Must Like Unreasonable Heat, Sweating, and Carving Pumpkins

“Dear Tammy, if you’re reading this in five years, and you’re still at this job … “

That was my diary entry from 2006.

At the time, I was less than enchanted with my job. Answering phones for eight hours while sweltering beneath a McDonald’s French Fry Grate. I didn’t mind answering phones, but that grate was unbearable.

Flashback to 2005. I accepted a receptionist position with Daulton* Engineering. They were bought out and name-gobbled about ten years ago by another firm.

At first, Daulton’s seemed fabulous. The ambience was inviting and modern. Glass awards lined a black mantel – boasting Daulton’s achievements. A coffee table brimmed with back issues of Maclean’s Magazines, proclaiming “Daulton Engineering, Top 100 Employers, and that’s not bad.”

Huddled in the corner was a large C-shaped reception desk. Pretty standard, just don’t look up.

Someone – probably an engineer – designed a rectangular, hanging, metal recessed lighting grate. It resembled a one-sided cheese grater. Two-inch pot lights reflected off – what resembled – the McDonald’s French Fry Grate. That stainless-steal-platinum-titanium-tin foil – or whatever – grate was a burn hazard. The grate generated enough heat to melt unwrapped chocolate. True story.

Sure, the sheen was attractive. What wasn’t attractive was a receptionist with red blotches on her pasty white skin after sitting under the grate for 15 minutes, never mind eight hours. Daulton had other lighting in the foyer, but for some reason the reception desk required an Easy Bake Oven.
Thanks to the grate, the reception area’s temperature jumped 10 degrees, leaving me with little recourse but to drain water bottles as a means of survival. When people congregated at my desk, they’d proclaim, “You’re so lucky to be up here! It’s freezing at my desk,” and they’d saunter off as I’d choke out “Help me … ”

An engineer had a solution. The grate was controlled by a five – five – light switch panel. He flicked off two lines.


I weakly replied, “Won’t I get in trouble?”

“It’s better than wilting like a French fry,” officially naming the McDonald’s French Fry Grate.

I was basking in the lower temperature when “flick, flick.” Kate*, my supervisor popped the radiation back on.

“Jim* wouldn’t like this,” she said, referring to the CEO. “It doesn’t look good when people step off the elevator.”

“Just one line,” I said. “That’s all I need. Is one line.”

“Okay. But only when Jim’s out of the office.”

“Thank you,” as I answered the phone and said in a Sahara-dry voice, “Good … afternoon. Daulton Engineering. Send help.”

Kate gave me hope. And the moment Jim disappeared behind the elevator doors, “flick, flick, flick,” went the lights. Then the castle crumbled. It was 3 p.m. Summertime. Winnipeg. And 30 degrees, outside. Sweat dripped as I reached for the light panel. With a gasp of air, I shut off all the pot lights. Mid-afternoon darkness fell over the reception desk as I collapsed over the phone.

The moment I regained strength, I heard “click, click, click.” It was Jim, a.k.a. Daulton’s Ninja. Known for returning to work unseen.  Jim methodically snapped on the lights, and then he returned to his office – without a word. Leaving my delicate tender skin to sear under the blazing heat lamp. I resorted to wearing sunblock.

“Someone’s smells tropical,” said an engineer.

“It’s French fry oil,” I said.
In February 2006, a glimmer of light emerged. An opening as the administrative assistant for the Bridges and Structures Department.

If Daulton Engineering had cliques, these were the hipsters. The cool kids. The ones who ate vegan, chocolate-mint ice cream and homemade, free-range, gluten-free chicken nuggets with organic hummus made from cruelty-free chickpeas. Of course, there were fun-bobbies in electrical and mechanical – but Bridge and Structures? Fun-bobby times 20? I wanted in!

I submitted my resume the next day. Yes, the job was mine. Bye bye, McDonald’s French Fry Grate. Burn in hell. You’re halfway there, by the way!

Bridges and Structures was awesome. My Project Manager was one of those mega social people. Each morning, he made a point of walking through the department to say “good morning” and to ask about your weekend, evening, children, golf game, sinuses (true story) etc. Before long, there’d be a hoard of people around him, talking about soccer, motorcycles, or the company baseball team.

It barely felt like work. Sure, there was editing, RFPing, learning terms and stuff. However, everything Bridges and Structures did revolved around food. Sort of like spending the weekend at your grandparents, only a bottomless care-package.

Rather than agendas for our monthly meetings, I sent two emails. One, “What would you like for lunch,” and two, “This is what we’re having for lunch.” On my 30th birthday, the group surprised me with cake. When I could eat real cake instead of gluten free. In fact, one everyone’s birthday, we had cake. Wait, didn’t someone have two birthdays? When intense deadlines loomed, we ordered pizza. What’s a Monday morning meeting without coffee and doughnuts and homemade fruit flan? I’m not a flan person, but someone made flan!

But trouble brewed behind the scenes. No one told me until I was in the boardroom. Eating Pad Thai. I’m being moved back where, when, and for what reason?

Yes, four receptionists later, the decision was made toss me back under the grate. Juggling reception and admin duties. Where I sweltered until my departure in May 2007.

Complaints aside, most of the people at Daulton were awesome. And most for a large company is darn-golly-gosh-good. I miss the lunches. The sushi. Talking about the Maple Leafs. Talking about life, family, personal lives. Decorating the office for Christmas. The pumpkin carving contests. Those Bridges meetings. Especially when Buccacino’s-pasta won the vote. I miss everyone who made my time at Daulton memorable – otherwise there wouldn’t be a blog post.

I just don’t miss that McDonald’s French Fry Grate.
*Names have been changed