Saturday, March 20, 2010

Well that wasn't so bad

I got up at eight this morning, dressed with care while listening to some of my favorite songs and took the 9:15 train into Boston. I knew this was going to get me to North Station at 9:50 and the train to Waltham didn't leave until 11:20, but I didn't trust the 10:30 train to get me there on time (this would be the morning that they discovered a switching problem in Lynn and I'd get to North Station too late) so I accepted that I was going to have to wait around for a bit. I didn't mind. I had a book.

I found myself thinking (not for the first time this week) of my friend Irving, who died at the end of this summer. To be fair, doing B school stuff or being near North Station (where Irving's store is located) both make me think of him and here I was, all dressed up in a suit on a Saturday hanging around North Station and waiting to go do a B school project. I walked to the Rose Kennedy Greenway (since it was a nice day and I'd probably go crazy sitting in North Station and listening to announcements for an hour and a half) and thought about coming to the North End last summer to visit Irving in the North End Rehab hospital. My ex and I spent a decent amount of time hanging out on the Greenway whether we were on our way to visit Irving or we were waiting to pick his lovely partner Joan up from the hairdresser.

There was even one evening (see here for details) when all the Hilton's Tent City kids went out, had drinks and then walked through the Greenway afterwords to go visit Irving in the hospital. That was a beautiful night and a good one in terms of us all letting our guard down enough to let Irving know we cared.

As mentioned in last night's post, I was wicked nervous about this part of the project. I was afraid that my bad people-skills would lead to me doing a bad job with the interviews. As I walked over to the Greenway in my professional attire on a Saturday morning I asked myself if it was okay to think about Irving or if it was just going to fuck up my head some more. I decided it was okay. I decided that on the way back it would be okay to walk by the store, since I hadn't been there in a while and it would cheer me up. They were open and so I got to walk in and talk to the staff for a few minutes. This should have cheered me up.

But then it was time to catch the train and I went back to North Station. One of my team members got on at Porter Square and we were due to meet the other one in Waltham (because the other one has a car and lives in Newton.) The two of us talked about what we had to do today. We had already discussed some of it over the phone last night (after I posted everything I had to say about the project to this blog) and he wanted to add a few questions.

I disagreed (we already agreed on these, I've printed up 20 copies of them we *need* to ask everyone some of the same questions so that we can have a large enough sample size on some data points) and then we got off the train and went to find a place to have lunch. It was a beautiful day. I took pictures of the swans swimming in the river. I'd never been to this part of Waltham-the only time I'd ever gone out there had been when the company I worked for needed to get a new photocopier so my vision of Waltham was all office parks and here we were walking down a sunny street full of restaurants and bars.

We chose a place to have lunch. And that was where I Lost My Shit. I was really hoping that having already had two or three anxiety attacks about this project would mean that I had gotten my panicking out of the way. I haven't really panicked this bad in front of work partners (or even by myself) since December of 2008. At the time I felt bad about pitching a fit and making them calm me down, but those were two people I had worked with for a few years. I feel less than stellar about displaying such weakness of character in front of people I've known for only a month or two, but on the other hand I knew 1) I panic. That's what I do. If you're going to work with me, you are going to see me panic. 2) The severity of the freakout will not actually impede performance. Once it's Showtime, I'm busy working and (hopefully) will not have the time or the brain-space to panic anymore. I tried to convey some of this to team member J, but didn't have time to convey it to team member A.

Team member J (to whom I had actually admitted I was freaked out) tried to calm me down. "What's your favorite color?" he asked. "have you registered for summer classes?" "how long did it take you to get into Boston from Beverly?" My reptile brain was having none of that. Which is unusual. Usually J can calm me down and stop me from climbing whatever wall I'm on just by being himself. He's a calming sort of guy.

Team member A was a bit more direct about things. I don't think I actually even mentioned how panicked I was but he said "You're in this program to learn to do this sort of thing. When you go to interview with some consulting group in Boston are you going to do this?"

"Is it that obvious?" I asked

"You're so stressed you can't even sit straight in the car." he replied. I really thought I was doing a better job at hiding it, but then again, these MBA types are apparently pretty observant. Also, I have been told before (repeatedly, and in many different ways) that I'm not very good at hiding what I'm feeling. But the interesting thing is that the people who have told me this have always been intimates (mostly long-term boyfriends) not people who I met for the first time a few months ago. It was perfectly okay for A to remark on how badly I was behaving (for lack of a better phrase) and I really wish I could get that kind of honesty from the people I've worked with for years. But at the same time, I was pretty sure (as stated above) that once we actually got down to work, it would all go away. It did.

We arrived at the restaurant that we would be observing. We got in and were told which of the people who we had wanted to interview would actually be available this afternoon. The took us to a room we could use to interview people. Because we were observing a restaurant that was owned by A's father in law, A couldn't interview people. We had discussed the possibility of him sitting in on interviews to take notes, but we hadn't come up with a clear answer as to whether or not this would be okay (Yes it would be great to have someone else observing and taking notes, but dude, since it's you isn't that going to be as much of a problem as you interviewing people in the first place?)

In the end, he ended up sitting in to take notes and assisting in the interviews. First we talked to the owner. J interviewed, A and I took notes. Both J and A speak Italian (the owner's native language) but I don't, so I felt a bit awkward and inadequate the few times that they slipped into Italian. (Not like I've never felt that way before-and aren't I supposed to be good with languages?)

But otherwise, J interviewed the owner and A and I took notes and after the interview we knew several things we hadn't know previously. Aside from the data we had gathered we knew that 1) Holy Shit! it takes a long time to ask all of these questions and get answers to them 2) We *need* a second person to take notes because one cannot ask questions and take good notes. Um, how are we going to do this?

Next I got to interview the Bookkeeper/Function Manager/Possibly the Other Part of a Management Team. A came along to take notes. I really have no idea how I did as an interviewer, but I was fascinated by this woman who was talking to us. She had very clear ideas and opinions as to What Was Going on and really, I could have just dispensed with all of my questions and asked her "So what do you think is going on here at this restaurant?" and I would have gotten the same data. The interview was long and a bit brutal on me-I was totally wiped out by the end, but throughout her whole discussion I wanted to say "yes-I know exactly what you mean!" But I didn't-because I didn't want to put words in her mouth-I was there to hear what she had to say not to tell her what she was thinking.

After that, A and I slipped into J's interview of the guy they had hired to actually be a professional manager. He was not at all what I expected (I expected something blond in a blue oxford shirt and chinos-and I expected to hate him. Instead we got a giant bald guy with a beard who resembled Frank Black and wore blue jeans. He admitted to having a past as the "crazy chef.") He was also articulate and intelligent and honest. I found myself liking him and I tried to take notes, but my hand was cramped. I type. I don't write longhand so much anymore.

After that interview, we discovered that we couldn't talk to anyone else today, because they all had a staff meeting and then they all had to go to work. So we agreed that we would have to go back. J and I had discussed this last night and agreed that there was no way on God's green earth that we were going to manage to interview everyone on the list in the time allotted, so I wasn't shocked. I had kind of hoped to get a little further than we had gotten but that's how it always is. We agreed that the interviews took a bit longer than expected and that we should see if we can cut some of the questions from the staff interviews and then we went down to the restaurant to have a snack and observe what went on around us.

Not much went on. We were too early for customers. So we ordered a vegetarian pizza with no cheese (since I am a lactose intolerant vegetarian) and we tried to talk about further interview questions that needed to be edited but we were too wiped out. Instead we talked a bit about European Football and noted whether the staff member who had been sent home for not wearing a uniform was 1)there tonight and 2) wearing a uniform. A drove J and I to the commuter rail station. While waiting for the train we started redacting some of the staff questions. Since we were discussing them anyways, and since they needed discussing and since my train home wasn't for another hour and a half, J agreed to come to North Station and continue discussing things with me (instead of getting off at Porter Square and going home.) This is a bit of an issue for us. J and I work well together and don't mind putting in the time, but we're trying our best not to cut A out of all of the project work. We're attempting to avoid a two-on-one scenario as much as possible. It doesn't always work. And frankly, from my point of view, sometimes I just want to get stuff done. Would I feel bad if the two of them had gone and done this work without me? Absolutely, but then again, unlike A, I don't always have one foot out the door during the last ten minutes of any meeting.

We ended up at The Grand Canal, sitting on the deck (this incidentally, is where the Hilton's kids all sat the night we visited Irving and this is also the place we all went to have a drink in the day we buried him. Going there was not my idea but I was okay with it. It felt like home.)

So we sat on the porch in an evening in March that felt like June on a Saturday night, having a drink and discussing...interview questions. Dear God, I thought. Everyone else is here to have fun and I'm at a meeting. At least it's a meeting with drinks and nice weather.

Really, although we got some work done on the questions I think we both wanted to just talk about all the stuff we'd learned today (somewhere other that the restaurant in which we'd learned it.) The same way you'd want to talk about a movie you just saw with some of the people who had just seen it or an important meeting you'd just had with some of the people who also sat through the same meeting. It was interesting. It was an enjoyable discussion-as much fun as discussing a movie or a book. These literary and film discussions form a great deal of my social interaction with my friends, so it was interesting to discover that I could have the same sort of conversation about an Organizational Analysis.

And hey, if I felt weird or dorky there were the people sitting behind us. According to my teammate they were talking about the way Kevin Millar left the Red Sox for the Orioles in 2006. At least we were discussing stuff that happened today.

It was comforting to have this discussion at the Grand Canal on the terrace (I have had dinner at the Grand Canal a few times since it's close to North Station, but I haven't been on the terrace since the night we Hilton's kids all went out for drinks and then went to go visit Irving in the hospital.) I felt like I was on home turf. It was a nice way to end a day that involved a panic attack.

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