They say you never forget your first time. Mine was so painfully embarrassing that it’s difficult to write about.
In the interest of transparency, I need to explain that this column is about my first professional interview.
Ten years ago, I owned a gray 88 Buick LeSabre and it was perfect for tooling around Iowa City. It guzzled gasoline on the highways but felt like some sort of ancient sea vessel. Both the air conditioner and heater didn’t work but I had no intention of repairing them. It was a transitory vehicle. Plus, I was very broke.
I’d driven the car to Cedar Rapids before and it seemed reliable for a car about roughly my age of 25. With a meager resume and a freshly-printed teaching license in hand, the plan was for the LeSabre to be my vessel of transportation to my first “Big Boy” interview in rural Eastern Iowa. I’d set out early from my humble apartment in the infamous Gaslight Village on Brown Street in case of any contingencies.
Between the Dodge Street and West Branch exits, I felt the car lean south; I had a flat.
No big deal. I can change a tire. I quickly realized that my situation was different.
It’s most likely that the Buick’s previous owners, like myself, mainly just drove it around town for years: church, the grocery store, Burger King, etc. No need to replace the original tires.
Upon inspection, it became obvious that the tires had somehow molded onto the wheels after years and I didn’t have the tools to remove them on me. I slunk back into the rocking Buick on the side of I-80 and made a few frantic calls from the interior, listened to an Elvis Costello CD, and waited.
An hour — and miles — later, behind the wheels of a borrowed truck, I was doing my best to navigate the backroads via directions I scrawled down on an envelope the night before. I was completely unfamiliar with the area framed by an overcast March sky.
I was lost. There was no way I could make the interview on time.
I called the office and calmly explained that I had a flat and was late but I was on my way. I imagined the secretary as the sickly-sweet personification of “Iowa nice” when she said she’d relay my message to the interview team.
“These things happen.”
I must have missed another turn because I found myself lost again. No useful directions. No friendly locals. Mounting despair. Just bare cornfields and gravel roads and none of the romanticism found in contemporary country music about those two subjects.
I called again. This time, I went straight to voicemail. I explained that I was still on my way and was very sorry.
Then I snapped.
I had tried to do everything right but you know what they say about the best laid plans.
I started punching the steering wheel as hard as possible, which caused the horn to go off as I pulled over. A few grazing cows glanced over with the expected dim-witted, vague curiosity.
The cacophony of rage that came bellowing out of me like black bile surprised myself. Vegas odds are I covered most curse words in the English language, lightly seasoned with a scattering of blasphemy enough to earn me a spot on Lucifer’s RSVP list.
It felt good. The awful day’s frustrations taken out on a steering wheel on a gravel shoulder in the middle of nowhere. Solitude. Peace.
Composed and finally with my nerves settled, I looked to the passenger seat where I left my phone.
I never ended the call when I left the voicemail. It was all on tape. Someone was going to listen to the recording of a polite young professional attempting to apologize for their tardiness transform into a foul-mouthed lunatic who sought employment with them. They might have justifiably considered revising their applicant screening process.
A smarter man would’ve said to hell with it and turn around. Drive back and fix the Buick and forget this horrible situation. I’m not that man. I had come too far to turn back now.
I knew I didn’t have a chance at the job. This was obvious when I finally got to the building and introduced myself to the secretary whose face made it clear that she connected my voicemail to the mid-twenties neurotic man with wild eyes wearing an off-the-rack suit from Younkers standing in front of her.
There’s a sort of liberation in apathy. I don’t recommend it as a creed to apply to many aspects of life, but it works in certain situations. In a phone call a few days later, they said I interviewed well but went with another candidate: I imagine they were most likely more qualified, punctual, and didn’t scream profanities in the presence of cows.
Find out more about Jon on our Contributors’ Page.