When the Texas economy crashed in 89 I loaded my pregnant wife and 3 small children into our tiny little Isuzu and drove cross country to San Diego California where I knew people, had family and friends and hoped I could find work in construction.
We had no money of course so we packed food in the trunk and in coolers and planned on driving straight through and fixing food along the way.
Late afternoon somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona we stopped to make some sandwiches. As I got the mustard out I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the bottle was swollen to twice its normal size, having been in the trunk, in the summer, driving from Texas through the great southwestern desert.
When I opened the mustard about half of the bottle came out, part fine vinegar mist and part messy mustard spray. All over the roof of the car, the windshield, the driver’s window, and every part of the front of my body from my waist up including my glasses and my hair.
It took a while to clean everything up. I chose not to have mustard on my sandwiches after that. When I sold the car years later there were still mustard stains on the headliner.
And the happy ending? Sorry. When I got to California construction crashed but it boomed in Texas. And we’d already moved. Eventually I found work in information technology, working with computers, so maybe there is a happy ending after all because that’s the work I really love.
I’m sure every profession is less glamorous than outsiders think. Except accounting. Accounting can’t possibly be less glamorous than it seems.
Sleazy employee I was keeping an eye on lived in a dump and walked everywhere, which meant I got to drive a piece of junk rental car and sit in a frankly frightening neighborhood so I know all his comings and goings. The dumpiness of the area also meant that popping down the block to grab a quick bite or use a clean bathroom was out. Yes, you can use the bathroom and not miss a guy leaving his apartment, if he walks everywhere.
But if there’s no bathroom, you do what you have to do. It’s not pleasant but it’s the job.
After a few hours of slowly cooling black coffee and nibbles of a lukewarm burrito, nothing happened.
See what I did there? You thought something was going to happen. You’ll need to drop that attitude if you’re going to succeed at this game.
Because most of the time, nothing happens.
If this loser wasn’t lifting vital records during his janitorial shift at a prestigious research facility, prestigious enough to pay loads to get the dirt on the dirtbag, it wouldn’t be worth the waste of time.
As it was, any move he made could be worth millions. Could, in fact, mean lives.
So, I sat. I waited.
Nothing except the coffee getting colder and my attitude struggling to keep its head above water.
In the space of two paragraphs, Spike’s coffee shop was invaded by nearly a dozen loud business-suit types. Half the tables were already in use. Partial use, he thought to himself. Eight quiet bodies, minding their own business, reading or people-watching as the crazies of downtown LA staggered by. They’d probably chosen this building to live in because of the coffee shop. Didn’t even have to cross the street for the full Fauxbucks experience. That had been Spike’s reasoning when he moved downtown from out in the east (read “smoggiest”) end of the San Fernando Valley.
It wasn’t really Spike’s coffee shop, other than that’s what he called it: “Why don’t we meet at my coffee shop?” But he’d sat there most mornings the past nine months, enough mornings to recognize all seven of the other faces in the pre-business-suit-invasion moments.
Now those faces were putting on sham smiles. Yes, of course, please, share my table, crowded isn’t it, yes they make an excellent nonfat soy latte; newspaper meaningfully rustled and raised enough to indicate intent without overt rudeness.
At least Camelhair Coat Dude wasn’t wearing a wool pinstripe like the two matching goofs who’d snagged a table by the door. Took Spike a moment to realize what the guy was asking; do you mind if I sit here? By then, he’d sat, and the question, and Spike’s understanding, were moot.