Most nights, you can find me driving in circles through my neighborhood. Steady, predictable, it quiets my brain. I can say what’s on my mind, and no one hears. The only limit is the amount of gas I can afford. If my car ran on magic and dreams, I could orbit the west side forever.
They put me on the west side for expediency’s sake. The city had just opened up a new 24-unit building for indigents like myself. Except it’s not a new building – it’s a very old one, carved up into tiny apartments. Small, but clean, and they get a fair amount of sunshine. Most of the residents stay to themselves, although the parties can get loud, and the smell of weed intense.
When I’m not working, I’m stuck at my apartment. My choices are to walk back and forth or to sleep. When it gets to be too depressing for me, I hop into the Green Ghost, otherwise known as my ’94 Chevy Lumina, and I take a spin. Up Martin Ave,. Over Sullivant, down Wilson, and back on Broad St. Fifteen to twenty minutes to do the circuit, depending on traffic, and then repeat. And again. And again. Occasionally, I stop at a convenience store for fuel and a sandwich, but I am inevitably pan-handled when I do, which does nothing for my mood. And so, back at it again, around and around, again and again, until and unless my gas runs out or my brain shuts up.
Sometimes, I pass by Wilson, and go all the way to Georgestown Rd, where I can find three reminders of my old life as a productive citizen. Turning left, I go to the mall, that memorial to middle class whitedom, where I may visit all the things I can’t buy anymore. To the immediate right, there’s a strip club that once catered to the automobile plant that was once just down the street. Third, the casino that replaced the auto plant. I’ve never gambled there, but often walk among the slot machines for exercise. A friend of mine tends the one-armed bandits, and he’s often said I’d like it there. Maybe. But I want to choose the last job I’m ever going to have, and after my last three or four missteps, I want to be goddamned sure.
One night, not long ago, a chose the long track to Georgesville, and since I had a few bucks in my pocket, I stopped at the strip club. A very sweet young lady in fishnet stockings sat with me for a while. I told her that I’d first visited this club over twenty years ago, and she seemed amazed that anything could have happened as long as twenty years ago. When my time expired, she left graciously, as did I. I fired up the Green Ghost and took it out onto Georgesville, heading south toward Broad, and home, or, more likely, another loop. The casino passed by on my right, and I thought about the old factory, which I remembered well, and imagined the people who used to work there. How did they feel when they were told it was all over? Where were they now? These are the kind of thoughts that keep me looping.
The traffic light at Broad and Georgesville was red, and I stopped at the end of a line of several cars. Glancing into my rear view mirror, I saw a pair of headlights, closing the distance between us remarkably fast. I pulled over into the next turn lane on the left, and for a moment thought I’d avoided him, but he struck me obliquely and skidded off the road.
I was fine, and the other driver was fine, but the Green Ghost was no more. Even the glancing blow had destroyed her rear quarter panel, as the other car had been going over 80 miles per hour, based on the police estimates. I filled out the reports, checked in with the EMS guy, and was given a lift home. The policeman congratulated me, saying, “I could never have been as calm as you were in this situation.” Well, once you get down past a certain level, getting angry seems like a waste of energy.
The other driver had no insurance, and the Green Ghost wasn’t worth half as much as it would have taken to repair it. A new ride was needed, so my folks and I made the usual arrangement: they own it and I drive it. Today, I ride in a very nice 2004 Buick LaSabre in silver/gray. I call it “Smoke.” For a long time, I didn’t take Smoke on the loop. More miles means more chances for an accident, and in any case, the crime rates on the west side have been steadily rising. But as this life of underemployment slowly becomes the norm for me, I find that my rides are the only thing the make me feel like a human being. Maybe it’s time to put in that resume with the casino.
JUST FOR TODAY: I will remember that a human being’s mission is to make things better. Even if it is in a small, seemingly insignificant way, I will celebrate my accomplishments, and resist succumbing to nihilism.
*** Copyright 2017 by Mud Toe Sasquatch – all rights reserved