Tuesday, October 23, 2012

fear and loathing of divorce

it was lincoln public schools's 1985 winter break.  already disadvantaged by poor english and being of color in snow white nebraska, my mother was spending this normally festive time alone.  in one of many common but strange twists divorce proceedings take, the parent that "wins" joint custody weekdays, already relegated to most of the responsibility and little of the fun of child-rearing, gives up holidays.  so there i was, in my father's tan/gold ford station wagon, making the seemingly endless journey to his brother's and my five cousins' house in texas, cutting through kansas and oklahoma too fast to stop and look for twisters, but not so fast dwight eisenhower's memorial would be passed up.

The Cornhusker Lone Star Express, my dad's 1976 Ford Gran Torino wagon
despite being alone in a cold house, i'm certain my mother had the thermostat set to 60F or lower.  one other cruel twist of divorce proceedings is that the honor of monthly mortgage payments is considered an asset.  while my mother could live in the house and technically owned it, the salary of a single mother whose only previous work in english was managing a restaurant simply could not sustain the expense of it.  we eventually moved out, but not before every trick in the book was employed in an attempt to hang on.  while slightly uncomfortable, stretching a dollar became kind of a fun game, one that led my mother to actually use the city bus stop in front of our house that my father had only spoke of using.

we later found out much of the time we thought my mom was alone, she had actually hopped on a greyhound bus and gone to visit her brother and his family in the chicago area.  though she wanted to keep it a secret, she underestimated just how deeply every aspect of her life could be infected by inquisitive children.  when we'd call on the weekends, there was no answer.  if we had forgotten something and went home to get it, she was not there.  once, i asked about greyhound when a commercial came on during a football game.  my mom simply knew too much.  whether out of necessity or admiration, i would follow in her footsteps years later.

no one thinks twice about a college kid hopping a bus to get home for holidays or occasional weekend visits.  students are poor and young folks are always up for an adventure.  on those trips, covering four states in just a few hours as can only be done in new england, i came to understand why people thought it odd my mom had taken such buses voluntarily and so often.  the stations in new haven, bridgeport and numerous villages and towns in between looked like they were recently converted homeless shelters.  looking at such places certainly conjured imaginary danger in every dark corner.  only seasoned riders realized the subterfuge.

beggars, homeless, vagrants, transients and scum have no business harassing bus riders.  forcefully repossessing a rider's ticket to white plains was hardly worth the risk of jail time.  wallets and purses usually hold little money and bus riders are always collected in packs, scattering once a trip is over, but well aware that defense of each other was imperative to survival.  also, it's no secret that many riders are graduates of the hard knock life themselves, too hardened to be afraid and too savvy to fall for tricks.

despite having navigated this web of danger numerous times on the east coast, i bought into car culture when i moved to l.a.  public transportation, the story goes, gets you nowhere you want to go and even when it does, does so slowly.  it's difficult to reconcile this with equally horrific tales of traffic.  was l.a. packed so dense people simply couldn't move?  had smog fried everyone's brains?  or were people just so charismatic and magnetic, no one ever wanted to move away from others quickly?

answering none of these questions, i purchased a bmw.  the acceleration was excellent.  the handling exquisite.  really shallow women in the bad parts of town flocked to it.  and after a year of driving the damn thing, i no longer cared.  like every other vehicle i ever dared call my own, it needed to be fed, groomed, cared for, registered, insured and housed.

somewhere between those long rides in my dad's station wagon, my mom' frugality and frequent greyhounding and my own experience owning a car, i really had a very difficult time seeing what all the fuss was about over driving.  every freedom it affords comes with shackles of a different variety.  each second saved, another spent wondering what the fucker in front of you means by leaving their left blinker on.  every relationship nurtured in private leaving ten public sociological observations unmade.  driving has its place, but i'll be damned if i fall for its entrapment blindly.

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