Last weekend, I was a volunteer at the LA Times Festival of Books. As much as I hate to admit it, I like the festival at USC better than the layout at UCLA. I love my Alma Mater, but when you’re running around lugging heavy boxes and simply exhausted from standing at different booths all day, it’s nice not to have to tackle one more hill and to have a few more places to sit. That said, it’s easier to find food in Westwood than it was at USC, so I suppose there’s the trade off.
I volunteered throughout the festival. My husband’s theater company, DOMA, had a small booth where I helped (read as: was unpaid labor) to stuff freebie bags, tell passers by about the upcoming season and let people know about the chance to win season tickets in exchange for joining the mailing list. This took up about three hours Saturday morning and most of the afternoon on Sunday. Working a booth is a lot like working the circulation desk, you smile, you have certain amount of information or goods you can offer, you answer a lot of questions and send the patron away, hopefully with what they wanted. As I was talking with people coming up to the booth I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was better at doing the please give us your email address talk than my husband and some of the young office interns and actors who came to help out. I didn’t stick to a particular script but I had points I knew I needed to hit and I made sure the person I was talking with had a bookmark with the company’s website and info so they could find any information I’d missed by themselves later.
After a few hours at the DOMA booth, I was volunteering at the Reading to Kids booth trying to convince the book-loving public that they wanted to share this love of reading with children on the second Saturday of every month or so. Believe me, this is a tougher sell than it sounds but it’s a great program, I’ve been with them for nearly four years and if you’re in LA let me know you can come read with me at Magnolia or track me down with any questions you have. The booth was being manned by myself and a few other volunteers. Everyone had a different style when approaching people walking by. Two girls would wait for people to approach them, another would walk up to anyone nearby and ask if they were interested in a “FAN-t[ah]s-TICK” volunteer opportunity (I can’ t quite get the inflection in print).
About forty minutes into this one of the staff members dropped by to see how we were doing. I’d worked with her over the campus holiday closure getting some computers ready to be donated. Somehow by my doing this I became one of her go-to computer people. She said she knew I was good at computers and wanted to know if I could install some RAM in one of the towers and if so when I’d be available to help. I always have some trouble (except on resumes, in which case I’m great at all forms of technology, especially if you’re a hiring manager) saying I’m good at computers because for me good is a relative term. I went to school with some of the best and the brightest in the state if not the nation and so I usually fell somewhere near the middle or upper middle of any spread of skills. Compared to my physicist friend, I am okay in math. Compared to my friend the baker, at least I can make something edible. But I have a problem separating good from being the best, I am competent at many things but I have much still to learn – how much do you need to know to be good at technology? In the case of working with this organization, I’m the computer person because I can do the job well, if not in the most elegant fashion, and because I can be depended on to show up.
The last part of my Saturday was spent in one of the information booths for the festival. I was helping people with any and all questions. Most of them were directional – I’m hungry, where’s the food, where’s the children’s section – and I was very happy that I knew how to read a map. The map wasn’t great, it made the campus look much more spread out than it actually is, but it was what I had to work with. We had two USC students in the booth with us, which helped with answering questions like where’s a drinking fountain or where is the Kinkos (things not on the map). Again, compared to the two USC experts I was not the best at helping all of the people looking for information, but I knew enough to know when I needed to refer someone. Not a bad way to earn a free t-shirt.