The first time I interned for TVA, I was sent to Chattanooga for new hire orientation. I got to drive a company car and stay in a hotel, all of which were quite novel experiences for me at that time. My previous jobs at Subway and the call center didn’t really have a formal orientation program, and certainly not one that required travel to a different city!
The first day of orientation, I walked from the hotel to the office where the orientation was held. Orientation was in a large room with about 12 big round tables. I was (of course) one of the first ones there, so I chose a table close to the front and plopped down.
As other people filtered in, my table filled up with others, grown men twice my age or more. This orientation session was for all new employees, so the intern programmer was at the same table as a crane operator, an inventory manager, a site chief at a coal plant, and other such jobs which, at the time, struck me as being the jobs that men’s-men would have and I sat mostly in silence as these middle-aged workers talked shop and joked around with each other.
At the first break, I was at a bit of a loss. But I found a cluster of folks who looked more like my age, and wandered over to them. Yes, these were the other interns, many of us in technical fields where we had more in common than a purported common language. I even achieved some minor celebrity because I was working out of the engineering plant in Norris, TN while my colleagues were in much more prosaic locations. It also turns out that I got the job that another of them was hoping for, though he was quite a good sport about it and he and I ended up chatting quite a bit.
Most of the day was spent discussing things like benefits packages and company policies. We also had a chance to set up our corporate computer accounts, which for myself and my intern cohort took about ten minutes. When we left to go hang out in the break area, many of my tablemates — the men’s-men — were getting assistance from the IT staff on things like using a mouse and keyboard. I felt a little less inferior.
The next day, I once again arrived early and was the first one at my table. I sat at the same table as before, though I’m not sure why because I could easily have sat with some of my fellow interns. I guess just force of habit.
I was getting my stuff situated when a new face sat at my table. A young girl about my age. I hadn’t seen her the day before.
She introduced herself as Melissa. She was a journalism major and was interning with TVA to work on their company newsletter. I thought that was pretty neat, being a bit of a word nerd myself, and we chatted for a bit. I never got around to asking her how she wound up at my table on the second day.
Throughout the morning bits of orientation, even as different groups split off into different sessions, we kept bumping into each other. I thought this was a bit odd, as I hadn’t even remembered seeing her before, but I chalked it up to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon and moved along.
(The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon describes that feeling of discovering something for the first time and then immediately seeing it pop up seemingly everywhere.)
The afternoon session was a personality test thing. I don’t remember exactly what sort of test it was, but it divided us up into four quadrants, so I suspect it was something based on the Four Temperaments (choleric, melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic). In any case, Melissa and I wound up being on opposite sides of the room; my quadrant was the “get things done, no matter what” group, while the other quadrant was the “let’s build consensus and consider all the points of view” group. As an exercise, each quadrant was challenged to come up with a caricature of the opposite quadrant. Most of the groups did a pretty good job, and I remember one in particular being quite funny. My group’s spokesperson, on the other hand, decided not only to completely lampoon the opposite group but then launched into a monologue basically just insulting them. I attempted to become one with my chair and possibly sink through the floor entirely. I’m not sure what I was supposed to learn from that exercise, but what I actually learned was that my personality group was not the sort of person I wanted to be associated with. It was definitely food for thought.
I didn’t see Melissa again that day.
The next day was basically just a half day. We were to attend an all-hands presentation not just for the new hires but for the company as a whole, and then after that we’d have a lunch provided and head out.
After the presentation, I went to one of the break rooms to grab some lunch. Who else would be in there, but Melissa! She was on the other side of the room, though, so I just waved and grabbed a sandwich. I wanted to get back to Knoxville.
After eating my sandwich, I walked over to her. I said it was great to meet her and wished her the best of luck in her internship. She returned the wishes, and we parted ways.
Back home, I thought back over the orientation and decided it had been mostly boring. I did find my thoughts occasionally drifting back to Melissa though. I realized I had developed a bit of a crush on her. I laughed at myself for realizing this too late to do anything about it…and besides, what was I going to do? Give her my parents’ phone number? I didn’t even have a cell phone of my own.
As I began working the job she quickly slid out of my mind, replaced by equations to calculate water flow through a turbine and algorithms for rapidly extracting data from multiple engineering sites and storing them in a database.
Then, one day, an article in the company newsletter happened to catch my eye. It was a bit of a puff piece, a story about a swimmer getting caught in the flow of a hydro dam and another swimmer who saved him. It was actually more interesting than most of the stories in the company newsletter, which was often about internal corporate politics or rah-rah pieces about TVA’s efforts to seem environmentally friendly. But the byline was Melissa’s name.
I decided to send her an email congratulating her on getting an article published under her own name. I felt surprisingly nervous about this, but then I laughed at myself for feeling nervous about such a thing and sent the email before I could have second thoughts.
Later that day, I got a reply. I think it said something like “Hope you’re doing well! Thanks for reading.” I once again laughed at myself, asking, “What did you expect to happen?”
And that was the last I heard of her.
I hope she’s doing well, wherever she is, and I’m grateful to her for sitting at my table that one day.