Updated: Apr 20
In 2005 I was working at Worldspan and myself and a few other members were sent to Romania to support a new help desk. I had not traveled internationally before and all I know about Romania was that Dracula was suppose to be from there and that they were good at gymnastics.
Hearing this my father did research on my intended destination so that he could impact some knowledge to me. The weekend before I left I had dinner with my folks and my dad began to share what he'd learned. I too had looked it up, primarily Bucharest since that was the company headquarters. As the night went on I got more and more confused that I hadn't heard of any of the things my father knew about. Till finally he said something in the nature of, "Have fun in Budapest". I froze and looked over at my wife (now ex-wife) and she stifled a laugh. "Dad, I am going to Bucharest... not Budapest". Looking to save face he through out a "same difference" comment before changing the subject.
The day of departure finally came and I flew out of MCI with our manager (Brian) and my co-workers Deana, Steve, Janean, Joyce and Letha. We connected in Atlanta and then again in Berlin before arriving nearly 24 hours later in the capital city of Bucharest. We were met by a friendly driver named Ionuț who took us to the Sheraton hotel where we checked in for the next 1 to 6 months. After taking the chance to drop off our luggage and rest a bit the 6 of us walked to a nearby Italian restaurant recommended by the concierge. We were all pretty jovial and excited despite the wear in our bodies.
We were synching our schedules up with the United states so we weren't expected to be in the office till 4 PM local time the next day. I couldn't wait to explore the city so I stopped by Deana's room to see if she wanted to go with me but being apprehensive she decided to stay in and watch reruns of Friends, her favorite show. I grabbed my backpack, digital camera and some Romanian currency I had foolishly converted at the airport (never do this, the exchange rate sucks but I didn't know it then).
I knew of several sites to see in Romania but this is before Google Maps so I was mostly reliant on static maps as my blackberry didn't have a GPS chip. The subway seemed like a reliable enough tool to see different things as it crisscrossed the city and if I ever got lost I just had to take it back to the stop closest to the hotel. I have been blessed with a good sense of direction so I set my plan in motion buying a 30 day subway pass. I got on the first car I found and it began traveling South. As I had never been on a subway at all the whole experience mesmerized me and I just took it all in reading the signs and listening (but not understanding) the people around me.
Eventually I reached the end of the line (without knowing it) and the last few folks onboard departed. Not sure what do do next I sat there for a minute looking at the map before a security guard came through and kicked me off. Embarrassed to try and ask him what I should do I wondered around the few blocks nearby till I stumbled upon a small shop. I found a cheap notepad and pen and made my first purchase in cash. I put my new material to use and decided that I would document everything I found near each of the subway terminals.
I then slowly leapfrogged my way back North only riding the subway one segment at a time before departing. I'd occasionally purchase a drink or a trinket for the kids. If there was a large store I'd go in to look around or sit on a park bench and observe. In my mind I was sort of a sociologist but I am sure to some of the folks there I was more of a stalker. The few times I had to communicate it quickly became clear to them I was not a local and their limited English/emphatic pointing had to do the heavy lifting.
As the afternoon drew on I made my way back to my hotel room and changed into work appropriate clothing before hopping in the van to go and meet our new co-workers. We drove North and I made note of the subway stops out the window so I could keep my bearings on future endeavors. The local Romanian contract work was being done by a company called Tech Team. They operated out of a sizable complex with armed guards and heavily restricted access.
The van rolled up at the front door and we piled out and were promptly led into the foyer where we found two dozen Romanians waiting for us. They were young, in their mid twenties and mostly women but all dressed nicely with a sense of apprehension on their face like students about to meet their tenured teacher and hoping to make a good impression.
They had just recently learned the system we had been using for years and a lot of them were fresh out of college looking to make it in the world. We were the foreigners they would have to rely on for support over the next few months. A few introductions occurred and we broke into groups to chat and get to know everyone's strong suits, hours and languages they supported (some spoke as many as 6 including Romanian and English).