It’s Saturday night and a gaggle of freshmen have just returned from a party. They tumble loudly into their residence hall lobby area. Girls hold their high heels in hand as the night of party hopping has taken a toll on their feet. Some look as if they’re becoming ill. They flash their ID cards verifying they live in the building, walk up the stairs and get on with their lives.
Meanwhile, I sit at the desk watching slivers of these people’s lives like some kind of unseen lurker. Noticing who is with whom, who has been drinking a bit too much this semester, who seems to be cheating on their partner (that’s not the boy you usually check in!) and who looks like they need a hug. I have seen people run up the stairs sobbing; I have seen people get in violent arguments. I have seen relationships form and crumble. They may not notice me, but I notice quite a bit.
I have worked at the Gillson Hall front desk for two years now. I get paid modestly to do mostly simple work: maintain the security of the building by verifying who is entering and exiting, contacting public safety if an emergency situation arises, and fulfilling other minor tasks like distributing mail and packages, checking out vacuum cleaners, and answering random questions like how late the 31 bus line runs or what pizza places are open past 2:00 a.m.
Certainly this is no one’s fault but my own, but I tend to work the craziest hours. The hours between midnight and 8 a.m. are prime sleeping blocks for most, but for my fellow desk workers and me, it’s often time to go to work. Being awake while everyone else sleeps soundly can be alienating, and walking home and crawling into bed as the sun begins to rise is just bizarre.
Surely there are numerous annoyances of having a front desk staff to monitor the comings and goings in the hall. Having to flash an ID card at someone just to enter your own home is tedious, and the requirement to check in guests is almost unbearably inconvenient. But how many have stopped to wonder how life looks from the other side of the desk?
Personally, my least favorite encounters are with those who treat me as if I am somehow sub-human. Here is a pretty typical scenario: A group of friends will come in chatting loudly. One will thrust a stack of ID cards onto my desk and without looking at me, will say their room number. I am not an idiot, so I understand they want me to check in these guests, but the common courtesy of greeting me and asking me to check in their friends seems like the proper thing to do.
But not all residents see me as a mere annoyance. With those who take the time to say hello, or ask me how my day is going, I have made some cherished friendships.
Sometimes a resident will really need to talk to someone – anyone – and maybe because I’m just sitting there with nothing better to do, he or she chooses to spill his or her life story to me: the latest heartbreak, family troubles, roommate woes. I enjoy these encounters most. Even if I never talk to this person again, it is a pleasure to connect on such a deep level with another individual, even in this somewhat unconventional manner.
Residence hall front desk workers see more then you might imagine. While we may seem like a mere annoyance in your busy day, we too are nice, quasi-normal human beings. Stop by and say hello sometime. Or at least stop giving us dirty looks every time you walk in. With that being said, can I see your ID please?
Laura Plantholt is junior media studies major and journalism minor.