(Please Note: My postings are always rough drafts. By the time you see them, I’ve sometimes made changes/corrections, maybe even changed the title of the piece. Please rely on this site draft rather than the one that comes to your message box. Mahalo : )
If you’re like me, you start every day at the kitchen table. We all eat, right? That’s what you and I have in common. And if you’re exactly like me at this point, you’re eating cereal and drinking coffee.
The first good news of the day, of course, is that you wake up not dead. A shower doesn’t hurt, and I always brush my teeth, even though most toothpaste is too sweet for my taste.
Then it’s off to the coffee machine. I don’t own the kind with the timer that has the coffee ready for you at a specific time, so I have to brew my own. By the way, this is always decaf coffee. My friends say why even bother drinking coffee if you can get wired doing so. I tell them it’s simple: I love the smell and taste.
While the brewing takes place, I first feed my dog. Next, I go to the cupboard where I store all my cereal boxes. There are quite a few, and the common theme is that they have little, or preferably, no sugar at all. Just as is the case with my toothpaste, I don’t like sweet.
I don’t have sugar in my house, either. Well, I do have a little, but it’s not for me. But that’s another story.
Selecting my cereal, I pour myself a bowl, douse it in 2%, and then carry it to the kitchen table. Heading over to the coffee machine – the timing is always nearly perfect – I pour myself a cup. I take that to the table, and there I am, a match for people at this time of day all over the world. We are all eating something at our kitchen table for breakfast – or our dining room table.
Some people make a definite distinction between kitchen and dining room eating. They believe that everyday eating should be done in the kitchen. This even includes dinner. The only time they’ll eat in the dining room is when there are guests. They want company to eat in the splendor of their fine dining room. Whatever. I only have a kitchen table, so my guests have to eat ghetto-style, just like me.
It’s after breakfast that all of us tend to follow different paths. As I say, if yours is like mine, I pity you.
My mistake number one was my college major. I made it English, which turned out to have nothing to do with the job I have now. Why is this? It’s because despite what you hear about English majors being prepared for anything given the honing of their reading, writing, and thinking skills, well, that didn’t pan out for me. Unless you think about the creative side of the major. I mean if I wanted to sit down and tell you a story about me and what I do every day, I’ve acquired the rudimentary tools to do it.
But writing, be it fiction, poetry, non-fiction, or what have you, requires practice. I don’t have time for practicing writing. My job consumes all my energy, beats me up physically and emotionally, and has me a zombie by the end of my shift. When I come home, I’m as good as existing in a borderline vegetative state, and sometimes I dream I’m in a hospital bed and my family, if there are any there who care, decide to pull the plug because it’s been determined I won’t come out of my coma. That’s kind of what I mean when I say I’m always glad I wake up not dead.
My work. You may head to Starbucks on the way to the office, or Dunkin’, or 7-Eleven, but not me. My job is such a high-stress one that caffeine would drive me through the roof of my booth if I consumed any.
No, I have a bottle of water, and that’s about it.
The first thing in the morning that freaks me out is that I have to maneuver through traffic as I head for my booth. If it were only one booth, I could maybe learn the ins and outs of crossing to the middle of the highway, but they’re always shifting me around. It could be one nearby or one way out the Westside. A long commute in early morning rush hour can set me off right away, so by the time I park and make it to my booth, I can be a wreck.
I’m dealing, then, with different traffic patterns every day. Depending on the time of year, too, I may be timing my running routes in the dark. Lots of drivers at any time tend not to see people suddenly rushing out in front of them from nowhere, trying to make it to the median before being killed.
Sometimes I think I like Cheerios best. They’re like little lifesavers, the kind you throw in the water when someone’s drowning. If I stuff myself with enough of those, it’s like a lucky charm, all of them there in my stomach to save me from being run over.
So my job, you’re probably wondering, what is it? Well, I work for the State, and my job is to count cars. Now you may have seen those rubber tubes my department lays across street at random times to count cars, and these work well. In most cases. But when it comes to counting cars on freeways, the rubber tube won’t do the job. The way traffic moves on the freeways, the tubes would get chewed up in no time.
To make things worse, these little booths are about the size of a tight-fitting coffin, so you’re always thinking, as cars whiz by and the booth shakes in their wake, that you’re prepackaged for burying. And I’ve seen some wicked accidents. All shift long I’m thinking about some driver losing control for just a split second and blam. I’m yesterday’s news. This neither bolsters nor cheers your outlook on life as you sit there on this little half-chair counting every car that passes by.
If you screw up, you could be responsible for the injuries or deaths of countless numbers of people. Road surfaces are not made of kryptonite, and they wear down at a rate that can be predicted according to the volume of cars that go over them. You better count and count well.
Which reminds me. Sometimes they have us do overtime, fill in the cracks on the freeway with this black superglue-like substance. I’m sure you’ve seen our work All those squiggly lines. Do you think some kind of truck oozing that stuff out could handle the swirls and squiggles of cracks you see out there? No, it’s us. It’s the human touch. At certain times of night, they force overtime on us to get out there and squirt that stuff as fast as we can by hand. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’re paired with a fellow worker who can drive a truck slowly, with flashers, warning drivers there’s work going on, but that doesn’t happen often. Certainly not often enough. That job right there is enough to give you a heart attack.
And if you thought the wake of cars shaking your coffin booth was nerve-racking, they’re nothing compared to the way a car rushing by you can rattle you around when you’re standing at the side of a freeway lane all by your naked lonesome.
If they’re traveling fast enough, that woosh of wind can almost take you off your feet. And those times it does, well, let’s just say the death toll in my department, per capita, is one of the highest in the State.
To make matters worse, we’re required to wear black so as not to distract drivers. We’re like glue-squiggling ninjas. And we have to move like them or else.
Now some of you may be saying, “Hey, I’ve never seen one of these booths you’re talking about, or you making like those guys in black outfits who’re supposed to be invisible as they move props between scenes in plays.” Well, that’s what I mean about how small the booths are and how we disguise ourselves. Even if you’re intentionally looking for us, you will just pass us by. Even if you’re stuck in rush hour traffic, just moseying along. Even if traffic is stopped because of some problem up ahead. Even if you get out of your car when traffic is stopped and head over to the median to attempt to find us, you won’t. Our booths are incredibly small. And at night, those lines on the freeway? The only way you’ll find us is if we show up splattered on your windshield.
You know, they’ve experimented with all kinds of counting machines, but nothing is accurate enough to handle multiple lanes of traffic as we can. It’s us and good eyesight, good hand-eye coordination. Our fingers clicking away carpal tunnel free.
I used to go out for lunch, but that just sent my stress level soaring. Many times I’d fumble my lunch before I made it to my booth, watch it get run over by passing traffic. So nowadays I just pass on lunch and wait for dinner.
So that’s my day in a nutshell. Now, if you can match that routine for high stress, I’m sorry to hear it. I can’t think of too many other similar jobs. I think maybe I have stumbled into the one job where my English degree can’t help me unless my ability to not get run over somehow and to count like an arithmetic addition savant stems from my reading Shakespeare and writing essays about neoclassical literature and magical realism. I can’t imagine even some brilliant thinker like Samuel Johnson making the connection.
Yes, this was not a story. It’s just a plain statement of fact, laid out as such. The only excitement, then, is mine. If there’s any arc, it’s moving from waking up alive to living long enough to get home every night and go to bed. I guess the word quotidian would fit. There’s some English at work.
A hui ho, then. Even if you won’t be seeing me, though, I’ll be seeing you. You can count on it – no pun intended.