I don't think I'm going to preface this chapter with anything else other than: Enjoy!
And as always, thank you for reading :)
I drummed my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel growing increasingly more agitated with every passing minute.
Why did traffic have to be unbearably slow on my first day of work in a city that I was unfamiliar with? Sure, I was used to seeing traffic but not exactly used to being stuck in it. Public transportation had its perks when you lived in a major metropolis like New York City, but Pittsburgh? Apparently people still drove here- crazy as the idea actually seemed.
The radio switched to a commercial advertising half-price specials on turkeys for Thanksgiving and I remembered, almost painfully, that I wouldn't get to see the Macy's Day parade in person this year. Also, instead of buying my turkey from a butcher in Brooklyn, I would be just another person buying a turkey from some place called Giant Eagle.
I wasn't in New York anymore. An unfortunate fact that I had to keep reminding myself of. What had my mother always told me? "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Since everything seemed to be coming up lemons lately, I had no joice but to salvage what I could of my wrecked professional and personal life and try to start anew.
After what seemed like forever, I located the street I was supposed to take, thanks to my lovely GPS system, and pulled into a hugely crowded parking lot. As I stared up at the Mellon Arena, my heart clenched at the fact that I would be working here, in sports, rather than at the shiny office building that had been my home for the past year and a half since graduating from NYU.
I had never done sports-related PR before so the 'Stanley Cup Champions' banners practically dripping from the walls of the arena were almost intimidating. Too bad I already knew what celebrities and corporate executives were like and none of those people were usually intelligent enough to intimidate me. My job was just to keep them in line and make sure that the public loved them. It was business- they didn't have to like me and I didn't have to like them. We just had to have a functioning working relationship.
After taking a quick look around at the the banners inside the long stretch of hallway inside the arena, I spotted the same office where I had gone to for an interview and walked inside hoping to find anyone that could direct me where to go. I spotted a receptionist who was busy smacking her gum and talking to someone named "Frankie" on the phone. Judging by the amount of butterfly clips in her hair and the cat dressed as a turkey on her sweater, I guessed that they weren't really big on being formal around here.
"Hi, I'm Ava Weston" I said holding out my hand to introduce myself. "I'll be working in PR but I wasn't quite sure where to go."
She looked at me in confusion and stared down at our joined hands. I let go when I realized that her hand had gone limp in mine. What? Were handshakes foreign here?
"Nice to meet you Ava. Why don't you just take a seat and I'll let someone know you've arrived." She gestured to a row of seats in a waiting area and I sighed taking a seat and setting my bag down beside me. There were pictures everywhere of the so-called 'Stanley Cup Champions.' My eyes lingered on one photo in particular of one of the players holding a trophy and giving the camera a sweaty smile. He looked exactly what I imagined all hockey players to look like: big, sweaty and missing more than a few brain cells.
Better get used to it. They're your new clients.
I smiled my best 'nice to meet you' smile when a man approached me with his hand outstretched. Finally something I understand!
"Ava? I'm David Pierce, head of the PR department here for the Penguins."
"It's nice to meet you." I said assessing the man in front of me whom I had only spoken to on the phone once.
"We're happy to have you here, and on such short notice too."
I continued to nod and exchange pleasantries with him while he led me out of the office and down Wethe hall to where the rest of the PR offices were. Everything about this place was just so completely out of my comfort level that it was hard to keep a check on my confident composure. My parents had died when I was 8 leaving me to live with my aunt in New York City. Given my aunt's strict rules of behavior and my city upbringing, I had never been around sports much. Plays, opera, art galleries? Yes. Sports and cities where people still drive? No.
He introduced me to a few other people working in the office and pointed out where things were located.
"This is your office" he said opening the door to a clean but essentially bland office space with one window overlooking a parking lot. "I'll give you time to settle in but I'd like to take you downstairs in a half an hour to introduce you to the players and allow you to watch the pre-game media interviews."
"There's a game tonight?" I asked feeling slightly embarrassed that I hadn't known this detail beforehand.
David nodded. "Don't worry about it. We know you just moved here. You'll learn all about the schedule as you work here. Remember, half an hour. I'll meet you in the main hallway."
I nodded and he left my office allowing me to take a second to breathe and sit down in the swivel chair behind my desk. Even though I was completely out of my element right now, things could be worse. I could have a really terrible boss.
I wasted a half an hour setting up my computer and willing myself not to check my emails to read the latest shitty apology he had sent me. Since I had allowed him to fuck up both my personal and professional life in New York, I had to keep him from doing the same thing here and that meant focusing on my new job and not what I had run away from there. After doing a quick google search, I found out that the Penguins were playing another team called the Avalanche tonight and that both teams were supposedly having good seasons.
With my new found knowledge, I ventured out into the hallway ignoring the curious looks I was getting from the other office dwellers. I could tell automatically that these people were the gossipy office types. Also, I had apparently missed the memo to dress up for the Thanksgiving theme in the office right now.
Luckily, I was saved from staring at more banners in the hallway as David showed up as soon as I did and we began to walk down the hall to where security could let us into another hallway lined with a few elevators.
"So right now, the players will be arriving for their morning skate before the game tonight. Usually press floats in and out at this time but it's nowhere near as crazy as it is after a game. Some of the guys will be asked for interviews, that sort of thing, and that's where you'll come in. We need someone with your media experience to help coach the players on how to give better media responses, etc."
"Great, that's what I did at my old firm except that I've never worked with athletes before."
He waved my comment off and told me not to worry about it. "Believe me, we know that you had a great reputation back at your old firm and we feel that you're more than prepared for this job."
I gave him a small smile and tried not to dwell on the word 'had' in his statement and focus on the present. I knew that he hadn't meant anything by it but the word had still dug at me a little bit. What I had. That phrase held so many disappointing connotations especially since I used to have a lot.
We entered a series of rooms where some guys dressed in work out clothes were hanging out still half dressed in their hockey gear. David waved to a few but kept walking, leading me back deeper into what I assumed was the locker room after making the mistake of breathing in.
The room smelled worse than a fish market on a hot day and I struggled not to let my disgust show on my face. I was about to ask David a question just to keep my mind off of the smell when he muttered "Jesus Christ" under his breath and abruptly left me to walk to where a player was being interviewed by a camera crew.
What had just happened? I recognized the player from the picture I had looked at earlier while I waited for David that morning, and it looked like he was struggling with the journalist. If I hadn't been so confused, I probably would have laughed at the distressed look on his face. If possible, it made him look dopier than I had already assumed he was.
Whoever the player was, he was starting to look angry and I wished that I was close so that I could hear more of the conversation. David was watching the scene unfold anxiously but not stepping in to do anything.
"Oh shit. They're letting Geno do an interview by himself?" I stared at the woman who had appeared by my side as she watched the scene in horror.
What was so terrible about the guy giving an interview anyway? And if it was so bad, why was David just standing there?
"What's the big deal?" I asked the woman curiously.
"Trust me, it's just not good. He confuses things and Gonchar's not playing tonight."
What the hell did that mean? We both continued to watch and I wondered how no one was stepping in to save what I assumed was quickly becoming a mini-PR disaster.
"Where are you going?" The strange woman asked and I realized that I had started to move towards where the big, confused looking guy was still trying to give answers. I ignored her, not entirely sure what I was about to do either.
As I approached the scene, I couldn't help but give David a dirty look. Was he seriously just not going to do anything? He was my boss but that didn't mean that he couldn't be an idiot.
"Excuse me" I said stepping into the line of fire next to the player that towered over me by almost a foot. "I'm afraid that my client will have to decline interviews at this time."
Everyone was looking at me like I was crazy, including the sweaty giant next to me but I had leapt into the situation without thinking. The journalist tried to protest me interfering but I cut her off with a well-practiced 'don't fuck with me' smile. "I'm sorry, but this athlete needs time to prepare for the game tonight. Thank you."
She stared at me for another second trying to make me back down. Obviously she doesn't know how good I am at this.
"Stop rolling tape" she bit off to the camera guy who cut the video immediately. She gave me another bitchy look and I knew that if I saw her again in this awful locker room, we would not be friends.
"Go sit down" I ordered to the giant who was staring at me and almost looking grateful.
Instead of going away like I hoped he would, he grabbed my arm in a firm hold and spoke. "What is name?"
At first I didn't catch it and I was almost convinced that I had imagined this entire scenario. His hand was also searing down on my arm which I didn't appreciate. No doubt there would be a sweaty handprint left when he let go.
"What is name?" he persisted looking frustrated now at my lack of a response.
I noticed for the first time how thick and deep his voice was preventing clear communication. He also wasn't using articles and it dawned on me. I had lived long enough in New York to understand the accents of various ethnicities.
"You're russian" I stated not bothering to conceal my irritation. He understood that much and nodded still not letting go of my arm.
Damn it. Why didn't they tell me that I would have to work with people who didn't speak english?!