Chapter 22: Highs and Lows
Jobs 60 – 63
Job # 60: Para-transit Driver/Dispatcher
Shortly after we moved back in with Jordana and Mildred, I started looking for work again because Mrs. R was sufficiently recovered from her near-death pregnancy. I opened the want ads to see that there was a need for paratransit drivers. I mentioned in Chapter 16 that before the Americans with Disabilities Act required that buses accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices, those passengers were all transported by a separate fleet of special vehicles. Even with ADA, these paratransit vans are still used for people who can’t access bus routes.
Back in the early 1990s, the O-Town and College Town transit systems, and the regional (inter-city) bus lines were separate entities. Mountain Town had no bus line of its own, but was served by the regional system. Each town also had its fleet of paratransit vehicles, including a few sedans for ambulatory passengers.
You may recall in a previous chapter that my former employer Eastwagon went bankrupt and abandoned their contract with public transit in Butt County. A company – whom I shall call Wankcom – took over the contract. In a strange sense, I still work for Wankcom. They are the ones who were bought out by a larger public transportation contractor, who is my current employer.
In 1993, Wankcom also won the contract to operate the O-Town Area Transit System (yes – “OATS”, and that’s no lie), and its ADA-required paratransit fleet. Prior to that, the paratransit operation had been handled by the very dodgy local cab company, and apparently it hadn’t gone well. The paratransit passengers paid the cab drivers with tickets they had purchased previously at the O-Town Senior Center. The cab company was simply using their cabs for both paratransit and regular taxi passengers. I don’t even think they had a wheelchair-ready van. Paratransit passengers often had to wait a long time until the cabs could get around to them.
When Wankcom won the O-Town contract, they brought in four wheelchair vans and two sedans. Apparently Wankcom wasn’t impressed by any of the cabbies, so they were hiring several new drivers. Unfortunately the day I saw the ad was also the closing day for applications. At the time, we had no car of our own, so we hastily borrowed a car from our friend Sue and rushed over to College Town. I got my application in just under the wire. The manager Dave was impressed by the fact that I had driven bus for Eastwagon, and essentially hired me on the spot before fully reviewing my application. I’ve always been pretty good at getting jobs – just not keeping them.
So now I was a paratransit driver, with a uniform and all the glamour that goes with that. I had lucked out and been assigned a sedan, so I didn’t have to deal with wheelchairs. Even though service under the cab company had been pretty terrible, some of the older passengers were a little resistant to the changes in the system. They were used to just calling up, giving their address, and then waiting for their ride. Wankcom, however, had to get to know a whole new set of customers, and they wanted to acquire the proper information in order to make the operation as efficient as possible. One of my first passengers was an old German woman, and when she got in my car she angrily asked, “Vere you ze von who asked me all ze qvestions on the ze telephone!?”
Pretty soon our passengers realized that the new service was much better, and our popularity exploded. After a while we were so overbooked that passengers were once again subjected to long waits, at least on busy days.
I was good at the job, and I actually enjoyed it, as well. Soon I was tapped to be the Saturday dispatcher. Our personal transportation situation was still touch and go. Sometimes we had a car, sometimes not. Mostly not having a car wasn’t a problem, because I was working in O-Town. Even when we had a car, I would usually walk the mile or so to the yard where we kept the paratransit vehicles, so as not to have to either disturb Mrs. R or deprive her of transportation for the day.
The Saturday dispatching, however, had to be done at the College Town office. At the time we had recently acquired a very crappy old Ford Fiesta. My first Saturday was also the first out of town trip for that car. I quickly discovered that it was going to have to be an “in-town only” car. I managed to make it to work, but the car shook and wobbled so badly as it went at highway speeds that I thought I was going to die for sure. I explained my dilemma to Dave, who generously arranged it so that I could use my paratransit sedan to commute to work on Saturdays, for which I was very grateful.
So I had a decent job, and our housing situation improved as well. We had previously applied for the federal Section 8 program, which provides rental subsidies for qualifying families. After almost two years on their waiting list, we were finally approved. We rented a nice three bedroom house with a big back yard a few blocks from Jordana and Mildred’s place. This neighborhood - known as “South Side” - is notorious for poverty and crime, but we were in a solidly working-class block. It felt so good to have a decent place of our own and not have to worry about how we were going to make our rent each month.
I probably would have worked at Wankcom indefinitely, but sometimes life throws you a curve ball. This next part isn’t easy for me to tell because it was a pretty dark and difficult time for me and my little family. Even when it was over, I still had some lingering resentments and self-recriminations for a few years afterward. I’m also afraid some of you may judge me harshly for some of the decisions I made at the time. Please keep in mind that they were made in what I thought were the best interests of my wife and children. Mrs. R has kindly said that I can go ahead and blame her for what happened, but I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to explain the “sitch” and let the judgmental cards fall where they may.
Mrs. R’s health had not fully recovered after her pregnancy with Rimpyette, especially her post-partum depression. She started seeing a counselor, who prescribed anti-depressants. At first she didn’t want to take them because she was still nursing Rimpyette. Right or wrong, we are of the hippy persuasion that lets a child nurse until they’re ready to quit on their own. Finally her depression got bad enough that she made the painful decision to wean Rimpyette. Kids are usually weaned before they’re fully verbal, so we never get to know how they really feel on the subject. In Mrs. R’s previous experience with SR, and our mutual experience with Rimpy Jr., the child eventually loses interest and it’s a very non-traumatic process. It was different with toddler Rimpyette, who was capable of expressing her dissatisfaction with this turn of events. All we could do was try to help her through it.
Mrs. R started taking the anti-depressants, but she wasn’t able to stick with them for very long. She has always been sensitive to many medications, and she was having too many adverse side-effects. I felt badly for Rimpyette, who seemingly had gone through all the trauma of weaning for nothing, but she didn’t seem to have any hard feelings about it.
Mrs. R’s mental state got worse before it got better. She doesn’t mind me saying that she was basically out of her mind for a little while. Eventually I had to make the painful decision that I needed to quit work in order to take care of my poor, distraught wife. It was one of the toughest choices I’ve ever had to make. I finally had a job which, while not always great, was usually enjoyable and even gave me a good deal of personal satisfaction.
Our situation didn’t really qualify for any sort of family medical leave, so I was going to have to stop working “cold turkey”. Of course, just quitting would have disqualified us for both unemployment benefits and any other public assistance, but our Section 8 would be unaffected, which was a blessing. Without me actually confessing to any fraud, you can probably imagination how I got around this. That was the most painful part of the whole sordid business for me. Just pretend that, for some reason, you had to get yourself fired from a job which you not only liked but at which you had been an excellent employee. Now pretend that scenario somehow applied to my situation. Wow - you have a really good imagination! Now maybe you can understand how I may have felt if that had somehow happened to me. Yeah –I felt like shit about myself.
I parted ways with Wankcom after exactly two years, to the day – a new personal best for longevity. That wasn’t by design – it was just a strange coincidence. I’m glad to say that my sacrifice was worth it. With my constant companionship and help, Mrs. R was restored to her usually sunny disposition within a few months. I am ashamed to say that those aforementioned resentments on my part continued to affect our relationship until I started getting some serious counseling myself. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Job #61: Appliance Delivery
After Mrs. R’s recovery, I was ready to re-enter the job market. I figured I had burned the Wankcom bridge, so I didn’t even try to beg for my job back. I got hired as the head receiving and delivery guy at a new Sear’s “Hometown Store” – which are small franchises which specialize in appliances, electronics, tools and other “hard” goods. The owners were a guy named Ruben and his wife. Ruben had made a bundle of money as an engineer in Silicon Valley, and then decided to take an early retirement and invest in the franchise in O-Town, of all places.
This quickly became one of my most hated jobs, and it all had to do with my boss. He may have been good at making money in his previous career, but he didn’t know much about running a business, or dealing with people. He was a megalomaniac who took offense at the most minor perceived slight to his author-i-tah. When we were setting up the store before the grand opening, I was wheeling a refrigerator out to the showroom floor. Ruben and his wife were busy with something, so I asked their new head salesman, Ed, where I should put the fridge.
Well, Ruben wasn’t so busy that he hadn’t noticed this exchange. Later he took me aside and asked me why I had asked Ed where to put the fridge. I explained my reasons, but Ruben furiously scolded me for my transgression and informed that me that all decisions were to come from him – Ruben, and only him.
Things just got worse from there. Ed quit in frustration over Ruben’s dictatorial ways. I was miserable, but I didn’t know what I was going to do if I quit this job, not right after a period of unemployment. Besides, the wage was quite decent. It felt ironic that I’d had to leave a job I loved, but I couldn’t quit a job I hated. Then one day Ruben called me into his office. He explained that his accountant had told him that he could no longer afford to pay me the wage I was making, so he was cutting me back a couple of dollars an hour. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’d never heard of such a thing before. I’m not even sure that what he was proposing was legal. Then he had the nerve to say, “Don’t worry, I won’t make you pay back what I’ve overpaid you.” I wanted to laugh in his face and yell, “Good luck with that if you try!”
As it was, I took my licks meekly, then went home and called Dave at Wankcom and asked for a second chance. To my amazement and relief, he said “Sure, come on back.” I gladly gave my notice to Ruben, and went back to my beloved paratransit. And that was on my birthday, so it was one of the best presents I’d ever gotten.
I ended up having to report Ruben to the department of labor practices. The law says that when an employee voluntarily quits, an employer has three days to give them their final paycheck. Ruben, of course, saw things differently, and said that his attorney agreed with him. I had to see his vile face one last time because he tried to fight the law and we had to go to a hearing, which I’m happy to say he lost. The best part was that for every day he had delayed giving me my final check, by law he owed me a day’s wages. So I got to humiliate the asshole and made a profit off of it.
Job #62: Para-transit/Fixed Route Driver
As you might expect, I have counted Wankcom twice, because I worked there two separate times. I can’t, for the life of me, remember exactly how long I worked there the second time, but it was until sometime in 1996. I had to leave on disability (legitimately, thank you) because I got sciatica from the driving and ended up in excruciating pain and couldn’t work. When I finally healed, I called Dave to report that I could return to work. He said, “Not interested” and hung up. I guess I had finally burned that bridge. I later found out that his refusal to take back an employee who had been out on disability was against the law, but by then it was too late to do anything about it.
Job #63: Community Service (Mail Room)
I had one more job that year, if you can call it that – and I do. I know I said many chapters ago that I had left my lawless ways behind me after my indiscretion with Mr. Schmossas and the dog repellant. Since that statement though, I have revealed that I was a prisoner in an Air Force jail, but it’s not like I had been convicted of a crime. I was just a very reluctant guest. Now I must confess to another brush with the law which resulted in civil penalties. I know – I’m just a recidivist and unrepentant reprobate.
Because of my wildly fluctuating income during those couple of years, and since I wasn’t driving while I was out on disability, I had let my driver license lapse. One night I had to sneak down to the laundromat for some badly needed…well…laundry-doing. Unfortunately, our then-current crappy car had a tail light out, and I got pulled over, and couldn’t present a valid license to operate a motor vehicle. I think because it had been a commercial license, I had to pay a higher than normal fine. Of course, we had no money, so I had to work it off in community service. Because of my sciatica, I got to do light duty, which was fine with me. I worked for a few weeks sorting letters in the county mail room, and that was the real end of my life of crime, except for a fine a couple of years ago because I hadn’t kept up on the ever-changing laws about exactly where a grandchild’s car seat can be placed. Wait…”grandchild”!? I am getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?
And with that shocking admission, I bid you adieu until next time.