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September 6th, 2018

Sunset Appreciation

About five years of my working life, I've worked in call centers. If things go as I hope, I will no longer add to that; I often found call center work frustrating, with unreasonable customers I had to deal with or unreasonable (or at least arbitrary) rules I had to follow. Even after doing it for three years at the Vesta call center, which at the time was in downtown Portland, it was hard to feel like I was doing a good job.

A mitigating factor was, I usually felt OK or good about my fellow staffers (except in 2002 when I worked in Vesta's fraud detection/prevention department and realized certain people in the main room of the call center felt we...made their jobs harder, I guess? So they resented us, I guess? I barely understood at the time, and that was 16 years ago). You can feel under siege in a call center (and not just on the two days in 2001 that broke records for the most attempted phone calls ever*) and it helped knowing you could vent with co-workers. I got off shift at Vesta one night in 2003, after dealing with a lot of customers who'd fought with me making it harder to do my job, and I sat down at the station where a supervisor I knew worked, and told him, "My sense of humor has been beaten out of me."

It's a weird world, the world of a 24-hour call center. Always at least a dull roar of calls, with your main connection to the outside world being a monitor saying how many callers are on hold waiting for a rep, a bare minimum of art or anything else on the walls to look at, the waiting at slow times for calls that could come at any time so you'd better not be distracted, though at least you could bring a book. And that particular office, in a part of the Old U.S. Bank building near the north end of downtown Portland, surrounded by taller buildings, meant one particular thing that's on my mind at the moment:

I missed a lot of sunsets.

Especially in 2001, when on some days I worked until 7:30 p.m. and at least once a week until 10:00 p.m. (Some other days, I'd start as early as 6:00 a.m. My shifts could be as short as three hours or as long as eight hours.) I was in there as night descended, but even with large windows facing northwest, I'd only see hints of sunset colors. Mainly I saw shadows and indirect light. Most angles I could see just showed me more buildings, like the fancy hotel across SW Broadway.

I know, sunsets happen, on most of the Earth, every night. (I know the Arctic and Antarctic Circles are exceptions, you don't need to mention that, and by the way Vesta had customers in Barrow, Alaska above the Arctic Circle, I talked to one once, she was funny). I've seen a lot of them. I've missed plenty of them. But in 2001 I started to notice I was missing them, so to speak. And no sunset is ever exactly like any previous one, depending on clouds and atmospheric haze and the sun's position in the sky; most of the time, a sunset will be striking in some way.

I hope to see plenty of sunsets. And sunrises, when I wake up early enough.



* The second of the two record-breaking days was, of course, 9/11. Before that, the previous record-breaking day was Feb. 28th, 2001, because lots of people called us in the Northwest worried that the Nisqually Earthquake was bigger than it was and that the Oregon Coast had suddenly moved 100 miles inland, or something.