Interview Essay Samples
Topic: Happy Valley’s Handy Delivery
As I stood in front of my house Thursday night, pretending that the passing headlights were a source of warmth, I thought of the strangeness of my situation. I was waiting for a cab, but with no particular destination in mind. I had never been in this situation before and was still acquainting myself with the novelty of it, when a dark blue car slowed to a stop just a few feet beyond my doorstep. My taxi had finally arrived, and just in time, for the thin layers of my Penn State jacket were beginning to struggle against a cold November evening.
Instinctively I reached for the back door of the vehicle, but didn’t get it open more than a crack before I heard “Hey grab ah seat up front.” Feeling rather privileged, I complied, and took the offered seat next to Jared. Since we had previously met, formal introductions were skipped. Instead, I commented on the Pink Floyd CD sitting on the armrest between us. “Yeah the damn thing skips, so I don’t even listen anymore” Jared said. Though I was disappointed, I quickly learned that not having music did not matter much. Between the steady conversation and the constant interruptions from the dispatch radio attached to the dashboard, there was very little time for rock n’ roll CD’s.
Jared, who appeared to be in his early thirties, was dressed causally in a gray, hoodless sweatshirt and blue jeans. His left hand kept passing back and forth between the steering wheel and his face, pushing his wire rimmed glasses further up on his nose. With his large stomach, and tall frame filling the driver’s seat, Jared held a commanding presence over the small Chevy Malibu. He drove quickly around the block, and managed to talk to me and into the handset of the radio at the same time. “87. I’ve got the reporter.” I laughed to myself when I heard my new title. Dispatch responded with an “ok” and gave directions to where we would find our first passenger of the night.
When we arrived at the State College bus station, an old man greeted us with thanks and surprise at our quickness. Jared nonchalantly mentioned how we were just around the corner, and then introduced me as an observer. I gave a quick hello, and then quieted down out of respect for Jared. I was unsure if it was appropriate to talk with the passengers.
Slowly, the old man took his place in the back seat of the car, and then quickly managed to strike up conversation. He had traveled all the way from Florida by bus, and this taxi ride was the final leg of his journey. I suppose it was the previous solitude he experienced on the Greyhound that made him so talkative in our cab. “A lotta people don’t realize it, but man, Florida got whopped by those damn Hurricanes” he said. From then on the conversation between him and Jared focused on the weather, both in Florida and in State College, and the effect that it was having upon each of their lives. The old man talked about the Hurricane’s destruction of all the mature trees down south, and Jared empathetically responded with a similar story about the Elm trees in State College, and their threat of destruction by a virus. Jared went on to mention how the unseasonably nice weather in State College had hurt business the week before. It occurred to me then how important it is for a taxi driver to stay informed of current events. Sports, politics, weather, or business, I imagine that a successful taxi driver would be familiar with all of these, and able to offer some interesting insight, as Jared did with the weather, and this old man from Florida.
On our way back to town, Jared and I talked about the rules set forth by Handy Delivery. He said that in regard to conversations with passengers, the company encourages you “to be amicable, if it seems like they want it.” He himself prefers talkative customers because it helps to pass the time, and also improves the tips. Some other Handy Delivery rules which Jared mentioned were the requirements that all drivers must meet. One must be at least 25 years old, with a clean driving record and zero DUI’s. Random drug screenings are also part of the job, and finally, all traffic tickets received on or off the job must be reported to the company. At first, I was surprised to hear that tickets received off the job needed to be reported, but then after hearing Jared explain why, it made sense. If a driver had received a number of tickets outside of work, and then got pulled over during work and found that he could no longer drive because of those tickets, his job performance would suffer. I realized how important it is for taxi drivers to make intelligent decisions both on and off the job. Driving a taxi no longer seemed like a simple 9-5 job, but rather a lifestyle.
A few minutes after arriving back in town, Jared decided to “drive a loop” from College Avenue, left onto Atherton Street., followed by an immediate left onto Beaver Avenue and then another left down one of the connecting cross streets. He chose Allen Street. Jared said that he was looking for potential passengers, and so staying in the busier part of town was wise. Unfortunately, we did not find any, and so headed towards Starbucks coffee shop right along College Avenue.
As we sat in the car parked outside Starbucks, we talked about the risk of being robbed while on the job, and the differences between New York City taxi drivers and Handy Delivery drivers. “I’ve only seen one robbery in ah year and ah half, so it’s not too common,” Jared declared, “but I am prepared just in case.” He told me of money management techniques such as separating large and small bills, and then hiding the larger bills somewhere in the car. “Just gotta make sure you don’t forget about ‘em” he laughed. Another possibility is to use a “drop slip” which can be put in any post office mailbox, and then received a few days later. Very few drivers use “drop slips.” Jared explained that while it is important for a driver to manage his money, safety is the first concern. Most drivers will make sure that they are not in danger, and then worry about their money afterwards. Because of this, it is easy to see the benefit of taking precautions.
“87. Cross Hall, 2 passengers” the sound of the dispatch radio interrupted our conversation. Jared replied “10-4,” and we immediately headed towards campus. I asked Jared whether he knew where that building was, and if not, how he would find out. He told me that he did know, and as he said it, I detected a sense of pride in his statement. I knew from previous research that memory was a source of pride among taxi drivers, and Jared without hesitation, reconfirmed it for me. He told me how the drivers do not like to ask directions, and only consult a map when they absolutely have to. “New guy at work syndrome” was how he described it. “Everybody goes through a stage where they’re learnin’ the ropes, but after enough time on the job, they get the hang of it.” I once again was impressed by the knowledge that taxi drivers had.
Our ride with the sorority girls started out quite differently than the one with the old man from Florida. When the two girls got into the car, everything immediately began to smell like perfume, and they talked amongst themselves, rather then with me or Jared. Once again though, I was introduced as “an observer.” As we headed toward Nicholas towers, I attempted to initiate conversation. I asked the girls what they thought of the Handy Delivery taxi service, and if they could find out anything about the company, what would it be. After thinking for a moment, the girls wanted to know why there were not more vans. Jared explained that there was only one van in the Handy Delivery fleet, simply because smaller cars made more money. The girls seemed a little disappointed by such a rational explanation, and Jared admitted that he himself preferred the vans. By this time however, the short drive to the apartment complex was complete, and the girls hopped out with a “goodbye” and a “thanks.” The smell of their perfume hung around for a little while longer.
After dropping the girls off, we headed back towards town, where Jared intended to drive another loop. I was interested in what he had said about the business end of things, and soon found out that he knew quite a bit more than I expected. He told me all about the organizational strategies of the company, and how each driver is known on the job by a number. I correctly guessed that Jared was 87. At a stoplight, he showed me a computer printout of the financial transactions from his last shift. It specified how much he had paid to rent the taxi from Handy Delivery, and how much money he had made in fares that night. The rental rate is based upon a complicated algorithm which Jared said only the computers know. “We plug the numbers in, and shhhooop, out they come on the other side.” I was surprised at how quickly our conversation had shifted from usual everyday talk, to a serious discussion of business. It allowed me another insight into the taxi driving profession. I got to see how seriously the drivers of Handy Delivery take their job.
Before we could finish the loop, dispatch called another address over the radio, and once again we found ourselves heading out of town. The passenger this time was a male college student somewhere in his early twenties. He was on his way to work at the PA pizza shop, and was running a little late. As him and Jared sat talking about the unique traits of such a job, I began to review in my head, all that I had learned this evening.
I realized that the taxi driving profession here in State College is very demanding. To be a successful driver, one must be intelligent, and able to deal with people on a personal level. Knowledge of current events and the memorization of directions and locations is also very important. Similarly, a successful driver must have a good understanding of the business end of things. Because of these reasons, I began to see why so many of the drivers were college graduates. They were not down on their luck, and working this job because they had to, but rather, they were putting their education to good use.
We dropped the pizza guy off at work, and then headed back towards West College Avenue where my final stop would be. As we pulled in front of my house, Jared finished telling his story about the time a passenger brought a python into the cab and he nearly jumped out of his seat. “Holy Jesus Christ!!!!” he yelled. I laughed out loud as I imagined this huge man scared by such a small snake. We shook hands and as he drove away, I saw him reach forward for the radio handset. “87. I’ve dropped the reporter, ready for another pickup.” At least that is what I imagined he said.
Topic: Architecture Studio Culture
Interview Paper – Final Draft
When Tuesday night rolled around, my normal time to visit the 2nd-year architecture studio, I still had to finalize my questions and the meeting times for my perspective interviewees. After my regular Tuesday meeting of the College Democrats (around 8:10 p.m.), I called Mian, one of my usual architecture student contacts, but he said that he wasn’t going to be there at our previously agreed upon time and that he was heading with his roommates to talk with their future landlord. He was going to be back at 9:40, so I decided to head to the Pattee Library to work on my questions. I also contacted Christi who I had scheduled an appointment with, but I later learned that she was only planning to stop by the studio to pick up some supplies.
Surprisingly, Mian was back at studio ahead of schedule, something that is never the case from what I have seen, so he invited me to the SALA Building to ask him my questions. It couldn’t have been a more awful night to be walking around campus; the rain and cold were reluctant and there was hardly a soul in sight. This of course was true until I arrived at the architecture studio. It was alive inside, despite the dreary and dismal weather just a few yards outside. Students were busy moving about, drawing, studying and socializing.
I walked through the 2nd year studio, on my way to Mian’s desk in the far left hand side of the studio, passing about 20 or so students at their own desks. Mian was just getting settled from his trip to his future house only a few blocks from studio (his current home is downtown and a decent walk to the SALA Building). His desk was parallel with the West wall of the building and separated from Tristan’s desk on the left only by a mini-fridge. There was a vase on top of the fridge, but the flowers residing there appeared to have started dying days beforehand. Mian told me that he stole them from an event that occurred downstairs some time ago and hadn’t watered them since. Tristan wasn’t at her desk when I first arrived, so I sat in an extra chair, rested my laptop on the corner of her desk and tried carefully not to disrupt her drawings until she came.
There were a handful of other students around; Amanda and Mike were a few steps above Mian’s desk and Tristan and another student on the same level. As I sat, typing my initial description of the environment around me and of Mian himself, Mian ate a half-pint of mint chocolate chip Creamery ice cream while talking to Amanda and Tristan about their IM football team, whose existence was news to me. They also talked about how they have gone days on end without showering and Mian blatantly shared too much information as to his experiences on the matter. Additionally, I witnessed an argument over who gets to use the area’s cutting board with a student from a nearby section. Just before we began, Mian called a friend, and asked if he/she was brining his/her laptop to studio that night since he was planning to stay there for quite some time and was hoping to watch a DVD while working.
Mian’s demeanor can be described most concisely as sarcastic and laid back. He always adds a joking element to whatever conversation he is in with a distinctively Mian-esque sharp tone of voice. Despite the sarcasm that is inherent to Mian’s personality, he seems to show a sense that if you needed someone to stick up for you he’d be the first one to help out. Mian is just over my height, probably about 5’8”, and is of Chinese descent. I’ve even heard him speaking in Chinese on the phone before. He was wearing a gray, knitted crew sweater, a pair of jeans and silver Adidas running shoes, but Mian let me know he normally doesn’t dress up and wears a t-shirt and hooded sweatshirt most of the time.
I couldn’t believe how honest they were with me, it was like I was their connection to the outside world and that I was their hope in showing the outside what they experience, because according to them one can’t fully write about what it’s like to be in architecture without being in it. They even joked about the Collegian article that talked about the hardships of architecture students last year, saying that it barely touched on the surface of what they experience on a daily basis. It felt like they really wanted me to expose what really goes on in the studio, as if they were in a prison-like environment where their stories couldn’t be told unless it came from an insider, someone who has been there and knows what its like.
A few moments into my interview, I prompted Mian to define studio culture, to define the environment that they live within and are so much a part of. He struggled with the question at first, but Tristan jumped in to help. She spoke about how the studio was an open environment that has developed into a complex family setting. Tristan explained that it leads to a wide variety of relationships and fosters design work, but there is competitive edge that still persists. The notion that everyone is competing for the few A’s that are given out each semester forces a “two-faced” relationship with most of the other students; they are extremely close on a social basis, but on an academic level there is a conscious competitive boundary. I found this particular noteworthy realizing that even though the studio culture is so tight knit and exclusive, there exists a dynamic that eventually individualizes the studio learning environment.
Speaking about the social aspects of studio was much easier for Mian; without hesitation he compared the social dynamic of the studio to that of a reality TV show on MTV. “There’s a lot of crying and a lot of bitching,” he said, explaining how living and working in the studio is like living in a house together with fellow architecture students. It was no surprise that Mian argued that 50% of time in the studio is spent socializing and that he met half of his friends in architecture, “We go through everything together” he told me.
When asked to characterize the lifestyle of an architecture student during our discussion, Mian responded quite succinctly, “No sleep, no showering, no food…There is no schedule, uh… There is never enough time to do anything. You have to push yourself. Sleep is always on the back of my mind, but I still manage to get to the gym, despite my lack of sleep….There is no schedule, time doesn’t exist.” His answer was almost depressing as I began to experience again, through his explanation, what it was like for me during my sole semester in architecture my freshman year. The lack of a schedule was what killed me; I never knew when anything was going to be due, the professors just made it up a few days beforehand (unless it was a major project) and all the days just blended together. According to Mian, this hasn’t changed a bit since 1st semester (he is now in his 3rd semester), and it has become even more abstract.
Talking about how his perspective changed since first year, he mentioned how it was more “linear last year” that there is so much more to think about and so many more variables to incorporate than before. He said that last year it was more obvious what had to be done in order to complete a project correctly, and that now the assignments are increasingly less objective and more vague. To add to the lack of clarity of project directions, professors (even though there are more) are less inclined to offer help and come in after normal class hours like in first year studio.
Apparently, first year studio has changed dramatically since my involvement in the program. From what Mian gathered, all art-related majors (i.e. integrated arts, theatre, architecture, etc.) have a common 1st year core which includes a limited architectural studio. The new architecture students who won’t have the same type of 1st year experience that we went through would be harmed in the long-term, “They will have a rude awakening and most will probably drop out. They won’t be able to draft or anything.” There was an obvious tone of resentment towards this new curriculum, whether it was due to Mian’s desire for the program to adequately prepare students for success or his envy that the 1st years won’t be going through the same hazing-like experience that all those in (what would be) my class went through. Amanda added that these changes were the result of the politically correct reforms that were underway in the department, to limit the mind-numbing pressures put on 1st-year architecture students.
Along the same lines, I questioned Mian about what could be done to change “studio culture” or the lifestyle of the architectural student, in terms of institutional responses. In a long and sporadic answer, he explained “Well…what would I change…I feel like time is the obvious answer… But there is nothing you can really change about it because it is such a huge entity. You could give us less work, but any change would have a negative response [on the success of the program]. You should keep it the way it is.” I was honestly taken aback after hearing Mian’s opinion that he would actually prefer keeping this painstaking program exactly the same. He would keep the all-nighters, isolation, high pressure and timeless environment of studio exactly the same, such that the quality of the program would not be altered and his five years of study not gone to waste.
One thing in particular really made me laugh during my interview with Mian, since I was still in the program for the event he described and had a fond memory of it. In the first few weeks of studio, Steve Shaffer, a previous graduate and now professor in Penn State’s architecture department, drew a table/chart on a chalkboard regarding architecture student’s time management. Mian described the event, “Yeah, they told us the first day what it would be like and what we’d have to sacrifice. That we wouldn’t be able to talk on AOL. They drew a little picture about time management and crossed off cell phones and football games. That scared a lot of people. I thought they were joking, but now I think they under-exaggerated it.” Mian is correct in his depiction: everyone was trying to figure out whether or not Steve was serious when he drew the chart. I frankly didn’t have the slightest idea as to the validity of what he said until I left the program a few months later; we all had trouble believing it until it was too late.
Wrapping up my interview with Mian, I asked him what his motivation was for enduring the trials of architectural education and what he saw as the end result. “That’s a terrible question!” he responded, adding “That’s like ‘how do you plan to die?’” Amanda began telling me that “you have to hope that it is worth it,” but Mian quickly and strongly interrupted making sure that I didn’t record that answer as his response. He explained, “No, my motivation is that…after during all of this, project by project, hour by hour, I still love it a lot… After the end of a project I realize that I can endure this and still keep going… My motivation is that I can spend all this time working on school work and it doesn't feel like schoolwork.” Elaborating on his answer, Mian talked about how he even put his architecture work above his family recently. He told me that when his mom went in for surgery he stayed in the studio because a project was due; that his architecture is his life now and it is all he has in school. Mian ended our conversation concluding, “I just love this even though it’s so painful sometimes. If that’s not a reason to stay in then I don’t know what is.”
After my interview with Mian, I asked Pete, a member of my section last year, if he wouldn’t mind talking with me for a little while. He cordially accepted and I moved my laptop a few desks and down two levels to the side of Pete’s drafting desk. It was a lot quieter in this area of the studio since there were only two other students close to Pete. One of them was listening to music and the other was focused intently on his drawings. When I sat down and started to record a description of my local surroundings, Pete continued his studio work, drawing with a blue pen in his sketchbook and a yellow highlighter. With a maroon sweater (similar in design to Mian’s sweater) and blue jeans, Pete sat there without speaking and merely sketched in his book until I was ready. Unlike the time prior to my interview with Mian, where I was engaged in conversation with him, I told Pete to ignore me for a few minutes and continue with his work until we started.
There was a lot of overlap with Mian’s responses, specifically when talking about studio culture and the life of an architecture student. Pete reiterated how the students in the studio are a “little happy family” and how they “do schoolwork with each other, eat with each other, and [constantly] interact with each other.” He told me that half of his friends were from architecture, despite the fact that he had already been at Penn State for two years (in architectural engineering) before he began in the architecture program.
Although many of his responses were similar to Mian’s, regarding the bonds architecture students form and the workload they endure, when I asked what motivates him to continue through the trials of architectural education he responded much differently and positively than Mian. Pete explained how architecture was the quintessential art education and that earning an architecture degree will give him the ability to enter into any art career available. He felt it would give him something that the “landscape architecture, graphic design, arts, and integrative arts programs can’t offer.” Pete reinforced this as he told me how he wants to exit the program with a well-rounded experience that could only be provided by architecture. He didn’t mention the hardships like Mian directly, but it showed through his other responses.
Throughout the interview, Pete spoke about how architecture work made up the majority of his waking hours, nearly 4/5ths of them. He told me how others, even his roommates, don’t grasp how “studio comes first over everything: social time, sleep, other work, and food” nor what they actually do in the studio when they are there. He mentioned how he didn’t really have a clue what it would be like when he was accepted into the program and how he was unsure about what the program truly entails, even to this day. Ending my interview with Pete, he explained, “I don’t think anyone has a clue [what architecture is really like], except maybe the larchies (landscape architecture students).”
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