Even after the car had time to warm, the seats are still freezing cold. Pulling my coat tight, I have to remain perfectly still to conserve heat and keep away from the car’s leather until the heater starts blowing. These motors built to convert hydrocarbons into mechanical energy were never good at providing for human comfort. Despite the chill, the sun is brilliant in the winter morning. The snow and ice glittering incessantly as I darted to the car and shake the salt from my boots. Graciously, the snow truck didn't plow me in today.
It’s early so I feel instead like I'm running late. I never understood how Mom and Dad could wrestle themselves out of bed at four-thirty in the morning to make breakfast, pack lunches and beat traffic.
While I wait another two minutes to idle, I scrape the frost the windshield wipers couldn’t remove. Hopping back in, I impatiently get going and settle into my commute. This morning on the "Fresh Air Podcast", an interview on the popular Uruguayan President José Mujica and a review of the new film Selma (2014). Alone in Mom’s old Buick is certain serenity in the routine; my mind drifts from one spectral thought to another crystalline snowflake upon the windshield. On autopilot, it is effortless to navigate around slower traffic and then judiciously avoid the pothole just after the first mailbox over the hill that grows deeper with every unwary commuter.
My routine is practiced and practically timed to the minute—better than the national average, I can clock-in in under twelve minutes. Too early on Tuesdays, and the garbage trucks will slow me. Moments too late and I'm trapped behind school buses dawdling along their routes with nowhere to pass.
I know, and fear, each of the deer crossings. In early Fall, I see them casually grazing shrubbery on the shoulder or appear suddenly from the brush to audaciously stroll, then dash across the road. And never just one, his friends will try to ambush the side of your vehicle. At least until hunting season opens, then the threat subsides until the emergence of the fawns in late Spring. I've had too many close calls with deer eager to devour a patch of tulips or emboldened by the urge to breed.
After the threat of deer, I dip my visor for a better view of the taillights against the blazing morning sun.
It is easy to see that as I drive, the Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys give way to Lincoln MKZs Mercedes E-Classes and Range Rovers. Where are the occupants of each of these vehicles heading? Where is all this wealth accumulating? Have they fully funded their retirement accounts? Or are these leased vehicles foolish displays?
Two or three times a week, there is a black Tesla Model S that I see taking the same freeway exit I do. I like to gaze into its captivating, handsome abyss of paint and chrome. Maybe this could be me one day?
The man driving the Tesla drops a child tucked down below the window off to school. What work does he do for a living so he can chauffeur his kids to and from grade school? In some moments, as the stoplight lingers on red, I imagine pulling up my vehicle next to his, rolling down the window and motioning for him to do the same.
I'd ask “What kind of work do you do?”
“How old is your child?”
“Are you looking for a bright, intelligent assistant?”
Before I could ask all of my questions, the light would turn green and the world would beacon us on our separate ways.
In the coddling of youth, I proved a precocious elementary student. Voted by my fifth grade class as a future scientist, I imagined building satellites or curing cancer and disease. I aced biology, chemistry and physics—and buffeted with the constant refrain that “I could be whatever I wanted to be; do whatever I wanted to do.” Now it all feels naïvely distant.
My aspirations, those of a thousand others across the nation, froze in time when exposed full-on to the chilling economy of late 2008—unshielded by school or parents, they just hung in the air. The flakes drifted so gently down to Earth to sparkle and melt in the sunshine. It would have been more practical to major in accounting rather than French literature, but is that really a way to live? One way or another, I am going to succeed. Sell my car and move to the city. Save and save and place a down payment on an apartment. Put money in retirement. Markedly reduce my carbon footprint. Build a respectable life so that I may be independent in my old age and touch lives and be remembered.
With anticipation, I exit the freeway and pull up to the light. Where’s the Tesla? He’s not here. Of course not, there's no school on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
That means I'm grown up because I have to work holidays I used to have off as a schoolkid—or does it mean the Nation still has more growing up to do?
For my employer, MLK Day is like any other workday. The struggle for civil liberty was too hard and long to be not forgotten, but still ignored 30 years after the Day’s first federal observance. Ambivalence slows the momentum of society’s views. On this day we celebrate a movement that exemplifies the American values of free speech and dignity. A vital part of American history that enshrine a voice in voting and nonviolent protest, and demands the ability for each to realize one’s full potential.
But the outsized strength of money in politics and a financial crisis brought on by pushers of unaffordable home loans has started a ripple affecting the prospects of my generation.
And then suddenly, the twelve minutes is up, and not long now to pull in. To park, walk around to the front of the building, past the reserved executive parking spaces and punch in.