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Rookie in a Working World

I SUPPOSE you could say I'm official - officially initiated into the working world, that is. Three months ago I graduated from a small liberal arts school in the Midwest and was fortunate enough to land a paid internship in the big city of Boston.

Not yet over the high of graduation, I arrived, complete with new suit, new heels, and a lot of big expectations. I had nothing to compare my upcoming experience with except the exaggerated Hollywood portrayal of working life - the fast pace, the paid lunches, and the company car. (Not that I was expecting any of these perks.) I was fortunate to locate very affordable - practically free - housing with a Dutch family in a Boston suburb.

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The night before my first day of work, the challenge was to arrange a ride to the office. My Dutch family contacted some of their friends, and within an hour I became an official member of a carpool - three men and me. Now that every detail was arranged, there was only one thing left to do - wait for my alarm to sound at 6 a.m.

The next morning I dressed in my checkered suit, patent leather heels, and met the men in the carpool. I didn't even recognize myself. After all, jeans and a sweat shirt had been my ritual for four years.

Upon arriving at the office building, my first challenge was to figure out the security call box. Since I had no badge to flash in front of the camera and I didn't know I needed one, I just stood there helplessly - not at all feeling like the recent recipient of a college diploma. In a moment, a buzzer sounded, and the door snapped open. A voice directed me to the second floor, where I landed in the middle of a crowded room tangled with ringing telephones, clicking keyboards, and shouting voices.

I know I looked new - "the new kid on the block." I dreaded that tag line more than anything. Fortunately, someone spotted my wide-eyed look of panic and escorted me to my assigned department. My duties entailed filing, answering phones, and tallying expense reports. But the least enjoyable task of all was sorting a cartload of mail. As a college graduate I felt that I was above this work. Then came lesson No. 1: No one with a college degree is above any work, no matter how menial the task.

The day dragged, but somehow the clock reached 4:30 p.m., and I met my carpool. After evaluating my appearance, I gave myself a C+: My legs were weary from standing in heels; my pantyhose had a run matching a ski slope rated "dangerous," and my skirt had rotated 90 degrees.

When I arrived home, haggard and limp, my first reaction was to get those nylons and heels off. Ah, I felt much better. I've sort of adopted this outfit that I wear every day after work - elastic-waisted shorts, sneakers, and a T-shirt. Regardless of what any college student argues, working is harder than going to school.

Well, the days soon rolled into weeks until those weeks equaled one full month on the job. Sometimes the most lively conversations were in the carpool. The topic of discussion every morning: the Boston Red Sox and their unbelievable slump. I've grown up rooting for the Philadelphia Phillies, so I couldn't care less about the Red Sox. Occasionally the conversation strayed to politics but not until they analyzed the baseball statistics.

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I also learned a lot about parenting - or should I say fathering - during my rides in the carpool. I listened to the anxieties of a father sending his daughter to camp for the first time. I listened to the anticipation of a father taking his son to his first Red Sox game. But most important, I listened to the tactical planning of a road trip from Boston to St. Louis with three small children: The location of every rest stop and McDonald's along Interstate 70 was crucial.

Things were beginning to pick up, and as I slowly lost the title "rookie," I also lost the look. The heels were replaced with flats. The suit gained a few creases. And within weeks I was moved to a new department. With this move came new commitments and new responsibilities. I had to cancel my membership with the carpool and subscribe to the world of public transportation.

This entire idea was a novelty. With public transportation came earlier travel. I define "earlier travel" as waking up at 5 a.m. to catch the 6:04 train to Boston's North Station. I then change to the subway (the "T," as all proper Bostonians refer to it).

I really believe that train stations are a prime spot for shooting sneaker commercials, and any creative marketing consultant should realize this. I always swore that I would never wear white socks and sneakers with my suit, but I broke that rule after running from the "T" stop to the train station in my heels. I now wear sneakers proudly.

September's here, and I'm wondering if I'll ever get a vacation. Well, I will. I'll get two paid weeks of vacation next year. Only two weeks? Yes, I now consider my initiation complete, and there's no turning back.

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