A few nights ago, I drove by a building I used to know.
I’ve been by that building hundreds of times, but not at night. The darkness made all the difference.
I worked there. At night.
It was my first job after college. I guess it was a terrible job, but it took me six months in a very bad economy to get that one offer. I jumped on it.
It was 1975. The company was one of the first cable TV companies in Connecticut, and cable was in its infancy. Our company had just 1/3 of one town cabled. The subscription cost $5.95 a month, and for that sum what you got – was not a lot.
It was basically an antenna service. People were seeing a clear picture for the first time. And they loved it. No ghosting, no rolling, no grainy, shadowy images. And channels! We offered – not a lot.
The only channel you might recognize today was TBS. Brought to you by satellite. And we used the satellite to pick up independent stations from New York and New Jersey, which Connecticut folks loved, because it meant The Yankees.
That was it. Clear local stations and a few brought in by satellite (when everything was working, which was only sometimes). And yet people called us and lined up at the door and flagged down our trucks and begged us to come down their street.
We did have unused channel capacity. So we showed old tapes on one channel, and we had three other channels – weather reports and a channel guide and sports scores. All typed in by hand.
Guess who typed in that stuff.
Every evening, I typed in the weather and the sports scores as the they came in via teletype machine. I typed in the next day’s channel guide, cribbing from a TV Guide and the newspaper.
I wasn’t a very good typist. The Rockford Files always came out The Rockford Flies, and more than once the Public Access Channel became the Pubic Access Channel.
But they didn’t fire me. I think because no one else wanted the job.
I came in at 3:30 and worked till midnight.
At 3:30, the building was pretty busy. At 5:00, when all the installers came back from the road, it was bustling. And then … not a lot.
Everyone was gone by 6:00. And I was there in the building alone until midnight.
I didn’t tell my parents I was there alone. I told them there was a security guard. There wasn’t. Just little me. One hundred and ten pounds with an extra two pounds of keys.
But here’s the thing. I loved it.
I loved walking around the building all alone. Going into the computer room with a key and the tape room with another key. Turning on lights as I entered and turning them off as I left. Eating my sandwich in the break room alone. Knowing how the games were going and the latest news before anyone else.
I liked the thought that the people in the cars driving by did not know that the building was not empty. They didn’t know that a girl was in there, typing away by herself.
I liked locking up everything at midnight. Setting the alarm. Turning out all but one light and walking in the total silent darkness to my hidden car.
I guess that was when I realized I was an introvert at heart. I wasn’t a loner. I liked people. But I liked my own company. I felt energized alone. I felt powerful.
Of course, it came to an end.
One night about two in the morning, there was a break-in. I think only the petty cash box was stolen. The computer room and equipment was locked up tight – thanks to me.
It was all kept quiet. I didn’t even know about it for a while. But a very nice, very cute dispatcher decided to tell me. He said that they were all instructed, “Don’t tell Nancy.” Management did not want me to be scared. They did not want me to quit, or to insist on the security guard I told my parents we already had. The guy who told me thought it was wrong of them to keep it from me.
I told my boss that I knew. But I honestly didn’t know what I wanted him to do about it. I liked the job. But I certainly didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. Typing The Rockford Flies was bound to get old sooner or later.
They moved me to Customer Service. Days. They had a guy come in and do my old night shift.
I hated Customer Service. I didn’t like the noise level, and I didn’t like asking anyone for money. (Who knew I would end up a Financial Executive in my next life?)
But they didn’t really need me in Customer Service. I got laid off after a few months.
I hated the loss of control that comes with a layoff. I may have hated that job but I wanted to be the one that decided to stay or go.
I wasn’t really sorry though. I didn’t ask to go back to the night job.
I had learned something about myself during those long evenings. But now that I knew it, I didn’t need to do it anymore.
I learned that quiet is not scary. Solitude is not scary. My own company is not scary.
Time to go on to the next lesson.