Yesterday I had to take my car to the dealer and pay $400 to have a mechanic turn off a bright yellow malfunction light in my dashboard. That’s what I think when I take my car to the shop. "A light came on in the dashboard. I don’t know what it means. But make it go away."
I know the technicians root around in my car’s innards and do something. Whatever they do makes the light go off and that’s what I pay the money for. If you’re a mechanic, don’t waste your energy trying to explain it to my pea brain.
When I found out it would take the whole day to fix, I asked if they could give me a loaner to drive to work. They didn’t have loaners, but they offered a shuttle service to anywhere within 15 miles.
I wrote my name on the sign-up sheet and soon after, the shuttle driver collected me and three other carless people, and we all piled into a van. Excellent! I’ll be at work in no time at all. Or so I thought.
We exchanged pleasantries and got settled in, only to smell trouble immediately as our driver fumbled with his papers, mumbled to himself, and stumbled into gear. It was apparent we’d gotten the Don Knotts of shuttle drivers and this would be no ordinary trip. I fastened my seatbelt. HARD and SURE.
I shall refer to him now as Worse Than Me. Regular readers know that I’m the most directionally-challenged person to get behind the wheel of a car. Our driver wishes he were only as challenged as I am.
Worse Than Me had no plan, couldn’t read street names, and didn’t appreciate helpful instructions from his passengers. They only seemed to anger him ("I know where I’m going!") To add insult to injury, he TALKED ALL THE TIME. Sometimes to us. Sometimes to himself.
Worse Than Me chatted up the poor soul who got into the front seat with him. It went something like this:
So we’ll take you first since you’re close I know the back roads and you’ll have to tell me if you need a ride home and oh boy it’s been busy the last few days I had six people to deliver to work yesterday and all of them wanted to get there right away because everybody wants to get dropped off first you know and sometimes I have only one person in the morning but today is an average day with the four of you sometimes I have a lot of people to pick up at night the shop closes at 5 o’clock but sometimes I’m still out driving at 6 o’clock the mechanics leave at 5 o’clock but customers can pickup their cars until 8 o’clock so which building do I have to drop you off at?
He did not take a breath. He wasn’t expecting responses. More importantly, he wasn’t exactly watching the road. And then his cell phone rang. Oh, dear God. Please don’t answer that. Luckily, it rang only once and he never got to pick it up. Eyes on the road, buddy. Eyes on the road.
Worse Than Me keeps talking to Poor Soul #1 all the way to the first drop-off point. I have remained silent thus far and intend to stay that way, even if I’m the last person to be dropped off. I’m kind of into him concentrating on his driving and the not-getting-in-an-accident part of this expedition.
When we get to Poor Soul #1’s workplace, he exits the van and now the driver has to figure out how to get Poor Soul #2 to her destination, a house in the middle of nowhere.
We continue through towns I’ve heard of, then through towns I haven’t. Traffic gets thinner and thinner and I don’t know where I am. Neither does Worse Than Me. Poor Soul #2 tries her best to direct him to her house and a very long discussion ensues about where he’ll find the Burger King he needs to turn at.
Apparently the driver thinks he knows where to turn, but Poor Soul #2 has to correct him at almost every intersection. He argues with her about which way to go, despite her objections about the path he’s taking. She indicates there is a much faster route, but he repeatedly states "I don’t want to mess up." All I’m thinking is — Then let her help you! I’m very uncomfortable at this point because two people who have just met each other are arguing already. This does not bode well.
Poor Soul #2 abandons her effort to guide our driver and let’s him do whatever he wants. He mumbles something about "I know all the back roads from when I was a kid," and Poor Soul #2 announces "You know, I’m really not feeling well and I can’t comprehend what you’re saying to me." I laugh very loud at that in my head.
We eventually make our way to Poor Soul #2’s house in the boondocks and she quickly slips out of the van, to presumably go inside and scream her head off. I consider briefly getting out with her, pretending I live there, too. I could have always called a cab from there. Darn! Why did I think of that just now?
I allow her to exit the van, and against my better judgement, I get into the empty front seat. I’m now inches from the driver, but I’m still silent and I don’t plan on making eye contact. My only fear now is that he’s dropping off Poor Soul #3 next, and I’ll be left alone with him in my quiet misery.
My fear washes away as Worse Than Me announces he taking me to work next. Poor Soul #3, a woman in the back seat, sighs "Oh my God. We were closer to where I work when we were back at the first place. By the time I get to work, my car will be done!"
Worse Than Me says nothing and proceeds to drive further east towards my workplace and much further from Poor Soul #3’s destination. I silently pity her, as I realize that she’s going to be alone with him for another hour, at least.
I’m blessed that our driver knows how to get to South Mountain, which is about two miles from where I work. This means I can continue my vow of silence and not have to give him directions from Timbuktu. I have absolutely no idea where I am at this point. I ask myself repeatedly whether I should have just stayed back at the dealer and waited for my car right there in the shop, instead of here in Wayward Van.
Traveling past more places the driver recalls from his childhood ("I remember that park from when I was a kid." "I remember that’s where I used to hunt as a kid." "I remember that little house from when I was a kid."), we finally approach South Mountain and I realize it’s time to speak soon. I have to tell him which street to turn on at the base of the mountain.
On approach I finally utter three words: "Turn right here." Worse Than Me jabbers away about how he remembers dropping off some passengers at one of the big buildings on campus and asks me when they put up that sculpture near the front of it. I reply without opening my mouth, "I-hmm-no" (translation: "I don’t know.")
I give up a couple more words: "Turn here." We have two more blocks on the journey, and I insist I won’t speak any more than is absolutely necessary, so I just wave him on with my hands. We approach my stop and I allow a final word to escape: "Here." I have successfully been driven to my destination, not engaged the driver once, and said less than ten words in 57 minutes. I don’t know any monks who could do that.
As I reach for the door handle and Poor Soul #3 prepares to make her transition to the front seat, I look at her with all the sympathy I can muster. I silently mouth the words "Good luck" as I step onto the curb. She looks at me with a pained expression, her eyes the size of saucers.
All I could do was wish her well for the next hour I’m sure it’ll take her to get 20 miles west of here. I half expected her to put her hands up on the inside of the window as they drove away, in a Edvard Munch-esque silent scream and a face that said "Save me." But I never looked back. I didn’t have the courage. I failed as a human.
Godspeed, Poor Soul #3. Godspeed.