For a driver, most days aren’t bad — you get the person in that car, and they do their own thing. A few try and talk your ear off, or sit silent, staring out the window. Those type average out. But then you get those that are Having A Bad Day. That phrase will soon make you want to hide — ask any driver. The horrid part is, it may not be anything that actually happens to them; they could get a text or call and it would start. You learn to keep a close eye out for the signs.
Since Alice moved out, much to the relief of our night drivers — the parties going on after she was sound asleep not only made you wonder exactly how hard she slept, but also made walking outside an adventure, not to mention trying to squeeze the car into or out of the driveway — these situations seemed to have slowed. No more Josh “walking his dog” and then coming to chat; the drama of young people and their relationships had moved to another area. And Bob, coming over to pee on tires just as you were ready to back up, was starting to become a distant memory. I should have guessed it was too good to last.
One of the longer-term residents of the neighborhood, Adam, had his ups and downs recently. We were aware of it, as he was of the temperament to either be sullen and walk off his thoughts, or to create ideas and things, and to experiment with solutions to issues that were tough to solve, even for experts. With him in the area, there was never a lack of conversation on widely divergent topics to listen in on, when he and his friends got together — those varied depending on how welcoming he was, and frankly, how dangerous the experiments were.
After a bout with his now-ex girlfriend, Adam had gone into a cycle of Bad Days, and then found something to reignite his passion. He now would wave, and the group of people around got smaller, which normally was a good sign that he was working on something that wouldn’t burn, let off weird noises, or need to be transported someplace “to test it out”. The music they played usually suited our tastes, and even the winter season didn’t seem to slow things much.
However, something happened, and Adam Had A Bad Day. The music stopped, the people vanished, and the hours-long walks after dark started. There were no requests for rides, or only for short ones — a mile or so and back to pick up cheese-flavored puffed corn (his snack of choice). The silence bothered me, but not enough to really be too worried about it. The rides Adam asked for were quick enough that even A Bad Day shouldn’t affect me much.
The weather has been cyclic — snow, then cold, then nearly spring temperatures, and repeat. We actually had snow on the ground for a few days (and the local police force frantic with accidents, caused by those who forget that even if snow looks pretty, it isn’t nice to drive through once it melts and refreezes). We were being cautious, and telling folks that the ride would likely take twice as long as usual.
Adam called, and seemed up and cheerful — and wanted more than puffed corn. I personally was thankful for this; it was my turn to grab lunch for the office, and I wanted a particular sandwich that was a bit out of the way. So when Adam called, and wanted a ride to that same place — well, life just works sometimes, doesn’t it? I sent the order in from the business fax (yes, I know, but that’s how they wanted it done!) and gathered the keys, my jacket, and left out the door, with anticipation of a fresh, hot sandwich and my favorite fizzy drink in my future.
Little did I know that seemingly everyone in the world had decided that today was the day to go out. Traffic, normally even on a warm summer day, would have been half of what it was now — add in the ice-covered roadways, and you had to plan for potential disaster. One look at the higher-traffic roads, and I decided to take an alternate route. Which wasn’t a good idea — apparently I drove by something or someone that was not good for Adam.
I hear Adam shift, and look in the mirror just in time to see the hood of the hoodie go over his head. This is not good; it’s time to worry when the hood is tugged down. A telltale sign with Adam is that the more you can see of his head, the better things are going. Even when it feels below zero outside. So, hoping that this is only a brief mood, we keep going. And, it looks like I made the correct choice — there was nearly an accident outside the restaurant with someone trying to turn in, and the car didn’t want to stop even to cross traffic. At least I’m going the correct direction just to turn in!
Yes, you guessed correctly – there is a line for the drive-up window. Thankfully not long enough that there’s a danger of getting the car hit, but enough to be a wait. And Adam’s hood is still down. This means that he is now Having A Bad Day. And I’m the only one that is close enough to listen if he wants to talk.
There are days that I physically check from the back seats to make sure there isn’t a bar-tending license, or even psychology degree, visible from there. Some folks just want to talk things out, and that’s fine with me — I can listen and drive in circles for them. But some expect me to have opinions at best, and answers that will work for them in any situation. I once made the mistake of making a comment that solved one person’s problems — soon I had all of their friends in the car for literally weeks, wanting answers. Now I know why gurus choose the top of the mountain. Some of them actually got angry with me that I didn’t have a ready solution to their problem!
And the hood just got tugged down again, thankfully after he passed me his written order, and the money to pay for it. He’s still silent, so the radio plays quietly in the car, competing with the rap from the car in front of us, the new country from a parked car nearby, and something else that was making the entire car vibrate directly across from us in line. I guess I should have be thankful they had the windows up.
Thankfully, they turned off the music before rolling down the window to order. I looked to make a comment to Adam, and the words stopped — the hood was down below the mustache, and tears were flowing. As if sensing my gaze, he turned violently away from the building, and a slight sob escaped.
After several rounds of mental cursing, I decide, since the Bad Day is obviously getting worse without me doing anything, I’d wait until I was spoken to, or one of the other signs that the Bad Day was spreading. I went back to listening to music, and watching the cars go sideways down the road I was facing.
Oh come on! Whoever you are in the blue car — make up your mind before you get to the speaker! You’ve been in line for over three minutes now, and the menu is the same as it’s been for the last six months. You should at least know what you want, and even if they reordered the menu, you should be able to find it in less than the two full minutes you’ve been sitting there staring at the sign. Well, at least the line at the pay window is gone — but I bet I’ll be done with my order (I’m two cars back) before that person gets done paying.
Finally I get to the speaker, and tell them there will be two tickets on this order. Thankfully, the voice on the speaker is familiar, so it isn’t going to be an issue. I mention the business name, and make sure the order is rang up correctly. I start on Adam’s order, and get as far as the drink before that blue car pulls up to the pickup window. I was almost correct; another two seconds, and I’m pulling forward. Adam is still inside his hoodie, and facing away from the building — did he fall asleep? And since silence seems to be a good thing, I’m darned if I’m going to disturb him to hand him food and drink — so while keeping an eye on the line, I pull out a drink holder for the company, and one for his food and drink. With that settled, I pull up to pay.
There is a comment from the cashier that the fried items are about a minute from done, so I nod and finish paperwork for this half of the ride, while waiting my turn to pick up food. This also allows me to clear things out, and make sure that my logs don’t have drink spilled on them. I’m bad about this — I know I should do it, but some days you get rushed, and then never take the time to put things back. Plus, what better to do while waiting for…
I apologize for that, but this place gives the food as fresh as possible, and make sure it’s correct before handing it out. The drinks for the office came in a carrier, with Adam’s handed out separately. And then, hot, wonderful meals — all in their own bags, and labeled with names for my order. With only moments to get everything arranged, I set things onto the seat, and in the carriers, and got out of the way of the next person. A shift forward a few feet so as to let the next car access the window, and then some moving things around to make sure nothing slides onto the floor if I were to try and stop in a hurry.
Adam is now seriously Having A Bad Day — even the scent of food isn’t enough to bring him out. But things aren’t getting worse, so silence isn’t a bad thing, especially with the roads as they are. Sliding into a pole because you take your attention off the road isn’t an image I want presented of the company. Carefully moving forward, and watching for other drivers, we turn onto the main road; back toward Adam’s house, in lieu of any other communication.
A block later, and the flood of words starts. Adam is still turtled in his hoodie, but that doesn’t seem to stop him. I think this is what must have been disturbing him — the words cover everything from jeans that didn’t fit that morning, to his issues at work, and “finding another job” problems. It’s good that he doesn’t seem to expect a response, because I’d have issues getting a word in! The narrative is broken by sobs, and a request to go home promptly. At a red light, I hand back his large drink, and hear the straw suck air before we’ve gone two blocks.
The hood is up a bit, and the silence doesn’t feel as strained as the ride completes. I sit here, hoping that the telephone doesn’t ring and send him one direction or another. He mentions that a particular friend is coming to visit later, and I sigh silently in relief — that one is a good listener, and may be able to bring him back to normal.
The bill Adam hands me is enough to cover the fare, and he walks off while I’m getting change. Throwing the car in park, I grab his food (which he forgot), along with the change from both the meal and the fare, and catch up to him. He takes the food, and looks at the money, then walks in the house. Okay — even when Having A Bad Day, he still in generous with the tip. I stuff the money from the food bill into his mail box (it’s an old-style through-the-door one) and head back to provide lunch for the crew.
Then discover, while getting out of the car, that I had given my sandwich — the one I’d been dreaming about for days — to Adam!
Shrugging my shoulders, I resign myself to enjoying my drink and his lunch. And it isn’t so Bad after all.