A Thousand Miles From Home - Part 03




It is day seven of National Novel Writing Month and I'm still trucking.

No real commentary today, let's just get on with the story.



Don woke in a sudden rush, sitting bolt upright in bed, sweat coating his body like a boxer in the seventh round. He couldn’t remember what he’d been dreaming about, but whatever it was, it scared the life out of him, and he thanked his maker that he had no memory of it.

He reached out to the nightstand next to the bed and pulled a cigarette from the pack that was there. Lighting it with his Zippo, he turned the television on using the remote that lay next to him in the bed. He found the local news and rose to begin his day, leaving the anchor’s voice in the background, but paying attention enough to listen for any mention of foul play in the wee hours of the night involving a drunk man in a new suit.

The news continued as he brushed his teeth, showered long enough to wash his hair, and dressed himself for his day in a pair of khaki denim pants, dark red polo shirt, and brown sturdy work boots. His attire was chosen for two reasons. One, it was comfortable, and that was the most important reason of all. And Two, it gave him an air of authority, yet with a hint of being just another honest Joe Worker, just like the guys and gals he’d be talking to today. Folks tended to warm up to him quicker when they felt that he was just one of them who was lucky enough to slide into a somewhat cushy promotion. And the fact of the matter was, that’s exactly who he was.

He went downstairs to collect his laptop bag when the cell phone in his pocket rang. He’d set it to actually ring like a real phone. He held no truck for all these phones that played songs instead of ringing.

“Hello,” he said into the phone.

“You ready, Slick?” It was Ollie.

“Yeah. We got time for coffee and a couple of sausage biscuits?”

“That’s up to you, Sparky. You’re driving.”

“That’s right, I guess I am. Meet you at the truck in five.”

Twenty minutes later they were sitting in a booth at the MacDonald’s up the road. Ollie was wearing a white, long sleeved shirt and black tie, black slacks, black shoes, and black suit jacket. Don always admired Ollie for his ability to buck the trends and resemble anything other than your typical IT guy. Of course, Don wasn’t sure what a typical IT guy was supposed to look like. But Ollie, for a geek and a nerd, had always had a keen sense of style, even if he was just a bit pudgy.

“So what’s the plan, Mr. Blonde?” Don asked as he sipped his coffee.

“Mr. Blonde? I’m guessing that that’s some kind of Reservoir Dogs reference due to my choice of clothing today?”

“Yep,” Don said, smiling.

“Well, it’s too early for clever, yet screamingly obvious, pop culture references. So knock it off.”

Don smiled again.

“The plan, my friend, is to finish out breakfast, drive over to GSC, get our badges and workstations, meet all the so called,” he made air quotes here, “important people they throw at us. Then that should be lunch.” He took a bite from his sausage biscuit. Chewed for a bit. Then swallowed before continuing. “Then maybe we can get some work done.”

They finished their breakfast in silence, got a refill on their coffees and headed for work.

The parking lot was nearly full when they arrived at ten minutes to eight o’clock in the morning, and they had to park at the back end and huff their way in. Don was carrying his laptop bag over his shoulder. Ollie too had a bag over his shoulder, his messenger bag, but his laptop was in one of those small suitcases on wheels which he pulled behind him. The messenger bag contained books, both prose and comic.

“You need to get you one of those iPads,” Don said to Ollie as they trekked across the expansive parking lot. “I hear you can read novels, magazines, and comics on them.”

“I may make my living feasting off of the scraps thrown from the dinner table of the digital age, but I prefer to hold a book in my hand, thank you.”

“Yeah, but print is dead, so you got that against you.” It was the same argument they’ve had over and over. Don didn’t care one way or the other. Print or digital, it made no never mind to him, but he knew which buttons to push to get Ollie’s goat.

“Dude, print is so not dead.”

“But what about Borders? Why’d they close so many stores.”

“Poor marketing and business strategy I would guess. I don’t know, nor have I the degree required to understand. But I know that you cannot offer the kinds of discounts they offered, combined with the coupons, and still pay rent and utilities. Probably.” Ollie was starting to get annoyed as they reached the front of the building. “I don’t know, dude. Why do you do this to me in the morning?”

It was simple, really. Ollie tended to stay quiet and reflective when he was peeved. And Don preferred to do all the talking when they met knew people.

The front glass double doors of GCS North Carolina weren’t security doors. They led into a foyer area and a large window, flanked by two other glass doors. The window had a desk and receptionist behind it, the latter greeting them as they entered.

“Good morning, welcome to Global Customer Services, how may I help you this morning?” Her smile was large and surprisingly genuine.

“Hi, Donald Parker and Oliver Jordan, from corporate.”

“Ah yes, Mr. Parker and Mr. Jordan. Step right in and I’ll call Mr. Johns to meet you.”

She pushed something on her desk and the doors to either side of her sounded with an audible click. Don used the right hand door and Ollie followed him in. The receptionist was coming out of her room and she held her right hand out to Don.

“I’m Tracy Zeck,” she said as she shook their hands in turn. First Don, and then Ollie. “Mr. Johns will be out in a moment. So if you want to just take a seat,” she directed them to a pair of plush couches just to the right of the entry door they had used.

Soon a tall, lanky, graying gentleman with a beard and mustache arrived in a dark suit. He wore a security badge on a lanyard around his neck.

Don and Ollie both rose.

“Good morning gentlemen, I’m Mike Johns,” he said, shaking their hands. Don introduced himself and Ollie followed soon thereafter. Mike Johns was the manager of GSC North Carolina, pretty much the man in charge. He seemed a friendly man, in a genuine way. His eyes twinkled as he spoke, his smile never faltering, and Don liked him right away.

“I’ll show you guys where you’ll be setting up shop this week. That way you can drop off your things. Then we’ll take you to get your pictures taken for your security badges. After that I’ll take you on a tour and you can meet some of the people you will be working with. And then that should be lunch. Don smiled inwardly, thinking that Ollie was right about the first part of their day.

“Don,” Mike continued, “I have a set of staff meetings set up for after lunch. Four in total. I thought you’d want to introduce yourselves to the team and just kind of explain what it is we are doing this week.”

“Sounds good, Mike. Lead on.”

Mike took them through a short winding trip through the building. The entryway opened up into a wide area of tables and chairs that would be the general break/lunch room. There were sinks and cabinets to one side. Complete with four refrigerators and eight microwaves. Each round table had a napkin dispenser in the middle of it, along with a tray full of salt and pepper, ketchup, and mustard packets.

If GCS North Carolina was set up like all the other GCS branches, and Don was pretty sure it was, to the right of the lunch room were all of the offices, bathrooms, storage rooms, meeting rooms, and beyond those, the small warehouse. To the left of the lunchroom would be the immense area that most customer service/call center environments called ‘The Floor’. The area where all the cubicles were set up and all the work got done. Where all the wage slaves sat, chained to their phones by a headset microphone on a cord just long enough to allow them to stand.

Mike, Don, and Ollie went right and were taken to a small conference room where they were told they could set up shop.

“This will be your headquarters this week. We use it mainly for small meetings but it’s all yours for the duration. You fellas go ahead and unpack and make yourself comfortable and I’ll make sure everything is ready for your pictures and badges. You need anything while I’m gone?”

“Yes,” said Don, setting his bag down. “The smoking area?”

“And a bathroom?” Ollie followed.

“Ollie, the men’s restroom is out the door and to your left. Don, you can follow me and I’ll show where the designated smoking area is.”

Everyone has their start of day work routine. Something they do every morning after they arrive at the office, and before they can actually do any work. For Don it was his pre-work smoke. For Ollie is was his pre-work movement. For both it was a time to just be alone, clear their minds, and mentally prepare for the day. Don did this by smoking. Ollie’s was accomplished on the toilet with a book.

Mike took Don back into the lunchroom, moving to the back of the room, opposite of the front entrance. To the back of the room was a set of glass double doors. Mike took him through the doors and out onto a covered outdoor patio area that overlooked the back parking lot.

“This is our smoking area,” Mike was saying. "You will need a badge to get back into the building, which you don’t, of course, have. So I’ll be back to get you in about what? Ten minutes?”

“Fifteen,” Don smiled. “It takes an average of seven minutes to smoke one cigarette. I plan on smoking two.”

Mike laughed. “Fifteen it is.” And with that he left Don alone.

Don lit up, sat at one of the metal chairs that were bolted to the concrete, and just smoked. Savoring the taste of the smoke. Silently rejoicing at the feel of the smoke as it filled his lungs. Exhaling slowly, and letting the smoke roll lethargically from between his lip. Smoking was one of Don’s most favorite things. He knew he should quit. His lungs reminded him of this fact each time he walked a flight of steps and found he was breathing like a marathon runner on the last mile before he even reached the top. Don was a fit person. Other than the poisons he sucked into his lungs fifteen to twenty times a day, he kept pretty good care of himself. He ate decently and kept himself relatively active. Plus, he had one of those bodies that really didn’t need much taking care of. He had a good metabolism or something. Don didn’t know the science, he just knew that he kept pretty fit without a lot of effort, and that was just the way he liked it.

Don was just finishing cigarette number two when Mike joined him on the patio.

“You ready for the tour?” Mike asked.

“Ready when you are, but Ollie may not be quite ready, it depends on what he’s reading today.”

Mike laughed and the two went back into the small conference room to find Ollie sitting at the table and checking something on his phone. Ollie didn’t look up as they walked in.

“We ready for the tour?” Ollie asked, still engrossed in whatever was happening on the screen.

“Whenever you are,” Mike replied.

“Okay, then,” Ollie said, standing and slipping his phone into his jacket’s inside breast pocket. “Shall we?”

The tour actually started with a stop off at the Human Resources department where Don and Ollie each sat before a blue screen and had their picture taken. The woman taking the pictures, Ladonna, told them that their badges would be ready by the time the tour was complete and that they could just stop back by and pick them up.

The next stop was through the break room and onto the main floor. North Carolina was one of their larger branches so there were about two hundred cubicles of the same size arranged in rows on the floor with one large aisle slicing the room in half and another that bordered the floor on all four sides. Practically each cubicle was manned by someone with a headset microphone connected to a phone on their desk next to a computer, and a small filing cabinet on the floor.

With all the people, most of them talking at once, the noise should be overwhelming, but each cubicle had high walls which helped keep the sound of the customer service representative trapped within that small area. Plus, the sound of white noise was being pumped through small speakers in the ceiling. The white noise wasn’t something that you would notice.

The first time Don even realized that the company was pumping white noise into their department was the day it went down. When that happened, suddenly Don felt that something wasn’t right. Not wrong, exactly, he didn’t feel anxious and didn’t fill with panic, but something wasn’t the way it was. He could hear the others around him much clearer. He toyed with the idea, just for a moment, that his hearing suddenly got better. But then he asked a neighbor and they explained about the white noise.

After the main floor, they were taken back across the lunch area and back into the administrative area. Here is where you found the bathrooms, the small conference room, the training room, a small Human Resources area, and the IT room which held the servers. At the far end of the area was the small warehouse and loading docks.

They made a quick stop again in the HR department to pick up their badges, which Ladonna had placed on lanyards. Don and Ollie slipped the lanyards around their necks and Mike took them out of the room.

“That was the tour, gentlemen,” Mike said, taking them into the training room. “Don, I believe this is where you’ll be spending a lot of your time."

In the room were ten tables set up in two rows of five facing a large screen on the back wall. At each table where four computers and four chairs.

“As you can see,” Mike continued, “forty is capacity, so your training will be done in somewhat large groups this week.”

“Large or small, makes no difference to me,” said Don. We’ll get them trained and ready for the launch next week. No fear.”

“Well, if you boys want to wait here, I’ll go get our Supervisors and you can make your introductions.” And with that, Mike left them.

“Well, what do you think?” Ollie asked.

“I think everything is preceding just as the Emperor had foreseen.”

“Seriously?” Ollie laughed. “Why don’t you leave the geek references to me.”

“All I’m saying is that you’ve predicted our first half of the day fairly accurately.”

“Come on, Don. It’s been the same at the three other branches. Phoenix, Seattle, and Chicago. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to figure out corporate uniformity. I think there’s some big Management Handbook out there that we haven’t had a chance to read yet.”

“I’m sure that once we are Management, we’ll get that chance.”

Ollie laughed, pulled out his phone, and started tapping away at the screen.

“How’s Susan and the girls?” Don asked.

“What makes you think that I’m not checking my Facebook?”

“Because I know that you don’t have Facebook, smart guy. By the way, why do your fellow IT nerds let you get away with that?”

“Get away with what?”

“With not being on Facebook? Or Twitter? Aren’t you breaking some kind of IT Super Nerd code?”

“Nerds believe in the power of choice, Don.”

“No they don’t. Don’t act like your average nerd slash geek is some kind of open minded perfect being trying to usher in an age of peace, love, and understanding.”

“Well-”

“Nerds are just like everyone else. Close-minded, judgmental, and petty.”

“Are you trying to say that nerds are racists?”

“No,” Don laughed. “No more than anyone else. But come on, are you trying to tell me that you’ve never been looked down upon by your fellow geek for reading a certain comic book?”

“Rob Liefeld.”

“What?”

“Rob Liefeld. He’s a comic book artist. Huge in the 90s. Helped change the comic book industry as we know it. But he’s very stylized. Has a problem with anatomy. And so he fell out of favor. He’s every comic book geek’s favorite whipping boy.”

“Okay, so?”

“So, I like him. I like his art. I love his books. My fellow geeks beat me down for that every chance they get.”

“There you go.”

“It’s not like the guy isn’t popular. He has huge lines at each convention appearance.”

“Okay.”

“I mean, the guy still sells books.”

“I hear what you’re saying, dude,” Don could see that Ollie was starting to get a little worked up.

“People like him. More people like him than hate him. Why can’t they see that? Sure, they don’t like him. I understand that. I don’t give them flack for not liking him.”

“Lower your voice, dude.”

“So why do I get crap for liking him? It’s art, right!?”

“Yes, settle.”

“Art is supposed to be subjective! Why is their opinion right and mine is wrong? It’s an opinion! I mean, come on!”

“Dude, seriously, chill. Take it down a notch. What would Ron Leefled say if he saw you acting this way?”

“Liefeld. Rob.”

“Whatever,” Don smiled, and the both laughed.

Then the door opened and Mike walked in with twenty people in tow.

To be continued . . .



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