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The Graduate

A fluke

Jacqueline Quillen

(Jan, 2011) I pay very close attention to routines; not in a sense of following a routine, but rather falling out of the routine – disturbances to the routine. A fluke!

When I use the word routine I am not restricting its meaning to simply transportation, but rather including all types of schedules, rituals, habits, etc. It’s a matter of consistency that we unknowingly adapt to as we go through life. If we find a way of doing something that works, we keep doing it that way. People adopt a sense of consistency to produce quality results.

Flukes happen often and things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes this is the best way to learn a lesson. Other times a fluke in the system is just a giant kick in the rear.


The not-so-flawless spell check

It’s time to distribute a press release noting an attorney’s very distinguished achievement, probably the most important achievement in the entire world. I double-check the e-mail for all the required parts – subject, text, picture, correct e-mail addresses – and it’s ready for distribution. All I have to do is click send with my right index finger.

When I click send, the final spell check automatically pops up, like usual, and highlights last names, unfamiliar words and acronyms that it thinks are spelled wrong, but that are, in fact, spelled correctly. I go to select ‘Ignore All’ to bypass spell check, only my hand jerks suddenly the moment I click, causing me to accidentally select the option right below – the ‘Change All’ button.

The e-mail disappears from the screen – meaning it was sent – so now all of the managing editors of prominent publications are seeing a new e-mail notification on their screen from yours truly. They open the e-mail to find a press release noting "Malaria voted Best of 2010," and find it odd that a disease would receive such an award.

My unsteady hand made spell check change an unrecognizable last name to a disease. I curse spell check and quickly resend the e-mail with a big ‘REVISED’ noted in the subject line. Once I click send, spell check comes up again and highlights the unrecognizable last name. In the event of another unsteady hand fit, I decided it best to add the name to the dictionary so that spell check skips the word entirely. Then I prayed that the attorney would never find out my mistake of calling him a disease.


The Quiet-Ride Car

"Ladies and gentleman, this is the quiet-ride car," says the conductor as he walks through the aisle collecting tickets. "There will be no cell phone usage in this car," – his intermittent pauses are filled with the sounds of ticket-punching – "and please keep all conversations to the lowest possible whisper." Snip, snip-snip, snip. "Once again, this is a the quiet-ride car," – snip, snip – "next stop, Darby."

The conductor makes his way out of the quiet car and into the next car before the next stop. When the train reaches the next station the conductor repeats this announcement of the quiet-ride car to the passengers on the boarding platform, then to the passengers in the quiet-ride car and finally to all passengers via intercom. By the time I travel the 50 minutes from the city to home I hear this announcement a total of 15 times. He varies the language each time he makes the announcement, but the message stays the same – be quiet in the first car. We get the point!

One day on my commute home I sat in the quiet car intending to get some work done. My phone rang and I answered it without thinking twice about it. My train buddy called to see if I was done work yet. The connection was a little fuzzy so I spoke louder and clearer her to better understand me. I told her I was already on the train and proceeded to discuss my transportation schedule for the rest of the week.

I hung up the phone and suddenly realized how quiet it was. I gasped when I just remembered I was in the quiet car. My first thought was to apologize to the people around me because I felt completely innocent. I hesitated for a few quick seconds and then looked around to find dirty looks from the people surrounding me. I decided against the apology as I had already talked enough for one quiet-ride car and I’m sure no one wanted to hear another peep out of me. I decided to keep my mouth shut, and turned back around and sunk lower into my seat, trying to become invisible.

My phone rang again. This is my chance for redemption! I answered in a whisper that was quiet enough to respect the silence of the car but also loud enough for the people closest to me to hear. I whispered to the person on the phone, "I’m on the quiet-ride car so I can’t talk," and hung up. That was my way of telling everyone, "I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it."

Luckily that was not the usual train I take home so I won’t have to show my face to the people who probably refer to me as "The loud one with the phone."

I was the fluke in the system on the quiet-ride car that day.

About a week later I took an earlier train to work in the morning and again sat in the quiet car to get some work done. On this particular day the train happened to be short one car so every seat was filled. In addition to the car shortage, a group of high school students boarded the train for a field trip into the city.

The conductor announced that the quiet-ride car is no longer in effect due to the additional passengers and shortage of cars – the flukes in the system. Some of the regular "quiet-ride riders" did not appreciate this fluke and they were not afraid to speak their mind about it. Those angry riders probably made the high school students feel somewhat unwelcome.

I’m glad I wasn’t the fluke in the system that day.


A job well done

Not all flukes have to be bad ones. My primary job is to track news clippings that mention attorneys or the firm and to promote such clippings on our web site. I tell the attorneys about their press coverage and then post the clippings to their bios. Most attorneys respond with the typical one-word "thanks" e-mail or don’t respond at all. One attorney, however, took the time to call me and thank me for simply doing my job. He was so impressed by my initiative to beef up his bio. A simple thank-you phone call went a long way.

It just proves that people make all the difference in the world.

Read other articles by Jacqueline Quillen