The Midwestern city of Omaha, Nebraska, was my home from late February 2004 until August of that year. It was a full six months in which I worked and worked. Since I had graduated a semester early from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, I figured making some money in preparation for graduate school would be a good idea.
One moment I remember particularly was visiting my friend Tony Miller at his place in southwest Minnesota; he, like my other friends, were still in college. The road trip was with my Harlan, Iowa, friend David Rosmann and his Iowa State University friend Eric Shares. We had a lot of beer, attended a basketball game, watched some TV, and enjoyed each other’s company. Tony’s chili was delicious, although I was a bit concerned about my tall friend when his ankles swelled up from the alcohol. “You’re like Dick Cheney with the gout,” I joked.
We had a good time. Small details stay with me: Molly, Tony’s girlfriend and now-wife, got irritated by something and had a spat with Tony. “That’s what being married is going to be like,” I thought. At the time, I was engaged to be married to my current wife at the end of the summer. We watched Blow with Johnny Depp. There was some funny discomfort when Molly’s sister, Sandy, came over. David and her had dated, and he reported that she “watched a lot of TV.” I took her to a dance sophomore year. She was likeable but introspective—very different from her outgoing twin (but non-identical) sister Molly.
It took us a lot of time to get going as we traveled back to Iowa Sunday afternoon. David insisted on not taking “a duke” in Tony’s small apartment filled with visitors. Such a thought hadn’t occurred to me earlier that day.
We stopped at a gas station and got going. The distance from Marshall, Minnesota, to Omaha, Nebraska, was actually fairly long, I came to realize. This worried me, since the next day was my first day at my temp job in West Omaha, with an insurance marketing company. We had only gotten really moving at about 2 p.m., and the distance was vastly lengthened by a winter storm we had to travel through.
The weather was silly bad, and we were lucky to get home safely. Visibility was low, and I remember us moving at 35 miles per hour or so for much of the trip. Needless to say, the drive took forever, and I got home in the late evening and had to prep my belongings to go stay overnight in Omaha, with my uncle Robert and his wife Denise.
Thinking back, what I remember the most was the ridiculously bad blizzard that I somehow got through. I took Interstate 680 to Omaha, where there was at least a dozen cars and semis that had slid off the road. One I remember especially—a semi that gone straight into the median of the interstate, with its progress stopped by the deep snow. It laid perfectly parked there, but obviously could not be hauled out of its spot. “Wow, they’ll have to wait until it melts to move that sucker,” I thought.
As I continued on, the weather got worse. The timing didn’t help, since I made the one-hour drive from 11 p.m. to midnight, which was an awkward time to be traveling in a blizzard to go get up at 6:30 a.m. for the first day of work at a new job. The visibility was so bad that I nearly missed an exit, and this was on a drive I had done hundreds of times. Despite the snow and ice, I went the speed limit of 70 miles an hour, locked into my task.
Total trust did I have in my 1992 Lexus ES300. Its traction was not that true, but I took great pride in my winter driving skills. Interestingly, I didn’t curse the weather that much, and now, after three Southern Arizona summers, I realize the utter foolishness that it is to live in the Midwestern tundra during the winter. Oh, how it pains me now.
But back then I considered myself on a mission. I got to the job on time, as was, and is, my workaday habit. How many other people would have said, “Forget this $9.00 an hour job; I can be late”? Instead, I considered the job a great gift and considered it my duty. For unknown reasons, I still seem to have this approach to work.
My uncle or aunt left their door unlocked, and I stepped inside, locked the door, and got to bed as quickly as I could. The full eight-hour day went by quickly, since the newness of the tasks outweighed my tiredness. Later, sleepiness was perpetual at that job, and I’d eventually dream of my next step: graduate school.
Working as a mailroom boy made me dream of my new place, Arizona, and spite my circumstances. “It’ll only be a little bit of time, and I’ll be somebody,” I thought. Much of the time at the job there, I’d read the New York Review of Books online, or other internet articles. The office had a lot of dust, interesting coworkers, funny happenings. It was like The Office on TV and the film Office Space combined.
Many memories do I relish of this time. It didn’t matter that I left early from college. The money? A few thousand dollars can disappear so quickly for me now, and that’s what I earned in those six months. (However, I’m proud to have bought my wife a respectable wedding ring.) I wasn’t interested in taking more classes at my small college, feeling I had received the wisdom the good professors there had to offer. But skipped out on that last semester because I could, and I wanted to. At age 23, I was trying to get something—what I still do not know.
I’m still searching for that unknown thing. It’s volition, probably—the ability to fight through the damn blizzard. Habits come full circle. And here I stand right now.