I’ve spent the last two weeks with a ‘runner’, which is a polite term for an indentured slave. It took me a few days to realize what purpose this young man served, who sat ever-so-politely on a chair just out of arm’s reach (which increasingly became a problem, because he was one of a whole team of runners, and I could never remember any of their names, so spent more time than I would have liked straining in his general direction with an outstretched arm, hoping to tap him on the shoulder)
and instantly sprang to attention whenever I needed anything at all. The grace with which I dealt with the runners made me realize once again how much Mariah Carey and I have in common.
For a start, although I couldn’t remember their names, I re-introduced myself every morning. This was so that no-one could ever accuse me of being stand-offish (a great fear, as one of three Brits in a team filled with Americans, who seemed to have an entirely different register for enthusiasm) and also because I couldn’t quite work out if this was a new one, or somebody I’d met before. I could tell from their knowing smiles how considerate they found this little ritual.
I also made their lives inordinately easier by writing down all of my fussiness, and closing my specific demands with a smiley face. I could tell they appreciated that. I was basically one of them. For a while, I considered writing my requests in text speak, but it took too long to work out which letters could be substituted for numbers.
It is very important, particularly in a large organisation, that everyone feels as though their contribution is recognized. The runners were a close-knit team, and during changeover they often hugged their replacement good-bye. I convinced several of my new colleagues to take bets on which of the runners were sleeping together, which meant that soon these changeovers were watched with the kind of intensity we had previously reserved for receiving our lunch orders. Wanting to increase my chances (it would have been terribly embarrassing to be the first person to disprove the adage, ‘the house always wins’) I tried to time my toilet trips with the runner’s, and used the walk together to pump them for inside information. I was impressed with their desire to return to their control room position, but luckily I also am a very fast walker.
I spent a fair bit of time wondering why they had decided to be runners (I was a new hire, so the joy of spending time with me wasn’t a certitude when they had applied). A few days into the job, I asked one of them. ‘Oh,’ he said slowly. ‘Well, it’s a good way to move up within the company. To a position like yours.’ It was at that moment that I realized the true role of the runners. I stared at the runner in horror, before slowly turning on my heel. ‘I’ll bring you your peppermint tea,’ he called after me. ‘Et tu, Brute?’ I replied. ‘Oh, and one of those big double-chocolate cookies, please.’