This morning I was listening to “Highway Junkie” by the Yayhoos from the 1996 album Rig Rock Deluxe: A Musical Salute to American Truck Drivers. It got me revved up for the morning and reminded me of my dream of becoming a trucker after retirement. Before I was married, I loved being out on the road. The highway promised freedom and greener pastures in every approaching median. I thought truck driving was a great way to combine my two passions: abandoning my responsibilities and smoking. Now I am tied-down and tobacco-free, so the job has lost some of its appeal. Also, I don’t really like to drive at night, and I can barely get through the grocery parking lot in my mini-van without hopping a few curbs. Another dream down the toilet.
Before the truck driving industry allured me with the idea of being my own boss and taking showers at gas stations, I wanted to work in a skyscraper. I didn’t have a particular job in mind, just being in the building seemed like enough of an adventure. Then at age twenty-four my dream came true when I took a job as a file clerk at a law firm in downtown Austin. Our office was on an upper floor of a building on Congress Avenue; looking north there was a view of the state capitol and looking south a view of the river. However, I could not see any of these views from my office in the file room behind the elevator shaft. Being a file clerk and having my desk in the file room was super convenient—sort of like if I had a job as a janitor and they gave me a desk right in the bathroom.
I had my own cart, just like the guy from the mailroom in all the movies from the 1980s starring Michael J. Fox. I circled the floor twice a day to collect papers and files from the secretaries. Then I would take the papers and files back to the file room and stare at them until I got so bored that working seemed like a relief. The job required certain qualifications that could only be learned after completing first grade, like a working knowledge of the alphabet and the ability to read the date. Also, there was a tremendous amount of hole-punching, both of the two-hole and the three-hole variety.
The files were stored on floor-to-ceiling sliding shelves to maximize space. Sometimes I would be between rows doing some filing or napping and a coworker would come in and push the shelves back, squishing me between the rows. I would scream out, “Stop! You are crushing me!” Usually it was a middle-aged secretary, and she would say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were back there,” and then when I crawled out we would both laugh awkwardly. Then I would start deliberately misfiling her paperwork.
Eventually, I left the second most dangerous job in the world and moved to another downtown building that looked directly over the river. I worked my way out of the file room and into a deluxe secretary’s desk, complete with a high-top counter so visitors could stand and look down on me. Again, I did not actually have any windows, so I could not see the view from my desk, but I would stare out at the view when I was called into my boss’s office. I would even sketch the skyline on my steno pad while he was rambling on so I could gaze at the view later while sitting at my desk counting the minutes until happy hour, ahem, while I was typing some law office crap, ahem, playing solitaire. After four long months I was fired from my position, and I got a job at a three-story building out in the suburbs. My days of living the dream were over.
I often felt like a caged animal at the office. I remember going into the hallway to cry while working as a secretary for a small firm in New Jersey. I just wanted to run. The job was not difficult, and I only worked part-time, but I was bored, and not just for the twenty hours I sat stagnantly behind a desk, but drowning in boredom. I answered phones. I typed from dictation. I edited. I filed. I stapled things. I considered sticking toothpicks in my eyeballs. At the end of each work day, I ran to my car with my hands waving in the air and peeled out of the parking lot on two tires.
It turns out that what I do for work actually matters. I don’t have to choose between being a truck driver and a secretary. At this point, I have established some other options, like maybe I could work for Fedex. I do look great in shorts.