thinks I'll be great because, "You're such a people person." She actually said that, and I laughed so loud we got shushed by others in the call center. Jem didn't know why I was laughing, so I explained:

"This job requires listening and interacting with people, and sounding nice helps, so I'm trying, really trying. It's all an act, though. I'm an absolute introvert, uncomfortable talking to people, especially on the phone."

She laughed and said, "Me, too."

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Getting to and from work is… interesting. It's a shorter commute than my last job, and the bus ride doesn't (yet) feel like purgatory, but I'm me; always I have complaints.

My morning ride is in pitch black, until the skies begin brightening to a pre-sunrise dark, very dark blue, just as I'm walking into the office. At the end of the day, it's pitch black again. Winter is such a stupid idea. Intelligent design, my ass.

I've always loved being downtown in any city, still do, but downtown without daylight is an eerie, oppressive place.

Overnight, drifts of litter, garbage, broken bottles, bent needles, and sleeping men accumulate on the sidewalk. The city's overworked and short-staffed clean-up crews come 'round reliably every third morning, to haul away the larger chunks of refuse.

Do streetlights ever blow a fuse and fizzle out? Cuz if that happens, downtown before dawn or after dark would be the most frightening time and place of my life.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Any city has bums and addicts and forgotten men by the thousands, and they're on every sidewalk, every street in the city's core.

99% of homeless folks have no interest in intentionally bothering anyone, but ordinary people are bothered anyway, just because homeless people are there. Ordinary people can fuck themselves.

You want the homeless off the sidewalk? Give them somewhere to go, and they'll be gone. Ah, but housing the homeless would cost money society doesn't want to spend, so that settles that, and that's why most of downtown is a hellhole. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Of course, people with nowhere to live, nowhere to rest, also have nowhere to poop and pee, so your city becomes the toilet.

It happened for me a few days ago, but I only had to poop outside once. I have a home, and the home has a toilet.

There are tens of thousands of people without homes and without toilets in the big city, so always watch where you're walking. That puddle might not be rainwater, and at my homeward bus stop Friday afternoon, a fresh croissant-shaped turd awaited me on the sidewalk.

Waiting for the bus, I leaned on a nearby streetlamp, hoping to see a man in a suit — any man, any suit — put a well-polished leather shoe into the shit, but sadly, that didn't happen.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Instead, a 30-something Indian woman in a shawl jaywalked at the middle of the block, and surprised me by saying to me as she approached, "Has the #99 come yet?"

She was walking directly toward the poop, looking at me instead of where she was walking. In a rare moment of kindness I said, "Watch out for the poop!"

"Oh," she shrieked, and zigzagged to the side. She laughed and said thanks, then asked again, "You're waiting for the #99, right? I recognize your jacket."

"Our bus hasn't come yet," I said, and realized that my jacket had ratted me out. Again. See, I'm the only fat white guy in a tie-dye jacket who rides the #99 bus home, at 5:17 every afternoon.

Nothing against that lady, and we even had a strangers' chat for another half minute, but I'd rather be anonymous. Time to hang the tie-dye jacket in my closet and switch to something bland. Next paycheck, a new jacket... gray.



  1. Nicely written. Thanks for the update. Keep at it; you're the right guy for the job. You care about people. Everything else is just wheels going around.


    1. It's just data entry, and I've done data entry for years and years. Only diff is, instead of reading and inputting codes off stacks of documents, people are telling me things on the phone.

      I'll get it and do it right, or go back to pushing paper elsewhere.

  2. Jem is a gem. So glad she's there for you, Doug.

    - Zeke Krahlin

    1. That she is. And kinda hot, if I was 35 or so years younger.


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