Smile, part two

I started working road races for extra money. I wanted to buy a house and needed a down payment. All of the money I made had a predetermined life so I needed a gig for some extra cash. As long as I was willing to wake up at 3 a.m. and do random grunt work I could begin my down payment savings. Building a finish line, handing out t-shirts and race bibs, giving away bananas or removing chip timers from shoes was easy enough work. If I could do every race I would have a down payment for a $100,000 house in 16 years.

Working the races was wonderful. I was helping, I was useful and I got a real kick out of watching people complete their runs. I especially enjoyed the potential for hurling that came as individuals crossed the finish line. I don’t know why but ever since the movie Stand By Me and the pie eating contest, I’m always looking for someone to do some projectile vomiting. And there was plenty of that at the finish lines.

I would show up to work and gleefully announce “Good Morning!” and people would grumble back, “guhmornin.” It was dark and early and most people weren’t awake. I liked being there and I liked being counted on to do the job. Soon, I was working all kinds of events. I’d do marathons, mile runs, 5Ks at Disney and Universal — enough events that I started to notice it is actually warmer when the sun is down and painfully cold on your fingers when the sun is just starting to come up. Eventually I was asked to come earlier than everyone else to help drop water at the water stops on the course and I was even allowed to be the “lead bicycle” for one 5K. I’d stay and help tear down everything that I helped set up and was given extra bagels, bananas, water and t-shirts as a special thank you.

The person serving as the registration manager was about the leave the company. She had only been there a few months but she was struggling with the computer end of the daily routine and it seemed like things weren’t working out like she expected. I was set up perfectly to be hired full-time and as luck would have it, I was hired.

The problem was, after working in athletics, I came into the job with an incredible fear of being taken advantage of. As a grunt worker, I loved getting extra work and being counted on to do the job. As a regular employee I was disgruntled and upset when people asked me to do extra work. I was so afraid of not being appreciated that I turned into a completely different person. Gone were the gleeful hello’s and good morning’s – if I said hi when someone passed me it was a big, unusual moment. Smiling was something I just did not do.

I worked the races and wanted to leave as soon as the race started. I thought, registration is over, I can leave now. I worked from 9-to-5 in the store, usually handing out race packets and preparing for the upcoming race. Once, the operations director stopped me while I was handing out t-shirts and bibs to show me how to do the work. I didn’t see anything different about how he did it, but I appreciated the how-to. I was so afraid I became miserable and that attitude made the people I dealt with uncomfortable.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned how much better I could have handled the way I worked there. It all started with a smile.