No left turn? How am I supposed to cause a six-car pile up if I can’t make a left turn?

How Am I Driving?

by Dawn Arkin © 2004

"Oh my God!" Marilyn watched in horror as the white truck sped up through the school zone, almost hitting the crossing guard. "Can't you read the sign," she shouted at the receding tailgate, "or see the flashing lights?"

Ted looked up from his book. "What's wrong, Mom?"

Marilyn glanced in the mirror. Ted's forehead and nose wrinkled and a hint of fear shone in his eyes. She instantly regretted saying anything out loud. "It's nothing, sweetie, just a rude driver." Dallas is full of them, she thought to herself.

He nodded and went back to his book, the wrinkles still evident. Marilyn reached the end of the school zone and saw the red light. She pushed the brake pedal and the old van shuddered to a stop behind the white truck, it's 'how am I driving' sticker calling to her.

"Ah, ha," she cried, "you can run, but you can't hide." Marilyn fumbled through the cargo net between the van's front seats and found her notebook. She pulled the pencil out of the spiral binding and flipped to a blank page.

"Maybe you'll be more careful in a school zone if your boss has a little talk with you." She muttered. She scribbled the sticker's information down.

The light turned green and Marilyn made a right at the corner, parking in front of the school. Ted grabbed his backpack and ran out of the van, slamming the door behind him.

"Have a great day." She told the closed door. Ted never looked back and Marilyn sighed. Kids grow up so fast.


Sam pushed the gas pedal closer to the floor. He only had ten minutes to get to his next appointment. One more missed start time and Eddie was going to can him. Anxiety crept into him and he gripped the steering wheel tighter. The light turned yellow and Sam floored it, making it into the intersection as the light turned red. Only then did he see the police cruiser sitting at the opposite side.

"Damn," he muttered through a clenched jaw. His eyes stayed glued to the rearview mirror as he watched the cruiser pass through the intersection.

"About time I get a break." Sam turned onto Havenglen and looked for the address, parking his truck in front of the small, shabby house. Two blocks away were half a million dollar homes, but here the houses looked like something out of the slums, peeling paint and sagging roofs. He grabbed his clipboard and tools, making sure to put his lucky screwdriver in his pocket. He never went on a call without it. He walked to the door and pushed the glowing button. Deep inside the house a familiar melody rang out. He planted his best customer smile on his face as the door opened.

"Oh, good, it's the repair man," she said into the hand-held phone attached to her ear. She waved him inside with one huge, flabby arm and waddled off. "I guess I'll have to call you back." She shot Sam a glance out of the corner of her eye. "I'll let you know how it goes." She put the receiver on its cradle. "I sure hope you can fix it." She turned and stomped out of the room. "This way."

"I'll do my best, ma'am." Sam followed her, amazed at how big her butt was. She barely fit through the doorway. "What's wrong with your a/c?"

"The problem is the vents, the air isn't getting through them."

Sam nodded at her back. "I'll check the compressor first, just to see if ..."

She whirled around. "I said it's the vents," her voice rising with each word, "so check the vents. I'm not going to let you pad the bill on me by doing unnecessary work."

Sam swallowed his response, knowing it wouldn't matter what he said. It never did. He nodded and pulled down the attic stairs, his smile fading as he climbed.


Marilyn drove home and parked in front of the house. She grabbed her purse and notebook. She still wanted to tell that jerk's company how bad a driver he was.

Marilyn went inside and put her purse and notebook on the counter, turning on the coffee pot. The room filled with the rich, bitter aroma of cheap coffee. She picked up the phone and dialed the number while she waited for her coffee. A receptionist answered on the first ring, crisp and professional.

"Walter's Air Conditioning, how may I direct your call?"

Marilyn took a deep breath. "Yes, I'd like to speak to someone about one of your employee’s reckless driving."

"One moment, please."

A cheerful jazz song played in her ear and she tapped her fingers on the counter while she waited.

"This is Eddie, what can I do fer ya?" His voice wasn't near as professional as the receptionist.

"Well, sir, my name is Marilyn Joplin and I want to report one of your trucks blasting through a school zone. The idiot almost hit the crossing guard."

She could hear him suck in air before he answered. "One of our trucks, Ms, what did you say your name was?"

"Joplin, Marilyn Joplin. And, yes, it was one of your trucks. I got the phone number off the sticker on the tailgate."

"All right. Did you happen to get the truck number, Ms Joplin?"

Marilyn turned the notebook around the face her. "I most certainly did. Truck number fifty-seven."

"Damn it," Eddie shouted. "I'm sorry, Ms Joplin, I didn't mean to curse. It's just that is Sam's truck and I've already warned him several times about his driving."

"Well, I think you should consider moving him to another position or something. He could have killed someone."

"Yes, ma'am, I think you are right." He paused and Marilyn could hear paper rustling. "Can I get your number, in case I have anymore questions."

Marilyn rattled it off to him. "That man shouldn't be behind the wheel of a truck."

"No, he shouldn't. Thank you for taking the time to call. I really do appreciate it."

"You're welcome." Marilyn hung up the phone. Earl rushed into the kitchen. "Running late, only time for coffee." He grabbed his travel mug and filled it to the top. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek before heading for the door.

"Love you, Hon," he paused, "oh, by the way, her Royal Highness is making noise."

The door slammed shut and Marilyn poured herself a cup of coffee, adding enough flavored creamer to kill the bitter taste. Maybe next time, she'll buy a better brand of coffee. A cry drifted from the back room, soft at first, then gathering strength and volume.

"Coming, Your Highness." She trudged towards the bedroom, her coffee forgotten.


Sam spent almost an hour in the stifling attic, his shirt sticking to his body, his lungs begging for fresh air. He went over ever inch of those vents. Not a damn thing wrong with them. He peeked down the stairs. The sow was still standing there, glaring at him. He sucked in a stale, hot breath and started down the steps.

He reached the bottom and planted his smile back on his face, turning to face her. "There isn't anything blocking the vents, ma'am."

"Of course there is. Can't you feel how hot it is in here?" A sheen of sweat covered her forehead. "Don't you know how to unblock a vent? Isn't that something they teach you at repair school."

Every word out of her mouth slammed against the back of his skull, pushing his anger a little closer to the surface, breaking down his resolve. To make matters worse, the house was colder than a witch's heart. He had to get out of there, before he did something he'd later regret. "The vents are fine, ma'am. The house is pretty cold right now. Can't you feel it?"

"No, I can't." She threw her hands up. "Just get out. I'll have someone who knows what they are doing come in a fix the vents." She stomped off, her butt wiggling as she walked away.

Sam closed the attic stairs, slamming it harder than necessary. He grabbed his clipboard and walked towards the front door. She was waiting for him, holding the door open. He handed the clipboard to her. "I need you to sign the work order."

She huffed as she scribbled her name on the line. "You really should think about another line of work. You're a lousy repair man."

Sam walked out the door and she slammed it behind him. There wasn't any doubt she would call and complain. Her snide comments about his ability to repair still rang in his ears and all he could do was smile his customer smile. Blood pounded in his ears and he put his hand in his pocket, his fingers caressing his lucky screwdriver. He got into the truck and radioed in.

"This is Sam, truck fifty-seven. I'm finished here at Havenglen. My ETA for Summerdale is fifteen minutes." He released the button and the radio crackled to life.

"Negative, Sam," the dispatcher sounded funny, not her usual bubbly self, "Eddie wants you back at base."

Sam scratched his head, then depressed the button. "Repeat that, Rosa."

"Eddie is pretty pissed off and he wants you back. ASAP!" The radio buzzed, then went silent. Sam looked at the house. He could see his customer sitting in the living room watching him, the phone attached to her ear again. She must have called to complain.

Sam pushed the radio button in again. "Roger that, Rosa, I'll be back ASAP. I just need to get this customer's sig." He reached for the door handle and grabbed his clipboard. The slob saw him walking to the front door and put the phone down. The door opened and she poked her head out.

"What do you want now?"

He held up the clipboard. "You didn't sign the work order."

She stared at the paper. "Yes, I did. What's the matter, you blind as well as incompetent?" She laughed, horse-like and loud. "I shouldn't have signed your stupid piece of paper in the first place, since you didn't fix the problem."

Sam laid his hand on the door. "I need you to sign the work order." He pushed the door open, knocking her back and he stepped inside. "I want you to sign my work order." He closed the door behind him and grabbed her by the arm, pulling his other hand out of his pocket. "Now!"


Marilyn finished vacuuming the room, making sure she didn't miss anything. Sara ran around the room, crying over the noise.

"I'm sorry, sweetie," she said as she turned off the machine, "I know you don't like the vacuum." Sara climbed onto the couch and lay down. "Are you tired, sweetie?"

Marilyn wrapped the cord around the holder and put the machine into the closet. She went to the couch and sat down, patting Sara's back. Sara looked up at her, yawning.

"My, my, what a big yawn." Marilyn picked up Sara, holding her close. "I think you are sleepy." Sara wiggled, pushing her head against Marilyn's shoulder.

"Oh, yes, we are very tired." She stood up and carried Sara to her bed, laying her down. Marilyn pulled the blanket over Sara's back and closed the curtains in the room. Sara grabbed her dolly and closed her eyes. Marilyn walked quietly out of the room and closed the door behind her, being careful not to slam it.

"Whew, finally a moment to myself." Marilyn went back into the living room. She checked the clock. Two hours before she had to pick Ted up at school. Plenty of time to finish her house work.


Sam pulled the truck into its space. The parking lot only had two trucks in it. Both of them were broken, waiting for the mechanic's touch. He turned off the engine and reached for the door handle, noticing for the first time the red goo on his hand. He reached behind the seat and got the plastic tub of baby wipes. The other guys laughed at him for keep them in his truck, but they were great for quick clean-ups. He pulled one out and cleaned off his hands. He glanced at his overalls. Splatters of the same red goo covered him and he rubbed the wipe on his clothes until most of it was smeared beyond recognition. He tossed the dirty wipe into the small trash bag hanging from the radio knob and got out of the truck. Time to see why Eddie was mad.

Sam walked to the dispatch office and waved to Rosa as he walked by. She didn't even look at him and he shrugged it off, knocking on Eddie's door.

"That had better be you, Sam."

Sam planted his customer smile on his face and pushed the door open, stepping inside the tiny room. "What you want, boss?"

Eddie glanced up from his desk and waved his hand towards one of the cheap metal chairs. "Sit."

Sam sat in the chair, the screwdriver in his pocket digging into his leg. He put his hand in his pocket, his fingers caressed it, and he waited for Eddie to speak.

Eddie picked up a stack of little, pink papers. "Do you know what these are?"


"These are the calls I've had this morning, people complaining about your driving." Eddie shook the papers at him. "Speeding through a school zone, running a red light, cutting off a driver," Eddie tossed one sheet for each problem at him, "There isn't anything you didn't do today, you even managed to piss off the one customer you did get to."

Sam felt his smile slip off his face. "So what."

The veins on Eddie's forehead began to throb and his skin turned bright red. "What do you mean, so what?" He stood and stomped over to Sam, throwing the rest of the stack at him. "That's it, you're fired!" His scream echoed around the tiny office.

Sam stood, his hand still in his pocket. "I think you should reconsider, boss." His fingers closed on the screwdriver.

"You have 20 minutes to get yourself out of my sight." Eddie turned towards the desk as Sam pulled his hand out of his pocket.


Marilyn woke with a start. She only sat down on the couch for a few moments. She must have fell asleep. The phone rang again, its shrill report making her jump. She leapt off the couch and grabbed the phone, not wanting to wake up Sara.

"Hello," she still felt a bit groggy. She could hear breathing on the other end. "Is anyone there?"

"Ms. Marilyn Joplin?" It was a male voice, Marilyn was sure of it.

"Yes, who is this?"

"Did you make a call to Walter's Air Conditioning this morning? A call complaining about one of our drivers."

The fog surrounding Marilyn cleared. "Yes, I did. And I do hope he learns how to drive."

"I forgot to get your address this morning. The owner likes to send a letter of apologize to all the people who complain."

"That isn't necessary."

"Yes, Ma'am, it is."

The voice sounded different than the one this morning. Maybe it was a supervisor. "Ok, my address is 1720 Coit Road."

"And that's in Dallas?"

"Yes, the zip is ..."

"That's OK, ma'am, our computer will fill that in. Thank you so much for taking the time to call us this morning."

"You're welcome," Marilyn said to the dial tone. Sheesh, you'd think he would be more polite. She went back to the couch and glanced at the clock. One hour before school was out. She turned on the TV and started flipping through the channels, looking for something to watch.


Sam made several phone calls, all the same. He diligently wrote down their information, making sure he didn't make any mistakes. Then he took off his overalls and wiped up the mess he made on Eddie's desk. Luckily he always wore street clothes underneath or Rosa would really wonder what was going on. He picked up the slips of paper, putting them in time order. Might as well start with the first person and work his way down the list. Time to thank Marilyn Joplin in person.

x x x

This story put me in mind of a movie titled “Falling Down.” I liked this story better because the star of the film in question is not one of my favorite people (although I do admire his taste in spouses). Anyway, this cautionary fable tells us all a bit about how to handle road rage--avoid Chicago’s highways. And send your comments to our BBS, while you’re at it. -GM

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