Traveling Dog Lady: October 1st - 23 years in student travel!

Monday, October 1, 2007

October 1st - 23 years in student travel!


The entire state of Massachusetts used area code 617, and dial-up speeds of 300 baud were considered fast. In fact, nobody else even had dial-up, or new what a "baud rate" was, except us!
How amazing that twenty-three years have passed since I started my first job in the student travel business: October 1, 1984. I was 24 years old, married, going to college and travel-agent-training full-time. I needed to get a full-time second-shift job since the collection agency would not let me go back to full-time (I had reduced my hours to part-time a year before). I was putting my then-husband through college at the prestigiuos Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and, well, one of us had to earn a steady paycheck. That one would turn out to be me, and the resentment that ensued would be the reason for the dissolution of our marriage shortly thereafter.

I kind of fell into my career in student travel by accident and karmic coincidence.

I started job hunting, and responded to one of those ads in the newspaper classifieds that read "Send resume to Box X, Worcester Telegram and Gazette bla bla bla" An unknown company needed a second-shift person to operate their IBM System 36 computer system -- a system I had operated for four years at Associated Credit (Worcester's premiere collection agency) and at Easy Day/Suburbanite in Framingham (the household cleaning product manufacturer), for four years prior to that.

I mailed my resume to the T&G, and received a call practically the next day. It was Charlene Flannery, asking me to come in for an interview, to a travel company located at the Worcester Airport. The company's name was ALSG (American Leadership Study Groups) the first of the "alphabet-soup" stutrav companies, and owned by one "Gilmartin" (as my friends in Worcester erroneously referred to Gil Markle). "Gilmartin" was more well-known for having brought the Rolling Stones to Worcester two years earlier, in 1982, and owned the countryside recording studio Long View Farm. He also owned ALSG.

Flannery hired me practically on-the-spot, and introduced me to Gil Markle during the interview. When Gil and I shook hands and smiled politely, "Nice to meet you," there was a spark of electricity which I vehemently denied at the time, but was irrefutably love at first sight on both our parts. On my first night of work, I called my former co-worker, Jeannie, at the collection agency and whispered into the phone, "His name isn't Gilmartin, it's Gil Markle. Gil is his first name." as Gil himself walked around the corner and heard me, and I quickly ended the call.

I started work on that October 1st. Whether that was a Monday, just like today, I can't recall, but it probably was. My job, exactly as it was at Associated and at Easy Day, was to operate the large System 36 CPU, run backups, run reports and do data entry, and work a modified second-shift from 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm. I arrived practically fully trained, plus I was going to school for travel and tourism. If this was not fate waving its mighty hand, I don't know what was. It was as if the job were tailor-made just for me.


Flannery stationed me at a desk at the far end of the mailroom which everyone called "The Bowling Alley" -- a long corridor just inside the exit door from ALSG's offices to the main terminal of the deserted Worcester Airport. I was completely isolated from the rest of the "DP" (data processing) staff, except for the computer programmer who would sit at the desk next to me once a week. At 5:00 pm, when the other DP girls would go home, I would move to their area and run reports, do backups and all the data entry they'd left behind.

My DP colleagues would complain when Flannery and her cohort Debbie Condon were out of earshot, saying it was very unfair that I was kept apart from the rest of the team. To make matters worse, because I worked a second shift (same shift as the sales staff) I was doubly-isolated because the sales department would never include me in their social events or business meetings. I was a lone worker, sitting in my little booth down at the end of the bowling alley by day, and inside the roaring computer room by night.

Each day, around 3:00 pm, Gil Markle would make his trek from his cavernous, plant-filled executive office to the airport lounge and bar. As he walked by my cubicle, he would always stop and say hello. We were both painfully shy, and the conversation basically amounted only to "hi" with a smile, and that darned electricity between us every time. In the evenings, before he went home to Long View Farm, he would stop in the computer room and visit me. He liked to sneak up on me when I was in the middle of those roaring machines and scare the living daylights out of me. He wore sneakers, and was always very silent. I'd be engrossed in a sales report and I'd look up from the report and he'd be standing within ONE INCH of me, reading over my shoulder! I would jump and exclaim, "Ugh! You scared the shit outta me!" and then I would laugh, and he would keep a poker face. On his way out to various trips he would take, he'd always visit my desk and tell me where he was going. And when he returned, I think I was the first person in the office he'd visit.


ALSG was ahead of its time. We had the internet in 1984. Gil owned another subdivision of ALSG called modemcity, and we had email and people could login and set up an account with a credit card. There were chat rooms and bulletin boards, long before that became the norm. I "met" people from all over the world on modemcity. And Gil and I started writing each other love letters by email. Or, as we called it at the time "modem mail". Gil was smart enough to keep and archive those emails, which we still have today. It's great looking back at them, and even the business emails still exist, which are often times hilarious.

Gil wrote the following poem, which I always figured was about me! See his footnotes at the bottom of the page after you click here:


The photo of me on my profile here on blogspot.com was taken in 1986, and I'm standing beside the modems and the large "Vax" computer that drove modemcity, and which I co-operated for many years. The series of photos taken that day include the one at the head of this blog posting, which would soon appear in Worcester Business Digest, accompanying an article about Gil and modemcity.


During another interview, Gil made mention of the little pink "While You Were Out" slips, and, for effect, crumpled one up and tossed it across the room, claiming that the paper office would one day be obsolete. It was only this year, 2007, when we came to that reality, now scanning almost all of our office documents instead of keeping paper files. Twenty-two years later!

We moved the Vax, the System 36, and all of ALSG's employees, equipment and furniture out of Worcester Airport in 1986 and in to the old Sibley's Neighbor restaurant in Spencer. And, we've been there ever since. Except ALSG eventually got sold, moved to Boston, and went out of business in short order in June of 1993.

The reincarnation of ALSG, passports, began in 1992, a year prior to ALSG's demise, and is still going strong today. Stronger than ALSG ever was, in fact.

I'm now Vice President of U.S. Operations at passports. Every day, I still do backups, operate computers (although they no longer take up the space of an entire room!), and still do the same data entry tasks I did back then. Plus wear a thousand other hats, including supervising and managing up to 50 people, with a lot of help from my senior colleagues.

And Gil and I still send each other love-letter emails.

It's been an amazing 23 years, and it went by in the snap of a finger. No two days are ever the same, and I am never, ever bored. Gil and I have stayed together through it all, and are more in love today than we were then. The electricity is still there. We make a great team.


One time, on a long-distance motorcoach filled with 50 passports clients and about 10 employees, a client asked us each to go up to the microphone and talk about how we got our start in student travel. Without exception, each and every one of us said, "I kinda got into student travel quite by accident." and then proceeded to tell our stories. There are no coincidences. It's been a wild ride.

7 comments:

  1. I remember that long corridor at ALSG well, from 30 years ago.

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  2. Hmmmm... who is the mysterious anonymous commentor? Manchester, England, and you Googled "American Leadership Study Groups" and found me! Well? Reveal yourself! lol

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  3. Actually I was looking to see if the old ALSG pictures that Gil put up on the net a few years back were still kicking around. They were great and brought back a lot of happy memories for me. If they are still about then please let me know where i can view them.
    Thanks,
    Niall Gibb
    Dundee Scotland (not Manchester England)
    PS I like your page and Gil's Studio-owner stuff. Happy days!

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  4. Hi Niall!

    Google showed Manchester England the other day, but then Dundee Scotland this time. Who knows?!

    Did you know that M. Forhan is still working with us? Every day.

    I asked Gil where the photos are, but they are not on the web anymore. He said "Stay tuned" lol

    I have some ALSG/LVF stories on my regular web site www.k2k9.com

    K2

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  5. Good, I'm glad Mike is there daily. Tell him Happy New Year and I think it's his turn to write!
    I'll stay tuned.
    Thanks.

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  6. I am not sure who if anyone would read this but alsg in 1973 changed my life and still effects it. I would love to talk with anyone from the 74 erra email me at web@jayhafner.com

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  7. Fascinating.

    I took an ALSG trip, spring 1978 or 1979, when I was in high school. We went from New Orleans to New York to Paris (midnight Easter service at Notre Dame)--3 days Paris, 5 days London with day trips to Stratford-Upon-Avon and Oxford.

    - Steve

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