Traffic is bad. We’re stuck in a three-mile line of cars. Total gridlock.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they drive in traffic. You have two kinds of drivers in this world: Those who weave back and forth, fighting to get ahead. And those of us who are stuck looking at their butts.
My wife and I are on the road looking at lots of car-butts today.
This is our life. Being on the road for weeks on end. Her driving. Me writing on a laptop in the passenger seat. Sometimes it feels like all we do is drive.
If you would have told me seven years ago that this would be my life, I would have laughed you off your barstool. But somehow, this writing gig is the only thing I’ve ever done that works for me.
And believe me, I’ve had my share of jobs.
Right now, beside our vehicle is a woman riding a Harley. She is listening to the Doobie Brothers at full volume. Our windshield is rattling loose from her music. I roll down my window because I sort of like this song.
“Without loooooove, where would you be now….”
She notices me listening and gives me a thumbs up. This woman is—how do I put this?—very large. She looks like she could bench press a Plymouth Voyager. But here she is, stuck looking at everyone’s butts with the rest of us. There’s something admirable about that.
Ahead of her is a truck. Also looking at three miles’ worth of everyone’s butts. The driver is dancing to his own radio music. He must not think anyone can see him because his windows are tinted with roofing tar.
But I see him. And he looks funny. He is a middle-aged guy, and we middle-aged guys aren’t known for our dancing skills.
At my cousin’s wedding, for example, I saw twenty middle-aged men take the dancefloor for the “Cha-Cha Slide,” and it was like watching the Ceremonial Dance of the Torn ACL. They were bumping into furniture, falling over sideways, I even saw one man put down his beer.
At that same reception, there was an elderly woman in the corner with candy-red hair. She asked me to dance. I am not a big dancer. When I dance, I look like a guy having a grand mal seizure, but I danced with her.
The DJ played “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers. She said her husband died after they’d been married for fifty-one years. And I’ve never felt as inadequate as I did when her tiny arms wrapped around my waist.
That’s sort of how I’ve gone through life. Feeling inadequate. I’ve never been a winner, and I’ve never been the kind of guy who butts ahead in traffic. In fact, I’ve always been the guy at family reunions who is “between jobs.”
I’ve been a lovable loser since childhood. And the thing is, you get less lovable when you’re older.
Do you know what I’ve always wished? I have always wanted to win something. Just once. I’ve entered several contests and never won squat. For crying out loud, I’ve played more Bingo than a senior citizen living at Bedpan Alley Retirement Villages. Never won a cent.
The only time I’ve ever won was at the roulette table in Biloxi, which doesn’t count.
I walked into the casino with fifteen bucks. I went straight to the table and asked the dealer to teach me to play. I tripled my money after one hour.
That’s when the dealer said, “You want my advice, kid? Walk away now and take your wife out to a steak dinner.”
Before I left, I told him that this was the first time I’d ever won something. He just smiled and said, “What do you want me to do, clap?”
I took his advice and treated my wife to dinner. But first I had to pry her away from the slot machines because she was about to take out a second mortgage and hock her wedding ring.
We went to a joint that served ribeyes and had an Elvis impersonator singing “Jailhouse Rock” with a band. My wife and I did the Twist on the dance floor, and it felt so good not to be a lovable loser for one night.
When Elvis started with “Love Me Tender,” my wife and I did the famous Prom Dance. You know the dance—two people hold each other and rock back and forth like arthritic penguins. I hope we can do that dance fifty-one years from now.
Traffic is moving again. But slowly.
A Honda Accord shoots around us in a hurry, nearly clipping our side mirror. I don’t know where he thinks he’s going in this congestion. But I suppose that’s just how life is. Some people race ahead and win it all. And other guys like me are sort of made for the back row.
It’s taken a long time, but I’ve learned that just because a man loses, it doesn’t make him a loser. In fact, it makes him honest. And I can honestly say that, after all these years of being me, I’ve come to enjoy looking at everyone else’s butts.
Wait. That came out wrong.