Last time we talked, I told you about the first time I got fired. Today I would like to tell you about the second time I got fired.
After finishing grad school, I had worked briefly at a commercial architecture firm. It wasn’t long before I realized that space planning offices and picking out vinyl flooring wasn’t want I wanted to do. So I went in search of a job where I could help people design and decorate their homes.
A coworker turned me on to a job opportunity with a small residential design company. I applied, interviewed, and was hired in very short order. I started the week before Christmas to help with a huge project the company was wrapping up: the design of a multi-million dollar waterfront penthouse. I would also have my own clients, laptop and flip phone, and would be going to a design trade show in Las Vegas. It was pretty much all of my interior design dreams come true.
But in that first week, I had reason to wonder if maybe everything wasn’t quite as awesome as it initially sounded. I couldn’t help but notice that everyone, while friendly enough, was really stressed out. Which made sense, everyone was extremely busy working on the installation of the penthouse design. But what I was picking up on was more than just stress. Everyone seemed a little, I don’t know, afraid maybe?
Leading the Super Stressed Out parade was our boss and company owner, a woman I’ll call Miranda. And on my fifth day, I learned first-hand what everyone was so afraid of.
That morning at the office, Miranda quickly showed me how to invoice a client before handing me a pile of papers and telling me to send her client a bill. And with that, she left to go back to the penthouse job to supervise the work being done. I attempted to do the invoice but wasn’t completely sure what I was doing. Thinking it’d be better to ask a question rather than send the client an incorrect invoice, I decided to hold off on sending it. Later that afternoon, when I was at the job site, Miranda asked if I had sent the invoice. I told her that I hadn’t and as I began to explain why, she quickly interrupted me.
“Raina, I hired you to make my life easier. I needed you to send that invoice. Now it’s going to have to wait until after the holidays,” she said, not trying to hide the annoyance in her voice.
I was a little shocked. I’d been there barely a week and she was chastising me, in front of my new co-workers, for not knowing how to do something? I looked around the room; I guess to see if anyone else thought this was weird. But the other girls had their heads down, fully engrossed in their tasks, probably wishing they were in a less uncomfortable room.
I quickly got the feeling that this kind of thing wasn’t out of the ordinary around here.
The next day I went home to Upstate NY for Christmas with my family. I tried to focus on the positives of my new dream job. We’d be leaving for Las Vegas in a few weeks. That was exciting; I’d never been to Vegas before. That would surely make up for the public chastising I’d received my first week (or at least one would hope).
When I got back to work after the holidays, every thing seemed normal enough and I chalked up any ugliness to big project stress. Things were hectic and busy over the next couple of weeks while I learned the ropes, and before I knew it, it was time to head to Las Vegas!
Now here was the deal with the Vegas trip because this is important: the company paid for our airfare and transportation, our hotel (we had to share rooms), and our ticket to the trade show. All meals and other incidentals were on our dime.
We flew in the night before the expo started. That first night, we checked into our hotel, and went for a walk down the Las Vegas Strip. The next morning, we all met in the hotel lobby and waited for Miranda to come down so that we could leave for the show. I was learning that Miranda either hated being on time or loved making an entrance. Either way, we waited for over thirty minutes before she came down to join us.
We spent eight hours browsing through the ten floors worth of showrooms, looking at the latest and trendiest in furniture, fabrics, and home accessories. When we made it to the last showroom on the 10th floor, we took a seat and waited for Miranda to catch up. We had dinner reservations that night at a not-that-fancy-but-still kind-of-expensive-restaurant and none of us wanted to go. We were tired and just wanted to go back to the hotel to be free to relax. And, more importantly, none of us wanted to spend that much money on dinner. We agreed, as a group, that we would tell Miranda that we’d rather not go out to dinner.
After what felt like a million years, Miranda finally made it to the showroom we’d been squatting in. “We’d better get going if we’re going to make dinner,” she said, as if she had been the one waiting on us.
No one moved and no one said anything. We all stared at each other in silence: no one wanted to be the one to essentially tell our boss that we didn’t want to have dinner with her. So finally, after some uncomfortable silence, one of the designers spoke up.
“I think some people don’t want to go to dinner because, you know, they don’t want to spend the money,” she said softly, praying to God Miranda would understand.
Spoiler alert: Miranda did not understand.
She was clearly offended by our desire to go back to the hotel and do anything else but have dinner with her. She reminded us how much money the company had put out for us to take this trip and implied that we were being ungrateful. Eventually, I stopped listening and started thinking about how I was pretty sure that being scolded like children wasn’t a normal thing to have happen at work.
When I tuned back into the words that were being said, someone was saying that we should probably leave if we wanted to catch the shuttle back to our hotel. It was only then that I looked around and realized that the place was shutting down around us. We were the last people in the showroom and the venue employees were clearly waiting for us to leave. As we took the escalator down to the first level, I could see that we were some of the last people in the building.
We got outside just as the last two shuttle busses were boarding. There was a long and crowded line for each bus. Miranda, still pissed because her employees didn’t want to go to dinner with her, wasn’t in the mood to wait in the line. She stormed off ahead of us, towards the line of people waiting for taxis. That line was also long. Miranda continued to walk ahead of us. She marched past the line of people waiting for taxis, towards the parking lot exit.
We traversed the football field-sized parking lot in silence. I can’t speak for anyone else but I just assumed that Miranda was taking us some place; that there was a plan. But just as we got to the parking lot’s exit, Miranda hailed one of the taxi cabs entering the parking lot. She got in the cab, called for one of the managers and a junior designer to join her, and took off. And as the cab exited the parking lot, it was followed by the last two shuttles back to the strip.
There were five of us left standing in the parking lot. We made it back to the cab stand just the last of the cabs were leaving (no, I don’t know why the cab stand guy didn’t offer to call us one). The building was locked up. Now remember this was 2007, before smartphones. We couldn’t look up the number for a cab or get directions back to our hotel. We couldn’t call an Uber. We were stranded. With few other options, we started walking. We walked for the better part of an hour when we were able to hail a cab that was driving by.
When we got back to the hotel, we all filed back to one room to discuss. As you could imagine, everyone was incensed and outraged at what just happened. There were only six of us in the room but it sounded like 30 people talking at once.
“I’m totally quitting when we get back,” said one of the designers.
“I’m going to call my parents and ask them if I can quit,” said another.
“I’m going to call my parents, too,” said yet another.
“Raina, what are you going to do?”
Suddenly, I realized everyone was looking at me waiting for me to say something. I had fallen silent a few miles back, busy wondering what the F was happening on this career path of mine.
“Guys, I’m like 30. If I call my parents and ask them if I can quit my job, they’re going to tell me I’d better have another job lined up,” I said.
Without comment, they went back to discussing amongst themselves how they planned to quit when we got back. I quietly excused myself, went back to my room, and took a shower. The next morning, I woke up feeling sick to my stomach. Our boss all but abandoned us on the side of the road in Las Vegas; no doubt we’ll have to have group talk about it. I got a cup of coffee the size of my head and went down to meet everyone in the lobby for day two. As we sat quietly waiting for Miranda, I began to dread the awkward conversation that would inevitably take place.
But as luck would have it, Miranda decided to save us the awkwardness by not bringing it up at all. She came down to the lobby and acted like nothing had happened. And what really freaked me out was that so did everyone else (pretty sure I heard one of them complimenting Miranda on her dress). We hopped the shuttle to the expo, all of the girls talking amongst themselves while I stared out the window, clutching my Starbucks cup like a security blanket. Pretending everything is cool when everything is most certainly not cool isn’t something I am good at.
It was going to be a long day.
The day went on just it had started: with everyone acting as if we hadn’t been ditched on the side of the road the night before. We wandered through fourteen floors worth of design showrooms and no one brought up the word “quit”. Later that night, we flew back to Philadelphia. Everyone got their bags, we said our “goodbyes” and “see you tomorrows” before heading to our respective homes.
The next morning, I woke up in my Philly apartment and got ready for work. I had a feeling the day would be another weird one; at some point there would have to be a discussion about what happened in Vegas. I was usually the first one in everyone morning but that morning someone had already been there. When I unlocked the door to the building, on the stairs leading up to our office were three laptops, three cell phones, three keys, and a note.
Just like they’d promised, the other designers had quit. Left their stuff on the stairs and quit.
I had worked there barely 30 days and more than half of the staff had just quit. I was the last designer standing.
What would that mean for me? Come back next time and I’ll tell you.