The awful ringtone I have chosen for my cell phone’s alarm breaks the silence. It’s five in the morning and the sun is still hiding below the horizon. I don’t want to get up, but I don’t have a choice. I have to hit the road soon if I have any chance at making my meeting on time. Another long day of driving waits ahead of me.
My morning routine, that is the time it takes me to get from my bed to my Honda Accord’s leather driver seat, is almost exactly forty minutes. I’m in an out of the bathroom in twenty minutes tops. I brush my teeth in the shower every morning to save time. This bizarre ritual began sometime in college I think, and is perhaps the strangest thing about me. After I’m all showered up and clean-shaven, I read the Wall Street Journal for a minute or two with a couple of glasses of water and my daily vitamin. Next I pick out one of my dark-colored conservative suits, iron my white shirt, tie my unobtrusive tie in a half-windsor knot, desperately try to find two matching black socks, and then hunt down my reversable belt. I touch my shirt’s breast pocket to make sure my phone is in there and pat my front right pants pocket to make sure my wallet is there, kiss my wife and baby, and then I’m out the door.
Today I’m heading to Natick, Mass. for a meeting, a little less than two hours from home depending on traffic. I like heading north on I-91 because there’s a drive-through easy-on-easy-off Starbucks in Springfield where I can get strong black coffee and an oatmeal. I spend hours in my car on most days, and after six years of driving, I’ve learned two things about New England geography – where every Sleepy’s is and where the most convenient Starbucks are when traveling between Sleepy’s stores.
Most days I don’t get in the car until seven or eight, but today I heading to a special meeting. At six sharp I’m in for a treat. I hear Rob Zombie wailing on the radio, screaming the opening lines of the theme song to the Howard Stern Show. “Good morning everybody,” Howard yucks in his funny fake radio voice. The first hour of the Stern Show is the best. Howard and his sidekick Robin usually banter about current events while Fred plays funny sound effects. I like their points of view, off-color jokes, and honesty.
Long drives can get pretty boring. I used to read emails a lot, but I’ve given that up. It’s way too dangerous. I used to also get really sleepy when driving, but thanks to my pals at Starbucks I haven’t had that problem lately either. Best to pass the time by listening to Stern, or CNBC, or the alternative rock channel on my Sirius XM satellite radio. If that fails, I’ll hook up my iPod and play something newer like the Arcade Fire or something older like Pearl Jam or Stone Temple Pilots. Sometimes I’ll catch up with friends and family, but I never was very good at or enjoyed talking on the phone for a long time. As a last resort, I’ll look over at the other cars on the highway. The Subarus and Toyotas and Fords are like little universes whizzing by me. I stare or smile or yell at them and they keep on going or I do.
Around Ludlow, about ten miles east of Springfield on the Mass Pike, the sun starts to poke out its head. There are some low translucent clouds, or maybe a high fog, left over from the night before hanging around in the air. The mist doesn’t want to leave, but the sun is shooing it away. As I drive east towards Boston, while the sun and the fog sort out who’s in charge of the morning sky, I can see deep purple behind me, lavender above, and bright auburn bursting through straight ahead. My coffee has cooled enough to take a few sips and I’m starting to wake up.
I get to my meeting a little before eight and it runs until about six. It was tiring, and now I’m back in the car. I ate a bagel at the meeting around ten and felt guilty about it, so I only had a salad for lunch at noon. Now it’s six o’clock and I’m back in the car, starving. Long car rides combined with light lunches are a recipe for bad eating decisions for me. I stop off and grab a couple of slices of pizza. I’ve spent so much time eating in my car that I’ve grown to enjoy it. It’s kinda like eating in front of the television. I get crumbs everywhere. The other day I found a McDonald’s french fry under the seat that had turned into a fast food fossil.
As the next rest stop nears I realize I need gas. I pull off, and while I’m filling up, I think about how great an ice cream would be. Ah, what the hell – I run in and grab a vanilla Ben and Jerry’s ice cream on a waffle cone. So much for eating well today. Tomorrow I’m going to get my act together. Maybe I’ll have vegetable juice for breakfast or pack a nice salad to take to work with me. Maybe not.
Somewhere around Palmer, about twenty minutes from home, I start preparing to end my day. I steer the car with my knees and reach down to untie my shoes. Then I untie my unobtrusive tie and unbutton my white shirt. This ritual minimizes the time it will take me to transition from work John to home John. I pull the car down my street, press the garage door opener button, and then I’m finally home. Another twelve-plus hour day, four hours of driving, is behind me. I’m exhausted, but excited to see my pretty wife and happy baby. I set my phone and wallet on the coffee table, have a bowl of pasta, watch something on the History channel, and then fade away to sleep in my silence of my bedroom.