Glen looked at the dashboard clock. Its dayglo hands read 8:27.
Beyond the turnpike on both sides, he saw the industries of Fort Lee, New Jersey give way to a cross section of cliff faces. Cresting the tops of them were large stands of trees. A welcome change of pace. Minutes ago there was nothing but noise barriers and billboards lining the highway. Jersey had a funny habit of doing that. One moment Glen’s eyes were flipping through a catalogue of sun-bleached name brands painted onto towering canvases. The next they were admiring the fruits of an actual garden state.
His nerves steadied.
Those same cliff faces dropped off and plummeted to a realm unseen from Glen’s vantage point. Cutting the horizon in two was the iron-wrought skeleton of George Washington Bridge. The morning’s golden hour filtered through its iron beams from the east, casting a pattern like stained glass onto the turnpike. On the outside, lining the road, was a sidewalk for pedestrians and bikers to use. As Glen approached the western towers, a man came into view. Homeless from the look of him. He was pushing a shopping cart full of swollen trash bags up the walkway towards the bridge. On him was a motley outfit of rags. A metropolitan Sisyphus doomed to push his possessions to some mystery destination. Block by block. Not a soul in sight otherwise.
After Glen passed under the arch of the towers and began approaching the deck, a panoramic view of the world revealed itself. To the right of Glen was the Hudson River. A current of water about a quarter mile wide that channeled below the bridge and fed into the Upper and Lower bays of New York City where The River met the Atlantic. Silhouetted against the sunrise was Manhattan; an island bearing the weight of over a million and a half souls. All were condensed to the size of Glen’s thumbnail when he held it up against the passenger-side window. The world to Glen’s left looked primitive in comparison. Green. Simple. Dinghies on the river were seemingly fenced in by the sheer cliff faces of the Palisades lining the west bank. On the east bank, a shroud of oak trees covered the horizon, save for a few stubborn tenement complexes surfacing for air.
Glen returned his attention to the roadway extending before him. His peripheries caught sight of suspension wires slowly receding and then eventually rising over his truck again as he passed the bridge’s crest. With the windows open, a constant flow of air filled both the truck cabin and the soul of its driver. The rhythms and rhymes of Billy Joel’s, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” coming from the stereo helped to keep Glen’s mind occupied and his fingers tapping. Glen did his best to mumble along.
“Joseph Stalin, Something-kov, Nasa and Pro-coffee, uh, Rockafella, Capa-nilla, Communiss, blah.”
Commuters sped past him. The truck fought to keep up as it limped along at its combustive apex. A year’s salary worth of film equipment in the cargo hold didn’t help. There were nearly three tons of grip equipment used for film sets, including dollies, lighting, C-Stands, and flagging. But anyone strolling by wouldn’t think twice of rifling through it. The outside corners of the truck were lined with the shades of exhaust fumes. Rust spots coated the wheel wells under the cab. The frame of the back bay doors looked to be soldered on in one corner. Glen hadn’t thought to question the rental company at the time. Or its ethics. With a cab full of gear bound for a commercial shoot, bright and early, time was precious. Call-time for the crew was 9 o’clock sharp a.m. It was now 8:30.
Up ahead, Glen could see bright white and orange traffic drums funneling four lanes of traffic into two. Behind them were the iron husks of equipment used to treat asphalt. There wasn’t a hard-hatted grunt to be seen.
Being in the far-right lane, Glen was forced to merge. His truck dipped its toe into the adjacent lane ever so gingerly. Glen flipped on his left turn signal out of respect for driving etiquette. One driver responded in kind with a turn signal of his own: the firm extension of a middle finger out the driver-side window.
At last, Glen worked up the courage to claim a spot in the nearest operational lane. Everything had slowed to a crawl. Rush Hour was in full effect. The sun washed their world in radiation, amplified and reflected back by the asphalt.
Glen reached for the AC. Out from behind the slatted vents came air. Warm air.
“Of course,” Glen said to himself.
Beads of sweat began to trickle down into his eyes. Glen looked at the clock: 8:33 a.m. Traffic crawled along. The western suspension towers now stood in Glen’s side view mirrors, off in the distance. The next ones approaching were now a literal stone’s throw away. And then…
A chug. A whine. There was a deep vibration felt throughout the cabin.
Glen watched as the speedometer dial drifted to zero. Hairs at the back of his neck stood up. His eyes went wide. The truck had slowed to a stop. His heart beat with the fury of a drum solo. His chest rose and fell while his right hand reached for the key to somehow spark life back into the truck. He turned it. Nothing but a rapid ticking sound from the bowels of the beast.
“No. No, this can’t happen. This can’t happen. Not today. Why? Why? WHY?”
The radio played on.
“WE DIDN’T START THE-”
“SHUT. UP.” Glen slammed the radio off.
The taillights of the cars in front dimmed. Their owners slowly drifted forward, obeying the flow of traffic. Glen didn’t have that luxury. Already, the wailing of a BEEEP sounded from the car behind. Then another. And another, some distance back. Another driver upset. Then another even further.
“FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK,” screamed Glen.
It didn’t take long for a line of sedans and trucks to accumulate behind. Glen’s arm reached out the driver side window to frantically wave by traffic. If it weren’t for the large crate of his cargo hold, those directly behind might have been able to see it.
He looked out the window to the faces of those passing. A pair of sunglasses on the passenger side of a sports car stared back with a wide grin.
“Oh, buddy.” said the sunglasses.
They were replaced by another pair of curious eyes. And then another. And then another. All looking up at him and shaking their heads. The seventh pair of eyes bore the unmistakable fury of a driver who’d been part of the line stuck behind Glen.
“What the fuck?!”
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” Glen mumbled.
He tried the key again. Still no response.
“This. Sucks.” Another rotation of the key. “This really sucks.”
The honking continued. Glen noticed the bumper-to-bumper clot behind him growing in length, fast. He had single-handedly throttled traffic down to a choke point on the single-most traversed bridge east of Chicago. A bridge where thousands of commuters traveled over every day. Millions every year. Glen was the plaque which stemmed the flow of blood into the spine of Manhattan.
Profanities in the cab. Profanities outside. More middle fingers. More horn honking. More heart pounding.
A panicked Glen thought about why some people walk across the bridge. Not for the sightseeing. For closure. Glen thought about closure. Right there. The fantasy warmed his heart and mind in an otherwise chaotic situation. In his mind’s eye he saw it. He’d simply throw open the door in a dramatic display of defiance to those behind, cursing him. Hating him. He’d ascend the tower. He’d reach the top and take in the endless wonder and toxicity of the city and the surrounding suburbs. Of the liquid conduit channeling out New York’s fresh water turned poison. Water channeled from peaceful nooks cradled up in the bosom of Adirondack wilderness. A land of peace. Solitude. No salty, ill-tempered, mouth-breathers. Just the mountains and all their natural splendor. And then he would jump.
No. It couldn’t end that way.
Glen shook himself out of his daze. He got out of his truck with three orange traffic cones in hand, borrowed from the truck’s emergency kit. Strangers kept staring in anger, confusion, disbelief, and pity.
Glen reached the back of the truck and observed a Candy Apple Red BMW fighting for a spot in the one lane still operational.
“What are you doing?” shouted the driver. She was a woman in the height of mid-life crisis, if her faux-diamond encrusted sunglasses were any indication.
“I’m putting down cones.”
“You don’t need any cones! People can tell you fucked up from a mile back!”
“Just let me put down the cones!” Glen screamed back, his voice cracking at the apex of volume. He firmly placed a cone onto what little space was available behind the truck.
The woman shook her head before jamming the front of her BMW into an impromptu spot at the last second. The wailing of a semi-truck responded in kind.
Glen then repeated the process a couple more times. Planting a cone. Waving drivers on. Suffering more screams and more middle fingers. Embracing his destiny. He returned to his cab and got in. Another turn in the ignition. Nothing. A minute later, the hood was popped. He stood there studying the truck’s innards. Iron, plastic and rubber all twisted, contorted and embedded in some methodical fashion. All Greek to Glen. Mystery liquids. Colored caps. It didn’t take a mechanic to tell that everything was in bad shape, however. Streaks of rust and oil bled from random joints. Caked up layers of dust and grime coated the rest.
It was time to play operation. He pulled out a random dipstick and looked at the end of it like he remembered seeing someone do sometime somewhere. It looked… like a dipstick. Glen tried to put it back.
“Damn… Damn… C’mon… Dammit.” On the fifth time he finally threaded the needle.
A translucent chamber full of blue kool aid caught his eye. He opened it and looked in. After a pause he threw up his hands in frustration.
“This… Isn’t… What- What am I doing?”
Glen closed the hood. He looked down to the end of the bridge and back. Not an officer or tow truck in sight. No guardian angels on deck. He turned back towards the east. There the bridge terminated.
He went to get in on the driver’s side from the front. At the last second 57,200 pounds of metal and wheels nearly blindsided him.
“JESUS.” screamed Glen. A moment’s difference kept the tread of a Freightliner M2 dump truck’s wheels from pressing him into pulp.
He stumbled back against the hood and stood there. Defeated. The urge to burst out in tears boiled beneath the surface. Glen pushed it down. His chest heaved in and out. In and out. His hands wrung at his hair.
“No. No. I can’t- I just can’t with the traffic. With the truck. With you maggot FUCKS.” His last word was screamed out to passing vehicles, accelerating at a pace slow enough to catch what was said. A slideshow of looks bounding between amusement, pity and disgust answered back. The temper-tantrum continued.
“I mean… What- What- What kind of rental place sends out this JUNK? Why’d they have to shoot today? Why’d I get stuck here? Why here?”
He raised a hand up into the air as if to summon a sign from the elements to help illustrate his point. The rorschach of sweat soaking through his plain white tee from collar to coccyx did just that.
“I mean- Why? Why couldn’t Mom buy me a cell phone? Why couldn’t Dad teach me about trucks? He’s a red-blooded American. He should know about trucks. RIGHT?”
His words continued to project out to a crowd of strangers, rolling lazily along like the luggage on a baggage carousel.
“I’d be out of this mess by now. No. No. Nope. Dad didn’t teach me about trucks. Too much work raising me. Too much work. And then Mom and Dad got divorced. And then my whole life got the shaft. Just the fucking SHAFT. And then I didn’t have a normal childhood like everyone else in school. I didn’t have cable. I didn’t have Ninja Turtles or Mr. Wizard or Bob Barker. No. I grew up with those fucking MUPPETS from PBS. So I grew up all crooked and awkward and weird and… And… And…”
His monologue spiraled lower in volume towards the end. His voice box was on fire. After catching his breath, Glen turned to face the horizon of a world beyond the bridge.
A figure standing on the walkway caught his attention. The man with his cart from the beginning of the bridge. Sisyphus. He caught up. A gnarled finger bid Glen to cross over the two lanes under construction to where he stood. Glen did so and found himself standing face to face with the stranger. Pale, cold eyes stared at Glen from the walkway. He wore a blank expression. His was a visage wrought with the gaudy filigree of crows feet and rivulets of collagen breakdown. Wisps of what little hair remained fluttered in the wind like banners. And from the deepest confines of the rags he wore, inflamed by the day’s heat, came the fumes of fermented sweat poking and prodding into Glen’s nostrils.
“Oh… Oh my god.” Glen’s head wretched back involuntarily. “What do you want?”
The man said nothing. Instead, he pointed to a call box at the base of the nearest tower.
Glen clambered over the partition separating the sidewalk from the road before reaching the call box. The man resumed his journey, taking his smell with him. Glen picked up the phone and followed the instructions on the box listing how to contact the right people for the right job. In his mind: One road-side breakdown of both a mental and mechanical nature. Please send help. Glen thought it best to suppress the mental half for therapy and explained the mechanical to dispatch. One jaded Port Authority operator took the situation in stride. A Tow truck would arrive soon. But without a Moses-like ability to part that sea of steel and rubber, it would take anywhere between ten minutes to an hour. Fine. Glen hung up and turned East. He watched as the stranger and his shopping cart shrunk into the distance, proceeding down into the neighborhood of Washington Heights before disappearing into a maze of concrete, brick and mortar.
Glen went back to the truck, leaned against the grill, and waited. Choked up behind him, still, all the way to New Jersey, were a hundred angry drivers white-knuckling their steering wheels out of rage. Like the throttling of a dam. Glen let out a deep sigh.
Half an hour later, a truck chained Glen’s golden chariot to its towbar and began hauling half-ass to a garage used by city police in Manhattan. All the while Glen shared the cabin with a driver who filled the silence with a constant ptui! of sunflower seed shells onto the driver-side floor. His heart and mind, frozen in the grip of George Washington Bridge moments ago, finally began to thaw. Slowly. Someone else was at the wheel. He was the passenger. And the sensation of forward momentum had finally returned.
At the garage, the shells of other auto “mobile” cadavers were there to keep Glen’s truck company for the time being.
At the nearest pay phone, he dialed the Assistant Director’s mobile.
“Glen, you are so fucking fired!” screamed Jay.
Thousands of dollars out the window. Precious time wasted. It didn’t matter to him anymore. The weight of the guilt and embarrassment were paralyzing for Glen. Mind-numbing. All-around painful. By the end of the conversation, he was told to just leave the truck in the garage. Another production assistant would drop by to pick up the equipment and drive it to location. For a shoot that had to be rescheduled now. Thanks to Glen.
It was out of his hands.
With a decisive click, the phone was hung up, dropping a proverbial period onto the end of conversation. He was alone in the police lobby. The throbbing of his heart died down. His mind, once a tempest of fears and anxieties playing out before his mind’s eye had died down to sheer surrender. A numbing sensation. A void.
Half-an hour later, he was on a subway leading to his railroad apartment in the Bronx. By that time it was noon. Any Windsor Knot-affixed commuters had since thinned out. They were sitting safe and secure in their respective cubicles. Were they happy? Happier than him? Who could say? Who cared?
His head nodded along with the motion of the subway. The adrenaline pumping throughout his body hours ago had receded. His mind began to rest. Despite it all, he was content to sit there and let fate decide whatever came next.
Stumbling out of the subway station, Glen dragged both feet to his apartment, closed the door, slipped off his loafers and collapsed into a puddle on his mattress resting on the floor.
He inhaled deeply. Then the gentle crash of the exhale. With every breath taken, his mind slipped further and further from consciousness. His heart beat slowed to a hypnotic rhythm. A metronomic kind of bed-time story. A phantom mantra. With every breath, relief. In… And out. The world grew dark.
And then another sensation.
The feeling of some rigid object in Glen’s right pocket.
The key to the rental truck.
Which was then, promptly thrown out the window.