Wally World

Soon after earning my Ph. D. in social psychology, I moved to Jacksonville, Florida to work as the Director of Marketing Research at a large hospital. My duties included conducting focus groups and surveys of the various “populations” served by the hospital: patients (soon after their discharge), employees, physicians, and the general public. Surveys of the general public involved the assessment of the local community’s attitudes about various services the hospital provided or, in some cases, planned to provide. The hospital had a contractual relationship with the local newspaper, The Florida Times-Union, that involved me working with the newspaper’s marketing department and its highly skilled telephone interviewers. The marketing department at the newspaper was managed by Wallace Parker, who supervised a staff of mostly senior citizen women who conducted the telephone surveys. The usual procedure was for me to write the survey instrument, then drive to the newspaper building, where I reviewed the survey with Mr. Parker and his team of telephone interviewers. My colleagues in the hospital’s marketing department began referring to my frequent visits to the newspaper’s marketing department as “going to Wally World,” a funny reference to Mr. Wallace Parker (and later, to the fictitious theme park featured in the 1983 movie, “Vacation.”) The time I spent at Wally World was educational, in many ways. Training the surveyors on the way I wanted them to conduct my surveys was different than anything I had ever done. It was vastly different working with several septuagenarians and octogenarians than with college students on my major professor’s research team during my years in graduate school. To say these women were “set in their ways” is quite an understatement! We soon became good friends and during the 5 years I worked at the hospital, going to Wally World was among my favorite job duties.

I remember hearing about Melissa’s trips to Wally World starting shortly after we met at the hospital.  She viewed the various excursions to such places as a job perk, the chance to get out from behind her desk and go for a ride in her sports car, either her red Camaro or black Corvette (there was a pattern there!).  While I know she went to various other locations in the course of the job, she seemed to enjoy going to the Times-Union offices to meet with the team there most of all.  It was probably a combination of going to the newspaper building, the subject matter of the survey being conducted, and the interactions with the team, and especially Mr. Parker.  That newspapers were once a primary provider of market research is interesting to consider; I suspect this is rare today.  Getting out of one’s narrow area of work and working, networking, with those in peripheral business roles is mind expanding.  Understanding how the various cogs in the wheels turn helps understand the bigger picture.  For me, that included trips to various photo labs.  Around the time Melissa was making these drives to the Riverside area of Jacksonville, I was frequently making a drive to a nearby location – a large photo lab serving commercial photographers.  In those days, the film and prints had to be made somewhere.  Processing and printing black & white was relatively easy to do yourself with the right space and equipment.  But, color was a different story so my runs across town were to a color lab.  And, like Melissa’s immersion at Wally World, my trips there included visiting with friends behind the counter and other photographers.  Once in a while, a visit to the darkroom was included to see behind those scenes.  For color, the darkrooms are dark, totally dark, no red safe lights.  In fact, one of the lead film processors there was blind – it didn’t matter to his work.  Over the years, we’ve occasionally had need of our employees making a drive to one place or another to accomplish some task.  A few have moaned about having to get out of the office, giving us the opportunity to recount some of the stories such as these about Wally World and the photo lab trips.  Get out, learn, explore, be open to the opportunities to do such things. The pay is the same regardless of whether you’re working in the office or doing an errand! 


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