VOICES OF THE FAIR
This year, we hear from volunteers who worked the booth.
For some of the volunteers, working the Caltrans booth at the Los Angeles County Fair is old hat. Every year, however, a crop of newbies springs up with fresh impressions and enthusiasm. This year, Inside 7 asked for Fair feedback from both new and veteran volunteers.
One of the employees who had never worked the Fair booth before is Television Specialist Steve Devorkin. In his position, Devorkin has worked with a lot of employees over the years and anyone who has met him knows he’s a friendly guy, a trait that really worked for him at the Fair.
“I made up a rule that if people made eye contact while walking by, I would greet them with a smile and ask how they were doing at the Fair,” he said. “Eight out of 10 people would respond in kind and half would then come over to the booth.”
Devorkin said one thing in particular attracted visitors the most: “the bowl of little orange traffic cones (antenna balls).” With the cones as a lure, he was then able to engage them in conversation and they stayed to discuss Caltrans and the booth displays, he said. “I received many positive comments, such as ‘You’re doing a great job out there’ and ‘I appreciate you keeping the roads open during the winter.’”
General impression: “I had a great time at the Fair,” Devorkin said. “This was my first time volunteering and I found it to be very enjoyable.”
Leon Romero of Project Management also was a first-time volunteer. He said he found it “refreshing” that most visitors had really positive things to say about Caltrans. “Many people were impressed by the booth and all the information we had about the Department,” he said. “They told me they learned a lot more than they had expected.”
Romero’s volunteer experience made him feel helpful as he was able to answer all the questions he received and even follow up on some ramp issues with Operations, generating an investigation at the site of the complaint. Even better? “The give-aways were awesome,” he said.
For Right of Way Agent Gary George, the Fair was a great way to inform people about the Slow for the Cone Zone campaign. “Some people were not aware of the number of fatalities that have occurred to highway workers,” George said. “After seeing the display at the Fair, many people said that they would definitely slow down.” His final assessment was that the Fair is very positive and informative. “It’s definitely a worthwhile event.”
Another perk is getting to work with people from different divisions that generally are only encountered by phone or email, said Rudy Fernandez with East Region Maintenance, who worked on opening day. An accident in Ventura County involving Caltrans Special Programs workers had just occurred and many of the booth’s visitors inquired about them, Fernandez said. “People expressed sorrow and real concern about the condition and injuries of the workers. Some even asked if a fund had been set up for them.”
Additionally, he said, “We got a lot of appreciative remarks about the work we do.”
Transportation Engineer Rashid Ansarie, with Traffic Investigations, also worked on opening day. And he had company in the booth—District 7 Director Doug Failing and his wife, Yueh-Shen Failing. “I promptly ‘volunteered’ Mr. Failing to answer some of the questions I knew he would be better informed about,” Ansarie said.
Praising the “expertly adorned” walls of the booth, Ansarie said it was important for Fair volunteers to promote the Department. “We do great work, but some of the public see us as eager to close lanes and off-ramps,” he said. “I feel this is undeserved and it is our duty to explain that these are necessary to improve safety and mobility for Californians.”
Ansarie certainly must believe in the effectiveness of the Caltrans presence at the Fair. “It was 100 degrees plus, and humid, and packed with people,” he said. “Plus, it was a 12-hour day for me and yet… I tried to volunteer for another day!”
Transportation Engineer Art Salazar with the Office of Design Unit B offered the following as a summary of his experience: "My most memorable conversation went something like this: ART: Good afternoon sir, welcome to the Caltrans booth.
JOHN DOE (while looking at the our assorted display of "Slow for the Cone Zone" fans, brochures and litter bags): How are you gonna make any money with this stuff?
ART (after a two-second pause to collect his thoughts): Sir, one of the things we are promoting here is highway safety. . .
JD: How is that gonna make you any money?
ART: . . .which we hope will encourage motorists to drive safely around highway construction and maintenance areas, which will reduce the risk of accidents, which will result in saving lives and minimizing property damage losses, important things that are of value to each of us. So while we are not looking to MAKE money, our "Slow for the Cone Zone" safety program will SAVE lives and loss of property, which are worth something!
JD: Oh, thank you."
Salazar worked on September 24 and 25. He said that, although he found the experience enjoyable, "I would not do it again two days in a row!"
Veteran volunteer and Adopt-a-Highway Coordinator Shawn Silva said he had “a great time at the Fair, as always.” Silva has worked at the booth virtually every year since Caltrans began attending. “I am a firm believer that community outreach and education is one of the most important things we can do as state employees to ensure our safety and raise public awareness,” he said. “The booth helps people see that Caltrans is more than just a faceless public agency.”
Silva said that personal contact and interaction not only gives Caltrans a face, “but also reminds them that every time they see a cone on the roadway there is someone's son, daughter, brother, sister, dad or mom working out there to keep the road safe for them so they can get where they are going.”
His best experience this year was when an older couple walked by, gave the booth a “thumbs up” and said they appreciated all Caltrans does to keep the roads safe. “That's the payoff,” Silva said, “knowing that the public not only sees but really appreciates what we do.”
For those who have never volunteered, there are new opportunities every year. Maybe 2009 will be your story.