Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Traffic interview

We were sitting in the Hindsdale Oasis, enjoying the feel of ice cream sliding down our throats and the sight of steady traffic passing into the shadow beneath the underpass of what could only be called a combination of American's two lasting monuments to humanity: the superhighway and the mall. The experience was made complete by the conspicuous McDonald's and Mobile Oil corporate logos placed before the exits that no doubt thousands of cars passed in the twenty minutes we sat observing the cardiovascular pulse of logistics in the early afternoon--before rejoining it a short time later.

Back in the USA. I was in the midst of chauffeuring Yvana back from her interview at TIU--her second of the day.

"It was a good experience," she said as she mixed her half of the TCBY sundae until the sprinkles blurred into an ovular rainbow. "I think the conversation went well."

"From what I saw of it, you got along great with everyone." I moved to segregate my half of the ice cream bowl, preserving the integrity of the sprinkles before she could blend them all into a nondescript pudding. "Once that other guy showed up."

"Yeah, but it was good to catch my breath a little after the first two. But really, I don't think anything will come of it." She looked up as a break in traffic collapsed in on itself, the slower cars of the advance wave falling to meet the faster cars of the next.

"The other interview at U of C went great though, wouldn't you say?" The process that just occurred in the southbound lane repeated itself on the northbound; I observed while I scraped the smooth dessert off the spoon and enjoyed the crunch of the candies. She was trying not to get her hopes up, since we had done this often enough, and failed in supposedly easier situations, to know that nothing was worth remaining either excited or depressed over for too long. "And the phone interview at UIC was pretty decent."

"They both went better than I expected, except for that weird U of C setup." The stream of motion in both directions reached a crescendo, and breaklights reflected a pool of red on the right. We both had high hopes for U of C, since that would mean we would both live and work in the neighborhood, which would among other things allow us to renounce car ownership for at least another year. True, we didn't want to get our hopes up. But it was certainly better to balance expectation between hope and disappointment, maintaining secret ambitions and untold terrors reflected in the horrifyingly mute future we both foresaw.

"Still," she said after taking another bite. I was surprised to hear a crunch when she chewed her sprinkles. I assumed they would have dissolved. "Still, it would be something if I got the Trinity job. Now that would be an affirmation."

"Would you want to live on the north side then?" One lane sped up, the cars quickly disappearing after a quick turn down the road, obscured by the sound retardant cement walls on either side of the tollway. Then it slowed, and the northbound lane seemed to take its cue to go faster. The play of cars was tempting my belief that the same few cars simply circled our vantage point, performing the same dance with each other on an endless cycle.

"Not really. I--we--were so excited about living in Hyde Park." We both hated commuting with unbridled conviction, cars in general nearly as much. Two years as dedicated cyclists and TTC'ers entrenched a distaste for single person automotive travel rivaled perhaps only by a U.S. border guard's hatred for pretty much anybody. But the opportunity for her to have her own classroom, teaching two foundational courses at a respected institution like Trinity College would certainly do no harm to her CV. She bit down on another sprinkle that she had picked out of her molar.

We sat in silence for a while. "Something will work out," I chirped over the hum of vehicles passing under our feet. Maybe something would, but if it did we both were haunted by the anticipation that it would be less than ideal. Hopes raised too often: Southwest (both times), Timothy, Mishawaka, Charlotte. Even Borders. Didn't want to add Trinity to the list.

I thought of the first time we went through the process. We were lying on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, trying to hold down the few days we had left to enjoy the Pacific surf, forcing myself to forget about the waiting messages from principals back in Illinois. Other things pressed themselves onto my waiting memory while the ocean drew me into a trance of motion and sound. The soft, pebbly sand held your footprints for only a moment before they vanished into the surf, the foam slowing at your toes before rushing under the cuff of your pearl white wrap back into the steady turmoil of the deep water. When I saw you laughing, the strands of your sun bleached hair prying themselves free of your ponytail, holding the camera as I emerged from the wave that surprised me with the force it used to knock me over, the concerns of our new life seemed far from my mind. They were thousands of miles from that beach, that ocean, but only a few hours away from the moment you would get a phone call while we were still in bed from one prospect telling you that the school had decided to hire someone with more maturity.

Two horns cried foul when a small Toyota decided to pass through two lanes of traffic, seemingly on a whim. I took my last bite of ice cream, and let it turn to liquid in my mouth while I preserved the last few sprinkles on my tongue. "But what if they do offer? Do you want to accept?" The flow of incessant cars and trucks soon corrected the Toyota's faux pas, absorbing the disturbance moments after it occurred.

"I think so. But I doubt it will happen."

"Yeah." We threw the small dish away. She ran to the bathroom before we headed out, and I walked through the sparsely utilized lot to our borrowed car, savoring the flavor of the candies still lingering on my gums. When she came out, we merged into the rush of other cars, holding each other's hand.

Just at dusk, two weeks later, we heard the Ice Cream truck approaching on St. Clarens. Like a sucker, I ran out to the sidewalk and stood in eager anticipation. She emerged moments later with an accusatory smile. "I wish I had a camera to show you how ridiculous you look."

I suppose I did have time to put on my shoes instead of slippers, and don a more appropriate shirt, but on this sleepy sidestreet, cars rarely passed, and I didn't care what they thought anyway.

When it finally arrived, we each ordered a cone, and our friendly ice cream man dipped them both in a dish of multicolored, sprinkle candies.

"A congratulatory ice cream to you." I raised my cone.

"Thanks." She took the first bite. "I deserve it." We walked back into the house. She had already checked out several logic textbooks, and was perusing philosophical anthologies that focused on ethics. The melody from the truck faded into the quiet evening.

Those sprinkles were delicious.

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