Monday, February 27, 2012

People We Don't Know But Hate Anyway Week

To an untrained eye, the results of last week's "Things I'm Gonna Do This Week" could seem like an epic fail. The premise was simple enough. My goals were specific. All I wanted to do was speak with people who are employed at some of the most hated jobs in America and prove once and for all that people are people no matter how much the general public may despise their line of work. But as simple as all that sounds, "People We Don't Know But Hate Anyway Week" didn't exactly go as planned.

I began the week by contacting a lead who just so happens to work in the ever murky cesspool of humanity: the DMV. We've all been there. You take a number. You take a seat. (Always next to someone with a hacking cough…) You wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and then finally, when your number is called, you talk to an employee who seems annoyed by your questions and even more annoyed by your answers to their questions.

But I don't blame them! At least with some jobs, you know what kind of demographic you're working with. If you work at Victoria's Secret, for example, you get used to the kinds of customers that shop at your store. But the DMV is another story. Their clientele consists of all people that drive. Period. It's no wonder they grow a little impatient.

So deciding it was time to hear their side of the story, I sent my contact at the DMV a happy email with a few questions meant to humanize this group we've all but demonized:

  • What is your favorite part of the job?
  • What is your least favorite part of the job?
  • What is your standard response if people make a stink face about what you do for a living?
  • Does anyone actually look good in their Drivers License photos?
  • Based purely on facts, and only ones you know, who are the worst drivers: men or women?
  • Tell me one truly unforgettable experience you've had at work.

Cute, right? I thought so. The response I got back, however, was that on second thought this whole idea was a "Conflict of Interest," and my contact officially withdrew participation.

Epic Fail.

Next, I turned my sights to the Cable & Internet Providers. Last year alone, I talked to my former provider at least six times, and never once were those calls to congratulate a job well done. Instead, they were to complain. But before those complaints could be made to actual humans, I always had to be interviewed by a female robot voice and put on hold. Then after it was all over, an employee would audaciously ask me to take a survey about how great the experience was.

But I don't blame them! At least they're trying to ensure that my experience was as efficient and pleasant as possible. For this reason, I used my old cable account last week to call up one of these representatives in the hope of finally treating him or her like a person rather than a punching bag.

I dialed the number, navigated through Madame Robot Voice, and waited for a human to pick up. He did, but before I could get a conversation going, the employee informed me that I had been charged $500 by the cable provider for "unreturned equipment." I told him that I had indeed returned said equipment, to which further investigation on his part proved correct. He then asked me to take a survey about how great the experience was, and at that point, I hung up the phone.

Epic fail.

My week then took me to the world of retail. I believe it's well documented that there are few retailers easier to mock than Abercrombie & Fitch. Popularly known as "the store for douche-bags," this clothing chain is one part opium den and two parts "rave" with a healthy dose of overexposed teenager just for taste.

But I don't blame them! I must admit I'm a fan of their low-rise sweatpants that come in a variety of varsity colors. Because of my sweatpants, and the fact that I know first hand how difficult working retail can be, I decided to go to Abercrombie & Fitch last week to spread a little love.

While I was there, I talked to a guy working on one of the visual displays. Careful not to interrupt his work, I explained what I was doing and asked if he'd be willing to fill out a little survey about his work experiences. I promised it would be fun and light and prove that employees at Abercrombie & Fitch have a sense of humor. He obliged and gave me his name and email address.

I went home and composed an email with the following questions:

  • What is your favorite part of the job?
  • Does the cloud of cologne in the store ever make you nauseous?
  • I heard a rumor once that A&F actually tells it's employees NOT to approach customers, so that in a high school sort of way, the customers will want to be cool like them. Is that actually true, or are there just a lot of high school kids that work there?
  • Your store sells clothes, and yet all the ads in the store are of naked people. What's up with that?
  • Do you ever have problems with creepy old men coming into the store just to look at those ads?
  • If you could tell America one thing that would help us be better shoppers, what would it be?

Funny, right? I thought so. I sent it off to him and immediately received a message back saying the email address I used didn't exist. Defeated, but not giving up, I called the store to make sure I wrote it down correctly. When I asked to speak with him, however, the store manager denied my request. "I'm sorry," he said very coldly, "He's steaming right now."

Epic fail.

So what about the Los Angeles Parking Enforcement? After all, they are the ones who inspired this installment of "Things I'm Gonna Do This Week." I believe they are the greatest recipients of misguided anger in Los Angeles County.

Now as you may remember, I had previously hit a dead end in my quest to talk with Parking officials when the head of public information from the LA Department of Transportation shot me down. (Figuratively, of course.) So this past week, I decided to walk the walk and take my story to the streets!

I found an unsuspecting Pontiac that was parked illegally during street cleaning one day and hid close by, waiting for Parking Enforcement to show up. And show up they did!

The employee got out of her energy efficient squad car and started punching in the information for the ticket. I waited for her (who I will now refer to as "PL" for Parking Lady) to finish before I approached. I told PL I didn't want to interrupt her work, but asked if I could pose a few short questions as to what it's like to have her job. She agreed. And here's what followed:

JSP: What's your favorite part of the job?

PL: I like how relaxing it is.

JSP: Relaxing!? For real?

PL: To me, at least, I think it's nice and relaxing.

JSP: Have you ever received a parking ticket?

PL: (laughing) Oh yes! Yes I have. I just paid it.

JSP: Well that's all you can really do.

PL: Just pay it.

JSP: What's the craziest experience you've ever had trying to give someone a parking ticket?

PL: I personally haven't had any of those experiences. But I've heard of them.

JSP: Yeah? Like what?

PL: Like being physically attacked. Getting spit on.

JSP: Yikes!

PL: Yeah.

JSP: What about night shifts, do you ever have to work those?

PL: No.

JSP: But people do, right?

PL: Yep. We're 24-7.

JSP: How do they stay awake? Do you have Sirius Radio in there, or something?

PL: (laughing) No, not that. We do have a radio, but they just get used to it.

JSP: Well thank you so much for talking to me.

Then, PL gave me a big smile, and we shook hands.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Things I'm Gonna Do This Week- February 2012

Hearken, all ye readers! It's time once again for "Things I'm Gonna Do This Week," my literary venture into short-term goal setting.
After much deliberation, I have decided to dedicate February's "Things I'm Gonna Do This Week" to "People We Don't Really Know, but Hate Anyway."

Let's face it; we all struggle to find the right balance of wanting applause for a job well done and not wanting to care about applause for a job well done. But the truth is there are plenty of people out there who work without any applause at all. Not only that, but there are people who go to work every day and receive the exact opposite of applause. They're actually hated for doing their jobs—

I present for your consideration, the members of the Los Angeles Parking Enforcement. Has there ever been an occupation more hated in the great city of angels? No, it seems that we all agree to redirect our misguided anger from not being able to read parking signs to these men and women in uniform.

Speaking on our behalf, however, I will say that there can be up to four signs that you need to read before pulling into any given parking spot. There are signs that prohibit parking for street cleaning, and others that restrict parking for residential hours, and others that show which residential stickers you need in order to qualify for those hours, and others that limit the length of parking for every other time of day, and if you don't read them all carefully, there's a fleet of Toyota Prii just waiting to ticket you.

Now while I scored relatively high in reading comprehension back in high school, I felt like a first grader trying to read Tolstoy when I first moved to California. A few towings later, I created a tradition of repeating aloud the current day and time as well as all posted parking restrictions before turning off my car. But even now, I still feel animosity stir whenever I see the dreaded parking enforcement patrolling the streets.

I probably wouldn't feel that way if I woke up one morning to find my driveway blocked because a stoner parked there after a late night trip to Taco Bell. Of course, that doesn't really happen. Probably because Parking Enforcement is out there doing their jobs. Which leads me back to my point: why do we hate these poor people for going to work every day!?

It has become my mission to find out their side of the story. I initially just wanted to write a blog post consisting of an interview with one of these parking officials, but after I called the head of said officials and was told they wouldn't talk to me because I "wasn't exactly the LA Times," I realized this was going to be a challenge worthy of "Things I'm Gonna Do This Week."

So to all the hated out there: This week's for you! I'm coming for ya! All you parking ticket givers, cable/internet phone operators, fast food order takers, maybe even a Walmart employee or two, I'm gonna track you down and talk to you, and you're gonna like it! Cuz even you deserve a little applause now and then…

View the results of People We Don't Know but Hate Anyway Week

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Place Valentines Here ->

I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day candy. JuJu Hearts and Cinnamon Lips aside, I believe the more delightful confectionary holidays are later in the year. The real reason I enjoy Valentine's Day is because of the valentines themselves, or maybe more accurately, their receptacles.

Do you remember making valentine boxes back in Elementary School? So much fun! Sometimes they were shoeboxes wrapped in tissue paper; other times they were elaborately themed works of art, but either way, their purpose was the same: to collect valentines from your classmates.

While the most intricate valentine container I ever constructed was a robot with heart eyes, my older sister was legendary in our family for her 6th grade masterpiece.

The infamous "Valentine Pig" was created in the same way you'd make a piƱata: with a big balloon, newspaper strips, and a pasty glue mixture. Once it dried, Big Sis painted it pink, cut a paper towel tube into hooves and a snout, and finished it off by adding a curly tail and some of those googly eyes from craft stores. It was, as I remember it, the coolest valentine receptacle of my childhood. It was also pretty ahead of its time seeing as gourmet shops now sell chocolate bars with bacon pieces.

In addition to these scholastic creations, my family also made individual valentine envelopes to hang on our bedroom doors. Every sibling and parent created and decorated a valentine envelope that was inspected daily for special deliveries...which, now that I think about it, was probably the beginning of my need to obsessively check my email.

But more importantly, these Valentine's Day memories were also the beginnings of a very essential life lesson. Each of us needs a "valentine box" because we all need to receive the love of others. If not, then how on earth can anybody give it away?

That's what this day is all about for me: reminding us to be a little bit more open to love in our lives. And mediocre candy aside, what's so bad about that?

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Book of Mormon Musical

For some reason, people keep asking me my opinion of the recent Broadway musical smash The Book of Mormon. So, for the record, here is my formal Latter day Saint response to the show:

“This is what real orphans must feel like when watching Annie.”

If you want to see The Book of Mormon, go ahead and see it. You might be offended. (I wasn't) You'll probably laugh a lot. (I did) You might even walk away, dare I say, uplifted. (Yep) I only ask that you then call me up and ask me something about my mission. Heaven knows, I love to talk about it.

Above all, dear friends, don't fear Musical Theatre. For if you can’t go see a musical, then the terrorists have won.