Just the Chauffeur

”I have no idea,” said my father to the band leader's son on the other end of the phone, “I'm just the chauffeur!”

After a long procession in New Jersey on Saturday, we had some time to relax before heading out Sunday night to another gig in Brooklyn. I even found time Saturday night for a get-together with some old college friends consisting of home-cooked Indian food, nostalgic Wu-Tang music, and teaching one friend's two-year-old daughter how to make paper airplanes. But one thing that was unresolved was the status of our friend Bill the Trumpet Player. He can't see welll enough to drive anymore, so my dad and I usually pick him up for gigs with the Brooklyn band we're all in. The band leader for that group was with us on the New Jersey band's job on Saturday, and confirmed that he had spoken to Bill and he was on the Sunday job. But when we got home and my dad called Bill to confirm, he not only didn't know about a gig Sunday night, but had prior plans with a birthday party.

So, as I was heading out the door to my friend's house on Saturday night, I heard my dad talking to the band leader's son, explaining the conversation he'd just had with Bill. Either the son or the band leader in the background had asked why Bill wasn't calling to say he couldn't make it, at which point my dad uttered one of his trademark phrases. I found it ironic that, while we often take my dad's car to these things, I always do the driving. He did his share of driving back in the day though, and though he's often used the expression to downplay his musical contributions, neither of us would even have these jobs if not for his influence and connections. He always pushed me to practice growing up, got me in to the fire department bands he played for, and eventually through those we made contact with the Italian bands. He's far more than a chauffeur in my book.

In any case, it was something of a relief that we didn't have to pick up Bill on Sunday. I like the guy well enough and don't mind helping him out, but sometimes we think about the time lost detouring to pick him up. It'd be nice to leave a half hour later for a gig, or get home from one a half hour sooner. Of course, when storms raged across Long Island on Saturday, and the radio proclaimed a story of four soccer players getting struck by lightning, I was sure I was off the hook. After walking in the sun all day on Saturday and going out at night, I was pretty beat. The wise move would have been to skip the dinner party, but I'd already missed a housewarming because I got home too late from an out-of-state job and a midnight movie because I would have been a wreck at my day job the next day. I don't see these friends that often anymore and, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, sometimes I feel like I'm always working. That's hardly the case, but I feel that way nonetheless. So, against my better judgment, I decided to go out instead of rest.

I was sure by around 5 PM that the job was canceled, when I got out of the shower and saw a missed call on my cell phone from the band leader's son. I called back and, alas, he was only calling to tell us the job was still on, that the weather was much dryer in Brooklyn. He was still stuck on a train with his parents, pregnant fiancée, and soon-to-be stepson, as electrical problems were causing all kinds of delays with the trains. I honestly don't understand why he still hasn't gotten his driver's license. When their family lived in Brooklyn, owning a car didn't make sense. But they've been living out East on Long Island for close to a decade now. Trains and cabs must surely get expensive, not to mention the hassle of being on someone else's schedule. There have been times that the only way he and his father could get to a job was to take the train in to the city then catch a different line back out to the island. There have been plenty of occasions where we've had to meet them at a train station and drive them to a job. On rare occasions when they offer to pay for gas or a toll, we accept.

What really boggles my mind, beyond the fact that a 34-year-old about to enter into marriage and fatherhood for the second time(though first time concurrently), is that he owns a minivan. When he plays drums with a bar band or has to get somewhere with his DJ equipment, he pays one of the neighborhood kids to drive it. Otherwise, it sits in his yard. “I drive up and down the driveway,” he says, when we ask if he's practiced or made any moves to learn. I can understand his father's apprehension, as he's spent a lifetime without driving and is getting close to a retirement age, but the son is definitely a different story.

At any rate, while they could relax on one of several trains over the course of who knows how many hours before the actual job, I had no choice but to drive. Traffic proved fierce, I felt trapped, and after a few exits traded an expressway for local roads. With almost no cars on the road and good timing with traffic lights, we got to Brooklyn before the job started though after the time the band leader told us to get there. Over the years, understanding his obsession with time and nervousness that rivals my dad's, I've learned to add as much as an hour to whatever time he gives us. If he says be there at 6-6:15, you can bet the procession isn't starting before 7:15.

The rain let up though clouds remained, beautiful layers resembling silk or an oil painting or an oil painting of silk. Heading home, traffic wasn't too bad, although my dad was nervous on one particular road. A few months back I got him a ticket by driving through a yellow light at an intersection with a camera. We were mailed the ticket along with a screen capture of our car and a notation of what fraction of a second that had elapsed between the time the light changed and the time we passed it. There's a chance I got him 3 or 4 tickets on Sunday. I tried to anticipate, but lights change a lot faster out in Queens. On one occasion I was under the light when it changed. On another, a car was riding our rear bumper. “What car?!” shouted my dad. The next time I stopped for a light with a car tailgating us, it veered to the left and shot through a red light. My dad still didn't see the car or believe me. It's been almost two weeks since he had cataract surgery on his second eye, and I can say his night vision isn't coming along as quickly, though I wouldn't trust him to drive during the day.

Driving can be very stressful, not just from outside forces but those within the car. “What are you doing?! Stop STOP!!!” does not help. Ironically, the night before I heard him on the phone protesting that he was just the chauffeur. “That light is RED!,” he said, noting a light a good 200 feet in the distance. “Do you want me to drive?” he asked in frustration. I wished he could. A few years ago when I was having major anxiety issues behind the wheel, my dad was there for me, and drove me to work for a few months. Even after I got my senses back and got control of the problem, it was always nice to have him along as a passenger, as backup in case we needed to switch places. That's not an option now, at least until his eyes heal and he finds out whether or not he'll still need glasses, and if so how strong. I didn't like being yelled at each time we approached a traffic light, but normally I don't mind driving my dad. It's not like I'm going out of my way for him.

We got home in one piece, and I guess we'll know in a few months whether or not any of those intersections had cameras. Whether driving my dad, Bill, the band leader & his son, or any combination of the above, my limited experience with the stress of passengers has given me an appreciation for people who drive for a living. I'm glad I'm not just the chauffeur.


Blogger Lorna said...

"Driving can be very stressful, not just from outside forces but those within the car."

I've been finding that, as a passenger lately. I have my foot on the passenger-side brake a lot more than Dave does on the driver-side one.

7/29/2008 1:59 PM  
Anonymous theGreek said...

"...pregnant fiancée, and soon-to-be stepson..." Must be who I think it is.

7/29/2008 7:06 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

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7/30/2008 12:27 PM  

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