And now for something completely different: A work story.
PR professionals are an interesting breed.
Even the most stable among us will admit to having sprinted the full length of a hotel ballroom in hot pursuit of a blogger who was supposed to interview a client. We’re all accustomed to being asked to find a Diet Coke in an Expo Center only to be told, “We wanted a stapler,” when you bring the soda back. Most of us think nothing of having to model a coat for a Today show segment or, ahem, dance for CNN.
The point is, every event is a real roller coaster. The time I staffed the opening of a national park was no exception.
I knew it was going to be a long day when I showed up at the meeting point and found the park gate chained shut. As concerned as I was that I might be in the wrong place, I was even more nervous that I wasn’t. A padlocked fence doesn’t exactly set the right tone for the rest of the morning.
Several minutes later, after several other co-workers had assembled and we were about to walk to the opposite end of the park to try another entrance, we heard a vehicle in the distance.
“Listen,” someone said, holding up a single finger.
Slowly, a golf cart came into view, a cloud of dust kicking up all around it.
We stepped back as it raced towards park entrance and screeched to a halt just an inch short of the gate. Our account lead, wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses and a beret, hopped out of the passenger side and assessed the situation.
“This should be open,” she announced.
The golf cart took off again, the driver presumably in search of a key, or perhaps a larger vehicle from which he could successfully ram the gate.
“While we’re waiting,” the account lead began. “I want to run through roles and responsibilities.”
When she was finished, one woman asked, “Is there coffee?”
“No, there’s no coffee,” she said. “No water. No food.”
I stifled a laugh. We always take events seriously, but this was next level.
“Is there a bathroom?” another girl asked.
“No bathroom,” she replied.
“How could there not be a bathroom?!” I asked. “It’s a park!”
“There’s no bathroom,” she repeated.
On second thought, I was glad we didn’t have water. I would have thrown it at her.
As luck would have it, I was able to channel that aggression into something useful. During the event, my role was to serve as a bouncer for the press box. For the next two hours, my main responsibility was to stop any photographer who tried to approach the stage, as they all inevitably do, and escort them back to the pen. Let’s try not to read too much into why I was given that job.
Before the event started, one photographer tried to talk his way out of the box.
“How do you expect me to get a good picture from here?!” he asked.
I shrugged. I had plenty of things to do that day, like not succumb to dehydration, so worrying about how he could get a better shot just wasn’t top of mind.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” I said.
A few minutes later, I saw him move two metal barricades and try to slip between them. It was such a pathetic attempt that I could hardly get worked up.
“Please don’t do that,” I said while he was still caught between the grates.
“What’s going to happen if I do?” he asked.
Truthfully, I had no idea, but I didn’t want to find out. Evidently he didn’t either because he got back in the pen with everyone else and stayed there for the next two hours. I guess when Bill Clinton is in the house, people are willing to put up with shit like that. Love him or hate him, the man can give a speech.
Even I got excited that day. I know that it wasn’t any real professional achievement on my part that allowed me to attend, but there was something cool about being in the presence of so much success. In a small way, being there felt like a breakthrough.
I’d like to think that my career will have many more breakthroughs to come – maybe even a Breakthrough or a BREAKTHROUGH. But that day was big.
And I have the photo to prove it.