“Merlin Sprague,” said Jo as she placed herself between me and the TV, fists on her hips. “You are going to seed. You never get out of that bathrobe anymore. You never go outside anymore. All you do is sit in that damned recliner the whole damned day, watching the History Channel and CNN.
I’m telling you, if you don’t get out of that chair and do something, you’ll be dead in six months. Some fine day, you’ll be watching the umpteenth replay of the Nips bombing the Arizona when you’ll quietly stroke-out in your chair”.
“Hey, could you move? Please? I’m watching this thing on FDR,” I replied, motioning her to get out of the way.
Of course Jo was right. Unfortunately, the last few ugly years taught me the futility of attempting anything but going to the bathroom. After the 2000s, I had decided to “retire”, in the sense of surrendering to sloth, indolence and having no pocket change.
Unless hectored, I wouldn’t mow the lawn, sweep the driveway, wash the car or even make my bed (after all, a guy never knows when he might need a nap). These chores are repetitive; you finish them one day and, b`god, there they are again the next. They’re like flushing a toilet over and over — press the little handle and the water goes down, then the water fills back up. Press the little handle . . . You get the idea.
I have few friends and fewer family — two daughters from a previous marriage who never call — so my departure wouldn’t be a great loss. Except to Jo. Jo and I have been married for almost forty years and are joined at the hip. If Jo wants me around that much, which I sometimes think is problematic, I suppose I have some duty to maintain myself in robust, pink-cheeked health.
Besides, some extra dough would be nice.
But what to do? Hitting seventy and stony-assed broke, starting another business is unlikely. Besides, I’m fresh out of ideas.
Selling stuff would be a good option, but what? Cars? Real estate? Tried those and they suck. But with my checkered history and advanced age, something like ethical pharmaceuticals wasn’t in the cards either. Retail? Back in my school days I tried that and it really sucked.
Hey, how about a nighttime security guard? Nah. Pay is for shit, and the job is deadly-dull. Perhaps a gatherer of night soil at a local hospital? Nope: Though there might be some excitement (Jesus H. Christ! Will you look at the size of that turd?), the pay is still low, the job is disgusting and you are on call 24/7/52.
WallMart greeting was unappealing. “Yes mam, the Depends are over on aisle three, right next to the enema supplies and toilet paper”. The bosses are tyrants and the pay is crap.
Well, I like driving. After our little software business turned into a pumpkin, Jo and I drove a semi for a couple of years. It provided a welcome and much-needed change from bitching customers and nasty bill collectors. Unfortunately, with one exception, the job was hateful and that one exception was driving the semi. I loved driving the semi. I loved it almost as much as I loved getting the pilot orders from Microsoft and IBM, back in the day.
But what to drive? Taxis? Un-uh. You work all the time and I mean all the time. City bus? Negatory. I’m simply too old. Delivery route? Bad idea. I’m too feeble to shelp around all that cargo. Besides, I look bad in shorts.
Maybe I could mule drugs? What self-respecting narc would suspect a grizzled old fart in a beat up Dodge of toting a quarter million dollars of dope in his trunk? It’s a possibility, but I don’t have any connections in that biz. I suppose I could ask Mac, my old and trusted supplier of weed but his connections don’t go that high.
While I was mulling over my options and coming up with nothing, our friend and neighbor, Jasmine Johnson, popped in for a chat. Jasmine does volunteer work at a senior citizen center hereabouts and mentioned the place was looking for drivers. Jasmine said the center has a fleet of some dozen small, twelve-passenger buses in which they transport clients to and from the center’s Adult Day Care Center. These people are invariably old, sickly, halfway nuts and bored out of their skulls. One or two can walk under their own steam, but for the most part, they are in wheelchairs or use crutches and walkers.
These “clients” love coming to the center. And why shouldn’t they? There’s basket-weaving of course, as well as group sing-alongs of “99 bottle of beer on the wall”, jigsaw puzzles and, to round things out, bologna sandwiches for lunch. Or, for those with no teeth, some kind of mush. All the while minders are roaming about, making sure the clients do not touch certain areas of their bodies.
Rack-mounted Port-A-Potty’s line the hallways.
You may not think the senior center is very enriching, but going there beats doing the very thing I was doing — sitting around, watching the tube, waiting to die.
Well why not apply for the job. If I were a bus driver for the center, there’d be no heavy lifting and I’d be home every night. And with my Class A Commercial Driver’s License and my experience in the semi, I’d probably have a good shot at the job. Of course at $12.25/hour, the pay stank but it did provide bennies, though the health insurance had a $2,000 co-pay.
Bright and early on a Monday morning, I drove to the center and saw John Lombardi, the big kahuna of the Transportation Department. Squat and heavily built, Lombardi arose from his chair and asked me what I wanted. When I told him I wanted to apply for a job as driver, he broke into a wide smile and extended his hand.
Lombardi explained that the center would be officially looking for drivers in a few weeks. The center had a formal search process underway and they’d already asked the center’s employees but got no takers. The next step was an official notice posted in the Little Nickel and other papers. Lombardi promised that once that notice hit the streets, he’d call. Two weeks later, Lombardi phoned and I went in for an interview.
I thought it went well.
A few days later Lombardi called with the bad news: After agonizing over all the wonderful candidates, it came down to me and one other fellow. After more careful agonizing, Lombardi and his henchmen, a retired top kick from from the Argentine army, decided I was not the superior candidate and was awarding the job to the other contender, thank you for coming in and yack yack yack. Good salesman that I am, I thanked Lombardi for his consideration and politely asked him to keep my name on file. We parted cordially and I went to the kitchen to brew an espresso.
Not thirty minutes later, the phone rang; it was Lombardi: “Mr. Sprague,” he asked with a certain diffidence, “are you still interested in the job? The other candidate turned it down.”
It’s kind of like asking some gorgeous honey to the prom and getting kicked to the curb only to have her call that night and say the stud muffin she was hoping would ask her didn’t ask her and is your offer still good?
Long story short, I said Yes and hired on. I have to admit, though, after this inauspicious start, I wasn’t as eager and gung-ho as I might have been. On more than one occasion, I was sorely tempted to chuck the whole business and move on.
So began my new career as a bus driver.