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By Marilyn Heywood Paige
A company hired me and then ghosted me. It was the worst hiring experience, but it led to one of the best interviews and career opportunities of my life.
Back in the 2000s, I was working as a brand spokesperson on QVC in West Chester, PA. The gig was only six months of the year, and I wanted year-round broadcasting work, so I began looking for a job as a radio or TV traffic reporter. It seemed like it would be fun and would give me more experience on air.
There was a company that produced all the traffic in the Philadelphia market, so I reached out to the director and landed an interview and audition. I was thrilled when he hired me to report traffic on the radio. On my first day, I arrived at the radio studio for onboarding and the director told me that the company had a TV traffic reporter position open in New York and that I should go right away to that audition.
An Opportunity to Work in New York TV News
New York was, and is, the number one TV market in the country, so this was an enormous opportunity. I was grateful and believed that it confirmed their faith in my skills. Before I left, I asked, “If I don’t get that job, do I still have the job here?” The director said, “Absolutely.”
The audition was challenging, and I didn’t get the TV job. When I returned to the City of Brotherly Love, I called the Philadelphia director and left a voicemail. He didn’t return my call. I left another voicemail. Emails went unreturned. Weeks went by. He ghosted me.
First, I was hurt and very upset. Then I was angry. I still wanted to report traffic, dammit. So I searched for another opportunity. Jim Russ, the director of the traffic bureau in Washington, D.C., agreed to meet with me on the only day he was free--July 4th.
July 4th, A Beater Car, and Big Dog
DC was two hours away from my home in Philly. It was hot and my ancient, dented, mildew-smelling Buick had no air conditioning. And because I wouldn’t be home till late, I opted to bring my 110-pound white shepherd, Bogart, with me. (For other dog lovers, he lounged on a large cooling pad, had an ample water supply, and enjoyed an ingenious multiple fan system I’d hooked up to my cigarette lighter. He was far more comfortable than I was.)
The problem was that in my focus to get the backseat well-appointed for the dog; I left the house without my wallet or my phone. I didn’t realize this till I was a good 40 minutes into the journey. (This was pre-smartphones. One could survive several hours without looking at one’s phone.) If I went back to retrieve the items, I’d be late for the interview, so I continued on.
Traffic on that day on Interstate 95 south was light so I was making good time.
And then I got a flat tire
There are a few overpriced service stations on Route 95 between Philly and DC. I pulled into one feeling angry, scared, and desperate. I needed this job. But I had no means to get a new tire or to fix my old one. I had no phone to call someone I knew for help—nor to call Jim Russ, the director who was expecting me. I was about to have a meltdown.
Angels must have had my back that day because the mechanic who owned that service station recognized a damsel in distress and was kind. He was wonderful, in fact. He let Bogart and I sit in his air-conditioned office while he took the flat tire off and put the spare donut on. He lent me his phone so I could call Jim and let him know what happened. And he didn’t charge me a penny.
Jim Russ was similarly understanding and said not to worry, that he had a lot of paperwork to catch up on and he wasn’t going anywhere for hours.
Driving 40-miles an hour in the far right lane with my hazard lights on, I made it to the traffic bureau two hours late. When I walked in, the guard at the front desk said Jim had gone to lunch but left a message that I should meet him at the restaurant and that I’d need to drive him back here to his office afterward.
If being two hours late wasn’t enough of a bad first impression, I now looked out at my smelly jalopy with the large, unwelcoming beast in the back seat and knew that I had no shot at a good impression now. If the stench and the mess weren’t enough to make him think twice about hiring me, Bogart had a habit of staring menacingly over the shoulder of anyone who wasn’t me in the front seat. This was disastrous.
I asked the security guard, “May I borrow your car?”
Anything had to be better than what I was driving. He declined.
I drove to the restaurant and met the director inside. After exchanging pleasantries and thanking him for waiting for me, Jim asked, “You live in Philadelphia. Why do you want to report traffic here?” I recounted the fiasco of being hired by the Philadelphia office, being sent to an audition in New York, and then getting ghosted. Rummaging through my purse, I asked him if he needed to hear my audition tape; I had it with me. Jim looked me in the eye and said, “No, I don’t need to hear it. Anyone who has worked this hard to get this job, deserves this job.”
I shuttled Jim back to his office and it was as if Bogart knew the man in the front seat sitting next to me was a friend, not a foe. He lazily sniffed him and then went back to sleep. And Jim seemed unfazed by my wreck of an auto. The first-impression disaster I feared was averted. (And the job offer was still intact!)
Thanks to Jim Russ, I reported traffic from 3 am to 10 am on WTOP radio every weekend for a year. Every Friday at midnight, I got in my car in Philly, drove to DC, and was on the air by 3 am on Saturday. After my Saturday shift, I had dinner and slept on a friend’s floor in Baltimore till 2 am. Then it was back to the studio for my 3 am shift on Sunday where I reported traffic till 10 am and then drove home to Philly.
It was one of the hardest gigs of my life. But WTOP was the leading Arbitron station in the country and the training and experience Jim Russ gave me were priceless. Jim Russ died in August 2021. He was kind and decent and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. I'll always be grateful that our lives connected on that July 4th.
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