In the 21st century, you sometimes think about what your friends and family might think about the last text you sent. In my case, had I died this morning in the Poconos in the middle of a snowstorm, having left my Brooklyn apartment at 5 AM, the texts would have been as follows, between a woman I’ve been seeing on and off.
Me: You’re late.
Her: Well I just realized I can’t see… because I left my glasses. Keep them safe, hopefully I don’t die on my two block walk home
She called me and I missed it and I called her back and she said, “It’s no bother, I can deal without my glasses,” and I said, “It’s not a big deal, just come back and get them,” which she did. I kissed her goodnight/good morning, showered, shaved, dressed in pretty much the same clothes I’d been wearing the day before, and got into my rental.
The night before I’d texted a co-worker.
Me: I just set my alarm and I’m about to set like 30 on my phone.
Her: See now I’m going out on Friday night, making him drive, then sleeping at his place. Because I’m sensible.
Me: See I just cancelled my hotel reservation because of a “family emerency” and because I’m Hilton Diamond they aren’t charging me
Me: Gotta love status. And sensibility.
Neither of which, status nor sensibility, matters much in a snowstorm in the Poconos, when you’re half convinced you’re going to die. I’m 31 years of age. In the past few of them, I’ve noticed a serious deterioration of my night vision. So the idea of spending the first half of my trip in the dark and with limited visibility due to snow and terrible road conditions wasn’t really appealing. On the bright side, I hadn’t checked the weather, so I had no idea what I was in for. If I had, I would’ve told my client I had another “family emergency” and stayed home with the naked woman and the prospect of sleep.
I told the librarians that I had just endured a harrowing drive through perilous conditions and that I’d been awake since the wee hours of the morning. I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t actually slept the night before, too busy with fucking and so on. But I prefaced my presentation with this because 1) the science lab in the library didn’t have an HDMI cable for me to plug my computer into, rendering my product demos impossible to perform, and 2) I was nervous. Put me in a room with 30 librarians where we’re all seated around a conference table, and I’m golden. Put me in the same room with ten, in front of a podium, winging a presentation due to technical difficulties and I’m a bit nervous.
My voice was shaky and my mouth was dry. I drank water. I found my rhythm, but it was too late. I faced silly questions from people who clearly didn’t understand what my role was at the company — a deficiency that I can’t entirely blame on them. Though I’d explicitly delineated the various silos in which the business functions at the beginning of my presentation, I had also begun the whole thing with an air of annoyance that I’d been thrown completely off-script. Improv is fine when you expect it, when you’re planning for it, etc. It’s not fine when it happens moments before your hour-long prepared presentation is effectively gutted.
I did my best. I tried to make jokes, liven up the room. The lab was set up in such a way that, with three monitors for the librarians to view the presentation, three tables around those monitors, I had very little actual eye contact from people sitting ten feet away from me. Instead I saw their backs as they looked at some stupid back-up Powerpoint presentation projected on monitors about the room.
Which is a fascinating technological advancement, those monitors. I guess HDMI cables come next year.
It occurred to me a number of times on the drive to central Pennsylvania in a snowstorm that I was risking my life for my job. I’ve risked my life for all sorts of things, of course. Pleasure, education, travel, novelty. Hell, even just some of the experiences I’ve had that I haven’t yet written about that I want to one day write about — that’s all been acceptable. My aunt told me one Thanksgiving that she really liked my blog, that one day she was sure I was going to “burst,” and as much of a compliment that seems like, it’s also an unbearable burden. Because what if I don’t? What if I die in the Poconos?
The trucks pass on the left in a lane that’s barely visible. Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t actually driving in the breakdown lane. They, perhaps, have not driven to Montreal as many times as I have in snowstorms, with 18-wheelers flipped over on the side of the highway. I hate them. I hate everyone who’s passing me. They should all be slowing down.
I forget if it was Matt or Mackenzie who told me this story, but I only remembered it after one of them did. They were dating at the time, and we were all driving back to Montreal from Boston in the middle of a blizzard. At one point I apparently interjected to suggest that I take over driving duties (N.B., this squares with another story from those times, which I actually do remember the exact details of, when I got a ride from a dude on Craigslist who almost got us killed six times before we reached the New Hampshire border and I “offered” to take over driving duties, which I did for the next five hours till we hit Axel’s spot in Mile End.)
At any rate. Apparently this happened. I remember the drive, just not the volunteering. In a blizzard with no plows and no salt, you find one good line of pavement and keep half your vehicle on that, and you’re probably okay.
And so, driving through the Poconos, I did that. I found my lines and stuck to them. I kept a safe distance from vehicles in front of me in case shit went down. I talked aloud to myself about my own life history, both to keep myself awake and for entertainment. I thought about the last of my text messages, hoped that, were I to perish, my family would be able to retrieve everything. I sang songs I made up. “Driving through the Poconos/Don’t you know that bridges freeze before roads/Trucks driving past with goods to be sold/Driving through the Poconos/Driving through the Poconos.”