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Embracing Inconvenience

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Sometimes circumstances render the plan obsolete.

I sat in the car, parked on a small street, just around the corner from the front door of the office. The cold March rain continued to fall while I looked through the windows that had finally begun to fog. My head pounded. Needing to unwind, I closed my eyes and peeled back the week's events. If I succeeded, I would be in a much better mood by the time the ladies finished and were able to join me. The plan was to get closer to home and then to find somewhere to stop for a drink.

Most recently, I had been at the Bexley Public Library, reading through issues of Scientific American from 1927. Page after page was filled with optimistic preview of the technology of radio, including a monthly feature, “Radio Notes, a Monthly Review of Progress in Wireless Communication.” The most powerful radio stations in the world (there were two) broadcast their signals at fifty kilowatts. I also read an article about a great vehicular tunnel between New York and New Jersey; it would be called the Holland Tunnel in honor of its chief engineer, the late Clifford M. Holland. In other news, a convenient new refrigerant had been found, created by mechanically freezing carbon dioxide. This new “dry ice” would make it possible to ship ice cream and other temperature-sensitive products.

The trip to the library was a necessary diversion after spending an entire day dealing with a technology issue at a client site. While victory over the technical problem was relatively easy, I was happy to cling to some good news—precious little had gone well. Just the afternoon before, I got a call from the client reporting what had gone amiss and I knew that I'd need to handle it personally.

Rescheduling my entire schedule for Friday wasn't the big news of the day: not long before the client called me, I learned that my great-grandmother passed away. The family would assemble the following week to deal with certain necessary arrangements and of course I would be there with them. In the meantime, though, there was little I could do. I thought about the woman known to generations as Ma, the long and productive life that started in Germany more than nine decades ago and ended in the new world, in a country and language that she adopted. I thought about how much changes in the span of a single life and the new group of students that I would meet in another week, preparing to begin their professional lives. Many will no doubt spend their lives in technology; I hoped that my Lisp programming class would be the sort of thing that would help them to get the kind of perspective that they would need to succeed in their endeavors. I thought that Ma would have been about their age in 1927 and maybe it would be a good idea to talk about what the world was like in 1927 to give them some idea of the kinds of change that they're likely to face in their own lifetimes.

Earlier events of the week turned into a blur, a jumble of details that refused to be put into context. Even before everything went wrong on Thursday, I had been starting my days as early as one-forty-five in the morning, just a few hours after concluding the day before. I remembered phone calls that I had, fragments of written correspondence, and a program that I wrote. Details of my interactions with other outside of work entered my consciousness, my unusually-active antagonists, fools who imagine themselves at the top of command-and-control structures, who fail to exercise any self-restraint, whose antics to fabricate their own reputations while attacking others' I refused to dignify with responses.

I took another deep breath, having found the tranquility in the storm, assurance of the rightness of my position and the steely determination to see it vindicated. I would live by my principles. I would ride out the day's events. I would exercise more patience and allow the illegitimi to fail. I would prepare my students. I would support my family. I would support my clients. In short, I would be a man. I opened my eyes.

I was ready for that quiet drink. It was the “find somewhere” part of the plan that worried me: I have been known not to do well with Friday night crowds in suburban eateries (drinkeries?) that are islands in an ocean of asphalt. Drinks had under such circumstances are rarely quiet.

The Dodge Durango drove by me. Again. It had gone by at least twice earlier just since I had been sitting there. It's hard not to notice such a vehicle: shiny and blue, roughly the size of a WWII aircraft carrier, and adorned with a sticker of a soccer ball on the back window.

Finally, the ladies arrived and climbed into the car. I turned the key to start the engine and we listened to the starter crank but the engine failed to turn over; the car refused to start. Driving in the rain to collect them, I had the headlights on. When parking the car and stopping the engine, I had no reminder that the headlights were on while I waited inside for twenty minutes. Meanwhile, the battery powered the headlights until finally it lacked the power to start the engine.

We waited a few minutes and tried again. It was no good. Given the resolve that I found in my moments of solitude, calling for help seemed less likely than carrying the car and its passengers home. It was in this moment that instead of charging ahead in hopes of satisfying the original plan, I embraced the inconvenience before us. We were stranded, at least temporarily—but downtown in a cosmopolitan city. Restaurants were aplenty and the time spent there would likely be sufficient for the battery to recover well enough to start the car.

After locking the car and walked a few short blocks to Mitchell's Steak House. We found a small table near the bar. Over the next two hours, we enjoyed the atmosphere, appetizers and drinks, and especially the company. The conversation was thoughtful and honest, full of the substance that makes conversation and friendship worthwhile. By the time we finished, little was left of the week's stress (not to mention the evening). As we had, the battery recovered nicely, and we made it home, safe and sound.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2007-01-09 10:16 AM
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