Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Deep South - Part 5 - Big Fish

After my spring semester ended, I was looking for a job. I went down to the Leesville unemployment office to see if they could give me some guidance. I knew I didn't want to work retail, and really didn't know if there was anything else out there.

Hanging on the wall, I found an ad for a VISTA position at the Big Brothers/Big Sisters office in DeRidder. DeRidder was the next town south of Leesville. They had a Walmart and a K-Mart in DeRidder. I had worked as a camp counselor for BB/BS in Albany for two summers and really enjoyed it. The ad said the responsibilities would be advertising, recruiting and fundraising. Three things I had never done, but it seemed to be the best available position.

VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America. It is similar to the peace corps, but you do your work in the states. Its not really a job, but they do pay you a stipend, so you can still eat. I thought it was perfect. I could earn some extra cash to supplement our minimal military money, and do something besides cashier at Walmart.

I called, and drove down the next day for an interview. There was one woman running the whole show in the BB/BS office in DeRidder, and she was one of the nicest people I ever met. I got the job, but I don't think I had any competition.

Val was the nicest boss anyone could ask for. She was always cheerful and upbeat. She made no demands, and praised me every step of the way. She was the epitome of a southern woman. Val drove a big car - a Cadillac or a Lincoln. She was always well dressed and perfectly coiffed. I went to her house once, and her driveway went on forever. I guess she really lived on a "ranch". Her house also went on forever, and looked like it came right out of "Southern Home Journal."

I was trusted to be left alone in the office and to do my job without anyone looking over me. It was great, although I had no clue what I was doing.

Val told me right off the bat that I would be helping plan a Bass Tournament to raise money. I had no idea what a bass tournament was, or how it could possibly be used to raise funds. Val told me I would meet with one of the "Bigs", Steve, who owned a resort on Toledo Bend. He hosts bass tournaments all the time and would explain things to me.

Whew, I thought I was off the hook. I was sure Steve would do most of the work, and I would just publicize it. So, I scheduled a time to meet with him.

Steve began to explain the logistics of a bass tournament. Fishermen, who apparently like to be called "anglers", pay a fee to enter the tournament. Then, they go out and fish all day. Whoever comes back with the largest fish wins. We would split the entry fees 50/50, with half going to the winner and half going to BB/BS. Sounds easy, and incredibly boring. I began to think who on earth would pay money to fish? Shouldn't we just have a car wash or something?

Steve told me I needed to go out and get other prizes for the contestants, I guess anglers like free stuff. I asked Steve, "I need to get this stuff?" I was thinking he misspoke and meant he would do that. "Yes", he said "you need to do that, this is your tournament". Oh. I would also need to get a big banner to place across the driveway of his resort. I would need fliers, posters and entry forms. This was beginning to sound like a lot of work, and all Steve was doing was providing the location and the basket to weigh the fish in (good thing he thought of that - I never would have).

So, I set out on my tasks. Being in the south, I took advantage of all that southern hospitality and charm. I asked a printing company if they would print all the fliers, entry forms, and posters for free, if I agreed to mention their name in the local paper. They agreed! They even designed them for me.

I went to Walmart and K-Mart, and asked for donations that I could give out as prizes. They agreed! They asked what I wanted. I said, "I don't know stuff people who fish would like." I got tons of fishing rods, lures, tackle boxes, etc.

Gotta love those southerners. Now, I was learning how to pour on the southern charm myself to get what I wanted.

I went to a banner store and asked for a free banner. They agreed! Plus, they came and put it up. I asked if they could put another one across the main road in Leesville, and they did. I loved driving under it everyday. Amazed, that I was the one who got it there.

I put entry forms all over the place in DeRidder and Leesville. I had Jeff put some on post. The whole time, I kept wondering if anyone would really show up for this thing.

The day of the tournament came. I had to be at Toledo Bend before dawn. I dragged Jeff with me for moral support. I was expecting a disaster and was sure tears would be involved. Jeff had just spent all night on CQ duty, so he had had absolutely no sleep. He was a trooper though.

It was pitch black when we got there, and there were already "anglers" putting their boats in the water. Steve and I collected their money and entry forms. It was surprisingly a good turnout. I guess some people really like to fish. They all set out in their boats before the sun was even up.
Now what? Steve said it could be hours before we saw the anglers again. Jeff went to take a nap in the car, and I just hung out on the beach. Every once in a while, a boat would come in. The anglers would run up to the scale with a huge fish, get it weighed, and then run back to their boat to go fish some more. I think the fish had to be alive in order for it to count.

Finally, the day was over, and time was up. I think the winning fish topped out at around 9 pounds. Whatever it weighed, it was a big fish. They don't call Louisiana "the sportsman's paradise" for nothing. The winner posed with his fish, and with his winnings. All in all a successful day. Boy, was I glad when it was over. I couldn't believe I, a person who has never put a worm on a hook, had pulled it off. I learned you can really bullshit your way through anything.

When I gave notice that I was moving back to NY, Val sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers to my apartment, thanking me for all I'd done. I've never had any other boss send me flowers. Maybe she knew what a stretch this job had been for me.

No comments: