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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Serendipity

Photo - Philadelphia Skyline composite - late 1980's from 1101 Market Street viewpoint

Last week I had a luncheon reunion with old friends from the first "grown-up" job of my life.  For several years in my early 20's, I worked for the Reading Company, as in the Reading Railroad (see Monopoly - Take a Ride on The Reading Railroad); The Reading Terminal Market, and various other entities related to trains, coal, and real estate.  Catching up with these old friends, some of whom I haven't seen since I left the company in 1991, and others with whom I've stayed in touch or been "friends" with on Facebook, was a reminder of how incredibly lucky I've been in my work life.  My current work-life is interconnected to my first office job, inasmuch as the work that I do today is a direct result of the skills set I learned over 20 years ago at Reading Company.
Let me back track a bit.  Working at the Reading Company was a complete accident.  I had been working in the food service industry - where I waitressed, bartended, bussed tables, catered, you name it. I had a terrible time of it. I was in my early 20's, probably 21 or 22.  I didn't have a lot of skills but I was a go-getter and eager to prove myself.  I applied at a temp agency for work and was hired on as a potential receptionist or administrative assistant.  Reading Company was my very first temp job.  I started out as a receptionist for the company, working the front desk at the main offices at 1101 Market Street, now known as the Aramark Tower.  Back then it was called One Reading Center.  This must have been 1988.  After the first day, I was asked back for another day, and then a third day, and then for the week.  The people were very friendly and since it was my first office job, I was happy that things were going well.  One week turned into two weeks and in the interim, I was also offered a job at another temporary agency as an employee in their agency's office, as their administrative assistant.  Since I wasn't sure how long the receptionist position at Reading Company would last, I jumped at the chance to have a full-time permanent job.  I was about to give my notice to both the temp agency that got me the Reading gig, and to the folks at RDG Co.  Next thing I knew, RDG Co offered me a full-time job, with benefits and a bit more pay.  And the rest is my work history.  I credit my being hired to a gentleman named Bert, with whom I hit it off and had a lot of laughs.  He took a shine to me and I feel if it were not for him, I might not have been hired.  For ever after, my life was changed.
 Photo - Top: Miss Mary - outside the Rdg Terminal Market - July 1988-89; to right: Bond Hotel (a fleabag flop house!) & Shops, 12th & Market Streets in the location that is now the Marriott Hotel.

I went from being a receptionist to learning about basic bookkeeping, HR work, benefits and office management.  I also learned so many other intangible skills, such as professional personal interactions; providing good customer service; the art of dealing with cold-call sales people and office supply "Pirates" (whereby a person calls from a boiler room, asks for the copier information and then tells you prices are going up and you need to "lock-in" now to get the best prices on toner supplies.)  I learned the fine are of business writing, a skill I credit to Tony S.; he would always tell me to write succinctly. I still  think about this as I edit my writing; it's worked to an extent, if Tony's advice hadn't stuck with me, these blog entries would be twice as long!   I stayed with RDG Co for over three years before I moved on and up in the world of bookkeeping and office management.  I went to work for Day by Day Restaurant and Catering, stayed a year and then took a job at the Pa Academy of the Fine Arts for 3 years;  Next came The American Music Theater Festival for about 4 years (now called The Prince Music Theater); spent a year doing special events and various things for The Foundation for Architecture (1998 Beaux Arts Ball was my crowning glory); I worked as a part-time bookkeeper for Becker & Frondorf and a few other organizations all the while I went to cooking school.  Then there was my sideline cooking career.  Being a cook/chef  broke my spirit and showed me the real  and not so glamorous side of the restaurant industry.  In 2004 I wised up went  back to office work; which brings me to my over 6 years with Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel.  Whew!  Each of my jobs, though technically hired as either bookkeeper or office manager, has required and allowed me to be more than just my job title.  Caterer and special events planner; HR Manager; personal assistant; secret keeper and confident.  I thrive in being able to be diverse and to do a variety of tasks at the same time.  In between, I've had 2nd and 3rd jobs, part-time evening and weekend work;  volunteer work, catering, special events work and the whole stint at Williams-Sonoma (sales, resident chef, etc.)  No one, not even I, can believe my varied and crazy resume.  Yet it's all true. My work life has been and continues to be full of interesting experiences, travels, people and right and left brain skill sets that defy classification.  None of this would have been possible and who I am today would not exist if it weren't for getting hired at Reading Company.  Being taking in, guided and mentored by the nicest, most giving group of people changed my life for the better.  I was literally a lost unguided soul, in a bad situation with the person I was dating at the time, and I had practically no means of support.  I had few marketable skills.  I hadn't finished college and had few ideas on what I wanted to do with my life.  All the people with whom I worked gave me guidance, trust, respect and a chance.  Each job thereafter (at least the jobs I stayed at longer than 6 weeks! I could write a book on the bad jobs I've had) has been similar.  I've been lucky to work for and with compassionate caring people.  All of my bosses and co-workers have been like family to me.  Now that's not something I think many people can say about their careers.  Serendipity indeed

2 comments:

  1. D9, I was sure at the beginning of your story when you spoke of working day-to-day at Reading that your immediate supervisor was named the Dread Pirate Roberts. But it wasn't.

    Thanks for you comments. It was always a pleasure working with you, even when you overdid the cinnamon in the office coffee. It's nice to know that I've had a positive influence on someone.

    Tony S.

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  2. Hey Denine...Bert here, and as usual you have sold yourself short. The Reading job wasn't offered as a means to get you off of the street. You brought your skills as a communicator and all around good person to the place. Until you came through our doors, the Reading did as many corporations do; just hire a "body" for what can be the most critical job in an office - the first point of contact with a visitor. Your cordiality, grace, yes and even wackiness, all contributed to the right person at the right time, in the right place. I am proud, and humbled, to hear that I played even a small part in your work progression. Thank you so much for this memory!

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