The big apple, that's what they used to call it, but I never understood why.
It was my first day on the job. I have my new uniform if you can call it that, a dingy orange jump suit and florescent reflectors like out of the 80's pop group DIVO. I pull the truck over, I hear the back open and the crew begins loading. I can't believe this old crappy truck is still on the road, it's engine groans like the old Prius hybrids every time I try to accelerate. It's got to be almost 60 years old by now and once it might have been considered a small truck. Now it towers over everything, twice the width of everything on the road. The only reason it's still in use is because it belongs to the city and they are too cheap to replace it I guess. It engine had been replaced years back and had been converted to electric when they stopped selling gas here, before, the rest of the country did. In doing so the streets are now like death traps with 600 volt rails jutting out all over the roads that are constantly replenishing the caps. It's amazing how few problems they have with it. You'd think people would be getting fried all the time, but nobody walks the street these days, not even to cross it.
I really should have used the restroom before I started driving. On the street in Manhattan there are no restrooms. The entrance to main office I which just left from is only a few feet away from the other end of the block. Technically I am still in the building. I stared at it's concrete, looming overhead, like being under a bridge. I'm sure I can just run over, while the work crew is loading, and be back in 5 minutes, before anyone even notices.
I open the door to face the traffic, I can remember what this used to be like in my youth when you'd get hit in the face with the familiar, almost comforting smell of petroleum exhaust and the blare of car horns. I actually miss it. Now the whole road is like an ocean of little robotic bumper cars silent. Nobody is even paying any attention since the cars drive themselves now, occasionally brushing against the rails for power. I remember when the Smart car first came out and how odd they seemed at the time; now there is nothing but. Everyone is oblivious, sitting in little half width toy cars, with the exception of this one old truck as far as the eye can see.
“Hey where are you going”, shouted another DWP worker sitting in his little orange toy car stopped in front of me. I reply, “I need to use the rest room!”. “You sure?!”, “Yes, I really need to go”; “Christ”, He waves me over, and I jump in. Moments later a path opens amongst the cars crossing ahead of us. Some invisible traffic light had signaled and seven lanes of traffic wide stopped and opened up, like the parting of the red sea. We cut across and were silently zipping down the street. We stop at the end of the block and I start to step out, he yells “You better get back there quick”. Before I could reply he was gone. I run up the stairs through a set of double doors and dive in to the men's room.
Finally at peace, I step out and take a deep breath, and as I walk past the front desk I hear, “Hey, where are you supposed to be? Is that your truck out there?”. Stunned, “yea, but--” , “What the fuck!” he grabs me by the wrist, “Your in a real load of shit now! Come on”, we run back down the stairs, among the toy cars packed bumper to bumper, is another orange car that's empty. He jumps over the 2 inch rail in the middle of this part of the road and hops in the car. I try to follow, when one of the cars lurches forward and rams the back of my ankle. “agh!”, I fall almost hitting that rail, bloodying my knee and catching myself on the car next to ours. All of the cars lurch forward again, “Shit!” still holding the car in front of me that is now dragging me along. This is it, I have been on the job maybe 30 minutes and it's over for me, the 600 volt rail is only inches from me, when I feel my arm getting grabbed and I come crashing inside the passenger seat. “Holy cow, grandpa! You ain't from around here are you? Ed or you can call me Eddy.” We glide down the street silently back to where I parked the truck. There's a whole crowd of guys in there orange suits. Eddy says “ I'd hate to be in your shoes.” I can see there is already a tow truck angling towards us up the side street, I get out, “Thanks”. He jumps out too and the car speeds off.
“Where the hell were you!, Get this truck outta here!” There is already a second truck behind mine and because of the way the curb rolls in one of the halve width lanes is blocked forcing a stream of cars to have to merge around. Traffic is a mess.
Eddy puts his hands up, “Hey guys give him a break it's is first day”. I hear someone yell, “Hey get some depends grandpa!” While Eddy's distracting him I jump in and make my get away. “Whew!”. What else can go wrong today.
“Turn right ahead” I look down seeing the blinking map, the springs in the seat cushion are digging in to me. The little robotic cars wiz past me, I have found it's best to drive slow and let them navigate around me. They don't really seem to give me any breaks, not that this is unusual. I had driven here last, gee, I can't even remember, must be over 30 years ago, but this was the norm even back then. Still without people driving, they don't sound horns, I could just plow over one of these cars and would never even know it. I bet that would get the passengers attention. “Turn right ahead” I have no idea where I am at. I think I used to live down one of these streets, I think this is around where canal street was. Nothing is labeled any more. They didn't remove the street signs, just never bothered keeping them up. No body drives their cars here any more. I am not sure it's even legal for non-government people within the city limits.
“Your destination is to the left”, ahead is a dingy garage with another familiar orange jump suite waiting in front. I turn to pull in. “Whoa, back in, we need to unload”.
“So I heard you're having a shitty day.”, I can here some of the other guys in the back chuckling at this. “Not cool, Not cool, the boss wants to see you right now.” Before I could answer, another orange car had silently sneaked up. “Chop! Chop! Old man, wake up! Car's waiting. Why aren't you taking your calls?”. I reply “What?, I don't even have a phone”. “Is this your first day on the job or something?”, “Yea” I reply, “Well just get back, don't try to argue, just kiss ass. You'll probably be OK. Not a lot of people around that still know how to drive.”
“Ding, Ding, Ding” the little orange car is now making a chiming sound waiting for me, getting louder and louder impatiently. This is terrible. I just wish I was back in California or Bangalore or any of the other places I had lived where the world seemed to make some sort of sense. I haven't had a chance to catch my breath once today. The car whooshes off, weaving, ducking and dodging at a frightening pace. It reminds me of my first time in India. I couldn't believe how many close calls we almost had taking the little rickshaw there, and my kids who where young at the time screaming then laughing hysterically as we almost plowed over an old woman crossing the street, her pink saree suddenly filling the windshield in front of us. She didn't even notice that we went from 30 mph to a complete stop about 2 inches from her in the blink of and eye, but this is the norm there. Eventually you get used to it, but even the rickshaws weren't as frantic as this car. The car lurched hard, my already sore bloody knee jammed against the console as we race past another truck like the one I had just driven, narrowly missing, “Yikes!” I can feel the hair on the back of my neck rise. I can see the drivers eyes pop open wide as my car shot passed. I know exactly what she's feeling, I wonder if it's her first day too and what screwed up predicament brought her to this situation. Was it as bad as my own?