My Day as the Chauffeur
The year I decided to move to Dallas was a year filled with change. My fourteen year-old car packed with most of my worldly possessions, I bid goodbye to the ones I would miss the most; my step-son and my dog. It seemed the only way to leave behind a rocky marriage that was doomed from the beginning. Sometimes, you just have to get away.
My battered Malibu made the twelve-hundred mile trip, fortunately. There were the usual stops at rest areas on the interstate to let the engine cool down. The fact that it started up again was good news. There was no money set aside for car repair or, for that matter, much of anything else.
I wasn't sure I'd be staying in Texas forever. Who could know that sort of thing? I signed up with a few temporary agencies hoping for a work assignment. Each morning I set the alarm, got up, showered and got ready for work hoping that would happen.
During the weeks that followed I traveled to a variety of offices across the city of Dallas. That experience gave me a good idea of where I wanted to work and where I didn't. You can tell a lot about a company in just a few days.
This particular assignment was in a luxury suite of a high rise building with offices that took up the entire third floor of the building. A collection of designer couches, antique tapestries and original oil paintings paired with sculptures cluttering the tables in the enormous room that overlooked the freeway. An original Remington bronze figurine of a soldier on a horse rested on the leather covered desktop of the President of the company.
The secretary that worked at the office before me left in a rush. Her reasons became clear once I found out she'd embezzled thousands of dollars from the company. That explained the President's intense scrutiny when I first started the assignment.
The latest IBM Selectric typewriter rested on the secretarial desk that soon became my daytime home. They even had a Xerox copier right behind the reception desk, at that time, an expensive luxury not many businesses could afford.
The refrigerator in the break room was stocked with sodas for guests and a deluxe coffee maker next to the sink. I would be serving the variety of executives that met with my boss. Carting in cases of soda and shopping after hours to replenish the supplies wasn't an issue. I had nothing better to do than spend other people's money.
For the most part, the principles came in around ten each morning and after making a few phone calls, I made reservations for them at their favorite restaurant. Most of the family members left early in the afternoon leaving much of the day to myself.
With quiet time on my hands, I found a way to fill the hours by overhauling the filing system. Afterward, the dusty files were organized into alphabetical, color-coded folders. Typing out business invoices, reviewing bills, writing payroll checks and administrative duties filled my days. It wasn't long before they asked if I was looking for a real job.
Over time, my duties gradually evolved. In addition to being the president's secretary, supporting her two sons, their wives and several others who worked out of the office. A few weeks into the job, I began to get invitations to join the family for lunch, which was a real treat, since money was scarce.
Apartments in Dallas were more expensive than I could comfortably afford which made the free lunch a boon to my limited funds. I enjoyed expensive meals at fancy restaurants and although I made the reservations, gathered the coats and belongings and paid the bill out of petty cash, I really didn't mind. I almost felt like part of the family, namely, the black sheep.
Then came the day when Miss Jeannie asked me to drive her to downtown Dallas.
It was a crisp sunny day, cold enough that she wore a full length fur coat. I quickly stowed it in the back seat before hopping behind the wheel. The engine cranked up smoothly and we headed toward the Dallas Tollway to head south toward downtown. My employer paused her phone conversation long enough to give further directions, thankfully, since I didn't know my way around.
I was incredulous that someone was actually paying me to drive around in this luxury automobile with its leather seats, power windows and a working heater, something my car didn't have.
"You'll be turning off at the next exit, dear," she said, her hand over the receiver of the car phone where she spent a good deal of the ride. Back then, a mobile phone was an expensive luxury item nearly the size of a car battery.
She rode in the front seat beside me, making it seem more like we were Thelma and Louise out for an adventure, rather than on the job, really. So we got downtown and she had me pull over to the curb and let her out at some fancy jewelry store. I was supposed to drive around the block and look for a place to park, then, wait for her to come out. It felt more like I was driving the get-away car.
Here I was, trying to maneuver my way around the block with all the one way streets and construction zones that blocked off lanes randomly and unexpectedly. Traffic was whizzing on my left as I pulled over to the far right lane and got blocked in by a bus that pulled to a stop in front of me.
Suddenly, it started raining only it wasn't rain. Huge drops of gray cement begin spattering the windshield. Soon, the entire car was covered in drops of liquid concrete falling from the high rise building above.
I immediately pulled out into the next lane in a panic. Fortunately, there was a small gap in the relentless traffic. I waved a Texan hello to the guy behind me who, luckily, didn't hit me and was kind enough to let me out as he gave me the one-fingered wave.
I pushed the windshield washer button repeatedly and which gave me a moon-shaped view to continue around the block, when I saw Miss J come out of the store. I pulled next to the curb to pick her up knowing there would fireworks about the condition of the car.
Totally engrossed with the velvet box in her hand, she slid across the leather seat to show off her latest purchase. "Oh, thank goodness I was able to find this little trinket for Bob's birthday." She positively radiated with the joy of the moment. I tried not to stare too long at the ten thousand dollar price tag, mentally comparing the amount to my annual salary.
I checked the side mirror and eased into the stream of traffic, pulling the Cadillac away from the curb and made a point to avoid Miss Jeanie's eyes. There was no need to point out the damage to the car, speckled with patches of spattered concrete. When I started to explain how it happened, she interrupted.
"Don't worry, we'll just run it through the car wash," she said with a big smile. "Afterward, you can make reservations for lunch." She beamed again, closing the green velvet box over the sparkling diamond face of the watch. I was truly lucky to have a boss like Miss Jeanie and often thought about her calm reaction that day which could have turned out so much differently than it did. It would be a few months later when I moved into a tiny house on the three-hundred acre ranch. That's when things really changed.
My one-bedroom guest house was on the outer edge of the driveway nearest the entrance to the horse ranch. It was a direct path to reach the big house where Ms. Jeannie lived. Visitors and solicitors declared my house as the stopping point at which to check the availability of the missus. My duties as the gate keeper soon expanded as more responsibilities seeped into the job. (to be continued)
The Ballad of Lucy Jordan
© 2013 Peg Cole