In decades of being gainfully employed I have never* had to wear a badge with my name on it. I never really thought much about them. The bag girl at the local supermarket has one, flight attendants wear them, my daughter had polo shirts with her name when she drove a team of horses, and everyone who works at our National Park has one pinned to their shirt. This year I have two jobs that require badges, and it takes a bit of getting used to.
“Karen,” I hear someone calling, and turn to see a total stranger. There is that sinking feeling as I prepare to pretend that of course I remember her, too. Then I realize it is one of my fifty charges from the sightseeing bus, and I really do not know her.
I have taken a side job as a tour guide with a local trolley company for fun, and I am also volunteering at Wild Gardens of Acadia, as one of the requirements to become a Tier One Maine Master Naturalist.
For Oli’s Trolley I have a rustic wooden badge with just KAREN printed on sticky paper and temporarily attached. While the owner is a sympathetic and supportive boss, she is also pragmatic. When I move on the badge goes back, my name is peeled off and tossed, and someone else gets my jaunty little pine trolley cutout.
At the gardens we have slim brass pins with first and last name—formal, proper, not remotely jaunty. They are understated, but obvious enough that garden guests come to me with questions about plants, or advice for additional walks.
There is no hiding behind a badge. I cannot ignore my bus-riding tourists, or walk away from the woman who asked me how Pitcher Plants pollinate. I find I like it. There is a bit of theatre, and I am always “on,” at least when whenever my badge is on. I belong to the public. I also enjoy being pushed. I did not know that answer about pitcher plant pollination, but I do now. It is actually very cool, bumblebees go in one side of the flower, and emerge on the other, leaving the pollen they brought inside. You can learn about it too, right here: http://www.pollinator.org/poster2015_plants.htm
Before every trip guiding my bus through Acadia, I try to add another detail. Did you know beavers had been eradicated from Mount Desert Island, and that George B. Dorr imported breeding couples from Canada? There is now a healthy beaver population here on this island.
Perhaps if I wore a badge everyday it would become invisible to me, like a belt or pair of socks. But now, it is role-playing. I get pumped up to make my busload laugh, and hopefully leave them with a bit of understanding and love for Mount Desert Island, or at very least an entertaining tale.
At the gardens, a deep calm pervades, and my slo-mo Zen side emerges. I point out the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) larva to a curious child, and we watch it together quietly. Or I gently rake the gravel paths as light filters through the trees.
I like these new faces of me. I look at people who have their own name tags with another level of interest, wondering how they feel about wearing their names on their shirts. I see nametags everywhere now, retail sales help, health care providers, policemen, mechanics. I asked a few how they felt, and some even let me take their pictures, captioned above.
So if you see me at one of my gigs, introduce yourself. I’m the one with “Karen” on her shirt.
*I was all ready to post this when I remembered my stint at Sikorsky Aircraft in Connecticut as an engineering aide. I not only had a badge, but had my retinas recorded and was fully bonded. But I had to live in Bridgeport, which, with apologies to that city that has hopefully changed, must be why I blanked it out.