Recollections of Orlando
Friends Not Forgotten II
Continuing my emotionally masturbatory recollections of Orlando before I return to New Hampshire.
Before I had been in Orlando a year, I landed what remains the best job I think I've ever had. It was a combination of co-workers, the job itself and the general atmosphere that made it special. I don't think I'll ever have another job that was as good as this one, except that I was only there for a six month tour of duty while the woman who usually held the job was out on maternity leave.
The job involved ice cream and for a while I was pretty much in control of much of the ice cream distribution in the Central Florida area. I coordinated routes and delivery for Haagen-Dazs. In addition to their own product line, they distributed for the majority of other ice cream companies, including Ben & Jerry's. Instead of a "hard clock" schedule, where you have to make sure you clock in before a certain time and wait for a certain time to clock out, we worked until we were done. If we had to stay late to get the job done, we did, sometimes until almost midnight, but on other days we would get done early and be out by two in the afternoon. I had an endless supply of free quality ice cream, which was effective in mastering the barter system Orlando's locals function on. Trading goods and services for goods and services is pretty much how it works in this city. The distribution center was laid back and everyone was friendly and everyone went out together for drinks when we got out early and the managers usually picked up the tab.
I became good friends with two of my co-workers, Doug, the district manager and Mark, one of the drivers. Mark spent one weekend teaching me the intricacies of crabbing, and we caught and ate many a crab that summer. We were the crazy trio, the three guys that the rest of our co-workers were often afraid to go out anywhere with because we were capable of anything. One night at a bar where the singer with the band was off-key to the point of making your beer glass tremble, Doug walked up on stage and took the microphone away from him and finished the set by speaking the lyrics instead of singing them. There were many adventures, but several months after my tour of duty at Haagen-Dazs ended, we drifted apart. Mark moved to Jacksonville and Doug bought a new house a couple hours north of Orlando.
From Haagen Dazs I landed at a distribution center for salon products. If you've ever noticed the rack of shampoos and conditioners and the like in your hair salon, we were the people who made them appear there. We received truckloads of product from the manufacturers and then turned around and sold it to salons according to their orders. I worked at almost every position in the warehouse, and spent two days doing nothing but making boxes.
Annelise was the company's receptionist, keeping with my running theme about dating waitresses and becoming pals with receptionists. We became close friends and spent a lot of time together, which in the warehouse environment eventually leads to the whole, "He's doing her" business. While I had a limited and work-related friendship with some of the guys I worked with, it was Annelise that I connected with. The rumors and innuendo hit a fevered pitch when we all went out for drinks one Friday night and Annelise's husband joined us.
"Dude, he is like six foot six.
You better stop screwing his wife."
After I left the salon warehouse and went to work mapping upgrades for the cable company, we saw each other more often. It was easier without the constant chatter behind our backs, although in some ways we enjoyed and encouraged it. We had once spent our morning smoke break pretending to make out behind a tree. When the engine blew in my Honda, she was the one who came out in the middle of the night to pick me up and drive me home, and it was a long drive home. Of all the people I've lost contact with over the years, Annelise is one of those I'd like to buy a little more time with and so she is one of those I've been trying to track down before I leave. The problem is that she actually did have an affair and her husband was quite convinced it was with me.
It would be while at the cable company that my life would hit a brick wall. The job itself was not bad, but my supervisor was extremely anal in her approach to management. She micromanaged everything, from timing breaks to exactly ten minutes to scheduling exactly what everyone needed to be doing every minute of the day. Her calculations of time requirements were always correct. If you took longer to complete a task, you weren't working hard enough. If you took less time than expected to complete something, you did not do it right. I remember wondering how anyone could live so tightly wrapped in a schedule, and one day while she was talking to me I think she read in my face that I was thinking about that. In keeping with the bizarre twists in my life, she hiked up her skirt to her waist and showed me the barbed wire tattoo that wrapped around her upper thigh and told me, "This is just one side of me. Don't be so quick to judge." The best part about it was that the next morning the director came to our office to inform us we were going to have a seminar on sexual harassment.
The cable company job ran for six months and I got to know my co-workers well, developing friendships with three in particular. Jodi worked for the contractor that did the work in the field for us and it was her job to bring the documentation to me so I could record it. She was this strange, openly air-headed surfer girl who belonged to some kind of religious cult. She constantly asked me out, telling me I seemed like the kind of guy she would be into. She gave me her phone number six times and several times arranged to meet me somewhere for dinner or drinks or whatever. She never answered her phone, never returned the messages and never showed up where she arranged to meet me, and yet the next week at work she would act as if she had no recollection of anything. Still, there was something about her I liked. I think it was her insanity, but it might have just been her ass. I'm not quite sure.
Then there was Angie. A lifetime employee of the cable company, she was into the whole positive thinking business. She was the girl in the office who puts up all those little signs and buttons that remind you to "smile" and "have a nice day." She wasn't really as sickening as she sounds. In getting to know her I came to realize she was trying to cheer herself up and not others and felt maybe creating a happy and positive environment would do that for her. Angie was a princess and she was a very good princess. If she could help a person in any way, she would. She would go completely out of her way to come to the aid of someone in trouble. When my life began to fall apart after the engine blew in my car and getting to work became an issue, she tried to find someone in the company who lived near me and convince them to give me a ride until I could get my car repaired or replaced. When she couldn't find anyone, she got up an hour earlier each day in order to drive forty-five minutes to pick me up and a half hour to drive us to work from my apartment. She was an angel and a princess. Angie was one of the truly good people I have met in my life.
Then there was Sara. She was twenty years old and took over the reporting of work done for the contractor, replacing Jodi after multiple complaints about her competence. Sara was in over her head, having no experience with what they were asking her to do, hired quickly because they needed to replace Jodi quickly. I guided her through it and she became a superstar, helping me to regularly get the daily reporting done in half the time it had taken with Jodi. The cable company gave the contractor glowing reports on Sara and she was given a raise after a month on the job. Then I found out she lived down the street from me and she replaced Angie as my ride to work.
My friendship with Sara lasted several months, even after I was let go by the cable company because they felt I simply was not reliable enough to hire on full time because of my transportation problems. Sara would volunteer as my taxi service, taking me where I needed to go until I could get back on my feet. She moved to Tampa with her boyfriend some time after and for a while we continued to talk, but the sands of time have had their way with us.
In July of 1999, I was let go by the cable company. Left without a car, a job or any means by which to pay my rent and my bills, it looked as if the journey to Orlando would become a complete failure, forcing me to beg for help and to run back north with my tail between my legs. My friends helped me avoid that, by embracing me and helping me and being there for me when I needed them. It would be a crime for me to forget these people and all they have meant to me. That was less than two years after I moved here, and I have now been here more than seven years. The first two years were the reason I came here. As time passed and the magic withered away, I knew the time for change was not far off.