Monday, June 30, 2008

Remember the Alamo

Tonight I cried in a cab. It wasn't the normal soggy eye, look away and cover it up cry, but it was the tears-dripping-off-your -chin-I-wish-could-stop- but-since-I-can't-I-may-as-well- cry-with-dignity cry - all because of a cab driver named Jose. He drove a van-cab. I don't like vans and if it wasn't for a colleague who waved him down for me I would have instead called Badar, the kind Egyptian who picked me up at the airport and gave me his personal phone for all my travel needs. Moreover he is set on taking me to see "the real" San Antonio on my last day, which may or may not include belly dancing (who knew). But I digress. Anyway as soon as I jumped into the back of Jose's van he started spilling his guts. As a former reporter I, of course, started egging him on in his confessions. He started off by telling me that he used to be a welder in the Army and is now enjoying a healthy pension and other nice benefits from his days as a soldier. So I asked which war he fought in. "Vietnam ma'am." I might have known from his tone that we were about to go on an emotional ride but I was intrigued and his story could kick "Pearl Harbor's" cinematic ass. He was in Vietnam for four years straight, leaving a wife of 16 years-old and two children. He was injured by enemy fire and ended up being pronounced dead. But he wasn't dead, and it took the Army nearly a year to reverse his status. Meanwhile his wife received word of his death and ended up remarrying. He said he wrote letters all the time that never made it. He said he knew they wouldn't make it but he had to make the attempts, just for his own sanity, or lack thereof. Upon returning to the states he was pretty much crazy. Trained to kill anything that got in his way - his enemy was anyone that didn't have "round eyes." And while he wasn't dealing with hate and an instinct to annihilate he was fighting haunting memories of dead children, decapitated bodies and unspeakable carnage. The second he returned he searched out his wife, now in a different city, only to find that she was not only remarried but also had children with her new husband. He never did remarry. He tried. He wanted it more than anything but he couldn't fix his heart or his head to where he felt he could, and he claimed all subsequent girlfriends were only after money. He did fall in love with a Mexican woman years ago, gave her a ring and set a date. She got deported after being caught with drugs. And under the advice of his lawyer he refused to send her the money needed to come back for fear she would just use it for drugs. "I think I regret that. I can't forget the day I told her I wasn't sending money, so I guess that is regret." Then two years ago he fought cancer brought on from asbestos in the steel he had welded during the three decades while in the Army. Now, in remission he is a San Antonio cab driver who likes rainy days and curly hair that reminds him of his daughter. He's not sad. "The Army has treated me well ma'am, they bought my house, I have great benefits plus $700 a month - I can't complain." "My kids still remember me and I am so lucky they call me daddy, they didn't for years." My tears started around the description of the war but the hefty dose of perspective kept them going strong. When he pulled up to my hotel I paid the fare, gave him a healthy tip and fought the urge to hug him. "Have a good night ma'am" You do the same. "I certainly will."
I'll make sure I call Badar tomorrow. Belly dancing conversations don't ruin my mascara.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Stop the presses......

I'm a writer. I've considered myself a writer since the fourth grade when I started my oh-so-serious mystery novel called "Witness." In junior high and high school I was an editor/writer and in college I wrote for both the local paper and the school paper. Then from the second I turned my tassel I entered into another glorious stint as a journalist at Deseret Morning News. But this month I did a triple salchow off the writing train and executed a shaky, unstable landing into the world of advertising. Umm. Crap? Well it is something that I ask myself everyday. I went from knowing my stuff and being completely confident in my craft, to sitting nervously in a lobby at Microsoft, marking my moves in how I am going to get up and walk into a meeting after my boss comes to usher me through the high security doors. Notes to self: Make sure your sandal is completely on before you stand up, do a cleavage check before the hand shake to make sure they haven't worked their way out on you, don't trip on your pant legs (they are a little baggy after losing 5 lbs of since starting this job - stress and anxiety becomes me).
Those are the few things I can control. It's not often in my life that I have NO idea what I am doing, but now I am living it day to day. I am the weird silent girl in meetings, like the foreigner who just smiles and nods. I constantly second guess every move - sending an e-mail, making a phone call, going to the restroom. They've said 'in a year, you will be fine." So only 351 more days of bumbling around in the dark. It's a challenge, the people are nice and I know it will get easier. It's a new challenge and a good job and that's that. But my greatest contention is my fall from being a journalist. Jobs are jobs in most cases. But as a journalist, it's a lifestyle. Though I remain comfortable and reinforced in my decision to bail, I am still mourning that departure from the exclusive fraternity that is journalism. Use-to-be's don't count in that world. I may not miss the erratic schedule, the thankless tasks, the long hours, the condescension from high public officials, the pettiness of over-involved and uninformed citizens, the hate mail and the life-sucking legislature, but there are some things that are irreplaceable. I'll miss that fleeting moment of accomplishment after you send a story, the smug satisfaction after you have rightly nailed someone to to the wall and I think I will even miss the flutter of activity before a deadline. Moreover I will miss the newsroom restroom "swap meet," the quote board, the practical jokes, the unique, and often whimsical, personalities that come with journalists (maybe even the lingerers from time to time). And most of all I will miss those damn thrill-seeking window washers that I was on a first name basis. John had kind eyes. I like kind eyes. Good game.