Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ride Along - Chapter Two

We got on the road early, beating the other trucks by about ten minutes. I noticed the third ride along CSR, a young woman, was still standing there as her tech struggled to get cartons of set top boxes (STBs) stowed in his truck. Val noticed it, too.

“That's usually how I start my day when I'm assigned a shadow. It's refreshing to have one who's not a stranger to hard work and can take directions well,” she said as we pulled out onto the street.

“Your tax dollars at work,” I replied, giving her a sincere smile. Val seemed a bit
skittish to me. It was like she was happy to have me along but was dreading something she knew would be inevitable. I was happy to get out from in front of the computer for a day and was enjoying myself already. I wanted her to feel the same way I did, I just didn't know how to do so.

“We have eight jobs to do today,” Val started to explain. “Four before noon and four after-but you knew that, I imagine,” she inquired.

“I never knew how many jobs a tech has a day,” I replied, interested in the inner workings of the job. “I did notice that corporate restructured the appointments so there appears to be no lunch break.”

“Yeah, that's the part of the job that really sucks,” Val said, scanning the upcoming intersection. “You more or less control how much time you have for lunch, except when you walk into a worse situation that the work order leads you to believe. I'd had at least one day when I only got one job done and didn't get to eat until I was headed back to the barn.”

“Not the diet plan you'd recommend, right?” I commiserated.

“Right. I have to fight really hard to not drive through a burger joint on days like that.” Val acknowledged. She turned down a side street and started scanning house numbers. “Our first job should be easy. We're just installing a box in a new room.”

It was a good thing Val said “should.” Our first job of the day was at a home-based day care center. Even though the owner had set up an installation of a STB in a new room, she didn't know what she wanted, much less needed. Val explained all the options to her and helped her decide what box to have installed. In fact, I would say she more led the woman to the right choice. If she hadn't we might have been there all day.

In addition to the owner of the day care and her assistant, there were seven very inquisitive kids that watched Val's every move even closer than I did. Their questions came fast and furious, and I could see Val start to get frustrated at the constant interruptions. “Say, kids,” I called out over the din of “Hey lady!” questions from the kids. Nine heads turned my way-the kids and the two overstressed day care workers. “How would you like to see the inside of our truck?”

The proposal was greeted with seven small voices all answering in the affirmative, two day care workers smiling as they realized that I wasn't yelling at their charges but was trying to help distract them and Val, who looked at me like I had just grown another head with antlers on it. I winked at her and she shook her head in disbelief.

I took the thundering herd out to the van and let the kids see all the tools and equipment we carried, explaining their purposes in a way even they could understand. After about ten minutes, Val came to the front door of the house and flashed me an “OK” sign. Handing out little green tags used to indicate when a tech had been in a weather enclosure as souvenirs, I ushered the kids back inside. They were still excited, but now they were talking about Val like she was a superhero. Val had the owner sign the work order and headed for the door. All seven children called out in unison (well as close to it as seven preschoolers ever get,) “Thank you, Miss Valerie!”

Val stowed her tools in the back of the van as I got in the passenger seat. She came around to the driver's door and got in. As she buckled her seat belt she asked, “How did you do that just now?”

“Do what?” I replied, a bit confused.

“How did you stand being with that mob for ten minutes, not to mention getting them to learn my name and thank me?” she asked with a look of awe on her face.

“They were just curious as to what you were doing,” I explained. “I just brought them out here and gave them a demonstration of what you were doing inside. I repeated your name about four or five times so they'd have a chance to remember it.”

“That's good, but I want to know how you could stand to be with seven small kids like that at once,” Val insisted. “I just about melt down when there's more than one!”

“Were you an only child?” I asked.

“Yes, I was,” Val answered, puzzled. “What does that have to do with it?”

“Well, I was the oldest of six and there was a big gap between the other five and me,” I told her. “I often had to babysit my brothers and sisters, so I learned some tricks to keep little kids occupied and distract them from what I didn't want them to do.”

“Would you consider being my partner every day?” Val asked, not completely in jest.

“I don't know,” I said truthfully. “I kinda like the anonymity of the phone.”

Val looked at her next work order. “Hmm,” she said. “This must be a new one. I haven't seen this name before. It's just a few blocks from here, too.”

We headed for the next job and found the house easily. The door was answered by a woman. She was young, in her early twenties, and very cute, with blond hair, blue eyes and a megawatt smile. I'm no expert, but I'd guess she was just about the classic 36-24-36. She had on a T-shirt and jeans with sandals.

“Ooh!” she squealed when she opened the door. “I've been sooo bored without my TV!” She just about bounced into the living room, then turned around and giggled. “Sorry, I forgot... My name's Ginger!” she said airily.

I noticed that Val had “perked” when she saw her. She was evidencing more than professional interest in this customer. She had involuntarily caught her breath when first she saw her and she had a bit of trouble getting through the greeting.

Val got to work and diagnosed a bad STB, so she went outside to get a new box. “Will it be much longer before I can watch TV again?” Ginger asked. “I've been missing my favorite shows.”

“Valerie is one of our best technicians. She'll have your TV playing again in no time,” I assured her.

“Great!” she squealed. “And with Daddy coming home tonight, he'll be sooo happy I took care of this myself!” She started dancing around the room. Looking around the living room, I got a sense of the type of relationship Ginger had with her “Daddy.” He's one lucky guy, I thought to myself.

Ginger was still dancing around the living room singing, “Daddy's coming home, Daddy's coming home!” when Val walked in with the new box. She didn't realize it, but she looked like she'd been socked in the gut when she heard Ginger's singing. Val completed the job quickly and was subdued as she had Ginger sign the paperwork.

Val was still quiet as she put her tools in the back of the van and climbed in the driver's seat. Sitting there, she let out a small sigh before starting the engine and getting back on the road. I felt it better to let it lie for the time being.
The next appointment went fast, and we found ourselves ahead of schedule. Val pulled up to our last job of the morning, then looked at the work order again. “Oh, no!” she cried. “We're going to lose all the time we've saved!”

“Why would we do that?” I asked her, confused.

Val held up the paper. “This next customer is Vietnamese. She doesn't speak any English.” She groaned. “It is going to be so hard to figure out what she needs.”

“It might not be that bad,” I assured her.

“You have it easy” she said to me, a frown on her face. “You can transfer her to a CSR that speaks her language or get a translator on the phone. I don't have that luxury. Well, let's get it over with.”

We walked up to the door and Val rang the bell. A middle aged Vietnamese woman came to the door. “Good morning, I am Valerie...” she started with a disappointed look on her face already.

“No speak English,” the woman replied, echoing Val's expression.

I looked at her. She looked middle aged but I knew that Asian women could be older than they looked. “Parlez-vous Francaise?” I said to her.

The woman brightened up immediately. “Mais oui!” she said. I started explaining who we were and asked her what the problem was. We chatted in French at the door for about a minute when she invited us in. Val looked at me as if I had just sprouted wings and a halo.

“I took French in high school,” I explained, “and spent most of my tour of duty in the Mediterranean so I had plenty of chances to perfect the language.”

“Forget being my partner-would you marry me?” Val said, a big grin of relief on her face.

“It's a tempting offer, Val, but let's see if My French is good enough to get us through this job.”

We followed the customer into the house. With my translation of Val's questions, along with my own troubleshooting experience, it turned out to be a simple cable replacement and put us almost a full hour ahead of our schedule.

Walking back to the truck, Val looked at me in amazement. “How did you know she spoke French?”

I looked at her with surprise. “You mean you don't know that Vietnam used to be a French colony? Most Vietnamese speak French as a second language.”

“I sucked at history, Dave,” Val said dejectedly.

I winced. “That came out completely wrong,” I quickly said in apology. “I didn't mean to imply...”

“That's OK,” Val replied, then she brightened. “At least, we have time for a decent lunch. I'm buying, so pick out your favorite restaurant!”

“I don't know this area too well,” I told Val. “You go where you want-I'm pretty easy to please.”

“OK, I hope you like surprises!” Val shot back.

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