I open my eyes and there isn’t much difference. It’s dark and grey and soupy outside. Not my favorite way to start the day. I roll off the couch, wake the kids and start my morning routine. Once dressed, I tell the kids to head on down to the car when they’re ready and I make my way out of the apartment.
The damp sidewalks show spots of drying, which is a good sign. My main vehicle, a silver ’99 Chevy Metro, likes to sleep in when it rains, so any sign of moisture taking a hike pleases me. I’m getting a head start on the kids this morning because the car has added a number to its repertoire: If it hasn’t been started in a while, say overnight, it likes to choke and sputter and run unevenly for a few minutes before everything evens out. Not a big deal, but I figure I should get it started before the kids come down to keep things efficient.
I plop down into the driver’s seat, set my book on the passenger’s seat, put my wallet and notebook on the dash and key the ignition. In a tiny surprise, the car starts right up. Alright, I think to myself as the car gurgles and pops; this is excellent! No sooner than this thought completes itself in my head, the car dies. No biggie, I think; it started once, it will start again.
Okay, it’ll start in a couple tries. Like I said, it started once, it’ll start again. By now, David has come down and slithered into the seat next to me. He puts his backpack at his feet and flips his iPod on. As I give the car a moment to regroup, I notice that I can faintly hear the Beatles' “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” escaping from Dave’s ears. I give the ignition another turn…to no avail. I guess someone’s trying to tell me something. Clever.
Samantha has now appeared and is coming around to David’s side of the car. As he opens the door, I tell her to hold on just a second. I crank the ignition one more time and get bubkes. Okay, this is getting annoying but I still have options.
“It’s not working,” I tell the kids and they peel away from the Metro. Fortunately, I have another car, a bright orange ’74 Chevy Chevette. Unfortunately, it overheats when you run it for more than about fifteen minutes. But that’s okay in this instance because all I need it for is to take Dave to school (a five minute round-trip) and then I can come back and get the Metro, which, historically, has started up after a brief respite.
So, we pile in the Skittle (as it looks just like the orange version of that candy) and take Dave to school. I’m cursing every stop light because I need to maximize the efficiency of this trip to ensure I make it back home without the car overheating. I cut the engine every time we have to stop, hoping it keeps the temperature down. We make it to school and as Dave hops out, I tell him to have a good day.
“I will. Good luck with the car.”
Samantha and I hustle through the parking lot, cutting corners to avoid sitting for too long. We only get caught by one light on Johnson Drive and drift, powerless, most of the final quarter mile to my apartment.
We shuffle our things and ourselves back into the Metro and I give the ignition a twirl. Nothing. I let out a choice expletive and bang the steering wheel with my fist a couple of times. Samantha, who has seen this routine before, remains unfazed. I unbuckle my seatbelt and Samantha follows suit. We each get out of the Metro and stand still. I try to decide if I can risk a run to Samantha’s school in the Skittle without it blowing up. I finally decide that it will make it and climb inside. Samantha completes the game of musical chairs and pops in.
I figure that if I can make it up the two hills between us and the school, I can coast down them with the engine off and buy enough time to make it back to the apartment for a final shot at the Metro. Upon beginning the ascent of the first hill, some numbskull decides he can’t wait two seconds for me to pass and pulls out of his driveway right into my path. More choice expletives are directed his way as we coast down the first hill. Looking across Shawnee Mission Parkway, I see a trash truck in the left turn lane to 63rd St., which is where I want to go. Another slew of expletives. Miraculously, the garbage truck doesn’t make any stops as we climb the hill. Not-so-miraculously, a school bus coming the other direction has made a personal stop at some stupid (as I called him) kid’s house, in turn making us stop until he safely boards. Thankfully, the stupid kid is smart enough to find his seat quickly and we’re off again.
The rest of the way is mostly downhill, so I manage to cut the engine again for a good portion. I dump Samantha at school and decide to give the engine a six minute rest. Arbitrary, but necessary. The return trip home goes, Praise God, without incident.
I hop back into the Metro for the third time this morning expecting victory. I should know by now that the determination of success rests heavily upon the preceding expectations. As it happens, victory is not to be mine this day. But, former Boy Scout that I am, I still have one option: the bus.
The Johnson County Transit System or “The Jo”, for short, just happens to have a base three blocks from my apartment and the route I take runs right past my office building. So I head out for the bus, book, wallet and notebook in hand.
As I come upon my bus, I see that the driver is heading inside briefly before making way. I’m a tad early, so the driver will probably be back in five minutes or so. I feel awkward and uncomfortable not paying the instant I board, driver or not, so I take out my wallet and notice that I only have a five- and ten-dollar bill. The fare is two dollars each way. No big deal. The machine that accepts my money doesn’t give out change, but it does spit out a card with credit on it that I can use for the ride home. So I slide my five-spot in the slot and wait for the card to pop out. Waiting...waiting… Seeing that nothing is happening, I press each of the two buttons in my view to expedite matters. Nothing. Okay, well, I’ll just wait for the driver and he can rectify things.
After a few minutes, the driver returns and I instantly stand to greet him:
“I put a five dollar bill in there," I said, pointing at the fare collector. "Just a couple of minutes ago.”
“Well, it’s gone now,” he abruptly replied.
I am momentarily stunned but before I can react he says,
“I need to push the button for you to get your card.”
No shit, I think to myself. “Well, would you mind, then?”
“Oh, after a minute or so, it just sucks the money in and keeps it.”
He starts shuffling around with a folder while I try to figure out why I ever woke up this morning. He starts to pull something out of his folder that I assume will be a pass.
As he hands me a business card for the Jo's offices, he says, “Here, you can call this number and they’ll get you straightened out.”
That’s what I get for assuming. And, fat lot of good that does me to get back home. Ugh.
“Okay,” I say. “Thanks.”
I sit down and try to read a little bit before giving up. I can’t concentrate because I’m reliving all the events of the morning and trying to figure out why I’ve become such an idiot. While no adequate answer is coming to me, I decide to stare out the window.
Twenty minutes late to work (and forty minutes after I prefer to get there), the bus approaches my building. I pull the cord to signal the driver my desire to exit the bus. There is a driveway just ahead that I would prefer to be let off at since the overnight rains have made the grass and ground quite soggy. But the bus driver pulls up short of the pavement, leaving me with the choice between dodging traffic on dry ground or slogging through the grass.
I thank the driver and depart. I sigh and remember the song I heard earlier this fine, fine morning: