Ron Roy, 12/24/2012
Current Occupation: Operating Room Processing Technician.
Former Occupation: Operating Room Processing Technician, Car Dealership Delivery Driver, Traffic Flagger.
Contact Information: Ron Roy has always written about work and working people. Since graduating from college with a degree in Literature, he has worked primarily in the Health Care industry. His first novel, “Passing Time” which takes place in a paper mill, was published in February 2011 by Blue Cubicle Press of Plano Texas, which also devotes itself to people caught in the daily grind.
For twenty years you worked in the mill, collected your paycheck while it spewed poison into your air and streams of black shit into the river that ran through your town. The grey-blue peaks of the Presidential Range loomed to the south and smaller mountains cradled you even as the stacks spewed clouds that sometimes masked the sky. People came from all around the country to savor the wilderness around your valley, but you might as well have been living in the Rust Belt of the Midwest. You had more in common with a Pittsburgh Steelworker than you did with the Yankee dirt farmers and the hippy tree-huggers.
You learned early not to drink the water or eat the fish. You washed your car once a week because if you didn’t the paint peeled off beneath the thick, white sulfur that fell from the sky. You didn’t think about your lungs, your children’s lungs, the cancer clusters popping up all over town. Everybody needs to make a living and without the mill, your town would have dried up and blown away and damned if you wanted to pull up roots and move to some angry, overcrowded city where you couldn’t let your kids stay out after dark and you had to lock things up tight when you drove to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes. You had that in common with the dirt farmers.
So, you looked the other way until the owners shut it down. They left, but you got to keep the ruins, that ugly mass of bricks in the center of your town, its smokestacks dormant, the river finally running clean. The Chamber of Commerce feels confident that they can get flocks tourists to hunt and fish in the shadow of the smoke stacks. They’ll even be able to eat their catch. Maybe you could try that, too, because those kids of yours were going to need a new source of protein, that’s for sure.
You watched the mill go in disbelief. Hadn’t you looked the other way? You’d done your part. Shouldn’t they have had to do the same?
Once they pull out, there isn’t much for you to do. The next biggest cash cow in town is the car dealership. Driving into town the last two miles is cars, every make and model lined up big as life. For years, you wondered if the world needed this many Silverados, this many Sierras and F-150’s. How many Tundra’s and Rav 250’s and Outbacks were enough? You don’t ask any more. You’re grateful that there are more cars than people in your town. You fill in an application. You wait.
The big money is in Sales, of course, but you have to work your way up. You start out driving cars. You make the minimum. You work on call. Some weeks you get your 40 hours but others they forget that you’re alive.
The minimum. You wonder who exactly came up with this number. As if a man could support his family on it. You’re lucky you’ll have unemployment for a while. If the government keeps extending it, you might just make ends meet.
You thank God for the internet. The dealership sells cars all over New England and Upstate New York and someone has to get them there. You know they wish a robot could do the job, one that doesn’t need to eat or piss or smoke, one that doesn’t have to take a break when they get punchy and the lines in the center of the road start jumping in their vision, but for now, you’ll fill the bill.
There are routes that you could drive now in your sleep. Sometimes you have, on the late nights when you’ve done a long out-and-back. On those days, six hours from home, the customers always ask, “So they must be going to put you up in a hotel overnight so you can drive back in the morning?” You just laugh.
One of those routes is across Vermont and into Upstate New York: Montpelier, Burlington, Plattsburgh, Saranac Lake. The farthest you’ve gone is Gouverneur, not far from Lake Ontario. You picked up the newspaper from Watertown. You knew it from a Harry Chapin song. In concert he would always say, “I spent a week there one day.” Now you know how he felt.
You’ve ridden the Ferry across Lake Champlain in glorious sunshine and through a channel choked with ice that grumbled beneath the bow. You’ve felt rough seas, the kind you thought you’d never ride unless you sailed out past the continental shelf.
What was that line your French Canadian grandfather loved? “You’ll never drown in Lake Champlain as long as you stay on the sho.”
One week you drove to Fort Kent, the northernmost city in Maine on Monday, eight hours on the Mapworks from your home, but that was before the snow began to fly. Three days later, you ended up in Deliverance, Long Island, eight hours in the other direction.
In Maine, the snow started in Bangor, not quite half way. The roads were bad and you got there during the morning rush. You cursed the idiots who cruised along at 60, who cut in and out as if they were in Miami Beach, but an hour later, as you crawled with one wood truck in front and another behind, you longed for company and distraction. Then the trucks pulled off.
You drove the last turnpike miles alone. You saw the signs for Baxter State Park. You knew Mount Katahdin lay within its boundaries. Katahdin, the northern anchor of the Appalachian Trail, a jewel. You’d seen its peak in pictures rising above the surrounding woodlands like Kilimanjaro in the movies. You wished that you could see it, now, but you felt fortunate just to be able to the see the sign.
The directions took you up Route 11, your path now true north, the road as straight as the needle on the compass. The snow stopped and you thanked God because here the plows hadn’t been able to keep up. You hugged the brown bands of sand the plows had dumped in their wake. You were your own snowplow.
You thanked God that your vehicle had all-wheel drive. You frowned. You weren’t used to being on such close terms with God, invoking his name twice in the same day. It had been awhile. You hoped he was still taking your calls.
The road stretched through The Great North Woods, a narrow canyon through acres of black woodlands. Long, rolling hills stretched out ahead three at a time and every time you crested one, there were three more. You knew you wouldn’t escape these woods until you reached the shores of Hudson Bay.
You only saw two towns. They popped up and fell behind you in seconds. You needed gas, but the lights came and went before you could turn your wheel. You wondered if you’d imagined them, conjured them up in your need for fuel, your fear of being stranded by the roadside. Then you broke into the light. The sun shone over the endless fields of Aroostook County.
You swapped out one SUV for another. You couldn’t tell the difference, but you knew the one you picked up was special, somebody’s one-and-only. Maybe it was the leather seats or the back-up camera or the hands-off blue tooth. Maybe the cup holders were just right in the back or the DVD player was some kid’s Christmas wish. Who knew what mysteries lay beneath the hood? Whatever, it was the perfect combination for some lady in Tupper Lake, New York. Somebody else would probably deliver it once you got it back and prepped for sale. Maybe you’d be the one to do it, see the look of pleasure on the new owner’s face, but that kind of closure is rare in this job. Every day, every trip begins at square one and you never know who or why you make them, you only know where.
In Long Island, three days later, sixteen hours south of that dealership in Maine, you smelled the salt air and wished that you could detour a few miles and stick your big toe in the surf, but you drove that day with Claude. He told you once that he knows the general manager checks the odometer readings on every trip and if you stray too far off course, you won’t get called for two or three weeks or might get canned outright.
It was your third trip to Long Island. The route is always the same: I 91-95-295-695-Cross Island to the LIE. The Long Island Expressway is 495 and cuts down the center of the Island. The towns you’ve seen all branch out on the perpendicular, each one a strip of car dealers, fast-food joints and mini-malls. For you, Long Island is a giant cell phone tower. They tease you with exits for streets called Ocean Boulevard, Seacoast Drive, and Pinnacle Point. You’ve always heard about the rich people and their mansions on the beach, but you know it’s just another myth. This crap that you see is what Long Island is all about.
You picked up a Suburban. It was big enough to ride nine people comfortably, Hell, a family could have just moved in. It cost a hundred bucks to fill the tank. That barely got you home. Claude drove the chase car and it did better gas-wise but he needed a hundred-twenty bucks to go round trip. By the time you reached the dealership your fuel tab had topped two hundred bucks.
You swear you’d picked that same vehicle up in Plattsburgh two weeks before. You delivered two more just like it in the next week. You logged another thousand miles. You burned sixty-five more gallons of fuel. You realized that nothing had changed for you. You still look the other way. Maybe the mill had cut you loose, and the smokestacks don’t spew poison every day, but now the pumps piss gasoline, instead, the exhaust pipes let their poison fly, all so some lady who lives in the Adirondacks can get her leather interior and luggage rack, her kids those cup holders and entertainment system and you can get your cut.
If everybody has a carbon footprint, you know yours is a goddamn snowshoe.
Really well done – love the integration of the large-world consequences into the minutiae of the daily grind, and the industrial crumbling.
The narrative voice rings true, and the second person focus works surprisingly well. The specificities of place intensify the story’s credibility.
The title and the closing sentence are deftly consonant.