As is well known around these parts (especially the parts between my own two eardrums), one of the most ridiculous jobs I’ve ever had consisted of picking up and driving ne’er-do-wells at various levels of misbehavior from the local workhouse to their jobs.
Nothing too exciting, just your average scofflaws: people without drivers’ licenses, small-time drug offenses, people with drunk-in-public escapades. This was not my usual line of work, of course, but with winter well in place and no job on the horizon, I had succumbed to my fear of unemployment and went against my better judgment.
I had been sitting on the couch, staring at my bills and counting and recounting my money when I got the call late Friday night.
“Do you,” Kevin asked, “know how to drive a stick?”
“What about drugs? You doing any drugs?”
“I’m unemployed,” I told him curtly. “I can’t afford drugs.”
“What about young men?” he asked.
“I can’t afford to do those either,” I said.
“No, I mean are you okay with working with men? Men who may have criminal backgrounds, sudden meetings with their public defenders, men with various interesting dental problems?”
“OK, Kiki,” I said. “What’s going on here?”
Kevin laughed. “The majority of my workers are in the workhouse right now. They can leave for work but they need to be picked up. I need you to drive them to the job sites, maybe do some work, and drive them back.”
“What are they like?”
“The workers? They’re okay. Mostly dumb, generally harmless.” Kevin laughed again. “Just put yourself in their shoes – they just need a ride to work.”
And then Kevin said something that cinched the deal. “I’ll pay you $15 an hour. Cash.”
I started Monday.
So I put myself in their shoes, and I learned a couple things.
One: The desperate will smoke things they find laying on the ground.
Two: The workhouse is not a punishment if you don’t care.
And three: Direction is relative.
This information came to me at a cost, but for you? Today?
Picture, if you will, 6:30 a.m. on a January morning in Minneapolis. It is dark, it is cold, and you are silently taking stock of your life and mulling over words like “wasted potential”.
Luckily, I have my passengers to guide me.
“OK, so at these lights, you’ll go this way.”
“What? What way?”
“This way! This way!!”
By this time, I have run through the lights and must now turn around. “Can you just tell me right or left? Just tell me which way to turn.”
But not even five minutes later we have the same scenario.
“Go that way! Go over there! Go that way!”
“Look, what the @#$@ are you talking about? Just give me direction, don’t make me take my eyes off the road, dammit!”
But it was not to be; and after several moments involving shouted commands of “THIS way! THIS way!” on his part and equally loud musings on his genetic make-up on my part, I came to a conclusion.
From the passenger seat, THIS way was to his right.
THAT way was to his left.
Now if I could only sort out the directions I had been giving myself up until that moment.
Kevin was right. Sometimes, you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
And sometimes, those shoes are State-issued.
That Summer: Part Four
20 minutes ago