Volunteering is something I firmly support and have structured some of my field of study around, especially when it comes to figuring out how to engage people in my age bracket with their Instagramming and networking and fast-paced outcome-oriented outlook (I'm only being a little facetious). Each Memorial Day weekend, Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance puts on a huge fundraiser for the organization and summer kickoff, Bike the Drive.
For almost two and a half years I worked as a virtual assistant to consumer attorneys across the country. When I started the job I fielded calls in the evening, and by the end I was a go-to box of answers to my supervisors, the one who took the hard calls and worked business hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. I never needed to Google what time it was in Fayetteville, Ark. or Riverside, Calif. I knew how to spell last names without asking. Some of my attorney clients asked how I was when I transferred their calls and told me about their weekends.
After doing the quintessential work of babysitting and accompanying choir soloists at auditions, Cheryl is my first real boss at my first real job—obnoxious state taxes, name tag, and all. The first weeks I am deferential and easily spooked by weekend rushes, realizing that I will always be battling to show up on time in the mornings.
I took out one hundred dollars in cash on Black Wednesday and didn't spend it. Then I decided to go full-on hermit (and straight-edge!) for finals, making it easy to keep track of where the cash went (which, let’s face it, I was stressed so my spending was focused on eating).
On Fridays this summer in Chicago I went to the Department of Human Services offices on 63rd Street to invite people to visit the farmers' market. Unless I had more outreach to do in Woodlawn or South Shore, I didn't ride my bike. The first time I rode over, I was encouraged by the security guard to bring it in and since I hated the time it took to lock up my bike and ostentatious display of bike-riding, I just started walking over from my office a couple blocks away. Timing was everything for this outreach: If you went at 9 when the office opened nobody was there, and any later than 11 and the same was true. The benefit of going at 10 meant it wasn't too hot yet and I'd still manage to grab a donut and iced coffee at Robust Coffee Lounge on my way back.
To save money I packed lunches, which due to living in a dorm included the tried and true Annie's mac & cheese in a single serving packet. I figured they were healthier than the cheaper Kraft Easy Mac version and doused them using the kitchen's communal Tapatío bottle. My older coworkers, self-identified as retail queens, would often order in from Juan's down the street and gave me their castoff, fresh-fried flour tortilla chips.