People who give directions, explain things and solve problems for our visitors go through May with enthusiasm, June with confidence and July with autopilot on. Somewhere in the second or third week of August, in some cases much earlier, a tiny switch is flipped inside them and things suddenly are different. There is no more joy in the work, no newness, no thrill of discovery. The visitors are all hostile creatures from another planet. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, the tunnel is one big dismal loop. A loop where you have to keep running and running, chased by this busload of ... well, you've been there.
You may be reluctant to consider August yet, but it's never too early to prepare for the unpleasantness that the next month can inflict on people in the visitor industry. I am not saying the symptoms are preventable, but with understanding, planning and a good offense, they can be minimized. What can a frontliner do to fight back? The first thing is to look at "Aug!" the expletive and "August" the month. Coincidence? Realize that the paranoia you feel by mid-summer is totally justified. Everyone certainly is out to get you. And it is all about you. What I'm getting at is that you are the only one who can save you, since no one else can feel your pain. Except all the other frontliners, and they have their own problems.
You have to get proactive before what's left of your mind is turned to goop. Here's what you do. Go to the library, children's section, and check out several Hank the Cowdog books. This worked for me two years ago. After you've read them, trade for more. There is no more effective way to get your mind right. To boost this treatment, get a small notebook to carry with you and throughout the day, take it out and write down all the characters you can remember from your favorite Altman film or all the words you can think of ending in ary. If you get stuck, ask one of your customers for help. No way, you say, they'll think I'm not paying attention to my driving or what I'm saying or selling! They already know you aren't. They think you're a hostile creature from another planet and they're afraid of you. Helping you with your list will be fun for them; a trust-building thing, and they'll give you a big tip. You both win.
Another thing you can do if you spend more than a short time with your customers is write a poem with them. I tried this last year and had pretty good results. You give them a line, they write the next and you go on to create a poem together. You get mental exercise and they get to take the finished work home as a souvenir. Again, everyone wins.
I would be very interested to hear from frontliners with non-violent strategies of their own for dealing with this annual problem. You can send them to me anonymously if you want. What am I doing for mid-August stress relief this year? I'm not telling you, because if we all did it, there would be no one left to ... excuse me, doesn't anyone else see that bus? Run, it's full of ... Aug!
Nita Nettleton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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