The Professional Driver: Orientation Week

Illustration for article titled The Professional Driver: Orientation Week

I'm tooling north up Lake Shore Drive, trying to peer ahead into the darkness for any white and blue lumps of Chicago's finest. It's 01:44 in the morning, and at this time the four lanes are mostly deserted, and 100% inviting. I'm trying to stay measured and focused; it's posted 45, though one can usually cruise nearer to 60 and invite no scorn from John Law. But the temptation to go WOT is huge, and I'm also engaged in a conversation, so I keep it reasonable. This one's a talker, and while I'm rather enjoying our conversation, it is a distraction. Distractions can get one killed, but they can also cause smaller missteps, as this one eventually will.


It's my last ride of what I've been refering to as "Orientation Week". I've just gone into business for myself, having been- not entirely un-expectedly, given the environment I was employed in- laid off from a postion I'd been in for just shy of 14 years. A life changing event, to be sure, but I can only look at it as an opportunity, or quietly hang myself from a noose of anxiety, stress, depresssion and despair. So I've decided to do what I've always been best at- driving from point-A to point-B.

Technology today is a wonderful thing, and as a seeker of income I was heartened to discover that there are business concerns out there that will allow me to earn dollars by taking the masses, a few at a time, to where they'd like to go. It's a custom the kids call "ride-sharing". Having an available automobile that qualified for the program, I electronically submitted the requisite documents and photos, and roughly eight days later I had a shiny iPhone in hand which would serve to magically link me to my patrons, so that I might service their transportation desires and GET PAID.


It isn't that I don't want to go back to a "9-5" job; I sent out a couple dozen resumes in the first couple of weeks. I will say, I was amazed at how the job-seeking game has changed since I was last actively doing it. I hadn't had to look for work since 1995, which was when I entered the IT game; after that, all of my moves were through networking with contract clients, which was how I ended up at my last long-term position. In '95 the internet was barely a "thing" still , and one had to call prospective employers on a telephone that was actually wired into the wall, and write on paper with pens, and mail things, and then wait by that immobile phone for the 'conspicuous by it's absence' rejection. Today, the ability to generate that same futility is increased tenfold. Sure, we get the instant gratification of the automatic "Hey buddy, we recieved your application, how're the wife and kids? Please expect to never hear from us again, regards!" email, but it's still cold comfort.

So now, through "partnership" with a wildly successful venture that shall remain un-named- and shall henceforth be referred to as "The Partner" (it's likely 'U' know the one)- I am a self-employed professional Driver.


My first week has been "interesting". This is also the adjective I use when my riders ask how I like the work. It's interesting, because for 14 years I worked from midnight until eight AM, alone in a downtown high-rise, seeing almost no one, and loving it. I's interesting, because for 14 years I drove into and out of the city on one of the most exciting expressways- the legendary Ike- and that was usually the best part of my day. And it's interesting, because of the ever-changing stream of folks gracing my utilitarian seats (speaking of which, I had 5 people in my car- counting myself, obviously- for the first time EVER last night.)

And don't think that just because I operated as a virtual hermit for so long that I'm ill-equipped to deal with the public; on the contrary, I've always been a customer service superstar first and foremost. Doing "client-facing" customer service in the financial industry requires barrels of tact and aplomb, and I thrived more on my client interactions than technical skills. I have no issues dealing with the public, and they love me too, as evidence by "10-out-of-10" five-star rating on my first ten rides.


But mostly, I love seeing parts of the city and surrounding suburbs I've never set foot in. Sure, it was daunting at first, trying to navigate neighborhoods that are utterly foreign and often confusing, trying to watch the in-app nav and the real world at the same time, but I know that over time- as with every other repetetive endeavor- it will become second-nature, as I learn my way around, in the same way I learned to navigate a global network of server and processes and escalation points.

The hardest part of Orientation Week so far has been just trying to find mental and physical balance. I still have no pattern or rythym to optimal "drive times", and it's not reasonable to expect that I will know the best of "when and where" to go out looking for riders for some time. And yet, when I'm *not* driving I feel guilty and anxious, like I need to get out there, at the cost of everything else. My sleep patterns- already not 'regular' due to my odd hours in my former job- are totally disheveled, I know I should relax, I know there's a "long game" involved here and I will eventually master it, but right in the moment, I can't help feeling like I need to be on the road at all times. But I also know that wouldn't be healthy...


So I've decided to take today off, and work on my other businesses (and do a bit of writing). I've got a garage full of collectibles I'm intending to put up for sale, and though I've opened an online 'store' about two weeks ago, I've posted exactly zero items. The other "other" business, an aluminum recycling concern, consists of plastic shopping bags of cans that I need to compact and store for future remuneration. Ironically, it was just days prior to my termination that I'd resolved to no longer allow my garbage collector to take money out of my pocket, and instead keep the aluminum for myself... heard tell that one can get a pretty penny for that, and it makes no sense to pay someone to haul my money away.

So back to my last ride of the week...

My passenger- who is probably half my age- is a Honda fan "from way back". He had an Si when he was 16 he says, and he and his father used to work on it together. He also works for a prominent shoe and sports apparel manufacturing company, which piques my interest, as I explain to him that my son is- inexplicably- a collector of athletic shoes. He goes on that he's in sales and marketing for an in-house brand, the one that begins with a 'J'... seriously? Sadly, he doesn't have a card, but say's he'll give me his email address to give to my son, as they will sometimes announce sales- and returns(?) of desirable shoes to specific location prior to restocking- ahead of time.


It's a pretty lengthy ride, and we have a nice talk about a few different things- he's digging the Tone-Loc in my mix, reminiscing about his dad and their Hondas, and the conversation turns to the inevitable "so how do you like driving for..." query.

I explain that I think it's going to be a decent fit, and that I've always enjoyed cruising about- I like cars, I especially like my car, and I'm sort of digging on the notion that I'm a professional driver...


"So wait," he interrupts as I'm waxing on un-selfconsciously, "when were you a professional driver?"

I wave my hand- palm up, like a game-show model- over the dash, and say, ""I'm doing it now!" In the mirror I see the wave of realization wash over his face, and we share a laugh, as we go whizzing by his exit. Our chatter continues, and suddenly Lake Shore Drive is curving precipitously to the left as it approaches it's terminus at Sheridan Road, and as I'm maneuvering the unexpected turn I'm suddenly aware that I've done goofed, and that we'll be backtracking a mile or two.


I apologize profusely, but my passenger is graciously accepting of my mistake, as he claims he's enjoyed our time together. I produce a pen and paper for the promised email addy, which he provides. I drop him at his apartment, wish him a good evening (morning!), and though I expect to never see him again, i will say it was nice to have known him.

Now where the fuck am I?

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