I shall refrain from harping too heavily on my constant reiterations of “I AM A 26-YEAR-OLD INTERN” which, if I were to die suddenly, should be emblazoned upon my tombstone, please and thank you.
However, this week, I fell into the world of “trail shifts” as part of my endeavor to earn money that will prevent aforementioned sudden death (primary causes: starvation, exposure to the elements, falling asleep on a subway and being abducted/murdered).
At first, I decided to correct a potential employer by repeating what they had said with the correct pronunciation of TRIAL shift, because of course, that’s what we say in Europe. You are on trial, it is a trial-and-error situation, much like The Hunger Games, your first shift is a T-R-I-A-L.
But lo, in the US of A, it is a T-R-A-I-L shift. Much to my horror, I had corrected incorrectly.
The concept on this side of the Atlantic hinges on the newbie quite literally following, or indeed, trailing behind an existing employee. Following, shadowing, awkwardly hovering while attempting to learn, absorb and assimilate into the program, one becomes a friendly ghost. Unfortunately, one’s corporeal reality remains intact, and while ghost-like in concept, is still very much human-like in all physical presence. Flesh, bone and enormous limbs flail, crash and generally interfere with the employee one is attempting to delicately trail, as well as other employees who are attempting to scoot around your gigantic presence and of course, the customers who cannot really cope with your existence and what it might mean for the service they are about to receive.
My Saturday afternoon consisted of a trail shift at a front desk job for a high-end, extremely private and gorgeously elegant gym and fitness club. This trailing experience is effortless because there is no actual trailing, at least in the physical sense.
You simply sit beside the existing employee as they talk you through the place, the process, and the pieces you need to put together so that you can do a good job. You are being trained, like a puppy, from the comfort of a swivel chair.
My Saturday evening consisted of a trail shift at a busy downtown bar/restaurant that seats 30 people -- at a push -- and yet insists on maintaining capacity of about 400, thus hindering the ability to move by approximately 6,000 percent.
I was told, over the din, by the effortlessly cool owner, “don’t f**k it up and you’ll get a job” and instructed to follow alternating members of staff as they attempted to conduct service on a crazy Saturday night. Sure, no problem.
The heat of the oven combined with the unnaturally summery heat of Saturday -- which we can address another day as a sign that the world is quite literally ending and someone, somewhere, is not telling us something pretty crucial -- made for an unbearably sweaty situation. Humans slid against each other through the thoroughfare that was barely visible between tables and bar.
Coming in the front door, you’ve got about 20 people waiting for tables/bar space right ahead of you. On the right you have a bar that seats 10, on the left you have a row of tables that seats 20.
Down the middle is where you’re supposed to go, while following someone else, both carrying an array of breakables, taking orders on an iPad -- a trend that I still struggle with -- and not crashing into/inadvertently killing anyone.
Meanwhile, the guy who I’m hoping will hire me is also milling around with his pal, the delivery guy, who is cruising through this chaos on a pair of roller blades. Welcome to New York.
Three hours in, I have somehow managed to prove myself by ducking and diving, and even occasionally leaping around the other staff in order to wipe down a table or deliver a shaky tray of beers and sodas. I have forgotten to eat in between trail shifts, and the shaking is largely due to the fact that I’m about to collapse and faint.
At 8:30 p.m., it is revealed that I have succeeded. I was thrown in at the deep end and had emerged like a mermaid, gracefully panting and hauling my sweaty body onto the shores of freedom. I was given a box of much needed food as a reward, and told to return on Tuesday when it will be significantly quieter.
At this point, the ringing in my ears from the three hours of torture I have just endured means I can no longer hear what he is telling me so I resort to polite nodding and waving and smiling, and get the hell out of there.
There are two great things about working a place that small and that busy: one, you make bank, and two, the time flies.
Not to mention the service-industry adrenaline that courses through your veins and becomes unbearably addictive and next thing you know, you’re a bartending, table-serving junkie and any “normal” job you attempt to stick to afterwards seems unbearably dull. I could already feel the buzz returning as my legs pulsed with pain on the subway home.
Trail shifts are insane. You’re not even guaranteed a job. You just go in there, prepare to slave, and hope you can come out of it alive with a box of free food.
You have no idea how many trail shifts you’re going to have to do before you can do a real shift. You have no idea if they’re even paying you for these trail shifts in the first place, but this is the way of the world.
Having completed two back-to-back, I maintain that these bad boys should still be called a TRIAL shift. If I had spent that Saturday merely following those people around and mimicking whatever they’re doing, surely I would have just blended in with every other trailing rookie they invite in to test.
Well, my Irish blood sure as hell wouldn’t let me do that. I will create the trail before I’ll follow one.
When proving yourself for employment, no matter how big or small, I still believe you should be putting yourself in trial-mode. It is a test that you cannot afford to fail, and you don’t want to be left trailing behind.