No, that car isn’t for me

I walked out of my apartment building today and saw a black car waiting, a corporate hired car with a number placard hanging on the rear window and the driver talking on the phone. It brought back a rush of memories, of leaving for a business trip on a beautiful day, trundling my rollaboard downstairs and giving instructions to the driver so he wouldn’t get stuck in traffic on the way to JFK. Of watching Brooklyn go by on the other side of the tinted window, thinking about the jams I wouldn’t be playing at that night, the people I’d had to put off seeing, the day in the park I could have had.

I looked at that car and felt so happy that it wasn’t for me, that I wasn’t leaving, that I wasn’t going to be a spectator to this picture-perfect day, in it but no longer of it, a harried traveler rather than a content resident. All-expense-paid trips to California sound wonderful until the umpteenth time you spend an entire day looking out a conference-room window (if you’re lucky enough to be in a room with windows) at the California sunshine, hoping the meeting will wrap up early enough that you can do something fun before the obligatory work dinner that will drag on for hours.

I’ve had fun on business trips. Sometimes I’d manage to slip a free day into the schedule, or arrange my time to leave an afternoon off, or duck out of dinner. One afternoon in the early years of the boom, a lunch presentation at a Silicon Valley company was canceled. Everyone remained in the conference room, opening their box lunches at the conference table and making mind-numbing business small talk. A quirky software genius (who later quit the company) looked up at me and said “Let’s go to Kepler’s.” So we blew out of the conference room and drove over to the famous bookstore on El Camino in Palo Alto, loaded up on books and ate wraps sitting outside in the sun.

(Side note: That was the day I bought my first Neal Stephenson novel. The genius came up to me on line at the register and put a copy of Snow Crash on top of my pile. “I’m so done with cyberpunk,” I said, and he said, “Trust me, just read it.” So I started it on the plane home and was rolling my eyes all through the high-tech chase scene that opens the novel, thinking, this is just what I’m so sick of. Then it turns out that the tech jockey is actually a pizza delivery guy trying to beat the 15-minute delivery guarantee, and I’ve loved Stephenson’s work ever since. Even shared a podium with him at an awards ceremony, but that’s a long story.)

But I am very glad to no longer be in that life. To enjoy the city where I live and start to see other places in a new light — such as Seattle, a place I’ve visited many times and never once enjoyed. Seattle is, for me, endless hours in the atmosphere of forced conformist brilliance at Microsoft. Of driving an ugly rental car around the ghastly suburbs — Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland — thinking, “So this is why Courtney Love is so angry all the time.”

I walked past that limo, bought some groceries for dinner, and picked up my dry cleaning — five dress shirts, three weeks of business dress. The fiddle player I usually play in the park with on Thursdays is busy, so I’m going to cook some dinner, learn some tunes, maybe go to the park. The limo was still there when I came back from the store, and I walked past it again, glad I didn’t have to drive off from behind dark windows, happy to be part of the beautiful day.

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