My alarm went off at 3:50 a.m. Today Tito and I were going to Disney World…well actually we were headed to Disney Vacation’s International Call Center in Orlando. Tito’s company had been hired to retrofit the entire building with energy efficient T5 fluorescent bulbs. This meant that Tito had to bring a crew out to the location to count the current number of lighting fixtures, insuring a proper price estimate and order size. I tagged along to get a feel for the business and to learn more about the Negawatt industry.
After a shower, and two Actimel drinkable yogurts, a favorite amongst the international crowd living in Miami, Tito and I headed down stairs to meet the troops. There was Andres, a long time friend of Tito’s family who had moved to Miami temporarily to run the operation. In December Tito’s father, Mario, had decided to refocus his own efforts on Latin America and was in the process of moving back to Colombia. This was a timely decision as Tito was almost ready to take over the U.S. business. However as Tito had one semester left at NYU, Andres was brought in from Colombia to fill the management gap. Now that Tito had graduated and returned to Miami, the transfer of power had begun and Andres was planning to move back to Colombia the following week. Also along for the ride were the company’s two electrical engineers, Felix and Nestor. Both were slow paced, Cuban immigrants in their fifties. The type of old Latino who feels his fluency in both Spanish and English means he can talk twice as much. Felix was short and droopy faced, with a brown and grey mustache. Nestor was a tall, class clown, constantly launching long-winded jokes that promised twice the delivery time for half the punch line. They were both magnificently genuine and subtly charming, and their personalities complimented one like those of two characters out of a sitcom.
All five of us piled into Tito’s Jeep Commander. As the newest and shortest member of the group I ended up with the beloved, bitch seat, and proceeded to sleep through the whole three-hour journey. Tito and Andres sat upfront and played European techno tunes all the way to Orlando. When we arrived at the Disney Vacation International Call Center, we were greeted by an over zealous and over weight girl named Brittany. “Welcome to the world of Disney,” she proclaimed. She ushered us in one by one, insisting that we each sign in and fill out nametags. Then she gave us a tower of the grounds, a 100,000 square foot, single floor, office, complete with fields of cubicles, two cafeterias, and a Disney video wall where employees could check out different Disney titles free of charge. The whole place was dimly lit, with very few windows, and over 3,400, four foot, fluorescent light bulbs.
For those that have never been to Orlando – don’t go. The city is a sprawling concrete mass, dedicated to one thing, tourism. There are scores of amusement parks catering to those in pursuit of artificial thrills. From rollercoaster rides, to water slides, to dolphin shows, the place provides every amusement-oriented cliché, with the notable exclusion of gambling and showgirls. Then there are the restaurants. Every American chain restaurant seems to have an outlet in Orlando. I counted four Red Lobsters, three IHOPs and six McDonalds, to name just a few. The streets are lined block after block, with this caloric fan fare.
And just when you thought this was the worst it could get, just when you sought refuge in the fact that, while awful, this was a place only for tourists, which meant no one was subject to it for more than two weeks a year, you discover the Disney World International Call Center, a place where people actually work and live in Orlando. Not surprisingly this is about the closest place to hell on earth that I have ever witnessed. The average weight of the employees is a hefty 220 pounds, each of which is decked out with a saccharine smile, and the classic uppity Disney attitude. They sit on an open, gloomy floor with low ceilings, surrounded by fields of other operators, for hours on end answering the calls of excited travelers planning their Disney pilgrimages. The bosses look on through large panels of glass on either side of the calling floor, keeping tabs on each of the receptionists. For encouragement sales goals are given, and those who are able to exceed these goals are published in lists posted on the hallway walls each month. Susan B. exceeded her April sales goal by 212.3%, likely bankrupting a few families in the process. For the year these over achieving sales people are treated to annual awards banquet, where those receptionists who consistently exceed their sales targets are ranked, bronze, silver, gold and platinum, and are treated to a free lunch on Disney, after which they have their photograph taken with the rest of the members of their metal stratum.
Being here was especially disturbing for me, as the fluorescently lit room, with the constant drum of single sided conversations, reminded me of the year I spent making cold calls in New York. It was just three months ago that I sat at a narrow desk, in a room with no windows, hacking away at a list of prospects, call after call. My trip to Orlando has served to highlight how far one can move in such a short period of time.