I suppose it's natural to ruminate on the whimsical and perilous when actually stuck in bumper-to-bumper drudgery as part of your daily grind. The movie Falling Down, for example, is essentially about a traffic-induced existential crisis. Concrete Jungle is a novel that focuses on a man who is trapped by a never-ending stream of cars in a traffic island in London. And all of Walter White's most pivotal scenes in Breaking Bad seem to involve cars.
To be sure, this is a stark contrast to the mundane, bumper-to-bumper reality many of us willingly exist in. But occasionally life does deign to imitate art. Susan and I recently learned this in our early days of attendance at the Southern California School of Driving(TM).
We'd heard about California traffic, of course, but being conditioned by Chicagoland's bizarre interstate system and its two-season calendar (Winter and Construction) we thought ourselves inured to any challenges or peculiarities we might encounter on the west coast.
And there's weirdness, to be sure. Susan has been doing 90% of the driving since we've settled in. She regularly reports to me that, in addition to no one knowing how to drive in the rain, the road system of San Diego is cluttered with all manner of random detritus - leather pants, a half-dozen dolls flung creepily into the drainage spillway, even a pristine hamburger in a spot on the interstate that could only be accessed by flinging the sandwich from a rapidly-moving vehicle.
For more than a month, these reports trickled in. It was all academic to me, for the simple reason that I'd taken advantage of the Groundhog's Day-like repetition of perfect weather days to bike to work. Susan's problems were merely tales from the bad side of the one-car family.
Susan claimed the roads were dangerous. I would laugh it off. Rinse and repeat, at least until Susan produced the following story (which I will now tell as though I was there):
As the self-appointed decorator of our new home, Susan has criss-crossed town in an endless series of furniture store visits and Craigslist appointments, seeking out suitable furniture (suitable meaning "nice" to her and "cheap" to me).
Her most recent acquisition was a monstrous three-piece sectional, which she plucked from the rubble of some yuppie's divorce. But DINKs don't deliver couches and this thing was far too large for our highly economical old car. Fortunately, there are ways. Susan used an app that summons men who own a truck and, a few minutes later, a crew showed up.
After handling the various transactions, Susan departed for home in her own car, leaving the crew to follow. Last she saw, they were studiously lashing down our new living room centerpiece to the bed of the truck, like pirates readying their ship for a storm.
After ten minutes of surface streets, Susan reached the interstate and accelerated to cruising speed. As she plugged along at 80 or so miles per hour, the semi in front of her suddenly swerved, revealing a couch tumbling violently down the freeway at her (I am imagining the boulder scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark). Acting on instincts honed on the mean streets of Chicago, Susan swerved violently, narrowly avoiding the road missile and and dodging another vehicle by only a foot or so.
The entire incident happened in a flash, but not so quickly for Susan not to notice that the couch was pretty good looking. In fact, it looked a lot like the piece she'd just... no, that was impossible - she'd left while the delivery truck workers were still battening down our new purchase; there was no way in heaven a heavy truck carrying cargo could pass my lead-footed fiancee. Besides, there must be like a thousand pieces of living room appointments on trucks at any given moment in San Diego, like that stat that there are nearly a million people in the air at any given moment. In short, the rogue couch couldn't be ours.
This comforting thought persisted for perhaps three seconds, until Susan spotted a familiar truck stopped on the side of the road. It looked like the one she'd contracted, except it was only carrying two-thirds of a couch. The crew peered back up the road as the cars zipped by, puzzling over the sudden, gaping hole in their cargo loading deck.
About ten minutes later, Susan's cell phone rings. There's a man from customer service. He tells her that there's been some sort of incident with her shipment and that they're "sorting things out." From his tone, it is clear that the man is unaware that Susan saw her own couch pinwheeling down the interstate.
As she waits for him to call back, Susan calls the highway patrol and tells them that any couch pieces they find on I-805 in the next few hours probably belong to her. The woman taking the report sounds bored and never calls back.
The man from customer service calls back. Based on the panicked undercurrent in his voice, it seems he's gotten the full scoop from the delivery guys. Evidently, he explains, they will not be able to complete the delivery - it seems that the item has been... permanently misplaced.
"Permanently misplaced?" Susan asked innocuously. "You only took it 15 minutes ago. Whatever happened?"
"I, uh, don't have that information," the guy replied [Susan rated his bullshitting skills a 7/10 - this was a tough one]. "All I have here is that the item has been... irrevocably lost." The last bit was said like a question dangled to see whether it was accepted.
This went on for a couple minutes. The rep managed to go the distance without using the phrase "fell off the truck." Susan told me she'd never spoken to a guy so eager to write a check for damages*.
That evening, Susan tells me the story as though this sort of thing happens every day. "Let me get this straight - you narrowly avoided a traffic accident... with your own couch?"
"Our own couch," Susan corrected. "It's not a big deal. They have insurance." She paused. "I am SO glad we didn't hire a random guy from Craigslist."
"Yeah," I replied. "Otherwise we'd have to sue ourselves."
*Despite losing our couch, using the app people turned out to be great. In addition to refunding the cost of their disastrous transport effort, they reimbursed us the entire cost of replacing the "irrevocably lost" piece. Because this was a custom couch, this came out to many hundreds of dollars more than we paid. Of course, we won't actually be replacing the sectional anytime soon; currently, the middle part of the sectional is an empty cardboard box supporting the couch cushions. It appears structurally intact, but would irrevocably crumple under anything more than the weight of a house cat. Such is my life.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.