Smarts

It’s a wonder that my most recent job interview was not a failure. I managed to arrive at least fifteen minutes late, even after leaving my office extremely early with the excuse of a doctor appointment, and it was for a most embarrassing cause that I could not have predicted.

Traffic wasn’t the problem; it was a quarter to five, but I was traveling against the predominant flow of traffic, from Portland to the suburbs. My driving directions weren’t exactly the problem either, as they involved a pretty simple set of turns. It came down to my anxiety and unfamiliarity with the suburbs I was driving through. I ended up on Millikan Way—a street of car dealerships and bland office parks—looking for a five-digit address. I knew the name of the cross street I was headed toward, but didn’t know how much farther down Millikan I had to go. I had no idea what the building looked like, or whether there would be a sign with the company name visible from the street. For some reason, I was terrified of bypassing it and having to turn around, or getting stuck on some major road that I didn’t know how to navigate.

When I saw a fenced-in complex with a gate, it seemed promising, since I’d at least been told that I would have to pass through a security checkpoint. So I pulled up to the gate, and it swung open a moment later. Not a person was in sight, but I figured that somebody had spotted me on a security camera and pressed the magic button.

I drove in and started circling the parking lot. There was something eerie about it. Every car was spotless, every car was a Kia, and every car had the same license plate that said BOB’S. As should have been obvious from the beginning, this was a car dealership called Bob’s. I’ve seen Bob’s license plates on cars all over Portland. I started to worry because there was nobody around, the gate had closed behind me, and I was pretty sure that I was illegally trespassing. When I heard some unintelligible statement coming from the loudspeakers overhead, I was certain that guards (or the police) were being summoned.

Eager to leave as quickly as possible, I pulled my car back around to the security gate and waited for it to open. It didn’t. I inched closer, thinking that I hadn’t tripped the sensor. No response. I shifted into Park, removed my hands from the steering wheel, and sat in stunned panic. Why the hell wasn’t the gate opening to let me out? How could I have been dense enough to think this was an office park? There were, literally, a number of large signs that I had missed.

It was about 5:00. The dealership must have been closed for a while, as there were no employees trickling away from the main office, nobody walking around to inspect the cars. The security gate was still and locked. I was red-faced and perspiring in the outfit I’d worn for the interview that was supposed to be starting now. On the seat next to me was a bag containing a change of clothes and a book from which I was supposed to read onstage at the Mission Theater that evening. This was a day when extraordinary circumstances were not needed to create anxiety.

It was time to make some urgent phone calls. First I got in touch with my recruiter to get the number of the woman I was going to interview with. My recruiter was the one who’d set up the interview, and I thought I heard some worry in her voice; surely she was wondering if she’d set up this employer with a candidate who had no real-world smarts. She had already expressed reservations about me due to my shortage of career experience. My prospective employer, however, was very kind when I called her, and clarified the driving directions for me.

I then called for rescue. On the other side of the chain-link fence that quarantined me, there was a banner advertising the car dealer’s phone number. I read the digits backward and dialed them, hoping the front office might be occupied by somebody working late. No luck. I pulled a similar trick to get the number of the security company that operated the gate. A woman answered from what sounded like her home. She was bewildered at how I’d gotten through the gate in the first place. All I could say was, “I don’t know! It just opened for me!” She gave me the number of somebody else to call. When that somebody didn’t answer, I called the woman back and pleaded for help. She told that she would call back in a few minutes. I waited. Finally, after answering my ringing phone, I was told that a guard would be along shortly to open the gate.

Three minutes later, a white truck pulled up in front of me, and its driver hopped out of the cab to press the magic button. I drove through the slowly opening gate as soon as my car had minimal clearance to do so, waving “Thank you” to the security workers without meeting their eyes. I would not be the least bit surprised if they were laughing at me. I might have laughed, too, if I weren’t so worried about the job I was trying for.

I walked into the interview feeling deeply, deeply embarrassed at my tardiness and the reason for it. My interviewer seemed hardly fazed, though, and I was offered the job the next day. Thank goodness for my book smarts.

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1 Comment

  1. That’s a hell of a story. I think I would have been just as impressed with your resourcefulness, which it looks like they were.

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