Thursday, July 16, 2009

Public Transportation Teaches Me a Valuable Lesson: I am an Idiot

So, one of the activities I've been pursuing this summer in a futile attempt to at least feel productive (since I don't have a job) is the search for some sort of internship for the fall. I've applied to at least ten places so far (most of them marketing internships) and interviewed at one company before today. I interviewed for a Marketing Internship at eInstruction, makers of such products as the CPS Response Pad (colloquially referred to as the "clicker" in the classes in which I've used it), in Columbia, and I left quite excited about my prospects. The position is a paid one, $11/hour, and I would be working directly with the VP of Marketing for Higher Education, getting to do interesting things like doing research on the competition, devising advertising strategies, and traveling to trade shows.

Despite the fact that I interviewed with three people there - the head of Human Resources, the VP of Marketing for Higher Education, and the VP of Marketing for the entire company - and all seemed impressed with me, the odds of getting that job now seem slim. When I called back a week later, I was told that "We haven't ruled you out, but we're still looking." This of course implies that they have, in fact, ruled me out.

So my search continues. Today I interviewed with a company out of Baltimore called Quickstar Productions. According to their website, they promote independent artists and distribute their music either through digital services like iTunes or by featuring individual songs on compilations with generic names like "Downtown Metal" and "Rock 4 Life." The position was described only as "Paid Music Business Intern" and the duties included working with clients to manage them, market them, and negotiate contracts, as well as general office tasks and, "if applicable: graphic design and/or music mastering." This all sounded pretty cool to me (and secretly I hoped that I might get free access to their recording studio).

The company is located downtown. At the suggestion of my dad and my older brother, I decided to take the Baltimore Metro. This was a terrible, terrible idea. Now, in all fairness, a significant portion of the blame for my unpleasant experience is due to my own stupidity. My first mistake was wearing a suit. Not only was I the only white person on the entire train, but I was the only one in a suit as well, making me doubly conspicuous. I ended up wandering the streets of Baltimore for twenty minutes (still the only one in a suit, mind you) in sweltering heat trying to find the place. But I'm jumping ahead. When I got to the Old Court Metro Station I was greeted by the burning stares of individuals dressed so poorly they put the term "casual attire" to shame.

I hurried past them into the terminal, where I discovered that the ticket machines only accepted cash. Seeing what must have looked like confusion on my face, the attendant working in the booth helpfully explained that "cash mean dollar bills." When I responded that I was well aware of the distinction between "cash" and "plastic" he got belligerent and shouted that "cash means bills, credit cards ain't cash!" It literally took a full five minutes of back and forth before he understood that I was not actually illiterate but simply did not possess any paper money. Finally, he suggested I "get my ass to an ATM" and walked back to his booth shaking his head.

Of course there was no ATM in the terminal. That would make the Baltimore Metro system at least somewhat decent, which would clearly go against their business model. I angrily left, drove to a 7-11 and hit the ATM there. Back at the ticket machine, I wasn't thinking and used the $20 bill I had acquired to purchase the $3.20 round-trip ticket.

With $16 in coins jangling in my pocket, I finally boarded the train. This led to yet another incident of my looking like an ass through a combination of my own stupidity and the Metro's inherent shittiness. Apparently, the announcement system on that train was faulty (or the driver was a moron). Both the electronic sign and the disembodied voice announced that we had arrived at Lexington Market. I hurried out of the train, up the stairs, and on to the street - at Penn-North. I got back on the train, rode it two more stops and got off at the "real" Lexington Market.

Of course, I got lost almost immediately as Google Maps had grievously miscalculated the actual location of the Lexington Market station. I ended up asking a cop for directions and finally found myself standing outside a tiny run-down building. A sign on the door (which was in dire need of repair) instructed that I should walk around and knock on the window. I entered through a little wrought-iron gate (wrought was misspelled on the sign by the way) and was greeted by the two owners of the company who where lounging outside in shorts and t-shirts. I cursed my suit again, as not only was I way overdressed but at this point sweating quite profusely. They led me inside to a small basement consisting of two rooms. One contained two computers, five bored looking twentysomethings, and a shitload of couches. The other contained two more computers and a couch.

The first thing they told me after I shed my unnecessary articles and downed several cups of water was that the position was an unpaid one. I think I did a pretty good job there of hiding my emotions. The listing for the job on UMBCworks had used the term "paid" no less than three times: in the header ("Paid Music Business Internship"), in the description ("This is a paid internship..."), and next to the word salary ("8.50/hour"). So there's very little possibility that someone goofed and accidentally slipped the word "paid" in there.

I had the grace to at least finish the rest of the interview. I'm sure I made a great impression, too. Honestly, they were pretty cool guys; they were fairly young, and quite passionate about music. I even talked and joked around with them after the "formal" part of the interview was over, even though I had already made up my mind that I was never coming back there. They even asked me when I would like to start. I simply said, "probably in the fall" and left it at that.

Despite my resolve to not fall for something like that again, I'm not giving up my search for a worthwhile internship, because the alternative is working in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions on campus for $7.25/hour. I'm ready for a real job. But I at least learned an important lesson here. Driving in the city, no matter how much of a hassle, could not possibly be anywhere near as bad as dealing with the many stumbling blocks that the Baltimore Metro system continually throws at you.