Today was the last time I will have to get up at 6 in the morning and drive myself the hour and a half out from here in southern Rhode Island to Plymouth, Massachusetts in order to complete an eight hour work day as an employee of Plimoth Plantation.
That is not just a statement--that is a resolution.
The "season" just ended--running from March to the last Sunday after Thanksgiving. This year, there was a lot going on that put the Plantation in the public's eye in ways we hadn't experienced in a long time. Nathaniel Philbric, for better or worse, published his book, Mayflower, to a very willing and enthusiastic audience. Our participation in "Desperate Crossing," using even members of our own staff as characters in the film, ensured that visiting the Plantation was a suitable "follow-up" to seeing the documentary on the History Channel. In short, "recognition," whether the Plantation directly participated in producing it or not, had finally started to filter in the direction of our museum.
However, as much as things may seem to be looking up in this case, so very much remains the same. The "all-hands-end-of-the-year" meeting today informed us of very few specifics when it comes to the Plantation's finances and our part in them. The staff is at an all-time low, featuring as few as 9 or 10 "pilgrims" on the Village site on some days of the week, and at the Mayflower, we are holding at the minimum of 5 staff members on most days. There are people who have not received raises in over five years. In my time alone, the "face" of the interpretive staff has changed from fairly diverse in age and gender to mostly out-of-college kids and retired people, heavy on the female side of the line.
I have been given the "things aren't going to change" lecture several times from longer-term staff there. I am certainly not tossing the dice on arguing that point with anyone. However, regardless what the museum does or whether it has done it for a day or twenty years, it doesn't make the situation right. The upper level management shouldn't be able to say that they "haven't been down in the Village all year." When the budget goes bad, they shouldn't slash three interpretive positions when the sacrifice of but one of the all-too-top-heavy administrative level would more than satisfy the deficit. If larger projects or programs come up, they shouldn't be relegated to the already-too-busy staff to do all the work and only to receive none of the credit. And if someone dedicated does things a little differently for whatever reason, and that difference benefits the organization, that person shouldn't be put in an uncomfortable situation and made to feel like an outsider for "not following the unspoken rules."
My issue, however, is more personal. I am not going to trick myself into thinking that my Plantation-pay, which may not outdo the wages earned by a local gas station attendant, is a liveable income. I am also not going to trick myself into thinking that the job is somehow more than it is. For seven and a half of my eight hours a day, I am answering the same questions over and over again, and trying to be as enthusiastic about those answers the eighth and ninth times as I was on the first. In this kind of position, you live for those moments when a visitor starts to put two and two together and ask you things that are a little more in depth and require some problem solving skill or when a visitor actually, gasp, has some background information to go on. However, you can go days without that materializing, and no matter how much you read or what you have a background in, the visitors' lack of interest puts a damper on your ability to share anything other than the basic facts. That's when you become a recording on continuous playback rather than a living, breathing person "from that time."
So, to Plimoth Plantation, I thank you for being my first "real" job out of college. I thank you for allowing me to return right after I finished my Master's degree so that I would have something to do with my time that included human interaction. I thank you for helping me acquire some real in depth knowledge and interest in this time and place. I thank you for giving me access to some fantastic people, a good number of whom I would like to keep in touch with, and subsequently, some very valuable life experience.
However, it is time for me to go, so I take my leave of you in gratitude for the advantages you have imparted on me in the hopes that perhaps someday, your "things will never change" reputation, at least on the part of your treatment of your dedicated staff, will be proven wrong.