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How I Got the Job – Part the Second February 17, 2010

Posted by Conventioneering in Job Get!.
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A few days later, I drove out to Glenmont Metro Station to hop a Red Line train to get downtown for my interview, only to find that the parking lot was mysteriously closed. Exasperated, I turned the car around, and, somewhat foolishly, drove all the way to Shady Grove to catch a train. Really, I should have just driven to Wheaton, but that didn’t really occur to me at the time. Some days, I just don’t think.

I drove around the parking lot a few times, trying to find a space, before finally ending up a good fifty yards away from the entrance to the train. Again, my luck is often rather absurd. Still, parking space found, I jogged from my parking space to the train.

If the Red Line has not crashed, derailed, or otherwise had some catastrophic problem, on a given day it takes from an hour to an hour and a half to get downtown from the end of the Red Line. I usually spend the time writing, as I’m doing right now – though generally what I write is far less productive than this and gets thrown out in exasperation when I get home.

I took the train to the Smithsonian station, got out, and walked the three (very long) blocks to the Air and Space Museum. This is, by my count anyway, an extremely pleasant walk. You start at the Castle, which in the summer is surrounded by rose gardens, then move to the Arts and Industries building, which has a beautiful mosaic façade, before finally passing the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art with its magnificent fountain. Along the way are stations with little planets on display, a scale model of the Solar System which counts down to the Sun, standing right outside the entrance to the museum.

Now, for me, this whole walk was incredibly eerie. This was a Monday morning in early February. If you’ve ever been to the National Mall, your impression is probably one of thronging crowds milling about outside and a total lack of anywhere to park (really, taking the Metro is by far the best way to get downtown). If you came in the summer, you also probably remember the air feeling thick, almost liquid, and hot; if you’re observant you might remember bright green food carts touting ethnic dishes (my personal favorite being an empanada place that used to park right outside the Castle. Delicious and cheap!)

Not so on a Monday in February. The Mall was nearly empty, save for a few people who were obviously down there to work with their lanyards and ID tags giving them clearance to enter X floor of Y government building. There were places to park. There were no lines for anything. And, to my disappointment, there were also no empanadas.

This wasn’t entirely unexpected. My father works in the entertainment industry, so I’m well aware of the ebb and flow of Washingtonian life. February is our slowest month, a time when most people are so tired of the uniformly grey quality of the sky that most of us just wish we could do the bear thing and hibernate. It’s April when things really begin to pick up, starting with the Cherry Blossom Festival, and then the party doesn’t remotely begin to slow down until September, peaking with the Fourth of July.

Personally, I kind of like February on the Mall. It’s quiet, peaceful. Though there’s something to be said for the thronging crowds, the thousands of people here to learn and see our city, there’s something equally to be said for a little silence.

I walked right into the museum, had my bags checked – in DC, there are always security checkpoints, you get used to it – and noticed that, parking debacle aside, I was still somehow early. Not early enough to really take a look at any exhibits, but early enough to take my time walking through the main atrium.

The Air and Space Museum really gives you a sense of its namesake – the main areas are huge, open, and airy, giving a sense of wide open space helped by the great glass windows that leave it open to the sky. There’s no sense of clutter at all: the various aircraft suspended from the ceiling look as though they really could take off and fly at any moment. The main atrium houses the exhibit Milestones of Flight, which includes, among other things, the Spirit of Saint Louis, the Bell X-1, and a replica of Sputnik.

The main museum store lies between Milestones of Flight and America by Air, and, like everything else, is clean, open, and airy, parts of it designed to look vaguely reminiscent of a rocket launch site with its girders and scaffolds, and others simply meant to look futuristic. I told one of the clerks that I was there to see the manager for an interview, and took in the sights. People were changing out one of the displays: the last time I’d been it had been promotional material for the film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; now it was generic Air and Space merchandise. In another section, kites were being set up, presumably because of the upcoming Cherry Blossom festival and the March kite flying crowd.

I waited patiently, taking note of the location of everything. There was the Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian merchandise (I wonder what it is about the Smithsonian and movie sequels), there was the candy, the dog tags, the keychains; there were people folding shirts, that’s how the other clerks dress, and then there was the manager coming up the escalator from the lower section to greet me.

Shortly after, the manager came up to get me. First we went downstairs, where I took an arithmetic test to make sure that I was capable of making change. While I’m not the best at arithmetic itself, I’ve always both liked and been good at mathematics (I briefly flirted with a mathematics major at my college before deciding that writing seemed like more fun), and I didn’t miss a single question. Then I filled out a questionnaire regarding my background as well as a few tax forms. Standard procedure. Finally, I went into a back room, where we had our interview.

The interview itself was fairly inconsequential, though in my nervousness I forgot to talk about the time I worked at my college as a peer mentor – what I jokingly call a “freshman herder” – since I don’t really think of that so much as a job as “something that I would have done anyway but that I happened to get a very small amount of compensation and class credit for.” I also found out that said manager happened to be from my hometown, and went to my high school (before I did, of course). Small world and all that. We talked about our favourite places to eat on the Mall, she told me some more about the job, then said, “So, first you need to get a background check and fingerprints taken, and then you should start in two weeks.”

To my credit, I didn’t say anything like wait, what? I shook her hand, said thank you, and took her instructions and a letter about where to go to get this done. It was only once I was outside that I pulled out my phone, called my mother, and said “… I seem to have gotten a job.”

“Really?!”

“Yeah. They hired me. Well, I mean, they have to do the background check and all that – government job, you know – but… yeah.”

I proceeded to go down to the Smithsonian offices, which is right by the L’enfant Plaza stop on the Green and Yellow line. I managed to go to the wrong one in the wrong building first, but the lady there was used to it, so she set me straight. I met the recruitment manager, who turned out to be an extremely pleasant person, very fun to talk to. He had me fill out some papers, took me down to get fingerprinted, and then sent me on my way.

I was originally scheduled to come in for work last week, but then Snowocolypse (as Washingtonians call it) happened – four feet of snow suddenly dumped on the Washington DC area. The Smithsonian actually shut down completely – it almost never does that.

Next: I talk about training and orientation!

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