Articles of Frustration: Part Seven – A Flying Start

no job here

August 10, 2014

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon when my flight touched down in Vancouver.  I travelled light – just one suit bag filled carefully with business attire.  I wore casual clothes on the flight and for the rest of the day once I had landed.  For my plan to succeed, I could not afford to wait for checked baggage.  I disembarked the plane and made it to downtown Vancouver with a minimum of fuss.  After checking into my hotel, I hung up my suit and had a nap.  A little later on, a close friend of mine (also a law student) visited me from Tsawwassen and we spent the day together.  We walked along the waterfront, got dinner and generally tried not to talk about my interview (for my sake more than for hers).  She was good enough to walk with me to the building where the next morning’s interview would be held.  We parted ways at about 8:30 PM and I returned to my room.

In retrospect, it was very difficult to prepare thoroughly for something that depended so much on luck. I knew that I could have the greatest interview of my life on Monday and still screw up colossally if I did not catch my flight to Toronto.   I sat at the desk in my hotel room and jotted down some insightful (albeit brief) questions to ask my ICBC interviewers.  In order to keep an eye on the time without resorting to looking at my phone, I had made sure to bring along one of my father’s old wristwatches.  I wondered if I could angle the watch just enough to avoid tilting my head to look at it whilst simultaneously answering interview questions.  I also wondered if I would have to endure the unique agony of cutting my own interview short in order to dash for the airport.

Realizing that my deep pondering had devolved into a paranoid loop, I put my pen and paper aside.  I gave my suit one, last inspection before I shut the lights, climbed into bed and tried to think of anything else but the insane rush that the next day would bring.  Try as I might, all I could do was repeat my schedule for August 11th in my head:

“Leave hotel at 8:30 AM.  Get to ICBC 15 minutes early.  Hope that interview starts earlier than 9.  Leave at 9:50 AM and no later.  Catch either a train or a cab to YVR.  Get to security, pass it, get to flight gate by no later than 10:45 AM.   Get to cocktail party in downtown Toronto by  7:30 PM EST.  Leave at 8 PM EST and go home.”

The more I repeated it, the more I realized just how much could go wrong from even a small delay.  I eventually drifted off to sleep, tucked into bed, while visions of articles danced in my head.

August 11, 2014

Everything started off well.  I awoke with my alarm and I showered, dressed and left my hotel on time.  I had selected my hotel (like in Edmonton) to be close to my interview site.  I walked briskly to the ICBC building, willing my body to avoid producing noticeable sweat in the midst of August.  I arrived by 8:40 AM without incident and announced my arrival to a receptionist.  I was hoping beyond hope that my interviewers were early risers who had already gotten to the office and were eager to move ahead of schedule by interviewing me early.  Instead, the receptionist cheerily informed me that my potential employers had yet to arrive and to have a seat.  My blood pressure rising, I sat uneasily in the waiting area.  My eyes were glued to a wall-mounted clock above the receptionist’s head. The prospect of running out of this interview early appeared more and more likely.

With some exceptions, articling interviews tend to be between 45 minutes and a hour in length.  This meant that, should this interview start any later than its scheduled time of 9 AM, I would be hard pressed to leave by 9:45 AM and make my flight.  Leaving an interview prematurely, meanwhile, is akin to saying “fuck all y’all” to your interviewers and flipping them the bird.  While this was undoubtedly an entertaining prospect, I have never yet been in a position where I could treat my interviews with a laissez faire attitude.  At 9 AM exactly, one of the two interviewers appeared from a back office, introduced himself and led me to a conference room.  Once there, he introduced me to his fellow interviewer and we were off to the races.

ICBC itself is an interesting mix between a private corporation and a government department.  Like many large corporations, the job interviews are a scripted affair that include many behavioural questions.  Both of my potential employers had booklets from which they asked questions and jotted down my responses.  Each time I thought they may have reached the last page, they flipped a white sheet and revealed yet another.  This must have happened at least ten times.  It seemed obvious  to me that someone had fooled with my wristwatch; there was no way the minutes could have been passing that quickly.  Before even ten minutes had seemed to have passed, it was 9:40.  I skirted an insanely fine line between answers that were rushed and answers that would cause me to miss my plane.  Just as I was about to open my mouth and announce my intention to leave, the question booklets mercifully came to an end.  I quickly blurted out a few of the questions that I had jotted down the night before and pretended to listen to the answers.  At long last, my interviewers thanked me for coming in, wished me luck and advised that they would be in touch with me by Thursday of that week.  I shook their hands and made my way leisurely to the elevators.

Once the elevator doors opened on the ground floor, I bolted.  Suit bag in hand, I sprinted down West Georgia Street in the heart of Vancouver.  I ran as hard as I can, debating whether it was best to hail a cab or take the commuter train to the airport.  The cab would probably be faster overall, but was subject to morning congestion.  The train would travel at a slower speed, but would likely not be competing against other traffic.  Saying a quiet prayer to Xenu, I sprinted onto a departing Skytrain just as the doors were closing.  It was about 10 AM at this point.  My flight departed at 11:15 AM.  Of course, I had no time to purchase a Skytrain ticket prior to departure.  I hoped that this would not be the day that I was inspected for proof of purchase.  Luck was with me, for a time.  The train was neither inspected nor delayed.  I got to Vancouver International Airport by about 10:20 AM.  Although my flight was departing at 11:15, I had to be at my gate by 10:45 AM.  I could only hope that the line for security would be minimal.

I ran through the airport until I got to the appropriate security gate for my flight.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I noted that there were only a few people ahead of me in line.  I proceeded through security with no problem and ultimately made it to my departure gate with ten minutes to spare.  Even better, the gate agent informed me that a family needed my single seat and that I was, therefore, bumped to first class.  Never having flown in such style, I was very excited.  I allowed myself a moment of mingled pride and relief.  I had made it.  Against most odds, I had finished the ICBC interview (which I believed had gone well) and made it to the airport in record time.  All I had to do was keep to my schedule once I landed in Toronto.  With my flight scheduled to touch the runway at 6:37 PM and the cocktail party running until 8 PM, I expected that I could get to the party by about 7:20 PM.  I would then get a chance to mingle for a bit and be prepared for an interview with that same firm the very next morning.  Still, I reasoned, the most rushed and stressful part of my journey was over.

A common theme of these memoirs is me counting my chickens well before they are hatched and looking like an idiot for doing so.  You’d think that I’d have learned by now.  Alas, I am not particularly bright.  I had, again, made the mistake of jumping to favourable conclusions well before it was appropriate to do so.  The unforeseen circumstances in this case involved poor weather.  Somewhere over northern Ontario, a storm system caused my flight to divert from its original course and added about an hour to the originally scheduled flight time.  This was not made clear to us passengers until the last two hours of the flight.  Consequently, I landed in Toronto at just after 7:30 PM EST.  The cocktail party, if you recall, was scheduled to run until 8 PM.  Pearson International Airport is, in fact, not very close to the downtown core.  You are looking at a minimum of 20 minutes by car in ideal traffic conditions.  Traffic conditions when my flight landed and shortly thereafter were not ideal.  Still, I knew that I had to give it a try.

Sprinting through my 2nd international airport of the day, I ran out to the taxi stand and quickly hailed a cab.  Telling him to step on it (whilst hating myself for using such a sad, tired cliche), I realized that my only salvation would come in the form of the party going late.  I knew that some of these law students included brownnosers of exceptional verbosity.  It MIGHT be that the party went late due to people of this kind.  If so, I could at least make a brief appearance and perhaps tell one or two people about my harrowing travel experiences in an attempt to garner some goodwill.  Of course, I obviously could not tell them why I was flying in from Vancouver or what I had been doing there.  I decided to invent a wedding that I attended in Kelowna as a plausible excuse.

With these lies feverishly formulating in my head, my taxi finally pulled up to the Richmond-Adelaide complex of buildings in the heart of downtown Toronto.  The firm’s offices (as well as the location of its cocktail party) were just a few dozen stories above me.  I paid the cab driver, grabbed my suit bag and jogged across the street.  It was 8:05 PM.  I was in such a rush that my brain did not register the two people (concierge and suited man) that I rushed past in the lobby.  I hammered the elevator call button and dashed inside the lift as soon as the doors opened.  I hit the button for the appropriate floor and waited.  Nothing.  I hit the button again.  The elevator did not move or shut its doors.  I think I realized, then, that the game was up.

I walked back to the lobby and approached the concierge.  She was in the middle of a conversation with the suited man.

ME:  “Excuse me.  I’m trying to get up to the 16th floor and the elevators don’t seem to be working.  Is there some way I could still get up there?”

Before she could answer, the suited man piped up.

“Oh, are you trying to get to the firm cocktail party on the 16th floor?”

My hopes lifted and I replied in the affirmative.  The suited man gave me a grimace.

“I’m afraid the cocktail party has just ended.  Everyone’s left and I wouldn’t recommend going up to the offices at this point.”

I am usually fairly good at concealing my emotions, but I probably failed totally at that juncture.  I did not say too much in reply before the suited man introduced himself as a current articling student of the firm and offered to take my name back upstairs and let the firm know that I had at least made it to the lobby.  I realized that this was probably better than nothing, so I accepted his offer and thanked him.  Tail firmly between my legs, I stepped back out onto the street.

After the entire ordeal of rushing across the entire country, it was a patch of bad weather that had done me in.  As I mentioned previously,  a particularly ugly detail of all of this is that I had confirmed my attendance at the cocktail party that I had just missed entirely.  It would have been slightly different if the party was an open invitation and I had failed to make an appearance.  Instead, I had foolishly agreed to make myself present for something and then failed to appear whatsoever.  I stumbled to Toronto’s Union Station and typed out an e-mail on my phone to the firm’s hiring coordinator.  I apologized profusely for my absence and emphasized that I still looked forward to meeting them the next morning.  As if I needed anything else to go wrong, the interview with that firm was going to be at 9 AM.  In other words, there was virtually no chance that this gaffe would be forgotten in the flurry of interviews that would go on with other candidates throughout the day.

I did not have a lot of time to mope, however.  I had four interviews and at least two cocktail parties to gear up for on August 12th.  I caught a train into Mississauga and called ahead for my mom to pick me up.  I told her the entire story as we waited in the drive thru at McDonald’s.  If nothing else, at least the Big Mac tasted good on August 11th, 2014.



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