Friday was my last assigned day as a volunteer at the Festival. I was originally slated to "survey work," but when I signed in for the day I told the volunteer managers that the AIDS quilt people had requested my help again (which is true) because I can handsew (which is true), but if they really needed me for the survey instead, of course I would be happy to help with that (which is not true).
They were short-handed; the weather forecast was, well, not conducive to getting people to show up for long stretches of free outdoor labor and many volunteers had not checked in as scheduled. And so I was given a clipboard with two different surveys attached to it (one for attendees who had been there less than two hours, one for over two hours), a pen, and the instructions to try get at least 30 surveys completed by the end of the day.
On one hand, I knew this would be good for me. I have very little experience with salesmanship or marketing or survey work other than being the person approached. As such, I have less empathy and patience for those workers than I should. Thus I figured that spending eight hours gathering information from people in the hot, hot sun would be good for me. On the other hand, there is a reason why I have so little experience in that field - I really do not like doing it.
Still, I slathered on another layer of sunscreen, plopped on my hat, and headed out into the festival to look for people as I gave myself an encouraging pep talk: I can do this! I can do anything! They want 30 surveys, I'll give them 90! I will be the best surveyor they've had yet!
I had gone no more than 30 feet when one of the volunteer coordinators came running after me, calling my name. They had just gotten a set of new volunteers, so they were going to pull me from this task and send me over to the AIDS quilt instead. Hurray!
I quickly handed off my clipboard and went to find Audrey. When I walked up to the Market Street tent, I was hailed with open arms: "Amanda! You came back to us!" Everyone there was happy to see me again, and I was glad to see friendly faces and a big stack of panels to fix.
I didn't get through as many as I did Wednesday. The heat was ridiculous, and Audrey and I watched the temperature climb as the day progressed:
By the time the heat index was 112, nobody was working very hard. They even began folding up the quilt early because it was too hot to do all of the tasks at once. The volunteers would go out in waves and clip all of the zip-ties holding the panels down, then return to the shade to hydrate and cool off. Then out everyone would go to fold the panels, then back to the shade to hydrate and cool off. Then out to carry the panels to the storage crates, then back to the shade to hydrate and cool off. And so on.
Still, despite the heat, I was so much happier having work to do than sitting around like the day before. The people working at this booth are such characters that between their antics and Audrey's commentary on their antics, I was entertained the whole day. And, like the natives of 19th-century adventure stories, they not only adopted me into their tribe but appointed me leader. Audrey and I were sewing side by side when Drew called out from across the tent, "Hey, Amanda! I'm heading over to the Beverage Tent to get a smoothie. I'll be back in a few."
"Okay," I said, wondering why Drew was informing me of this instead of one of the actual booth workers, such as Gert, their actual group leader. My confusion was both abated and heightened when, not long after that, Gert herself came over to me and informed me that she was taking a lunch break and would be back soon. Again, this is with Audrey, her co-worker, sitting right next to me. It may be my novelty, it may be my natural air of leadership, it may be that I was simply the most sane of the bunch; but for whatever reason, I ruled over the Market Street tent for the conclusion of my work at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.