Sunday, April 8, 2012

Life on the streets

If you're reading this I can only assume you know me reasonably well. And if you don't know me even a little I suppose you'll just have too take my word for it that I am, generally speaking, a very nice and inoffensive person. I am not, for the most part, mouthy or confrontational; I have no facial piercings or tattoos that might draw undue attention; in fact, with my blonde hair, blue eyes, and unobtrusive demeanor I am pretty much the picture of white, middle class normality. In short I am not the kind of person who, when seen on the street during the course of a regular day, would attract vitriol from passers by. People don't usually feel the need to cuss me, avoid me, or say mean and hurtful things with the express intent of demoralizing me. And yet these things continue to happen to me on a regular basis thanks to my job. For the past 6 weeks I've been working as a street fundraiser, or chugger (charity-mugger for those not in the know). And the next time you come across one of us remember me, and also remember: it's really not that hard to be nice.

You know us. You've avoided us many a time on the busy streets around your place of work or living. I don't mind. Honestly I don't even mind when people are deliberately rude to me anymore. I mostly find it amusing. The incredibly BUSY and IMPORTANT business women ("I'm on my lunch break!"); the self-righteous middle aged business men ("You know what, love? I know we all have to make a living but you are a drain on society."); or those too lazy to even bother ("Oh, um, yeah...I'm in a real...rush."). Also people seem to get really nervous when I approach them. They start spurting out all kinds of words that add up to mean absolutely nothing, and walk away with vaguely confused looks on their faces while I just stand there smirking. But despite the fact that there are a lot of assholes out there, there are also an unexpected number of incredibly nice people about too. I get told I have a lovely smile at least 5 times a day, which is always a nice little ego boost. And even though I'm not a big fan of being touched by strangers, being hugged by a cancer survivor while they tell you you're doing a great job is awfully gratifying.

The thing is, I don't think I'm the kind of person you would expect to find in this kind of job. When I tell people back in Australia what I'm doing for work they seem surprised. For one thing, I'm not really the loud, charming, attention-grabbing type who would instinctively thrive in this line of work. But on the other hand I often get told by the people I speak to that I'm the nicest chugger they've ever met, so I guess that's why I'm sometimes really quite good at what I do (I'm also sometimes terrible, but we'll just overlook that for now).

The other reaction I always get is "God, how do you do that? I've always thought that would be the worst job ever."

To be honest, I pretty much agreed with that consensus for about my first two weeks. In fact the only reason I didn't quit is because both my boss and my team leader basically guilt tripped me into staying with their constant reassurances that I would one day wake up and be good at it. Which seemed unlikely, but is in fact what happened. Mostly. On my aforementioned bad days I get a bit wrapped up in a mental whirlpool of self-doubt and frustration, but you know. Apparently life goes on (I've never been good at being just ok at things. So I guess this job is teaching me valuable life lessons. Or so I'm telling myself). Naturally there is an incredibly high volume of people who quit within a week or two of starting this job. I think the number of people who stay on works out at about 1 or 2 out of every 50 people hired. But the people who do stay are... God. I'm  not even sure. Insane? Masochists? Whatever else they are, they're quality people. At the end of the day I really like this job, partially because it's fun and partially because I'm doing a good thing for the world, but mostly because of the people. Admittedly since I've started chugging I've also started partying more and sleeping considerably less, but that's what it is to be 22 and living in London. Right? Besides, I figure my morally reprehensible extra-curricular behavior is cancelled out by the fact I'm working 5 days a week for charity.