Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Off-Site Interactions, or How NOT to Address a "Pilgrim" Who Is NOT on the Clock

Half of my first day at Plimoth Plantation was spent in the company of the "Billington" family, which was comprised of Goodwife Billington, played by Cindy Brewster, and Goodman Billington, played by Rick Currier. Cindy moved away within months of my arrival, and I only wished I could have gotten to know her better. Rick, on the other hand, left only months before I did. He always had a lot of practical wisdom--I remember his one liners very well about how to cope with the job. For example, New England summers can be awfully hot and humid, and once one finally dons the burlap-lined pilgrim suit, it only then comes to light that those clothes will also be worn when it is ninety degrees out as well as at a comfortable fifty. The first thing he ever said to me was "Don't psyche yourself out," and to this day, whenever I am sitting out in the blazing sun covered in five layers of wool while visitors mill around in bathing suit tops, I can hear that line run through my mind.

He also suggested that "getting dressed twice" in the morning was rather impractical. Most of the interpreters come to work, change into costume and then change again before heading home at the end of the day. I was among them for a long time when I thought about what Rick said and considered the practicality of coming to work already in costume, eliminating the need to show up fifteen minutes early just to put it on, then walk all the way on site. It became even more useful for me to make this choice when I started elongating my drive in the morning. When I was living in downtown Plymouth, literally a walk from work, time wasn't much of a problem. However, since I am driving in from home and competing with who-knows-how-many idiot motorists who think tailgating you will make you drive faster no matter how many cars are lined up in front of you, dressing before work seems to be the best option.

This, of course, leads to other inconveniences. When you walk around in the costume, you end up falling into the same category in the minds of onlookers as homeless or handicapped people. The inevitable "what do you do now?" question runs through their heads as you pass by, and you can almost see the text of the inquiry as it makes its way from one ear to the other.

Some look away and "pretend" there is nothing odd about you.

Some smile, then move on in a quickened pace so not to wreck their moment of politeness for the day.

Then, there are the parents with small children who see you pass by, give that overemphasized "gasp" to get the attention of whatever tot they are leading by the hand, and then, bend down to their level, pointing in my direction with a peer-acted, "fascinated" tone of voice, saying "Look at the pilgrim" the same way they said "Look at Mickey Mouse" the last time they visited Disney World.

Some people stop you to ask you to take a picture with their friend or their kid. This is a very normal occurence while we are on-site, but after work or if we are on break, it just serves as a reminder that to the vacationing public, you are still working no matter what the break schedule is on the wall. My reply has always been to say that the Plantation does not allow us to pose for pictures off-site and when we are not fully in costume (and pieces do come off at break time), which is a complete lie, but in a way, it is more polite than to acquiese to their demands and then stand there, on-edge and obviously annoyed while someone snaps the picture.

Some start up a conversation with you. Now, this is a very nice gesture and it is always great to meet new people, especially those who have done or do similar work. However, when the day is over, most of us just want to get into our cars and leave because all we do is talk all day. Some of the conversation starters know this and talk to us for a few minutes before letting us get on our way and they on theirs. However, others expect a run down of all of the "behind the scenes" footage you can give them once they catch you after five o'clock, especially if you had spoken to them in character at some point at the museum before it closed that day.

Then, there are particularly odd moments. On my way out the other day from work, while walking to the car, I called home to inform everyone that I was going to attend a rehearsal instead of drive back right away. About half way to the car, a vehicle passing on the other side of the road actually came to a dead stop over a crosswalk, the passenger-side window came down, and traffic in downtown Plymouth was momentarily brought to a hault because a woman felt the need to yell "Hey! Pilgrims didn't have cell phones" and then laugh at this soundbite of witty hilarity.

On another occasion, I stopped by a local convenience store to pick up a few things before starting the drive home, and as I was standing in line having my items checked out, I felt someone behind me pressing onto the upper pleats of my petticoat. I turned around hastily to find a woman standing there, actually poking away at my skirt, and given my sudden attention to her, having to say "There is NO WAY those can be your hips." I was rather baffled--costume or no, the action was more than a little rude. I replied "Well, yes, you're right, but normally people don't poke me to find that out." She recoiled back, implying that perhaps I had actually been the rude one there when if I had suddenly thought to do that to her, I probably would have been court martialed for physical harrassment.

The best off-site-yet-costumed interaction I ever had involved a police officer who pulled me over for speeding on Route 6 coming off of Cape Cod. I was late for work on a Sunday with literally no other drivers on the road, and I was certainly pushing the envelope a little bit. Before I could pass Exit 5, I saw a cop sitting over a hill, well positioned enough that by the time I saw him, it was too late for me. He pulled out after I passed, and I stopped in the breakdown lane. He came up behind me, stopped his car, got out, and approached my driver's side window. In the minute or so that passed, I thought about what he might say upon finding a pilgrim in the car that was inevitably going to get fined. When he came to the window, he asked for my lisence, told me how fast I had been driving, processed the information, presented me with the ticket, and then, got right back into his car and moved on. I may have earned myself a three hundred dollar speeding fine, but he didn't say a single word about where I worked or what I was wearing.

If only everyone would treat us just like everyone else...


booda baby said...

:) It's a good thing you're a scholar, because you have NO future at all as a modern day celebrity.

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Nihilistic said...

I often look away and pretend there is nothing odd about people.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Perhaps the cop has booked a lot of Pilgrims?

anonymous jones said...

The cop probably thought you were an escaped Amish woman or something!

Matt said...

ha! So when these tourists get their pictures back, they think, "That's one pissed off pilgrim!"