Dusk. That mysterious interval where the sun dips below the horizon, just before the sky falls into the unyielding darkness that reigns until the breaking of tomorrow. Headlights are switched on, sunglasses are stowed, and colors seem to blanch into grayscale versions of what were vibrant hues only an hour ago. My eyes are tired. Their lids impart the sandy, sticky dryness of sunbaked cellophane tape with each blink I surrender. I can make out the shape of a likewise weary traveler up ahead at the side of the road. I pull to the curb and open my doors.
“Good evening, Sir.” I say, with the last dregs cheerful enthusiasm I can muster.
“Hello, Driver.” he replies as he steps up, politely asking “How’s you’re night going?”
“Doin’ alright. Thank you.” I say.
He’s neatly dressed, with a pork pie hat, corduroy jacket, and matching pants and shoes. Well-groomed too, with a smartly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. He appears to be an educated man, somewhere in his late 60s.
“Well…,” he grunts as he takes a small cloth out of his pocket and carefully cleans his glasses before holding them up to the light to check his work, like someone with all of the time in the world.
He pulls the wire frames over his ears, looks at me and softly smiles as he leans in. With the most gentle of tones says simply, “Let’s go home.” He then makes his way toward the rear of the vehicle in search of an empty seat.
He may have tossed those three words off as easily as a backstage bottle cap, but they were striking in their comfort: The exact thing that I most needed to hear as I made the day’s final trip.
You see, I had been driving a bus for the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System about four or five months at that point and I can assure you that it is one hell of a lot different and, yes, harder than being the full-time independent record producer I had been for the preceding 25 years.
What can I say? My life changed. The music business changed and fortunes dwindled. My needs and priorities changed. I could have continued chasing paper and selling my possessions to make the rent, but I also have a kid who has needs too and we both need health insurance coverage and socks and…well, you know. I tried to work in music stores. Tried writing about anything and everything. Played countless gigs inside sports bars and outside on bitter cold restaurant patios. I ended up washing dishes and bussing tables for two years.
One day, my girl left an ad from the newspaper on my desk. “Full-time, great benefits, decent pay.” she said with a shrug.
I wasn’t totally into the idea at first, but I have always had a special talent for driving.
When I was 17, I got my first driver’s license and immediately spent a summer driving a large truck across the country from Alabama through the South, up into the Midwest and across the Heartland, down through the Southwest to California, buying and selling antiques along the way. During this trip, I learned to drive a stick-shift Ford Pinto in a cemetery.
When I was 18, my friend suggested we each ride motorcycles from San Diego to Rosarito Beach in Mexico and back. I’d only ridden a mini-bike until that point, but yeah…why not? I said. It was thrilling and, weirdly, it instantly felt like second nature.
Three years ago in this very column, I recounted my adventures in driving a very large U-Haul with my car in tow to Utah through Arizona, Nevada, through rain, sleet, and snow with a cat on my lap.
When it comes to driving, I’ve got this.
Still the transition wasn’t easy. I’m older now. (Much). There’s more at stake. (Much again). Still, I hung in there and I’m actually a pretty darn good driver and life is better than it was.
I have continued my recording and production and am proud of the work I’ve done and I look forward to what comes next…
Meanwhile, my favorite passenger continued to board my bus for several more months, always offering a soothing “Let’s go home”.
One day he was particularly quiet and somber. Eventually, he saw he was the last person on the bus and said to me, “I’m a little confused with the schedules today. My wife was always the one who took care of those things, but she died recently and…” His voice cracked with overwhelmed emotion and we rode for a while in silence. I struggled to find some words of solace and a way to “professionally” offer them. We arrived at his stop and I opened the doors.
As he passed me, I said “You know, your wife is always with you, sir.”
He stepped off the bus, stopped and turned to face me. “ I know, I know…but it’s just so hard, you know?” he said as he burst into tears.
“I can’t imagine. I’m so sorry,” I said, holding back tears of my own.
“Thank you and God bless you.”, he said and disappeared into the night.
I closed the doors, headed home and wept for his sorrow…
Each year around this time I remember a song I wrote. It’s a holiday song, but like most of my lyrics, it has a ripple of darkness that runs through it and it asks far more questions than it ever answers.
Still, I don’t think I’ll ever hear it again without thinking of that passenger and that conversation.
THIS TIME NEXT YEAR
The hugs and the handshakes,
Kisses on the cheek and the lips
Another ball drops, the calendar stops
Champagne tops, taxi cab tips
What a night…what a night…
Now there’s new resolutions, hope for solutions
The same old things holding us down
Feeling already, like so much confetti
Lying like a note on the ground
This time next year
Will we be as we are in the mirror?
This time next year
Will the warm in our hearts disappear
By this time next year?
The friends and the faces, the love that embraces
Our souls like a song we all sing
The passage of time, a new Auld Lang Syne
And what is the tale that a photograph tells
When you don’t know the time, nor the place?
Can you see it in the eyes of an era gone by
Behind all of the glitter and lace?
Will you remember me?
This time next year…This time next year
Will we be as we are standing here?
This time next year?
Do what you have to. Do what you love. Make every moment count.
Happy New Year.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is a singer, songwriter and record producer, as well as a bus operator for San Diego MTS. “This Time Next Year” words and music by Sven-Erik Seaholm Â© 2007 Pseudocool Songs (ASCAP), All Rights Reserved.