"It'll be like a field trip," said Lacey McLaughlin, while instructing me to retrieve the Hinds County Sherriff campaign contributions from the Circuit Court Clerk.
When I think "field trip," I think "zoo." When I think "zoo" I think "Africa." I'm not sure why. So naturally, when Lacey said those two words, my brain projected a vivid panorama of the Serengeti: a giraffe plucking leaves from an Acacia tree, gazelles prancing about, baby lions playing in the golden grass. Lacey's face disappeared, replaced by zebras drinking from the watering hole. Her words were carried away in the wind. It happens to me often, this coming unstuck in space. I have my ADD to thank for that.
Had I been listening to Lacey as she explained the logistics of downtown parking, had I not been daydreaming about wildebeests, I wouldn't have gotten into such a sticky parking situation. Had I been listening more carefully, maybe I would have asked how to go about doing the task at hand. Maybe I'd understand the difference between contributions and disbursements.
But then, I wouldn't have learned much either. It wouldn't have been a real field trip.
A "field trip" defined, is a "journey by a group of people to a place away from their normal environment" (Webster's). The basic point of a field trip is usually education. On mine, I (sort of) learned how to read court documents. Mostly I learned that I'm dangerously lacking in the common sense department. Lacey's words turned out to be truer than even I could imagine.
I headed off downtown with a skip in my step, excited to have a purpose. My light mood was not in keeping with the weather.
For one, it was impossibly hot and muggy. My hair had expanded to twice its normal size by the time I reached my car door, sweat already beading on my upper lip. It didn't help that I'd opted to wear jeans that morning. It was also one of those days where everything – from the sky, to the land, to the pavement – is gray. Even the (normally) bright red Toyota Prius that seemed to be racing me down North State St. had a washed out sort of color. The poor diluted sunlight was trying its hardest to illuminate the world, and failing.
I didn't care. I was on a mission. The gray trees gave way to gray buildings and gray sidewalks; I'd arrived downtown. Only then did it occur to me, I couldn't remember where exactly Lacey had told me to park. There had been some discussion of a parking garage near the Courthouse on Pascagoula Street. Never mind, I'd just find a meter. At a stoplight I did a quick recon of Xander the '94 Corolla. There were no quarters to be found. Where the weather was failing to dampen my spirit, my growing sense of irritation with myself was going strong.
After nearly hitting a jaywalker, I found a crumbling gray parking garage on President Street. A shady place at best, the garage was fairly empty, with only a few cars scattered around. I didn't mind; I'd found a place to park, which was such a relief. Key chain mace in hand, I made my way to the Hinds County Justice Court. The humidity hadn't changed since I left the JFP parking lot. By the time I made it down to the Circuit Court Clerk, I had a deep, dark frown line set prettily on my forehead.
It didn't help that the lady I was referred to simply did not want to assist me. I'd caught the pinched-faced blonde on her lunch break. Clearly, she didn't want to take a break from her salad. Maybe she was just having a bad day, but I was caught a little off guard by the first question she asked me after I'd introduced myself and purpose.
"How old are you?"
I was faced with a dilemma. To lie or not to lie? I didn't really want to tell her an unnecessary fib, but I had a feeling this was the type of lady who wouldn't show me any type of respect, knowing my actual age.
However, my conscience won out. "I'm 17," I mumbled.
She actually snorted. I'm not sure if the office is known for efficiency, or even how long these things are supposed to take, but I waited a good twenty minutes for the files.
Then the files themselves were a whole separate ordeal. So many figures go into campaign financial reports! Head swimming, feet tired, I got the information I'd come for. Or so I thought. As it turned out, I'd gotten some completely wrong information. I heard of that later.
Heading back to the parking garage, my hair expanded to a truly extraordinary size. I was still a little put out with my experience at that point, and was only too happy to return to the familiarity of my car. I felt pretty good about a job well done (I thought). Now I'd just have to get back to the office and deliver my findings. If only I could get out.
The common sense issue came into play again, as I circled and circled and circled around the parking garage, going from top to bottom about three times before I spotted the exit. Yeah. What did I find when I finally pulled up to the gate? I had no money on me.
That was the tipping point. I stormed across the street to an ATM, a steady stream of filthy words pouring from my mouth. I was cursing myself, mostly, and the kindly Hispanic lady at the counter who couldn't take my credit card. It wasn't her fault. I feel bad about that. The ATM machine, which I've never learned how to use, proved another challenge for my intellect. I spent a full ten minutes inserting my card every whichway, only to find that I'd have to pay an extra three dollars because the bank represented was not my back. I could have cried.
This was how my adventure ended. Ironically, the drive back was rather pleasant, as the clouds had cleared and the sunlight was drenching the world in a restorative light.
A week later, I found that I'd done the assignment completely wrong. I'd mixed disbursements in with contributions. I'd caused a lot of problems for Lacey and made a few people kind of mad. Needless to say, I feel rather silly. I've learned my lesson, though, and I'm working on changing my irresponsible qualities.
This was a task that someone with slightly stronger powers of perception might have completed without a hitch.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that I need to work on my common sense application. I feel really really foolish about the whole thing now. My parents would be proud. This long-winded, largely pointless story is actually about what else I learned on this field trip of mine:
1) Know where you're going, even if it's a location like a parking garage downtown. Google Maps isn't hard to use.
2) Don't be afraid to ask for help. Although there's a fifty percent chance you'll actually get the help you asked for, depending on who you ask, it never hurts to. Have everyone's number.
3) Keep change on you at all times. You might just get ripped off by an ATM machine.
4) Learn how to use an ATM machine. Don't be a sheltered brat like myself.
5) Disbursements are funds given to people running for office, usually from big companies. Contributions are personally gifted from supporters. At least, that's my understanding.
6) Always LISTEN to people when they're talking to you, especially if they're someone as important as Lacey McLaughlin. I'm learning that in journalism, listening is the most important thing you can do. It's an integral part of an interview, and in assignments. If you don't listen, you might find yourself looking very stupid at some point, and causing difficulties for everyone involved. And people don't like incompetent people. That's just how it is. Also, causing problems is not the way to make friends.
Thus, I thank the JFP for exposure to this "real world" scenario. Being a student at an uppity little private school doesn't afford me much time in the real world. I've learned much. I apologize profusely for any and all problems I may have caused.
What a great post, Sadaaf. And don't worry: We forgive you on the report snafu. Cheers for owning and learning from your mistakes! That's why you're here. ;-)
Also, I didn't even know about this experience of yours when we decided to endorse Barbara Dunn's opponent for circuit clerk, but now I'm REALLY glad I did:
“How old are you?”
I was faced with a dilemma. To lie or not to lie? I didn’t really want to tell her an unnecessary fib, but I had a feeling this was the type of lady who wouldn’t show me any type of respect, knowing my actual age.
However, my conscience won out. “I’m 17,” I mumbled.
She actually snorted. I’m not sure if the office is known for efficiency, or even how long these things are supposed to take, but I waited a good twenty minutes for the files.
For the record, except for the condescending age part, I've had similar experiences down there. I always feel like I've barged into someone's living room and am interrupting a social gathering. Things needs to change there -- starting with PDFing those dang campaign reports and putting them on a website. It's the 21st century. Time to act like it.
Awwww, I'm so glad I read this. Bless your heart. I am uncomfortably familiar with days like this. But seems as if you are feeling your way around. I've never really given any consideration to voting against Dunn because as many, she's become a permanent fixture in my mind. But, I for one, can not tolerate this type of total disregard for the office this "pinched-faced blonde" (loved that and just had to type it) represents and the lack of concern for the customer. I completely loathe that. So thanks to reading your entry here, I can say that if this is how this office is running under Dunn's hand, it's time for her to be replaced. Sometimes people get too comfortable. At the very least, don't loose sight of the need to offer service with a smile and for goodness sake if you don't want to be disturbed during lunch, remove yourself from plain sight.