Time for a Change

I said for years that, for my 60th birthday, I would buy myself a red convertible. I had not owned a convertible since the red Ford Sunliner that was my first car and I wanted to feel the wind in my hair once again. In 2012, Katherine got her driver’s license and we passed on to her my 2004 Honda Pilot. Jon and I soon realized that the small sporty interior of a convertible would not work as a family car, so we settled for a beautiful red 2012 Lexus ES350. Debi liked my car so much that she bought a beautiful red 2013 Lexus ES350. Our coworkers got a kick out of this because our spots were side by side in the parking garage. We were joined at the hip at the office, always going together for lunch or break and now, we had the same car. I felt a bit conspicuous at first, luxury was not something I often indulged in, but I learned to love my car. My favorite feature was the Bluetooth connection with my telephone that gave me the freedom to chat and drive while keeping both hands on the wheel. Every morning as I backed out of the driveway, I punched that button on my steering wheel and said “Call Cathy Lovellette.” Cathy, my friend since third grade and sister by choice, rode to and from work with me every day augmenting my drive with loud and lively discussions about our children, husbands, and life in general. During those rides, we came to the conclusion many times that, if everyone would just listen to us, life would be just peachy.

With each passing month, the dynamics of selling newspaper advertising demanded more effort towards online advertising as the printed word and advertisement base continued to diminish. The Fort Worth Star Telegram Advertising Department was renamed “ST Media” to represent our presence as an online advertising source. Revenue goals were divided as online and overall goal. These changes were particularly significant to the retail sales force. Unlike the classified sales reps who answered calls, mostly from individual local residents, to sell advertising, retail reps dealt with commercial accounts, typically making the sale by personal visit. It became the job of every retail sales rep to introduce our online products to existing customers and to find new online advertisers. Online was no longer the way of the future, it was the here and now. The need for classified ads continued to diminish and staff continued to shrink due to both downsizing and attrition. In 2015, as part of yet another re-organize and downsize effort, I was moved to a retail advertising team.

As the only newspaper in town, the Star-Telegram had long enjoyed a solid advertiser base. Retail sales reps, with little effort, met goal by filling the newspaper with ads placed by willing and eager business owners. With online advertising, we had competition and sales were harder to come by. Kim, our Vice President of Strategic Development, became the cheerleader and major encourager of the retail sales staff. Kim, crisply articulate and perfect in appearance, manners, and enthusiasm, presented strategy, upcoming product incentives, and sales contests in the form of a weekly stand-up meeting, perfectly timed to last 20 minutes and 20 minutes only. Different speakers took the floor to report sales tips and statistics. Sometimes funny costumes or hats would be part of the gig. At one meeting, Kim had me yodel. I’m not sure how she learned I was a yodeler but I now have “business meeting” on my list of “places where I have yodeled.” I privately called these sessions the weekly “rah-rah meeting” (but don’t tell Kim I said that). The meetings were a creative and effective communication and motivation tool without the bicycle horns.

One contest was called the “Turkey Bowl.” Each sales rep achieving revenue goal for the month was allowed the privilege of participating. On the day of the “bowl,” an expanse of plastic was attached to the floor and chalked off something like a football field. Several vats of big, fat, frozen, turkeys were wheeled in. Our director and ring master of the event called up, in the style of announcing a wrestling match, each eligible bowler. The mission was to hoist a turkey from the vat, and heave it over to the edge of the plastic and “bowl” it down the marked field. When the turkey came to rest, the stopping point was recorded; prizes were to be awarded at the end of the contest for the longest distance bowled. It was something between a javelin toss and curling but void of grace and finesse. I had visions of myself getting my hand tangled in the netting around the turkey thus slinging myself down the plastic, arms and legs flailing. That would be much more entertaining than the yodel. Thankfully, that did not happen. There were no dislocated shoulders that I know of and all bowlers took home their turkey.

Outside of the department-wide sales contest incentives, individual sales group had periodic team building events. On a designated day, we went out in pairs to make as many sales calls as possible before meeting for a meal and comparative conversation. Then came the day that our manager designed a team building event that did not involve food. Instead, we made our sales calls and then met at something called an “escape room,” “escape” being the operative word in so many ways. Our group of 10 or so gathered in a small, sparsely decorated lobby. A board on the wall listed team names and their “amazing escape times.” My anxiety level elevated a wee bit when we were asked to sign waivers of liability for injury. It did not mention nervous breakdown. A smug, ruddy-faced young man in a pirate costume entered the lobby and introduced himself as “Chippy.” He then herded us into a small, dimly lit room crammed with artifacts of a pirate ship, including a big black cannon. Chippy, loudly and in speed-talk style, screamed that we were in the belly of a ship belonging to Blackbeard, the famous pirate. From the torrent of words he spit out, I managed to discern that we had 60 minutes to escape the room or die, that the sheet of paper on the table held clues for finding the key to the door, and that I would much rather be doing a square dance in the middle of the freeway. Chippy spit out his last few words, turned over the big hour glass, marched out and slammed the big oak door. He then opened the little hatch at the top of the door and screamed “Good luck, mates!” He forgot to tell us where we could find the Alka-Seltzer.

At this point, I will say that none of this looked like fun to me. My aging feet hurt and I longed for ice tea and French fries. Sales personalities are usually leaders by nature thus we had a room full of generals and no soldiers. There was no order and no time was taken to develop a plan. Everyone shouldered around the clue sheet hollering out the clues that were written in a font size designed for a postage stamp. These clues lead to keys that opened books or bottles that held yet another key, or a map, or sometimes another obscure clue. Every now and then Chippy opened the hatch yelled insults and warnings that Blackbeard was on his way. There was yelling back and forth and talking at the same time as we all crisscrossed the room trying keys and reading maps as the sand in the hour-glass steadily drained. When the last of the sand was quickly disappearing, we had made very little progress. We did have a mystery key that didn’t seem to fit anything. My head hurt but I kept yelling and scurrying with the rest of them so I would not appear to be old lady of the group. Suddenly, the fact that the mystery key fit the cannon was evidenced when a report rivaling a sonic boom rocked the dark little room and my need to visit a little room came close to causing embarrassment. Simultaneously, a hole the size of a coffee table opened up in the wall behind me and I just about lost it. I was not sure if this was part of the whole crazy ordeal or if I was about to become a victim in the leading story on the six o’clock news. Luckily, we quickly observed that the hole exposed a note offering the final clue to finding the final key to open the dadgum door so we could “escape.” Our elapsed time was one hour and 34 minutes. Our team name did not make it to the board in the lobby. Once in my car, I punched that button on my steering wheel and said “Call Cathy Lovellette.” She laughed her head off as I ranted about the whole thing, how I almost wet my pants, that we were not served even so much as a sea biscuit, and that I was way past the age of finding such antics amusing. We agreed that I needed to figure out something to do that did not involve keeping up with the festivities afforded a bunch of young, energetic sales professionals.

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