Every job is unique, and has experiences that help us to learn and grow. Some experiences are just bizarre. I’ve been working since I was 15, and I’ve probably had 20 different jobs over the years, ranging from cemetery groundskeeper to pizza maker to floor manager for a TV show to association management. I’ve dug ditches in a dusty trailer park and I’ve rubbed elbows with some of the most powerful people in corporate America. And I realize, looking back on it, that it’s all part of a pretty amazing story.
Here are a few of the more interesting things I’ve seen while I was on the job:
1. The Man with No Face
I looked for an image as terrifying as the real thing, but I couldn't do that to you. You can Google that yourself.
When I was 16, I worked at a hardware store in Northern Pennsylvania. It was my first real job where I could work a decent number of hours and make some extra money, which I chose instead of continuing to play high school football. It was a pretty hum-drum place, and excitement was hardly the norm. I unloaded bags of cement from the delivery truck, mixed paint, made keys, threaded pipes, sharpened chain saw blades, and ran the register. I also earned my merit badge in floor sales, and my co-workers called me “Bob Villa” because of how little I actually knew but how smoothly I could talk a customer through their purchasing decisions.
One day, an elderly man came in to the store. My co-workers, and even the store owner, all scattered. When I got a good look at the man, I knew why. He had no face. I don’t know how else to describe it. He had a forehead, and eyes, but below the bridge of his nose there was a gaping hole. No teeth, no jaw, just a hole into the back of his head. From the bridge of his nose itself hung a damp handkerchief, held in place with athletic tape. It did little to cover the wet, mutilated abyss behind it. To say that the site was gruesome would be a serious understatement.
Since everyone else had ditched, I hiked up my big-boy pants and did my best to help him. Creepy or not, the guy was a human being, and he deserved customer service just like anyone else. He couldn’t speak, so he made a lot of wheezy grunting noises and pointed to things in our sale ad as I walked him around the store. When he was finished, I rang him up quickly, noticing that my hands were literally shaking.
I never saw him again. I never figured out how someone could sustain so much damage to their face and continue living that way without falling prey to massive infection. I never thought I would eat lunch again either, but the fact that I was a teenage boy and had a hot Philly cheesesteak sandwich and a root beer waiting for me eventually won out, tremors be damned.
2. The Exorcism
It's always good at an exorcism to have extra muscle.
During summer breaks from college, I worked a couple of jobs. I started at an independent family-owned Pizza shop called Brozzetti’s – famous among the residents of Binghamton, New York for its 50+ years of unique pizzas. Then I upgraded, getting a job working for my parish as a groundskeeper, maintenance guy, and overall office assistant. I had become friends with the priest who was our pastor, and working together with him was usually a very pleasant task that involved difficult missions like going out to lunch after I’d finished mowing, weeding, painting, etc.
One day, after a long afternoon in the sun, I headed inside to get a drink of water. I knew Father was in his office counseling someone, so I walked by quietly. Instead of ignoring me, though, he called out to me.
“Stephen,” he said in a tone that was both measured and tense, “I need you to go into the living room and get me the crucifix and the holy water.”
I wanted to question him. But I looked at the woman sitting in the chair facing him, her back to me, unmoving, silent, head down, hair obscuring every angle of her face, and I knew. This woman was possessed. I moved quickly, getting him what he needed, and maneuvering around her, fearing that she would lash out. She didn’t, and I quickly retreated into the hall. Once he had the items in hand, though, and she was confronted with them, all kinds of fun things started to happen. The details are hazy, but I do recall that I managed not to pee myself. Not even a little bit. I did a lot of praying, Father did a lot of telling the demons where they could go, and the demons made her say cute things in a bizarre voice and it was just a great big tea party for everyone involved.
I was also there on a second occasion when this same person came to visit, and watched in horror as she ripped a rosary to shreds and threw it all over the church, blasphemed, spoke in strange languages, and used a voice that was about 27 octaves deeper than her normal speaking voice. Among other things.
I didn’t get a lot of sleep that summer. I also didn’t put it on my resume.
3. Iron Mike
Once, while living in Arizona, I got a job as a desert tour guide for Stellar Adventures. My job involved picking guests up at their respective hotels, driving them in my Hummer H1 through the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, teaching my guests about cacti, desert flora and fauna, and generally driving over under and through impossible obstacles.
The drive from the hotels out to the trail was a long one, and a good chunk of the trip was spent on the highway on our way out to the trail. One afternoon, as I was bringing a tour out on the 101 loop through Scottsdale, a sleek, black BMW pulled up along side me and matched my speed. I was driving a Hummer modified with an open safari kit that could fit 14 people. Whatever aerodynamic should look like, we were the opposite. Matching my speed wasn’t difficult.
The passenger window rolled down, and a man stuck his head out and yelled something at me. My heart sunk. Was something hanging off my truck? Had a passenger fallen off and bounced down the road? Was I leaking transmission fluid? I turned to face him to see if I could make out what he was saying over the roar of the wind.
And that’s when my facial recognition software kicked in. The face was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I saw the face tattoo and it clicked…
I managed to take this picture with my cell phone. Before they were 8 megapixels and had satellite uplinks. While driving. As Mike Tyson would say, "That's ludicrous!"
Mike Freaking Tyson. He had my full attention now, which was probably not a good thing, because keeping a huge Humvee between the lines at 60MPH on a curve isn’t exactly the easiest task even with full concentration.
“What?!” I yelled. “I turned to the people in my vehicle. “It’s Mike Tyson.” I informed them. Like this was an every day occurrence.
“I said,” he squealed, the road noise obscuring his notorious lisp, but not making him much more understandable, “If I call the number on the side of your truck, can you guys make mine look like that?”
“Sure!” I said, having no idea what he was talking about. “Give it a call!” Then it clicked – Tyson must have a Hummer of his own, and he wanted a safari kit. I had no confidence that we could provide this, but at least we could point him in the right direction. And my boss could get a call from Kid Dynamite.
Alas, Mike Tyson never called. So I never got to have a heart to heart with him about his Phil Collins obsession.
4. The Scorpion
I got more than one good story out of the Hummer job. Like the drunk Canadians who gave me a $400 tip. Or the group of CSIs who couldn’t stop bashing their TV counterparts, also got drunk, complained about having to analyze womens’ underwear, and wanted to go scorpion hunting in the dark using black lights. (To be fair, this is a fun activity.)
But I ran into a different kind of scorpion one day on the trail. Well, it actually started at the hotel.
It’s rare to have a tour with only two people, but I rolled up on the Ritz Carlton in downtown Phoenix, and out strolled a dude with long, black hair, sunglasses, a light t-shirt, and designer jeans. He was accompanied by a woman in her 40s, blonde, also dressed in designer jeans, and looking like she was probably rather attractive at some point in the not too distant past. I had the distinct impression that I had picked up a couple of minor celebrities. Time would tell.
As it turned out, the man was from Poland, and he was extremely enthusiastic about the open views of the desert afforded from the back of the Hummer with its roll-up windows and canvas top. A little more digging, and I found out that his name was Paweł Mąciwoda. I cut and pasted that, just so you know, because I have no idea how to make the letters look that way. Just like I had no idea who Paweł Mąciwoda was.
As it turned out, he was the new-ish bassist for a little band you may have heard of called The Scorpions.
Well, the news didn’t exactly rock me like a hurricane, but I remembered the 1990s with a certain nostalgic fondness, so I was cool with this revelation. I used to whistle and sing along to Wind of Change while I was doing the dishes for my mom back in high school, so I felt like we had a connection.
Alas, he didn't bring a guitar. Just the hand signal for love.
We got out to the trailhead and he jumped out, shouting out exaggerated exclamations in only the way that someone from Europe can. And then he decided it was time to toke up. Naturally. Because it’s not like we have Park Rangers or anything. I warned him to keep the medicinal herbs on the DL during the tour, and he agreed, which meant that instead of lighting up while we were driving, he only hit the pipe when we stopped. Which was every five minutes.
We had a good time, though. He took lots of pictures and video. And when I got back to the shop and was cleaning out my truck, I noticed that he had left something.
I figured he might want that back, so I gave him a ring. We made an arrangement, and I swung by the hotel with it after work. In exchange, he gave me a DVD with all the raw video he shot on the tour, which I edited into this:
I didn’t use any Scorpions music for the soundtrack, though, so we don’t hang out anymore.
5. The CEO
GM is serious business.
When I got an actual grownup job in communications and PR, the client I was assigned to work exclusively for was General Motors. I did media analysis, worked with the Rapid Response Team on emerging reputation crisis issues, and I got my feet wet in the world of corporate social media at a time when it was still bleeding edge. I wrote a lot of blog posts for GM, not just in my own name (PDF Alert!), but as a ghostwriter for some of their top executives. I was there when GM execs decided to use their blog to combat the defamatory column printed by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times – an early demonstration of the rising power of social media vs. mainstream media. I even got to go the design center and see the new Camaro when it was still in clay – along with a new Impala and smaller Hummer, neither of which, alas, ever saw the light of day.
All of this was fascinating. But then something unexpected happened. When then-CEO Rick Wagoner came to DC to make the round of Sunday talk shows and address the health of his company back in 2007, he decided to come to our office and meet personally with our core team to talk about what would come next in the communications plan. When I stood by our conference table and shook the hand of the man running the 3rd-largest company (by revenue) in the entire world, introducing myself and recognizing that he took a personal interest in all of us and what we were doing for his business, I realized I had found my way into some very interesting work.
6. The Electric Car
The man and his Volt.
Another interesting experience I had while working as a consultant to GM was meeting Bob Lutz. If you haven’t ever heard of him, I guarantee you’ve heard of some of his product development ideas, including the Dodge Viper, the Ford Explorer, and the BMW 3-Series. The cigar-chomping, MiG-flying, fast-car driving, vegetarian, ex-Marine pilot is like a character in a Michael Bay movie. When he would be interviewed on CNBC, making brash predictions about his company’s future, you could watch the stock price go up in real time.
Bob Lutz is, first and foremost, an idea man. And one day he came to our offices to talk about the next big thing: the electric car. At the time, the product he was calling “the iCar” was not even a concept. But advances in lithium-ion battery chemistry had finally made an electric car a reality, and Lutz, a champion of muscle cars and the Hummer brand, sat at the head of our conference table and told us that it was going to be the next big thing, and GM was going to lead the way.
I watched with great interest as they fast tracked the development of the vehicle which would later be known as the Chevy Volt, bringing immense innovation to the table and reminding the world of the technological prowess possessed by the company that is notorious for crapping out the Chevy Nova and the Pontiac Aztec, but should also be recognized for creating the first artificial heart, the moon rover, electronic fuel injection, airbags, and the first industry standard crash test dummies. (Did you know automotive crash testing used to be done with cadavers? Yeah. Gross.)
I worked with early efforts to spread awareness of the Volt, and we not only brought it to events, but even parked it on Capitol Hill so that we could better inform members of Congress. (I even got to design part of the invitation to Congressional staff.)
I also worked on social media for the DARPA Urban Challenge winner known as Boss – a robot Chevy Tahoe that could navigate a 30-mile obstacle course without human intervention. Between the tech that’s already hit the market in the Volt and the tech that’s still in development for autonomous vehicles, I’m certain I’ll be able to look back some day and tell my kids about how I had the chance to work on the early stages of concepts that people weren’t sure could ever make it - technologies that will no doubt be ubiquitous by the time they’re old enough to roll their eyes at my story.
These are among the most notable experiences I’ve had on the job, but there are dozens of other interesting examples. There are so many things to draw from when you spend such a big portion of your waking life at work, and they all become a part of your story.
What are some strange/entertaining/cool experiences you’ve had at work? Leave your story in the comments!