How Is My Driving?
“I can’t wait for school to end. Summer feels so close. I’m so excited,” Zoe times her last sentence to her foot pushing down on the gas pedal as the light goes from yellow to red. The wheels of her beat-up Volvo barely pass the pedestrian lines before the people on either side of the street begin to cross.
“I know. Me too,” muses Catherine, absentmindedly tugging at the unraveling strings of her friendship bracelet.
The two girls continue advancing down familiar roads, at once engulfed by the cars and street noise surrounding them and sheltered from it. The windshield in front of them feels like the screen at a theater, and they’ve seen this movie a thousand times. The girls’ commute from school is so similar, so predictable every day that they’ll consistently make the same green lights and have to stop at the same corners. It’s as if their car is timed with the streetlights, timed with the rest of the world. Often, they’ll see the same kids walking home from school, the same delivery truck stopping outside the supermarket at exactly 4:08 pm, 12 minutes after they leave school, 11 minutes after the last bell rings.
But today Zoe slams on the gas and manages to cross the intersection between Wisconsin Avenue and Newark Street just as the light turns red. They drive through the familiar slopes of the street, and a truck merges in from the left lane. Big and white, it blocks their view of the sun. In fact, it blocks most of their view. It’s as if someone’s put a cloth over their movie theater screen.
Meanwhile, miles away on the stuffy fourth floor of an office downtown, Maureen sits at her desk, readjusting her headset. She has been sitting behind this desk for five hours today, without a break because the customer service department seems to be chronically understaffed. Really, she has been sitting at the desk for 18,812 hours. It is her tenth year on the job. The job consists of answering calls. The same calls, over and over. The job is easy. Supposedly. The job is supposedly easy, and she was only supposed to have it for a few months. It’s been ten years, and she’s still at this supposedly easy job that somehow makes her feel drained at the end of every day.
The only silver lining of Maureen’s job is that it led her to find her husband. Maureen’s husband is kind, considerate, and strong. But he works long hours, and he works at a different department, rarely ever stopping by the office. Although they work for the same company, their jobs are nothing alike. Instead of spending time with him, Maureen has to sit in her uncomfortable office chair facing her outdated computer every day. For hours, people pour their complaints and grievances into her, but instead of filling her up, it always makes her feel like she’s being sucked dry. She opens a tab on her computer and types in cheap beach getaway. She wants to quit. She closes the tab. She has no real options.
“I just can’t wait to be done with high school and actually have a life, you know?” Zoe muses as she brakes slowly behind the truck, eyeing the stop sign to her right.
"God, yes. A few weeks from now I’m going to be in Italy, going to the beach every day, and hopefully falling in love,” Catherine replies.
“Haha, good luck with that,” Zoe turns to look at her friend then looks back at the road. But there is no road, there is just white metal and a loud engine. “Why is this truck taking so long?” She considers tooting her horn but decides against it, sighing impatiently instead.
“I don’t know, bro. Maybe someone’s crossing the street,” Catherine says, looking up from her bracelet. “How is my driving?” she reads out loud. “I’ve always wondered why they have those signs on the back of trucks. Like, do you think someone’s actually going to pull out their phone and comment on some random stranger’s driving?”
“You’d have to be an asshole to do that,” Zoe says, finally lifting her foot from the brake and inching closer to the corner.
“Or just really bored,” Catherine replies, putting her cellphone to her ear.
Zoe looks up at the rearview mirror and catches a glance of her friend. She laughs and exclaims, “Oh God! Are you calling them?” she rounds the corner, still behind the truck.
After a few rings, someone picks up.
“Hello, this is Maureen with Adamson-Wills Restaurant Delivery customer service division. How can I help you?” a voice says into Catherine’s ear. She lowers her phone and taps the speaker icon so her friend can listen in. Zoe fails to hold back a giggle. She tries to concentrate on the road ahead, driving straight as the truck ahead of them merges right, returning them their view of the sky.
After some hesitation, Catherine replies chirpily, “Hello Maureen! I’m just calling because we saw one of your trucks and…” she looks at Zoe quizzically, unsure of how to continue.
“I just wanted to say, I have never in all my years of driving..” Zoe jumps in, not missing a beat. On the other side of the line, Maureen holds her breath, expecting the worst, “seen such wonderful dexterity on the road.”
“Dexterity?” Catherine whispers.
“Shh trust me,” Zoe says.
“Oh! Oh, well that’s such a nice surprise. Oh! Well, thank you so much, girls. That is not the type of call I usually receive,” Maureen gushes. Suddenly her office feels much less stuffy, and she realizes that if she can just drag this along for a minute or two more, it can be her last call of the day. There is no real standard procedure for reporting good drivers, but Maureen follows the guidelines she follows for every call. “Could you tell me the license plate number and location of the vehicle you’re seeing?”
“For sure!” Catherine says, rolling down the window to get a better view of the truck. The sound of the engine invades their Volvo bubble, and she leans out of the window to read the number on the plate. “7TYP290,” she spells out for Maureen.
Maureen, recognizing the string of numbers, gasps quietly. “Can you repeat that please?” she asks.
“Yeah, for sure,” says Catherine before listing the numbers and letters again.
“And we are driving down Reno Road,” Zoe pitches in. “Truly great driver y’all got yourselves Maureen,” she continues. “He stops at every stop sign, turns smoothly. I wish everyone on the road was half as considerate.” Zoe is really enjoying this exchange. It makes her feel a little closer to adulthood.
The digital clock on Maureen’s desktop goes from 4:14 to 4:15, and she smiles, the first smile she’s ever experienced inside the Adamson-Wills customer service office. “Well thank you so much for calling in, girls. I will make sure the message is passed on to the driver. Have a good day!”
“Have a good day!” Catherine replies before hanging up.
Maureen decides not to text her husband. Instead, she waits until he comes home later that evening. He pours in through the front door, all sweat and half ethanol. He smiles at her. She smiles back, “I got a call about you today.”
Alicia Colomer is a student, artist, and writer. She writes stories that are half-true and wholly fiction. She was born and raised in Mexico City, and has lived in Paris, Washington DC, and New York City. Currently, she studies Film and TV Production at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Alicia enjoys reading beat prose and poetry, altering her own clothes, shooting on super 8 film, and hummus with a drizzle of olive oil.