Likely driven by ego, I volunteered for a new project at work. The announcement I’d be leading it came across as I was sitting in the dealership finalizing the purchase of a new car. The car is a black Mercedes E-550 with a performance engine and 32,000 miles on it, an ’08. When the salesman brought it out front I thought he had the wrong car because it looked brand new. After agreeing to buy it and reviewing the service records I deduced the prior owner was an elderly lady (Mary Jo), who died and bequeathed it to her son Rodney, who traded it in for a BMW.
Driving home in the rain on the 520 the wiper blades squeaked and I wondered if I’d made a mistake. I was shaken and rattled and spent an hour drafting a project plan for an 8 AM meeting the next day. We went out for sushi to celebrate and got seated around 7:15. The kids played with the cup holder in the back and heating controls, but I didn’t mind. They both asked if I could give them a ride to school the next day.
Since last Thursday I’ve worked every morning and enjoyed it, mostly. I’m best in the mornings, and push as much work as I can early in the day since I peter out most afternoons by about 3. I set my phone for 20 minutes and lay on my back in a semi-nap, reply to emails in five minutes or less, have a hard time ignoring them. I’ve probably gotten over-directive on email and part of me thinks that’s OK, while another part of me worries it’s not. This is the thing about power and control, they’re both pretty fleeting—like a fast car, it feels good at the time.
Charlotte, who’s taken to calling me Pa, handed me a pink slip of paper folded in fourths with “To: Pa / From: Charlotte” written in pencil, an invitation to the father-daughter dance at the community center. She rode up front in the new car, and we went back to the sushi restaurant before the dance. They cleared our table though before we were done (because I’d gone to the bathroom and Charlotte came back to check on me, so they thought we’d left), and when we returned and said we’re not done yet they acted embarrassed and I remarked to the French family in the table next to us, “this is the difference between restaurants in the States and restaurants in Europe: here, they just want you OUT.”
On the drive to the dance I let Charlotte play her favorite radio station. We sat for a while not saying anything in the upper balcony looking down for Charlotte’s friends, her legs dangling. Then I met some of her friends’ dads and liked them, and we shouted at each other over the music, and then tried to remember everyone’s names when we shook hands later and said goodbye. Charlotte and I danced to a couple songs and she smiled and looked up at me and seemed to sparkle, and that’s all I needed.
The work is good, but hard. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to manage a project, to really stretch myself. You get beaten enough at chess by some good players and it makes you better yourself. And I’ve been beaten a lot.
Sitting in the lobby at the BMW dealership waiting for them to finish the paperwork I watched the salesman take my old Volvo to another lot where it would be assessed for possible re-sale or auction, and it was like the end of a movie how it got smaller as it moved farther away, then disappeared.
My English friend Andrew texted me, you always looked like a Geography teacher in that car. It felt like an insult. He said, if I help you buy a new car the only thing I ask in return is that we both drive to Suncadia (the resort), and bring walky-talkies.