commute.

I just spent about an hour writing a story about something, and realized that I’d already written the story and published it here about a month ago.  That’s frustrating.  So in the spirit of frustration, I’m going to tell you about my commute.

I had a miserable fucking commute.  It was, basically, one road.  I would hop on Route 287 North about a mile from my house, and take it from Morris County, NJ all the way to the Tappan Zee Bridge.  Once over the bridge, I’d get on Route 684 into Westchester County, NY, where my office was.

In the morning, it took me two hours to get in on most days, owing to the rush hour traffic near the bridge.

Coming home took about an hour and fifteen minutes, because there was never any return traffic when I left the office.  That was because the owner of my company usually didn’t show up for work until noon, and would call me into his office to “review” (he’d say “come on in for a review,” and then talk about nothing) at about 4:00.  He’d sometimes keep me there until 8.  By the time I left for home, there was nobody on the road.

I would use my commute home to talk on the phone with business associates on the West Coast.  They were a few hours behind, so if it was 8:00 in New York I could still get some business done during the hour and change that I was in the car.  But on the way  to work it was simply miserable; there was nothing worth listening to on the radio – even Howard Stern, who typically made me laugh, was grating for excessive lengths of time, mostly because of the repetitiveness of the content and the insane number of commercials.  When I first started working for the company, I quickly became addicted to Stern.

I had begun listening to Stern when I was in high school, back when he was on AM radio in the afternoons.  I’d listen while doing my homework each day.  By the time I returned home from college, he was a national superstar, but I still kept listening – I found him to be hysterical.

With a two-hour morning commute, coupled by the hype from his 1995 book Miss America, it was easy to become addicted.  For a couple of months, I didn’t even listen to a cassette in my car, and the morning commute didn’t bother me in the least – the more time I spent in the car, the more time I could laugh, and as things at my job began to spiral downward, I needed reasons to laugh.

But by the spring of 1996, my infatuation with Stern had begun to wane.  He was still funny, but I felt like his show was best when your commute was a half hour long.  When you spent two hours a day in the car with him, you’d find things starting to repeat themselves, jokes beginning to get stale, the same stories being told again and again, and the sheer number of commercials just too much to take.  When you listened for 20 minutes and something truly offensive came out, you’d laugh at the irreverence. When you listened for two hours and you’d hear the same offensive thing again and again, you’d realize it wasn’t irreverence, it was premeditated shock, which somehow made it less funny.

Sitting in the car for that long was absolute misery.  Sitting in the car in my 1991 Ford Probe was much worse.

On the floor of the passenger side of the car, there was some sort of leak.  Whenever it rained hard, rainwater would get into the car and pool on the floor, sometimes three or four inches deep.  After a long rain, you’d literally have to bail out the water on the floor.

That didn’t stop it from soaking into the carpet, however, and in the early spring of 1996 it rained a lot.  The inside of my car first started to be damp like a greenhouse, and then eventually began to smell.

When I first started working at the company I commuted on my own.  Eventually, Danny started working at the company as well, and we’d meet up at the end of the Garden State Parkway each morning.  One of us would park in a commuter parking lot, and the other would drive the remaining hour or so to the office.  During this time we’d talk about work, complain about some of the weirdness we were both starting to see, try and plan out how we were going to complete this huge product launch we were both working on.

The problem was that aside from work and sports, Danny and I had very little in common, and an hour in the car together would eventually yield long stretches of silence, backed by music that one or the other didn’t like (he listened to top 40 music, I obviously did not).

Danny grew up in Hoboken and the differences between us were never more evident than one morning when we were driving to work together.  Being a product of the city who had recently transported himself to the suburbs, even the concept of mowing the lawn was foreign to Danny – he liked to tell the story of how he would sit in his living room and watch his neighbor do the yard work, then walk over and say “So…what are you doing?”  Then the neighbor would explain what he was doing, and Danny would go to Home Depot, buy the tools, and come back and do that same job the next day.

One morning Danny was driving us to work, and we were zipping up the Saw Mill Parkway, just talking.  Suddenly, he jammed his foot on the brakes, sending the tires screeching and the car fishtailing down the highway.  I was nearly vaulted out the windshield of the car.  I looked at him and his eyes were wide, and he pointed to the side of the road and screeched “What the fuck is that?!”

I looked where he was pointing.  On the side of the road, nibbling on the grass, stood a deer.

“Umm, that’s a deer,” I told him.

Cars behind us were leaning on their horns.  We were literally stopped in the middle of a highway.  He started driving again.  We sat there in silence for about 30 seconds, and he finally said “I’ve never seen one of those before.”

Eventually, though, he and I stopped carpooling together.  For some reason, Fred didn’t call him into his office on most days, and since Danny also had a family at home, he didn’t see much reason to stay at the office waiting for me until 8PM every night.

So I started driving in to work, sitting in my stinky, mildewy car for hours on end.  I’d get out of the car and go to work for a few hours, then leave the office and sit in that same car for an hour in the afternoon, eating my lunch in the gas station parking lot.  Then I’d sit in it again for an hour and change as I drove home.

When you spend that much time in your car, it’s inevitable that the car will eventually get messy.  Wrappers, papers, all kinds of stuff started littering the car.  French fries on the carpet, under the seats.  Occasionally I’d drop an M&M and it would melt into the carpet.

It didn’t matter at the time.  When you spend that much time in a car, the car also becomes an extension of you.  I didn’t even notice the mess.  I noticed the smell, but I’d just keep the car windows open to air it out.

In the early spring of 1996, I was driving the car over the Tappan Zee Bridge on my way to work, when I suddenly felt a huge bump in the road, followed by the obscenely loud roar of my car’s engine.  My car suddenly sounded like a NASCAR vehicle.

I looked in my rear view mirror to see what I had run over, and saw my entire exhaust system, sitting in the left lane on the bridge.  The exhaust system had, simply, fallen off the car.

It was on the Tappan Zee Bridge, during rush hour traffic.

When the exhaust system falls off your car on the Tappan Zee Bridge, what do you do?

Do you stop your car and go get it?

Do you finish crossing the bridge, pull over on the shoulder, and then walk back over the bridge and carry it back?

Once you have it, how much does it weigh?  Is it too bulky or heavy or cumbersome for one person to carry?  On the bridge?  In rush hour traffic?

Is it too risky to walk out into the middle of the bridge while cars are flying over it?

I thought about my walk halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge.  I finally decided I was going to leave the fucking exhaust system right there on the bridge.  By the time I got to it, I’m sure it would have been mangled to hell anyway, run over by countless vehicles.

I brought my car to the gas station and dropped it off.  The guy called me at lunch (which I ate in my office that day).  The repair was going to cost a thousand dollars.

One thousand dollars.  The entire car had cost eleven.  I was now going to spend ten percent of the purchase price of the car, buying and installing an entirely new exhaust system.

A thousand dollars is real money to anybody.  To us, it was a gold mine.  It was half the cost of putting out the Footstone or Jenifer Convertible records that were hurtling at us quickly.  It was close to the cost to produce two seven-inches for the Baker’s Dozen series.  It was 20 or 30 zine ads.

It was also more than half a mortgage payment, a year’s worth of clothes and food for the baby, or the cost of four cheap suits for me to wear to work.  I was still buying my suits at Today’s Man.

Between the cost of a new exhaust system and the cost of gas to get to work every day (well over 100 miles of commuting every day), the cost of Combos and cup cakes each afternoon for lunch, and the cost of the new suits I was wearing to work, we realized that almost the entire difference in salary between this job and the last job was already gone.

Whatever I did at work in 1996, I realized, would be essentially done for free.  I wouldn’t be “ahead” of the game, salary-wise, until the spring of 1997.

~ by Al on October 26, 2009.

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