THE WORKING LIFE

My Job, My Window on the World

Anne Rensberger's market research job involves interviewing travelers at Dulles and Reagan National. Many times, the topic swings far away from people's opinions of the airports.
Anne Rensberger's market research job involves interviewing travelers at Dulles and Reagan National. Many times, the topic swings far away from people's opinions of the airports. (Courtesy Of Anne M. Rensberger)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A few jobs are simply outstanding. Others stand out because they're unusual, virtually invisible or incredibly tedious. Most of us go to work five days a week, but just what "work" means has countless definitions.

I know you.

I'm a market research interviewer. One of my favorite places to interview you is at an airport. For many years now I have been interviewing you at Dulles International and Reagan National airports.

My agency assigns me to randomly chosen flights about two hours apart, and I interview people waiting at the gates.

So I have interviewed you when you were taking a puddle-jumper flight or heading around the globe.

When I started doing this many years ago, computers and cellphones were a rarity. Now, especially on some flights, nearly all of you in the gate area are in sharp business attire, typing frantically on your computer, text messaging on your PDA or conducting the business of the world on your cellphone.

Although the subject of my interview has to do with your opinion of the airport, what really fascinates me is how you riff to other kinds of things. Things I never ask you about. You tell me about your favorite foods, colors you absolutely hate, your political persuasion, your opinions about the city and your solutions to world problems.

You tell me your troubles with your kids, your boyfriend or your boss. I learn some of you have jobs I didn't even know existed. Imagine working as a professional paintballer or a potato agronomist or a chemical residue technician.

Some of your jobs are so secret you cannot reveal them or so important I am honored that you take the time to let me interview you.

And as varied as your jobs are, so is your attire. I love seeing you in your saffron-colored robe, burqa, kente cloth dress, Hawaiian shirt, cowboy hat or rocker clothing. But what I love most is how you share joyous and painful things with me.

I remember how excited and nervous you were flying off to China to adopt your first child. I remember you flying home after treatment at the National Institutes of Health with a frightening and deadly disease. I was awed by your courage and willingness to share your body in hopes of research breakthroughs, if not for you, then for the next person. I remember how grief-stricken you were heading to your mother's funeral. How happy you were heading to your daughter's wedding. How proud you were when your son graduated from college. How you dropped everything and flew off to aid Katrina and tsunami victims. How much you hoped the negotiations you were heading off to would bring peace to a troubled spot in the world. Or how young and intense you looked in your military uniform flying off to fight in a war.

I listen to you with no vested interest or opinions I dare share with you on what you are saying. I am grateful you grant me the interview and fascinated, touched and surprised by what I learn from you. I have heard the world talking. I wish I could listen longer, but I always have to get to my next interview.

-- Anne M. Rensberger, Southwest Washington


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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