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Copyright 2009-2010 by
Mary Brotherton
All Rights Reserved

Inside my Brain

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from the temp agency, asking me if I would like to be at Kennedy Space Center at 5 this morning for a one day job revolving around the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. At first, I thought “no way!” because I had heard horror stories of the traffic jams getting to and from the Center on Launch Day, but then I thought about the historic opportunity this posed for me.

My husband and I had just begun working on Lancade three years ago, when the tragic explosion of the shuttle Challenger put the space program on hold. Now, here I was being given the opportunity to be up close to the launch of a new era. AND I was going to be paid for the honor! I decided to take the job, and was told to hurry to the badging office for clearance. By the time traffic allowed me access, the office had closed – three whole minutes earlier. My contact at the Temp Office said that there was nothing they could do, but told me to show up at the Astronaut Hall of Fame by 6 this morning for another assignment – one that did not require a security badge.

So, I forced myself to sleep early last night, and this morning, allowed myself an extra half hour for travel. I should have allowed even more! I arrived at my destination just before 6am, only to find that the entrance was barricaded and there was no one to ask what options were left for me. I proceeded to the badging office and found a security guard on duty. He told me of an alternate route that would take me to the back parking of the facility I needed. Thankfully, this new route was going against the bumper to bumper traffic attempting to get to the site.

I was thinking that things were really going very smoothly, and perhaps they were going a bit too smoothly, because just as I pulled into the lane that would take me to the back entrance to the Hall of Fame, I could see that a pretty bad accident was blocking access to the turn I needed. I sat in a parking lot for about 20 minutes. I called and left voicemail with my employer explaining why I would be late reporting to duty. I called my husband, who was still asleep. Then I waited another few minutes. A policeman came along the road and told each person waiting in line that they were opening up a new entrance for us, and for me to just follow the line of traffic ahead of me. I was taken to one of the best parking spots available! I had only a short distance to walk to my destination.

Once there, I told the people who were selling tickets that I was reporting for work, and was shown where to stand with the other day laborers. Many people had been hired to do menial, physical labor, and my heart sank. I had been instructed to dress in nice, black slacks, and white sneakers –that I would be given a red polo shirt upon my arrival; I had also been told that I would be working in the gift shop. Things changed, and it seems that they really did not have a specific place for me, so I was just sort of lagging and no one was sure what to do with me. Finally, I was brought to the concessions tent and told that I was to help with the coffee. The way I helped was to point out which was regular and which was Decaffeinated. I could tell customers where the sugar and creamer were, point them to the cashiers, and tell them that they had to walk across the complex to get cold drinks, but that is basically all I did for about 4 hours today.

Then, the Shuttle launched! We were told at T minus 2 minutes to get out from under the tent and watch her go up! ALL eyes were pointed toward the east, where the platform was. A large screen projected everything live.

I watched, with thousands of other visitors who had paid to be there, as the Discovery shook our portion of the earth and vibrated the skies above Central Florida. I cheered when everyone else did, because we all knew that this was a very historic day for the Space program. Then, in a few minutes, the shuttle was out of site, and a few minutes more, the announcer told us that the shuttle had been sighted over Italy. Watching, feeling, and hearing the launch reminded me of the Epcot ride called “Mission: Space”, by far the most intense ride I have ever been on, it simulates a trip in a space shuttle which crashes on Mars.

After the shuttle launch, we were available to sell snacks for about half an hour, then we started packing everything up. Most people left, but just about the time we finished packing up, some stopped by looking for food or drinks. Traffic was still crawling at noon, when we were finishing, but it cleared up just fine by the time I was ready to leave. There were only 4 other temp workers who were willing to remain behind with me to clean up. The supervisor took our names and said that we were “Beautiful people” and he planned to call on us specifically in the future. Other than the hour drive, I would not mind working with him again.

Not only did I meet former NASA Astronaut Jon McBride , but I was honored to speak with people from all over the world today. Many told me that they had been planning a holiday in America for some time, and they felt honored to have arrived in time for today’s launch. Others said that they specifically planned to be here for this launch. I talked to people from The U.K., France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, and Japan, and some from other countries that were not identified to me.

I also witnessed a little drama in the day – yes, in addition to the drama of the launch: one of the other temp workers was caught stealing money from the register she was running. There were 4 women who had been trained to work the registers, and this one in particular may have been about 60 years old. She certainly looked that old, but it is difficult to tell. We all called her “the old woman,” when we talked about her later. She seemed to be having much more trouble with her register than anyone else, and I noticed that she seemed to be double ringing some people…this came about when one person confronted her on the problem of an unusually high price tag for his daughter's cereal and milk. She tried to tell him that the register rang the price that way and it was out of her control, that it was an automatic charge. I knew the price was half what she’d told him, so I suggested that maybe she hit the key twice. She acted dumb and said she did not know what to do. Another cashier came to show her how to void that sale and to create a new, correct one. From that point on, she seemed very flustered, and kept watching me. It seems I had “caught” her. Another cashier went on a bathroom break, and while she was gone, this old woman started hitting keys on the younger woman’s register, we think, in an attempt to open the drawer. A third cashier told Eric, our supervisor, that something did not seem right. I noticed him sitting a short distance away, just watching us. I felt like the teacher was watching students to ensure no one was cheating, and I guess I was right. He watched for over an hour as she slipped over $200 into her pockets! She continued to slip money into her pockets while two armed security guards looked on, within 10 feet, in front of her! She seemed bent on taking as much money as she could, and did not seem to even notice the guards there.

Oddly enough, only one cashier saw when she was silently escorted away. I was very surprised that she did not raise a ruckus or make any noise when she was asked to accompany the guards. Eric was very upset over this, but relieved that he had been alerted. After she left, Eric cleared out her register, and then he told us what had happened. He also thanked each of us for being honest and for helping him today. It’s nice to be appreciated.

By the time I got home around 1:30, I was pretty much wiped out. I’d worked 6 hours in the heat, but I’d been away from home over 9 hours. A short nap later and my exciting day has come to an end.