I think it started with driving, more speed, more deals, more sky, more wheels/
More things to leave behind, now it's all in a day for the modern mind/
And I am traveling again/
Calling this a ghost town, and where is the heartland?/
from The Honesty Room (1993).
I’ve been ordering maps from AAA. I want to make sure I have paper maps to check where the GPS is sending me. When I was out in California a couple of years ago my GPS went screwey a bunch of times, while I was up in the mountains. I was driving along this ridge, it was supposed to be a two-lane road, but it seemed so narrow to me, I’d call it about a-lane-and-a-half. The little blue car on the Garmin display was doing three-sixties and blinking—alternating with a flashing question mark. Just in case I didn’t realize that I was lost--thank you very much!
For twenty-five years, I made my living with my first credential, my driver’s license. I have driven a truck, a school bus, and after being hired by The City University of New York, a college president in his sedan. I like to drive. I’ve got great peripheral vision, nerves of steel, and fast reflexes. Perfect for driving in and around New York City.
For a writer, driving was a dream job. I had friends who were waiting tables, or working retail who would’ve killed to land a gig like this. I called it "my day-job," because while I was doing this, I was always doing 90 other things: writing, working for the LGBTQ community at Identity House, raising my son, and putting myself though college, six-credits-at-a-time. A favorite quip was that I earned my BA while waiting for the boss to come out of his meetings.
The tuition reimbursement was a benefit I couldn’t pass up. I loved my kids and enjoyed my co-workers at the school bus company, but CUNY was a “City Job,” with benefits. Health care, a little retirement pension, and free tuition, up to a bachelor’s degree, in the blue-collar positions. My Master’s Degree and all the other graduate credits, I paid for out of pocket, with the help of numerous student loans.
The first president I worked with was a decent man. He was a gentleman and a scholar, and we got along just fine for many years. He, and all of his administration were very supportive about my studies. They’d ask about the research I was doing, or the paper I was writing. I got plenty of encouragement as I worked my way through school. Shortly after I got my BA, he became ill, and there was an interim president appointed. This was a man I’d known for many years, and it was also a good working relationship.
In time, the search committee did its job and a new guy was appointed. By this time though, I was so overqualified to be a chauffeur; even one working for CUNY, that the position became uncomfortable for me, and for my new boss.
But I was a really good driver. I was very knowledgeable about the streets, highways and traffic patterns at various times of the day. I could listen to the traffic reports and find the best, quickest way from point A to Point B. And this was without the benefit of any GPS or Waze apps. (Remember, there were no smart phones back in those good-old-days.) I was really good at the job, but the situation evolved to where the new president would routinely leave just 15 minutes for a 30 or 40-minute trip. He’d come out late, and then tell me, “Ok. Do your magic!” Implying that he still expected to be on time to his next meeting.
I did my best, but it was very stressful. I was driving like an animal, a mad thing. One more nut on the road, in a city full of looneys, all trying to turn their vehicles into time machines. Twenty minutes late? Just drive faster and more aggressively, to “make up the time.” It must have seemed like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” in the back seat, because in addition to “being late,” I was also pretty pissed off. I was burning up my adrenal glands with the stress hormones. The physical toll the job was taking became unbearable.
From gripping the steering wheel, my hands were becoming numb, and they would pain, burn, and tingle all night long, so I wasn’t able to sleep. I did weekly visits to my dear friend and chiropractor, Dr. Alice Behr, and her good work kept me going, despite the constant trauma, and repetitive motion. My lower back started to ache all the time, and getting in and out of the car dozens of times each day, was a sequence of motions that caused a number of problems with knees and hips. In short, it was time to go.
So, one day I dropped the boss off, and drove myself over to Queens College, where I picked up the graduate catalogue. I decided it was time to register and take those 21 grad credits so I could look for a teaching job. The thought of being able to take the whole summer off was a great enticement.
When the president got in the car again, I patted the dashboard as I told him, ‘This is an automobile, NOT a time machine.” I had to repeat the phrase a few times over the next few trips. I stopped working so hard, slowed down to a more reasonable speed, and he was quite late a bunch of times, but I was on my way out the door, so I didn’t really care.