William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson
nova_one

Montréal

(composed the night of April 25th)

Wow. I’ve been watching Game 3 of Detroit vs. Edmonton… it would be really nice to be in Rexall Place tonight. “Electric” doesn’t even begin to describe it. That crowd is nuts. But it’s been a while since we’ve seen playoff hockey in Edmonton. Game 3 of Ottawa thumping Tampa was a guilty pleasure. This Chris Neil character was a bit of a weasel, and he drew three penalties to set up a seven-minute power play. Two more goals were scored. Much fighting ensued at the end. It was a laugh-fest for me, and some of it made me mildly ashamed to be a hockey fan, but as I said, it was a guilty pleasure.

I’m settling in at my new job pretty well – you’re probably wondering how I’m handling the callers, and how much I like it. I can say I like the people, but about the job itself it’s hard to say, because I haven’t taken a single call. Training lasts a full three weeks (though there have been a few escapees so far, and I’d be among them and taking calls were it not for the day off I needed to go to Montréal).

My training class started with about 23-25 people. Now we have nine, plus two or three who’ve left early to start taking calls. The rest are just no-call, no-shows. It bugs me when people do that; perhaps because I secretly wish I could be so lackadaisical and get away with it.

At any given time there are four or more training classes, and they start almost every week. There’s a “career fair” practically every other Tuesday. There’s more turnover here than at a Penguins game. The sad truth is, if you start a class with x trainees, you end up with x/0.33 at the end of it all. We 1/3 got chocolate cake this afternoon. =)

This all happens because of an exchange between a given call centre and the Province. The call centre wants to make money (and get breaks and subsidies). If they offer jobs, they will get these incentives, because the Province wants people to have jobs. It makes Nova Scotia look like a better place to live. We all have more money. The economy gets a lift. Etc. etc.. So if there are so many hundred people under the employment of the call centre at any given time, the agreement is sustained.

You might think that this is a recipe for exploitation. You would be right. Let’s introduce the concept of The Call Centre Gypsy. This creature can often be found in mid-sized cities with a dozen or more distinct call centres. They operate by working at one centre for six months, then quitting. Then they go to another centre, get paid for 3-5 weeks of training, then bail, then they go to the next call centre. If your town has 20 call centres with an average of 4 weeks of training, that’s about a year and a half of work without having to take a single call!

I think it’s easier just to teach English in a crappy school in the Orient, but anyway. Unfortunately, I now have too many good reasons not to leave Halifax for more than a few days at a go.

* * *

Montréal was a blast. It was such a kooky, crazy place - uber-cosmopolitan, with a slightly Euro feel. So much French signage – I probably learned like twenty new-to-me words. Not only that, but the home of such wonderful visionary monuments to the future we thought we’d have: Montréal-Mirabel International Airport (once the world’s largest by area!), Habitat ’67 (the first and last of its kind!), Olympic Stadium (the debt will finally be paid off this year!), the Montreal Biosphère (nine bucks?!) (to name but a few detriti of the almost-future) … is bound to be a little nuts. I’d put the Metro on this list, but despite its being on rubber tires, it’s actually quite practical, and the stations are much more interesting than Toronto’s.

I arrived early in the morning on Friday, sat in traffic and wonder for a bit, then got to the hotel too early to check in. So I walked around for a bit, taking pictures, buying a map, having lunch… that sort of thing. I saw the Old Port and … what is that thing?! I wondered, half tempted to run down a random person, point wildly and ask, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” in the manner that I might announce that my house was on fire. I needed to know what that collection of building blocks across the water was. It couldn’t be real. But there it was, as if someone’s six-year-old child had designed a large concrete something-or-other, and that six-year-old’s father and 1,000 of his buddies had built it. I looked at a map. (Montréal is good at providing good maps at strategic locations and then some – I only rarely had to use my own.) “Habitat ’67.” Qu’est-ce que c’est, indeed.

Determined to investigate this monstrosity, I made plans to catch a ferry over to the island that supported it. (Later I discovered that it wasn’t on a separate island at all, and I could have walked; I’d just have to get around the grain silos.) Hmm… the ferry doesn’t open until May. That’s fair, it’s not every day in April that’s 25 degrees and sunny. In fact, I was so hot that I felt like having an ice cream! Place Jaques-Cartier sported a Ben & Jerry’s (which we don’t have in Halifax, to my knowledge) complete with a water cooler (free) and Apple Pie ice cream in a waffle cone (not quite so free).

More importantly, I saw a man in a tweed suit standing so perfectly still that I thought he must have been a mannequin. Upon closer inspection, he turned out to be a real person, the Hugger Busker. (I choose that page because it has a picture of what he looked like this particular day.)

One goofball came up and imitated him while his posse of girls took pictures of them side-by-side. That was funny. I almost didn’t have the courage* to take a picture – I might have snuck one or two, but if I knew what I knew now I’d just snap off a few without hesitation.

* - This is a polite way of saying “audacity.”

Well, not without trepidation, I stepped up for a hug. He came to life like a coin-operated robot, but with human grace. “And you have a most wonderful day, sir.” What an interesting experience. I had a little bit of a high for the next half-hour thinking about it.

My backup plan for reaching the Expo islands was by Metro. I went down near the gate to Chinatown, and I came out again on Île Sainte-Hélène. I discovered with some dismay that I had overshot my target by at least a mile – I was now on a separate island. Whoops. Desperate to see Habitat ’67 up close, I headed for the bridge back to the main island.

While on the bridge, I got some really spectacular shots of the Montréal skyline. I think I also got a sunburn, but I didn’t realize it at the time, that faint warming of the skin having been unknown to me for far too many months. By the time I reached the end of the bridge, my feet were well and truly aching.

Still, I thought it would be worth it to see this grand abandoned building. I mean, it had to be abandoned, right? Surely it can’t be used for anything? It must be some futurist’s failed experiment.

As I stepped up, I noticed that Habitat ’67 didn’t look nearly as dilapidated as it ought to. However, my hopes rose when I saw a lava lamp and elongated mock giraffe in a window.

But then I saw a paunchy man in his mid-forties step out of a door marked “201,” taking out his garbage. He looked at me.

I stepped further in…

Wow! I couldn’t believe my eyes! (Pictures will be forthcoming, but they don’t do it justice.)

(composed the evening of April 27th)

… it looked like the inside of a block fort. It was really something else. Of course, being a real-live condo complex (and lamentably not the abandoned experimental monolith I was hoping for) there were some hazards such as people walking big purebred dogs without leashes, and an irate woman on the 12th floor balcony who said “C’est bon!” to me inflected like “Tu est ignoramuse touriste!”

One cool thing about the upper levels (which I snuck onto by outsmarting the elevator – it’s probably not the most secure condo-complex in Canamerica) were the curved Plexiglas shields erected over the walkways. When you walk under them, you hear a sound effect like falling rain. They do prevent taking unobstructed shots of the lower levels, yet they make good photograph and video in and of themselves. Again, this will all wind up on willmatheson.com before too long.

So I got out of there, and guess what? Yep, I walked all the way back to the island again. By now my feet were aching, I was sticky, and I was on my second pair of batteries for the day, but you know what? That’s the price you pay for being the True Traveller. I owe it to myself to suffer for my experiences. It’s the only way to go.

Once there, and resisting the temptation to sleep on a bench, I took a gander at the Biosphère, which was a federally-run museum of water, but it seemed to be mostly aimed at kids, and it was expensive. So I kept on trekking through forest paths. I thought I’d get up to see La Ronde, but I had underestimated the size of the island, and looking back at my trek I can see I got nowhere near there. I also stopped for a rest at a soccer field, and desperate to be off my feet I sat down and pretended I was watching Quidditch, which provided about twenty seconds of enjoyment.

The Sessions

I took the Metro back to the hotel and finally met Lindsay. She came into my room and we hugged and started sharing stories. She’d been bugging the hotel staff all day about whether or not I’d checked in – I guess I should have left them my name and mobile number along with my stuff! We went out for dinner at Peel Pub, then came back for the first session and met our new groupmates and facilitators.

What can I say about the sessions? They were really valuable. You might remember how I’ve been beating myself up about my time in Ukraine. I had a good reason for this, but now that I’ve had the chance to touch base with other participants on other programs and a chance to really go deep and evaluate what worked and what didn’t in my experience and those of others, I value my experience a hundred times more than I did before. To be blunt, I was really only excited at first because of the free trip to Montreal. If it had been in Halifax, I would have been somewhat less enthusiastic. But in the end, the debriefing ended up being more valuable than the trip. I have a completely different attitude now than I did before. I also didn’t allow myself much time to adjust before, and I was generally too hard on myself. Now I’m much more comfortable with what transpired and I’m still learning the things I’ve learned. (Do you know what I mean? Most of your learning happens after an experience; the nasty catch is that you actually have to have the experience first.)

If you’ll permit me to digress, after getting back to real life and a real job, hiding in my room for two months doesn’t seem so bad! =)

Anyway, the sessions were fantastic, and we were fortunate to have outstanding facilitators (including one fellow from West Jeddore, Nova Scotia!) and great participation. We all learned so very much. We all spoke the same language, and laughed at the same things. It was like being part of a secret club. On that note, one of the other Nova Scotians said in her upbeat voice: “You know, we’re really lucky to be here! Look at all those people out there working in call centres…”

Mock-crying, I shouted, “I work in a call centre! I just started last week!” Laughter ensued.

You probably had to be there for both, but my other hit was when Darren, our facilitator, was asking us all if there was one thing we wish we had been told before embarking upon our programs:

I deadpanned, “The Russian bride thing is really just a myth.”

Silence.

Then they get it, and they’re almost falling out of their chairs.

(composed the afternoon of April 29th)

Dave

We all went to an old English pub up on Crescent and shared some ale, and Dave from my first CWY program called me. I went to meet him at the Guy-Concordia metro stop. It was great to see him and catch up, hearing his stories and telling him about what things might have been like in Ukraine if we’d went like we were all supposed to. Of course, Dave is also a great man for walking. Even at that early-ish point in the evening (around 11pm), my feet were worn and exhausted, and I groaned as Dave led me off the escalator and onto two stories worth of steps back up to street level, claiming that the escalator is for lazy people.

We walked up Ste-Catherine for a bit, narrowly avoiding all manner of crazy people. The panhandlers there were some of the most persistent I’ve ever encountered, as bad as the Gypsy kids in Kyiv. We talked about where we’d go next, and Dave mentioned a great night shot of Montréal from the other side of the canal that I ought to have. It would just involve lots of walking. Well, I can never turn down a good picture, so I agreed.

Of course we got off the metro one stop early so that we could walk past Dave’s favourite market. I later informed him that I neglected to take a picture. “Whaaaaaat?!” Dave exclaimed.

At any rate, we crossed a small bridge before walking up the south side of Canal de Lachine back towards Montreal. We walked for what seemed like an eternity. My feet probably kept me out of the best of humours, but it was a fun and memorable experience nevertheless. We went on for the equivalent of many blocks, and at Rue Wellington I finally took the pictures we’d come for. (Again, these will be forthcoming.)

Then it was (finally!) time to go back to his house and sit and relax. So we did, and it was only a short fifteen-block walk away, so I certainly didn’t make any sarcastic off-colour remarks with a sprinkling of expletives, no sir! At around 1:30 in the morning, we reached his house. Yes, that was an additional two solid hours of walking. I forgot to even ask Dave if I could sit down when we reached his room, instinctively plopping myself down on the comfiest sofa-chair and beginning to emit exhausted groans.

Dave poured me a Coors Léger and we began to chat, I in my now-raspy, languid, low voice, and Dave asking some excellent questions. But before long I was drifting in and out, and Dave offered to drive me back to the hotel. And thus ended one of the more amusing reunions I’ve had the fortune to have.

Day Two

In the morning I forced myself out of bed and into the bathroom. Having an en suite shower is just the greatest thing in the world. It wakes you up before you even have to leave your room! This was necessary, for we had a long and productive day of sessions ahead of us.

In the evening we all went to Napoli, a nice unpretentious little Italian restaurant on St. Denis. I listened to Jody, a fellow attendee, tell about her experiences in Ghana.

Afterwards, a few people wanted to see a band, but the majority instinctively plodded our way back to the hotel. I surfed through the hockey games and fell asleep before midnight.

Day Three

It rained. I meant to go to Mont-Royal in the intervening time between the end of the last session and when I needed to go to the airport, but the weather didn’t cooperate. Lindsay and I made it to a Quiznos’ for lunch, which was a surprisingly good treat, although she got soaked (but maintained it was worthwhile).

We exchanged e-mails, said our goodbyes, and coordinated our taxi pools. Lindsay and I were not originally going to stick together since our flights were over an hour apart, but with nothing to do in the rain, we went to the airport earlier than either of us planned.

Along the way I told her about a girl I knew. Little did I know how much things on that end would suddenly change less than twenty-four hours later.

There’s something unique about the Montréal highway system that bears mentioning, besides the fact that the rules of the road observed elsewhere in the civilized world are considered guidelines on said cosmopolitan island. In Montréal, pedestrians are considered fair game, and a red light serves the same purpose as a yield sign. Furthermore, there are significant stretches of Autoroute where people drive on the left. I’m serious. There’s obviously a reason for it, usually relating to the lay of adjacent streets. Still, I would never even think of designing that way, which is why I’m not an engineer, apart from my struggles in mathematics.

We had a good bite to eat at the airport, and chatted some more. I learned a lot about Lindsay and saw some sides of her that I hadn’t before. It was remarkable how hard she’d worked to build credibility in light of her very young age (at least compared to the rest of us, both on the program and at the debriefing), and I’d never appreciated that about her before. As boarding time neared, I vacuumed up the remaining freedom fries, hugged Lindsay, and started running to my gate.

Shortly after I stepped onto the moving sidewalk several levels below, I noticed something was missing. My… my backpack! Augh! And there I was, stuck, moving away from my bag and (most alarmingly) my camera. I considered leaping over the rail onto the narrow path of unmoving floor between the sidewalks, but I saw how easy it would be to get hurt. So I ran all the way to the end of the sidewalk (there were too many people behind me to take the acute route), and then all the way back down the middle, “Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me!”s I breathlessly recurred as I pounded my way back to the escalator, up a few levels, and down the finger towards the restaurant.

I looked hither and yon around where we had been sitting. Nothing. I was officially freaked out. I soon found Dave, our waiter, who said, “I have your bag!” and he shouted instructions in French to a woman near the door who reached behind her and gave me my stuff! (“I tried to find you,” Dave said, “but you were gone!”) Wow! I was utterly relieved, but I still was running a chance of missing my plane, so I exclaimed a few gasping “Thank you!”s and ran away again.

As these things usually go, I needn’t have hurried, and was among the first in line to board my flight. But it was a valuable experience nonetheless. I’d sometimes forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on.

The flight home was enjoyable, and before I knew it I was home in bed, and then back at the call centre again.

As I write this, I’m coming off of an absolutely miserable yesterday, more because of the work environment than the actual callers. I actually like helping people. I especially like the way most Americans say words like “phone.” I’ll empathize with customers all day long. But when the people I work with throw me to the dogs, disdain to offer help, and treat me like a child, that doesn’t make me so very happy. In fact, as soon as I was back in the safety of my car Friday evening, I let the tears run freely. Even today, every time I think about my job, my heart sinks. I’m sure things will get better, but a part of me will never forget this. For now I’m going to restrain myself from much elaboration, not so much because it’s against company policy for me to write anything about my job, but because once I can make my nearby superiors like me (God, I didn’t even get a chance to get their names! Dale Carnegie would be rolling in his grave!), I’ll have a change of heart.
Tags: 2006 trip, cwy, debriefing, friends, montreal, travel, work
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