Paul Ford planned to spend Wednesday morning selling himself as a highly skilled computer geek to the Justice Department.
But with his government job interview canceled because of the weather, Ford found himself watching basketball clips instead at a soon-to-open ESPN Zone restaurant at the corner of 11th and E streets NW, seriously considering a job at half his normal pay scale.
"I haven't worked at a place like this since I was 18," said Ford, as he attached his four-page resume to an application for a part-time job overseeing sports transmissions. Ford, 44, of Takoma Park, has been unemployed since his $70,000-a-year job with a defense contractor in Herndon ended in October. "But no one's in at the government for my interview because of the weather, so I saw the sign that they were hiring and came on in."
Ford was not alone. Although the Washington area's unemployment rate fell to 2.3 percent in November and workers are scarce on all fronts, about 1,050 job seekers came by this week to apply for 350 full- and part-time spots at the new ESPN Zone.
Who would line up for positions ranging in pay from $2.38 an hour with tips for bartenders to up to $14 an hour for production coordinators to monitor TV screens and sports feeds? The answer: Lots of people.
On Monday, the first day of a job fair, 595 applicants came, some of whom were waiting outside when the doors opened. ESPN Zone organizers said they were accepting applications through Wednesday. In their Atlanta store, which opens Sunday, 2,000 people applied for 375 jobs.
"We've got sports running all the time from 12 feeds on tons of screens. It's a fun place to work," said Jordan Naftal, general manager of the ESPN Zone in the District.
The sports-themed restaurant is scheduled to open March 10. It will be the fifth opened by ESPN Inc. and its partner, Walt Disney Co.
An informal survey of 50 job applicants at the ESPN Zone showed that the majority were looking for second jobs to supplement their incomes. About a dozen said they were looking to leave their current job for higher wages. A handful of true sports fans said they wanted to see and hear how the place would be run. They camped out in overstuffed chairs and booths for as long as five hours, in some cases, to go through a first round of interviews.
"This is going to be fantastic," Ford said. "Michael Jordan is coming to this town and this place is going to be packed with high-rolling, big-tipping people. Just imagine this place completely packed on big fight nights and in March madness."
But for Ford there also was the practical side of the job--the salary. Although he said he plans to pursue a day job in computer support services, Ford wants to work part time at the ESPN Zone.
"I would come in and eat and drink at a place like this myself," said Ford as he scanned the leather recliners, hardwood floors and marble counter tops. "I want to get paid to do it, though." He said he needs to pay off bills from taking pleasure trips, buying expensive dinners and compact discs. "It's nothing for me to spend $2,500 to $3,000 a month for fun, but it's got to be paid for," he said.
In a nearby booth, Bernadette Thompson, 32, of Northeast, said she was looking for a change.
"Everybody needs a job and I especially do," she said. Thompson wants to quit her job at a District moving company because she is pregnant and applied to be a host or cashier at ESPN Zone. She has never had a job as either, but she's hoping a position with Disney will provide good benefits.
"I've got myself and now a kid on the way to take care of," she said. "I think this place will be a good opportunity for me."
A few tables down, Olivia Felder tried to sell herself to an interviewer as a "huge sports fan." Her favorite professional sport--wrestling.
"I used to love Hulk Hogan, but he's become too much," Felder, 44, of Northeast, said as she blushed and smiled at the interviewer. "Now, I like the Rock."
Tirzah Davis was searching for more money. Although she has been working for the last six months as a hostess at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington, where she makes $7.80 an hour, she said she needs extra money to support her three children and pay bills. Ideally, she wants to make at least $21,000 a year.
"It's hard times right now," said Davis, 39. "The economy is doing well for people who are top heavy. . . . Those who are educated and have technical skills, but not for the average John Doe."