First Day on the Job

Richard - San Diego, California
Entered on February 10, 2009
Age Group: 65+
Themes: race

The Vice-President of Consulting Services called a timeout to my job interview and “directed” three senior consultants to take me “downstairs” to lunch. At this point I felt a formal job offering would be given and this was a test to see if I would “fit”.

We went to a Fred Harvey restaurant in a commuter train station. This was a mid level management watering hole during the suit and tie, two martini expense accounts lunch era. The civil Rights Movement and Equal Employment were in their infancy. I was the only Black in the establishment including visible employees. A veteran attractive forty something hostess directed us to a table in the center of the dining area adjoining the lounge. A nattily dressed man in a party of six waved off my apology for bumping his chair and complimented me for my “great tie” beaming as I acknowledged his self-tie bow tie. It was an E F Hutton moment as all eyes seemed to watch my every move. The managing consultant of my party deferred to me to order first as the tactile waitress gave her monologue containing the “specials of the day”.

I ordered straight faced, “A slice of watermelon”; there was shock as the nearby tables repeated my request to one another before exploding into laughter as I continued, “Some fried chicken with collard greens and peach cobbler for dessert”. A gray haired man at a nearby table drawled, “Hell, if you got that on the menu; cancel that damn Salisbury steak!” Another group sent a round of drinks. The manager of the restaurant introduced himself and invited us back for a comp-ed “happy hour”. The man in the bow tie gave me his business card and suggested that I give him a call when I got settled in.

Needless to say, I got the job and fellow consultants drifted in to my private office to welcome me and trade zingers with the “mad crazy” new guy (a nameplate had been prepared and was on my desk when we returned from lunch). The VP joked, “I don’t know whether we should assign you on an account or book you at the Happy Medium (a Jazz and comedy club)”.

It was not all levity for nearly every account that I was assigned broke the color line. Existing business practices stated, “you could test drive a consultant before you hired permanent staff member of color”.

Experiences such as this, living in the tough inner city, and the unforgiving military contributed to my brushes with alcoholism and the growing unknown at the time, struggles with Depression.