There are very few routine jobs that can't be made more stimulating by a creative mind. No matter how repetitious the task or dull the environment, some people insist on keeping their brain cells alert by focusing on at least two tasks at once.
Consider the elevator operator.
The only chore: to press buttons. The only choice: up or down.
But to Geralding Thompson, elevator operator on Capitol Hill, her moving office is her showcase. In the Cannon House Office Building, her workplace is known as "the elevator with personality" -- hers and her decorations.
"I started collecting campaign and other buttons about two years ago as a joke with ex-Congressman Bruce Caputo," says Thompson. "He gave me a button that said 'Yonkers'. Then Sam Hall from Texas handed me one saying 'Marshall -- City of Seven Flags.'"
Now she has five shawlsful of about 300 buttons hanging from the molding around her elevator. And she always asks her passengers to send her more.
"When you see a button, think of me," is Thompson's parting line when she's in a good mood.
When she's not, and doesn't feel like joking, she crochets shawls as backdrops for more buttons or for her two teen-aged daughters. She'll warn you about those days by wearing an "I-Hate-Everybody" button. But her favorite button reads "Honorary Good 'Ol Boy," presented by Rep. Billy Lee Evans (D-Ga.).
Thompson has made her small elevator a memorable place, in spite of a basically monotonous job.
In another repetitious job, Marie Adams constantly exercises her extraordinary memory while keeping customers happy. A terminal operator-cashier at the Virginia Square Giant Food Store, Adams remembers her patrons by the food they buy, the clothes they wear, and their eccentricities.
While totaling the charges on groceries, she often makes associations between names (when she knows them) and appearance.
"One woman -- a Mrs. Boulder -- is so thin. Her name doesn't fit her. And there's another one who always buys a huge amount and says 'I'm only going to get a few things.'" Another is remembered as the "ravioli and pizza" lady because of her habit of rushing in at the last minute to get an easy-to-prepare meal for her family.
Hanne Shayeb, a fruitstand operator outside the Dupont Circle Metro station (on nice days only), admits to the most uplifting mind-occupier.
"I pray," he says. "I don't care whether people buy my fruit or not. If I make $5 a day I thank God."
And Morris Aronson, a security officer deep in the bowels of the Martin Luther King Library's garage, keeps busy as both a protector and an informer of the public. "I talk to everyone I can. I consider this a public-relations job for the library."
Seated at the downstairs entrance to the library, Aronson guards cars, books, and people. But he's also an expert on sports scores. "They call me from the sports division for information. I've been a fan for 45 years. I go over the scores in my mind and try to figure out by how many games the teams in their division will win."
Behind the food concession counter at the Uptown Movie Theater in D.C., Santoria Mendoza studies pre-calculus and marine biology when she's not filling requests for popcorn and candy. A junior at American University, Mendoza also has another job at an information center downtown. Between her two jobs and her studies, Mendoza is delighted when there's a calm movie showing at the Uptown.
"When there's a violent movie like the current one -- 'Apocalypse Now' -- more people come out to buy food."
George Glodis, an Upper Northwest postal-service employe, sometimes passes the time by guessing what's in a package he's delivering.
"I don't do it while driving my truck, but when I approach a house. You get a feeling about Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. By the size of the package I can often tell what it is: shirts, a tie, or whatever. Then I wish the customer 'Happy Birthday.' Sometimes you pick up a nice relationship with a family." '
Reflecting on his daydreaming, Glodis admits, "I do it to break up the monotony of the job. I thought everybody would, but they don't talk about it at the office."
Barbara Garson in her book, "All The Livelong Day; The Meaning and Demeaning of Routine Work," found that most employes in repetitive jobs rise above their tasks.
"It was the positive things I saw that touched me the most," she writes. "Not that people are beaten down . . . but that they almost always pop up. Not that people are bored . . . but the ways they find to make it interesting."
Geraldine Thompson puts it a different way.
"My passengers ask me if I'm bored; but people make me happy."