He didn’t belong here.
He looked around the room. A TV hysterically shouted Fox News in the corner, ignored by most of the 25 to 30 people wearing light blue dress shirts or royal blue short sleeved knit shirts. Each of them seemed to be idly chatting about absolutely nothing of interest to him. They could have all been comparing minutiae within the identical Metropolitan Transit System patches emblazoned on their right shoulders, for all he cared.
He wore the same dark blue polyester “work pants” as all of them. He hated these pants. They were at least a size to small and made him feel like a middle-aged man at a disco. Only there was no dancing here, just the same old tired exchanges:
“How’s it goin,’ man?”
Oh, you know. It’s going.”
Like a warped and broken record that everyone’s superstitiously afraid to remove from the turntable.
He wandered over to where the detours were posted, perusing them in the hope that his mundane day might hold the slightest little variation from its mind numbingly dull repetition.
Nope. He walked up to the dispatch window. “I need a car please, Frank,” he said.
“Of course, sir.” said the dispatch clerk. At 6’4” and 275 lbs, he had the imposing physical presence of a New York City bouncer, but his effervescent demeanor was anything but that.
“Car number 7172.”
“Thank you Frank. Have a good day.”
“You too, Sir.” he replied sincerely as he handed him the keys and clipboard and looked to the next driver in line.
He looked at the key fob. He disliked car 7172 and this little piece of masking tape where the car’s number had been scrawled years ago was yet another ugly reminder: He didn’t belong here.
He grabbed his lunch bag and jacket and walked out to the parking lot where all of the identically drab white cars with matching dings and scratches waited. He threw his stuff into the passenger seat, filled out the checklist of the car’s condition without even looking, started it up and immediately searched for a radio station that might be playing absolutely anything of interest. He spun the dial until he landed on a yacht rock classic and figured that was as lucky as he was going to get today, as he pressed the ignition switch. Even before he adjusted the seat or mirrors, he was EQing the sound system, +3 db of bass, waaaaay less treble, and seasoned it all with a little midrange to taste. He moved the whole signal just slightly back toward the back seats for ambience. “There.” He thought to himself, “Safety First”.
Putting the car in gear and slowly navigating his bland steed toward the Fashion Valley Transit Center (which he often referred to as Smashin’ Valley or Crashin’ Valley, but never to other drivers lest he bestow them with bad luck), he listened to the strains of “Steal Away” and thought to himself, “How did they know that Michael McDonald’s voice would frame Robbie Dupree’s so perfectly?” He turned it up really loud and accelerated to 85 mph while warning signals blinked and blared. A true, blue-clad rebel.
He pulled into the parking lot at Fashion/Smashin’/Crashin’ Valley and found a stall conveniently located near to where the bus he would be “taking over” would pull in. This process is commonly referred to as “relieving” the driver and he often chuckled to himself at how appropriate a term that truly was. After all, he didn’t belong here.
As his Steve McQueen-like driving skills (author’s privilege invoked) had brought him to his destination a full 10 minutes early, he pulled out his phone and began playing/losing at poker for a bit. In what seemed like only seconds later, he saw the familiar red-and-white motif of that cracker box of a bus turning into the transit center, subsequently disembarking a handful of passengers. He grabbed his belongings and approached the bus, preparing to make some of that small “guy talk” he loved so much to avoid.
Looking into the opened front doors, he could see the driver was standing on tip toes, trying to wrestle his belongings from off of the hooks. Smiling as he studied the tousled blonde hair, the diminutive height, and the short reach of this increasingly frustrated figure, he finally spoke.
“Need any help there?” he asked.
“No!” she snapped as she tugged at her backpack between words. “I just…” Tug. “Need to…” Tug. “Get this…” Tug. Off of here!!” Finally breaking the object free from its captor and falling backward.
He stretched his hand out in the international “Stop” sign and broke her fall by bracing her back briefly. She turned in annoyance, but then her face softened a bit, her blue-green eyes flashing in the light.
“Thanks,” she said shyly.
“No problem,” he replied in a mock-low booming voice.
She seemed flustered as she slung the pack over her shoulder, saying, “Good bus. Dead out there today. Have fun.” And with that, she quickly walked away toward the car.
“Cute,” he said to no one, as he dropped into his seat and readied the bus for his shift. “Weird, but pretty cute.”
For several weeks this same ritual seemed to repeat itself in varying forms. One day, she walked up to him at the bus yard’s ready room and asked a work-related question so benign that even she didn’t seem to understand why. He politely answered it and returned to his conversation with his equally perplexed friend, Ice.
“She likes you,” Ice said with a Cheshire grin. “Go ‘head man!” he teased.
“Naw. I’m good,” he replied, looking at the ground and turning his head to one side. “I’m good,” he repeated.
What he meant was that after 12 years and two failed relationships, he’d taken a year and a half off from dating or really even talking to women. Instead, he’d work 8-10 hours on the bus each day then return home and spend 4-6 hours recording, editing, mixing, or adding vocals and instruments to whatever the latest client’s project was, just to get back into his own skin, whatever that was now.
She approached him once more, outside his bus as he was about to leave the yard. “Hey, if you ever want to go have coffee sometime, just let me know.”
“Cool,” He said in his accepting, but non-committal way.
But they did, in fact, end up having many conversations, long into the night. The words were easy and the laughs effortless.
One day, her tone turned serious and quiet.
“You know,” she said. “I’ve been listening to you talk. I’ve been listening to your music. I’ve been listening to you talk about music…and I’ve gotta say…” She placed her hand under his jaw, turned his head towards her and looked directly into his eyes. “You don’t belong here”.
It’s easy to think and maybe even easier to feel as if you don’t belong within your current situation. Whether it is a life situation or a work-related construct, there’s certainly enough to keep you there sometimes. I mean, the rent doesn’t pay itself and there are myriad other responsibilities that keep our noses to whatever grindstone that has blessed us with the ability to make a living and meet our obligations. At a certain point though, one has to factor in their personal happiness and look at how much time we have left, much less what we’re going to do with it.
It is within that context that I make the following New Year’s resolution:
I will return to writing, producing, and performing music as a full-time profession in the year 2022.
It’s risky, it’s maybe going to seem selfish, and perhaps it’s not without its consequences, but I agree that I belong there and working where I belong is the example I need to set for my friends, my family, and yes, to myself. I’ve been working in music all along and I love the stuff I worked on with Girl in the Middle, Geza Keller, and David Brauner, as well as upcoming releases from Jeff Detrick, Joshua Taylor, and the King Taylor Project. But I need a little less bus in my monitor, and I know I can do more for them and others with the time and energy this sharper focus will bring.
I encourage you to take a look at your life and your passions, hoping you find the place where you belong, this year and beyond. Happy New Year and hold your loved ones close.
Please be kind to one another.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is a musical creature. firstname.lastname@example.org
He didn’t belong here.