Luisa Kay Reyes, 4/13/2020
Previous Occupation: Level I Technical Support
Current Occupation: LSAT Prep Instructor at Auburn University
Business Law Adjunct at Judson College
Contact Information: Luisa Kay Reyes has had pieces featured in "The Raven Chronicles", "The Windmill", "The Foliate Oak", "The Eastern Iowa Review", and other literary magazines. Her essay, "Thank You", is the winner of the April 2017 memoir contest of "The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature". And her Christmas poem was a first place winner in the 16th Annual Stark County District Library Poetry Contest. Additionally, her essay "My Border Crossing" received a Pushcart Prize nomination from the Port Yonder Press. And two of her essays have been nominated for the "Best of the Net" anthology. With one of her essays recently being featured on "The Dirty Spoon" radio hour.
“I finally paid off my car!” I couldn’t believe it as I repeated the words over and over to myself. For I was able to pay it off even earlier than I expected. And before too long, Honda financial would be sending me the title in my own name for my Silver Honda Civic. It was a gift to me from my mother and my dream was to be able to keep it for at least ten years. After all, Hondas are known for being good cars. And since I regularly took it to the dealership for all of the oil changes and check ups, I was certain that my Honda Civic would last me at least that long if not longer.
I breathed a sigh of relief. It would be so nice not to have the monthly pressure of making my car payments haunting me in my sleep. And now I could freely look forward to the road trips I might be able to take with my car. Some friends and I even talked about maybe driving up to Tennessee one day and taking in the sights there. It was all so very exciting and full of seemingly endless possibilities.
Well, the first road trip I ended up taking in my just recently paid-off-in-full Honda Civic, was a drive all the way to Austin, Texas from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The directions claimed it could take as little as fourteen hours to make the trip, but it took us nearly seventeen. And while driving across a bridge in a small town in Louisiana, I was ticketed for speeding, having been caught by surprise by the speed trap tactic of rapidly decreasing the speed limit once one came off of the bridge. Nevertheless, we continued our journey westward. Since my brother and his family had recently moved to Austin, Texas and my mother was ever so eager to be close to my delightful little nephew.
It was quite a risk we were taking, since we were making the move with the hopes that we would find jobs once we got there. And we were making our trek westward without having any work lined up for us immediately upon our arrival. However, even when we were living up in Ohio, the word was that Austin was where all of the young people were moving to find jobs. To hear people tell it, the capital of Texas was the treasure trove of workplaces. But, during this long drive of ours, I was already beginning wonder if this job seekers’ paradise was as full of promise as we had been led to believe. After all, I had already been turned down from some library positions I applied for online. However, with everybody we knew being so convinced that Austin was the land of plenty as far as jobs were concerned, I decided to refrain from yielding to my reservations.
Once we moved in to our very humble abode in Austin, the first thing we set out to do was find jobs. “Get a job! Work!” were the first words my brother told us upon our entry into town. And it seemed like I could even hear his disdainful incriminating voice echoing those words in the shower, while changing my clothes, and even in my sleep. For the famous Austin jobs of nationwide lore, didn’t manifest themselves to us right away. Leading me to end up substitute teaching in an effort to earn some meager income in the meantime. While I applied for everything from a clerk in a mail store to working at a gift shop in the mall to working as an assistant in the justice department. There wasn’t a job announcement anywhere too ambitious or too low for me to apply for. And apply, I did. Followed by the classic form letter rejection letters in the long white envelopes arriving in the mail on a nearly daily basis.
Deciding we still wanted to enjoy the city in spite of this frantic job hunt of ours, we joined some foreign language conversation clubs. Including the German Stammtisch and the Portuguese conversation club. When I told the German Stammtisch that I was looking for a job; one lady, who was a retired realtor, told us that in Austin the only work that could be found was “flipping burgers at McDonald’s”. And maybe a little bit of construction. That sure isn’t the reputation it has, I thought to myself. But, often the reality of a place differs greatly from its legend. And I was quickly learning that in Austin, such was certainly the case.
Finally, there was an email sent out to the members of the Portuguese language roundtable from a temp agency that was looking for Portuguese speakers. Since we’d lived in Brazil for six months and I was conversant in Portuguese, I applied for the position. With the result, that I received a phone call from the former-college-fraternity-boy sounding recruiter within a few days. During which time he told me in a very upbeat manner that they were looking for Portuguese speakers to do password resets for one of the big major American automobile manufacturing companies in town. I remember thinking to myself, But don’t most places do that automatically on the computer? However, the smooth talking recruiter did his job well. Leaving me no opportunities to interject and ask any questions in-between his effusive statements about what a wonderful boon it was to work for a major American automobile manufacturer.
Within a few days of my phone interview with the recruiter, I was called in to the in-person interview with the two heads of the department we would be working in. They were both legacies of the automobile company. With the two of them having multiple generations and extended family members who had worked for the company over the past several decades. They were very optimistic about us working for this company, although, they did drop the first hint to us that we’d be doing something a little bit more than simply resetting passwords. For they asked us in the interview if we’d ever worked with a knowledgement database before. I had no clue what that was, but it didn’t seem to deter them from later offering the job to me and the Brazilian girl who was interviewed immediately before me.
In the early morning, on the very first day we were to report for our new contractor positions, everybody was both fighting the sleepiness that hung in the air over us all and eagerly trying to meet all of our new work colleagues. The Brazilian girl I had met in the interview was excited that I was there, too. And we both found ourselves looking forward to our first training session. When asked why we had taken on this new position, nearly everyone responded by stating how “excited” they were to be working for “such a prestigious” automobile company. However, our trainers wasted no time in correcting us. We were not actually employees of the auto corporation, but were still employees of the temp agency who just happened to be assigning us to fulfill our duties with the auto company. The disillusionment of everyone in our training session abounded.
After such a disappointment, the Brazilian native I had first met in the interview even asked me how I thought she should list her new place of employment on her social media and professional web pages. All I knew to tell her was what they had just told us. That we were temporary workers assigned to the auto company. She frowned, for it was definitely not what she nor anybody else had expected.
It quickly became evident through our week long training session, that if we reset passwords, it would only be because we happened to stumble upon the kind fortune of having an easy call come through. As the actual duties of our position entailed providing level one technical support for over 140 different in-house web based applications. Since we were divided up by which languages we spoke, the assumption when we were hired was that we would be providing the support in our specific languages. Once we moved upstairs to our actual cubicles, however, we soon learned that our boss decided she wasn’t going to be hampered by such minute details. As she forced some of my Spanish speaking colleagues, who didn’t know English well and freely admitted as much, to handle the English only call lines. Creating much distress in their jobs. Since the thought that they were hired to provide Spanish support disappeared in the face of the reality that now they were being subjected to the ill temperament of callers who were frustrated over their inability to be understood, all the day long.
Soon it became apparent to us new hires, that the older members of the technical support department we worked in were all daydreaming about the day they’d actually get onboarded by the automaker itself. Complete with full health benefits and other perks of a semi-permanent position. However, in time we learned that even several of the level two support members we called when none of the resources available to us seemed to take effect, were also still hourly wage contractors. The pace of the job being a hectic one with entire plants in South America often calling and reporting that the in-house Internet system was crashing, some of the veteran employees of our service desk could only cope by clinging to the meager hope that one day they’d actually get hired on by the company, one day.
It would be another month our bosses told us. Leading to everybody doubling up their efforts and competition among the employees quickly taking hold. With the subject matter experts making sure that if they deigned to help us supply the technical support their offices were supposed to provide . . . that they did so without revealing to us their secrets of their trade. “What a nightmare!” we all thought. For we were mocked if we asked questions about how to fix a certain problem, but then criticized as inept if we didn’t ask any questions at all. And with the workplace competition now being played out in full force, many of the employees tried to ingratiate themselves with our boss. Who had the grand distinction of never having worked with the applications we were supporting, yet tried to cover for this lack of experience on her part by badgering us in full voice to figure things out for ourselves. Slowly but surely, some of us new hires did begin figuring things out. With several of us even catching up knowledge wise with the veteran employees. A fact which displeased them greatly and led to several of them resorting to made up smear campaigns against us new hires.
The month came and went without anyone getting hired on by the company and when people finally started questioning that fact, our bosses informed us that it would actually be another two more months before the hiring could take place. But, they assured us, at the end of these next two months a plethora of company jobs would be awaiting us that would bring us the long sought after gifts of financial freedom and comfort. Some of the older employees took it with a grain of salt, but others stepped up their efforts to become the boss’ best pal. For, truthfully, by now there was very little difference between the older and the new level one technical support providers. And how the new hires would be chosen seemed to be a matter of arbitrary preference on the part of our very immature and biased boss.
Consequently, we were called in to our first one-on-one meetings with the boss to go over our report card. Every statistic imaginable about our technical support performance was displayed on the big screen for us to see. And I was tied with another Brazilian girl for having handled the most calls. Our numbers were rivaling those of the veteran employees in the main headquarters up north we were told. And our boss actually seemed impressed by us for the first time ever. However, she quickly dispelled any elation we might have felt over our high numbers, by informing us of the complaints our fellow veteran colleagues had made about us. The report about me was that the stench of garlic “oozed out of my skin” since I was half-Mexican and I laughed too much. I was stunned. Truthfully, I didn’t even know until then that garlic was associated with Mexicans. Since I had been on a gluten-free and one-hundred percent organic diet for years. And only during my visits to Mexico did I actually indulge in any truly authentic Mexican food.
She was relentless and remained unconvinced. Even though, I tried to explain to her that I didn’t eat much garlic. Leading to me going home stunned by defeat and spending the evening crying on the very hard dirt underneath the night sky outside of our home. I had never had such an unusual and devastating report coming straight from my boss before. And not knowing what else to do, I made sure and dressed in my finest attire the next morning. Yet, the smear campaigns against all of us new hires, continued. For the veteran employees felt they were entitled to the upcoming company hires. But a few were starting to question if these mythical jobs would ever come to be. Since it turned out that the same promise that had been made to us, was made to them long before my group was ever hired by the temp agency.
So one day, one of the more highly skilled and respected technical support providers, simply resigned. Not bothering about whether or not he left the door open for him to ever come back, he stated that he was leaving to find gainful employment elsewhere in colorful terms – completely aking our bosses by surprise. And for the next few days they walked around asking the question “Who would leave and not wait to be hired on?” With the answer eluding them, but beginning to feel quite natural to us new hires.
The neverending calls kept coming in. And us new hires kept plowing on ahead with our work while the days continued turning into weeks and the weeks turned into months. Some of the others that definitely seemed to be next in line to be fully hired on, began wondering if it wouldn’t be best to follow the young man’s precedent and ply their trade elsewhere. And before too long, the two months passed by with no signs of gainful employment being anywhere to be seen. Thereby provoking our bosses to simply reiterate their vapid promise. But, this time, they included the modification that it would be another three months before we would be fully hired on.
“Groan!” We couldn’t do so audibly. But we sure did do so via personal chats. “They are just dangling a carrot in front of everybody,” I said. With many echoing my sentiment. While others still desperately clung to the company hire illusion. For how else could anyone bear the hectic pace of our work? Our fifteen minutes breaks were quickly taken away from us. Due to the increase in incoming call volume, we were told. And the tacky rumor mill among the desperate to be hired employees ramped up its production. With our boss even resorting to inspecting our computer monitors to make sure we hadn’t ever logged in to facebook or other social media during our eternally flowing in phone calls.
Then the Christmas Season arrived and just before the big plant shutdown was to take place, they informed us we would not be working during that time and not receiving any pay. We were, after all, nothing more than hourly wage contractors. Everybody felt sick. It was unexpected since we never received any holidays. The reasoning being that we couldn’t be given the days off for the American holidays because we provided support for Latin America. And we couldn't be given the Latin American or European holidays off because we provided support for the USA, as well.
This placed us in quite a bind. For our hourly wage was not enough to allow us to save back any, especially for those with families to support. Making one co-worker announce that she was going to stand on a street corner with a sign begging for money. And when we eagerly replied that we’d join her, she quickly told us that we’d have to find our own street corners. For she was reserving her begging spot for herself and herself alone.
Seeing no other recourse available to me and not wanting to starve during Christmas, I went to the title loan place and took out a small loan on my Silver Honda Civic. I felt devastated. For even though the title loan was not for a large amount, the payments were going to be nearly double what my monthly car payments had ever been. And now I could no longer claim full ownership to the title of my car. Such was the nature of our employ. To work hard and only end up poorer.
Soon, the Christmas Season came and went, along with the three months long waiting period. With no signs of any company jobs in sight, people began grumbling again over these elusive company hires and our bosses reiterated once again their worn out old promise to us. “Just one more month”, they said. One more, and we “might” get hired on. It was down to “might” this time. For even our bosses couldn’t make it seem like a guarantee by this point. And just as the number of calls for technical support kept increasing, so did the number of empty desks in our department. A department that was shortly completely shut down by the company, leaving everyone to seek new jobs.