(Gardener's note: I re-read "Ride Along" a few days ago and decided to revise and re-post it. I tightened up some of my writing, made some corrections to correspond with what I've since written to match up this story with "How It Came To Be." )
I work in technical support for a subscription television service-sorry, I can't tell you which one. You'll understand why soon enough. I'm the live voice you experience after battling with the computer voice you love to hate. I'll either walk you through fixing your problem or schedule a technician to come out to fix your problem.
If I'm the voice of the company, then the technician that does the service calls that is the face of the company. They're out there, day after day-sun, rain, snow, wind, heat or cold-helping our customers get the most out of our television service. Occasionally, they help our customers get the most out of other “services”-at least, according to a co-worker of mine who was a former tech who (as he said) came “in out of the cold” to do telephone customer service.
He'd tell me all sorts of stories while we were at lunch or out in the “smoke hole”, a patio set up for CSRs to take smoke breaks. There were plenty of, as he put it, “horny MILFs, bored divorcees and lonely singles” to sample from what he called a “sexual smorgasbord.” I figured most of the tales were that-just stories. He insisted, on the other hand, that they were all true.
One day at work, we got a memo announcing a new program to help those on us on the phones experience what a day in the life of a technician was like. It was called a “ride along” and we'd accompany a technician for a day, to see what he did. My ex-tech friend urged me to apply for it. He said, “You're perfect for the program. Your performance is outstanding, you've got the technical background to understand what's going on and you're good with people.” He then gave me a wicked smile and continued, “Besides, it's not like you'd be cheating on a girlfriend... in fact, you might just get lucky!” He laughed as he walked away after that. My cheeks were blazing and while I was happy he left, I didn't appreciate the way he drew attention to me.
I didn't let that incident discourage me from applying for the program, though. I really wanted to see what went on out there every day. Besides, who knew? After a few weeks I was notified by my supervisor that I had been selected for a ride along the next week. I was given a tech's uniform to wear so I wouldn't stand out and was briefed as to what was expected of me and what I was not allowed to do-OSHA regulations, you know. I was even given the night off the day before the ride along as I worked an evening shift while the technician was up with the sun.
I arrived at the tech office a little over five minutes early, which surprised the tech supervisor. There were two other CSRs doing ride alongs the same day and both of them were late, so the tech supervisor told me he was assigning me to his best tech. We headed over to that tech's van and as I came up to the back door, it closed, revealing a vivacious redhead who filled out her polo shirt and slacks much better than I did!
“Hi, I'm Valerie!” she greeted me with a smile and an outstretched hand. Her handshake was as firm as I'd expect for a person who worked with her hands and met eight to ten customers every day. “You can call me Val... and your name is?” she asked.
“I'm Dave,” I replied, quickly studying her face while shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you.” I've made it a practice to look for micro-expressions, those fleeting looks and actions that tell more about what a person is thinking than what they actually say. Valerie's micro-expressions told me she was just a bit disappointed that I would be her shadow today. I just wrote it off to prior bad experiences with ride alongs.
Val proceeded to show me how she prepped for her day. First, we went to the warehouse to get her allotment of supplies. She had an easy way with her co-workers, trading verbal jabs and laughing at jokes that almost made me blush. That was hard to do as I had been in the Navy for six years! She pushed a cart with the equipment needed to restock her truck up to the back of her van.
“Do you mind if I help you stow your gear?” I asked Val.
“That won't be...” Val started, then seeing my disappointment, she changed her tone a bit. “I have a certain way of arranging my truck...”
“And I'll be happy to let you show me where everything goes,” I replied, trying to show her I was enthusiastic about going out with her on her rounds. I walked around to the side door, slid it open and turned to her. “What do you have first and where do I put it?” I offered.
“OK, let's start with the remotes,” Val said, handing a box to me. “They go in the third drawer from the right on the second row.”
I turned around to locate the drawer she pointed out, opened the box and scooped the remotes into the drawer, stacking them neatly before closing the drawer and collapsing the box. Val smiled as she saw my handiwork. This time the smile was genuine. We worked together and had the van loaded in a few minutes. As I stepped out of the truck, I noticed one of the other CSRs that had been chosen. He was just standing there, watching the tech load his van by himself.
Val noticed my observing the other pair and said, “That's how it usually is on these shadowing assignments. We're not used to our 'shadows' actually helping.”
“Well, I'm no stranger to hard work. I was an avionics technician in the Navy. I worked on both the airplanes and the boxes during my time there. If nothing else, I know which end of a soldering pencil not to grab!”
Val giggled, then said, “If you're a squid, I expect you love good coffee. We've got some time before we need to leave, thanks to your help. I'll buy you a cup.” She turned and headed for the training room.
A bit startled by her invitation, I stood there for a few seconds before taking off after her. My hesitation afforded me a nice view of Val's, um, “stern.” I have to say, watching her walk in those slacks was intoxicating and I started to grin. When we got to the training room, she turned to me as she opened the door. I could see her smile tighten and her pupils contract a bit. Obviously, she did not like what she saw.
While I knew I was grinning about the view, I also had another reason for my goofy look. “Oh, sorry, I was just trying to picture you in cammies” I said truthfully.
“Cammies?” she asked while pouring a cup of coffee.
“Yes,” I replied. “You were in the Marines, weren't you?” I continued as I took a cup from her.
“No, I wasn't. Cream?” Val asked with a puzzled look on her face.
“As you said, I was a squid. I take it black,” I told her. “I've only heard Marines call us squids before.”
“Oh, I see,” she said as she dumped two sugars and a mound of creamer in her cup. “No, I was in the Air Force. I just worked with sailors and Marines at a joint operating base.”
“And they corrupted you,” I said, then took a sip of the coffee. It was too strong for even “mid watch” joe, not to mention it was burnt. I saw a little sink by the coffee machine and dumped the cup out. “I thought you said this was good coffee?” I protested.
“No, I asked you if you liked good coffee,” Val said with a mischievous grin. “I made no claims as to the coffee from this pot.”
I had to laugh. “You got me there, Val” I said.
“I'll make it up to you later, Dave,” Val promised. “For now, we need to get on the road. It'll be nice to get out of here early for once.”