There was a war going on. A friend was in the Army, in the middle of the action. He could have backed out after September 11, but it only strengthened his conviction.
There were gaps in my work history. I figured it would be good to do some volunteer work–to have something to put on my résumé and to get a good reference. I got the United Way book of volunteer opportunities. I called several charities. It’s amazing how challenging it is to find a place that’s interested in free labor.
I called the Appomattox Visitor Information Center. They were delighted to hear from me. I figured that since I’ve lived in the area for quite some time, I could do a reasonable job. I dressed like I was going to an interview, and brought my hopeless résumé. The very nice elderly woman in charge asked if I knew it was a non-paying position.
She threw me to the wolves. My first shift was on a Saturday afternoon. It was near the peak of the tourist season. The desperation began when I got there—I arrived fifteen minutes early, so the morning shift lady went home fifteen minutes early.
The first question I got was, “Why did they sign the surrender at a private residence instead of the Courthouse?” I could only say, “This is my first day, I don’t know much about the Civil War.” Some woman said, “That doesn’t make much sense.” There was nobody but me holding down the fort. If there was someone else I could ask to take charge while I went home, I probably would have made the imposition. (They wanted to work out the details on neutral land—also, it was Sunday and the Courthouse was closed.)
I ended up taking the Friday afternoon shift. There was a nice woman named Tina who worked at the Chamber of Commerce office in the rear of the building. There was a small television in my work area. I was able to get a channel where I could get some information about the war. I would sporadically give Tina updates.
Mostly, my job consisted of helping middle class white people have nicer vacations in the hope that they would throw some dough into the local economy. If the Visitor Center couldn’t fill all the shifts, they would lose funding.
There was a world map on the wall, and visitors could put a pin designating where they were from. Most countries had at least a couple of pins. A family from Hawaii came in one time. It’s mindboggling that people from Hawaii would vacation in Appomattox! Two guys from somewhere in Europe were driving around, and they thought Appomattox was a neat word, so they followed the signs to the Visitor Center. I gave them the bullet points of the American Civil War and a map to the National Historical Park.
The people I worked with were good people. They doubled my salary a few times. I eventually started calling in sick to go fishing. The Visitor Center and I parted on good terms. This experience hammered into my brain that I don’t have the temperament for working with the public. The work experience and the good reference were useful, though.