Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Marching Onward.

“Life is a series of experiences, each of which makes us bigger, even though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.”
Henry Ford

Yup, Hank, it’s pretty hard to realize this alright. If your musing has any truth to it, then I’m a giant marchin’ fool right about now. It’s been a character-building few days.

But seriously, now– he’s got a point. Too often our disappointments and feelings of disillusionment stem from our own overblown expectations or egotistical assumptions that when we’re riding a wave, it’s got a responsibility to keep on carrying us right to shore. Here, one of my favourite Isak Dinesen quotes comes to mind: “God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road.” Ride that wave when you can, but never think for a second that it can’t or won’t dump you head-first into the sand whenever it wants. Be happy when you’re happy - but never let yourself get too cocky about it.

No unspeakable tragedy has befallen me. No horrifying setback has occurred. It’s more the re-crystallization of an understanding that had maybe liquefied and slipped away from me a little recently.

I was unexpectedly and unceremoniously released from my car jockeying duties on Sunday, seemingly mere milliseconds after I blogged about how much I love the job. Just not busy enough, plain and simple. Rush is over. We strolled to the accountant’s office, the cash was counted out into my palm, and off I went. No chance to say goodbye, as half the guys don’t work on Sundays. It has happened to countless others on countless occasions before me. There was nothing special or personal about it. But this was me it was happening to. One small world, removed.

Once, not very long ago, I had four jobs. Then it was down to three. Then two. Now I have one. Who am I now, in this new reality? What do I do next? I must strip away the ego and regroup once again.

In this life we are jolted and jostled about like so much space junk; cosmic commuters on a crowded subway platform. There is little control; you go where you are pushed, though it may well not be where you were aiming. The best you can do is hang on, hope to make it through in one piece and reorient yourself when you’re spit out on the other side; a strange new orbit to explore.

And eventually, the universe corrects itself again. I baked up a storm and took the boys in a ton of treats during their break on Tuesday, ensuring we had a proper farewell. My boys; my friends, who quietly and without ceremony took up a collection amongst themselves so that I could join in on the go-karting fun with them last weekend.

Then, shockingly and with uncannily perfect timing, Revenue Canada dropped pennies from heaven into my bank account; the result of an overlooked T4 slip somewhere. Thanks to them I need not worry so much about 3 weeks of lost revenue from the garage. I can rustproof my car so that it might hang on through a few more obnoxious Montreal winters. I can buy my little niece and nephew an activity book for Christmas.

And where a few days ago I was faced with the awkward reality of spending my first Christmas alone in Montreal, my sister and brother have now graciously offered to fly me out to their home in Big Sky Country so that our whole family can be together for the holidays, for the first time in forever.

I am humbled by it all.

Up and down, back and forth. Elastic souls stretched so often to the point of breaking, only to be released with a relieving yet painful snap at the last second. We are astonishingly resilient.

In this life, there is good and bad. Lightness and dark. Yin and Yang. We are foolish to forget, and more foolish to grasp hold too tightly of only one truth or the other, ignoring the inherent grace or furor that will surely be bestowed upon us.

And we must march onward, with characters brimming and hearts anew.

It is written in the stars.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What I Love About Being a Car Jockey: By Cara Vogl

“People enjoy chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.” Albert Einstein

This isn’t the first time I’m using Al’s wood-whacking musing in my blog. The first time, I had just fired myself and taken off to the deep woods of northern Ottawa to help my then-boyfriend renovate his ramshackle cottage for a few weeks.

I reflected upon that time with simplicity:

“There is nothing like manual labour to tax the body, clear the mind and free the spirit. When I went to bed each night, every part of my physical being was exhausted. I was using my body in the way it was designed to be used. More, after years spent sitting at an office desk spinning my wheels wondering what the point of it all was, to engage myself in something that quickly produced tangible and measurable results was supremely gratifying. It was a glorious experience which I repeated often over the next several weeks. It was my yoga.”

Little has changed since then with regard to my feelings about manual labour, except that I think I feel even more strongly about it now. That, and... I’ve traded my tool belt for tires.

Yup. In addition to being a public relations consultant (currently under contract!) and an unevenly employed freelance copy writer, I, Cara Vogl, am a car jockey. (I took a permanent recess from teaching a few weeks ago. Long story; right decision.)

What’s that you say? You don’t know what a car jockey is?

Well, I’m thinking you know what a car is. So here’s the definition of a jockey:

n., pl., -eys.
1. One who rides horses in races, especially as a profession.
2. Slang. One who operates a specified vehicle, machine, or device: a bus jockey; a computer jockey.

So, in a nutshell: I take these cars over here, and I put ‘em over there. When the mechanics are done fiddling with all the wingdings and slapping new tires on them over there, I take ‘em and I bring ‘em back over here.

I’m fine with having one of my jobs defined by slang. I think I even like it. It’s befitting.

It was all pretty serendipitous how the job came about and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that here I am, four or five weeks in, and I love it.

It’s possible you might wonder what there is to love (or even what matters) about moving cars around from one place to another for 18 or 20 (lately, 24!) hours a week.

Two of my three jobs are rather isolating, as I work for myself and mostly from home. True, this is one of my dreams realized – but it is not without pockets of loneliness. Jockeying provides me with some important social interaction for a few hours every week....and what an interaction it is: Me and thirty-odd mechanics, tire jockeys, other car jockeys and front-office staff, slinging back as much microwave-reheated Tim’s and canteen crap as our pocket change permits while we think up an endless creative ways to torture, tease and otherwise pull hijinks on each other in between fixing cars and serving customers. It is a true riot, and it is the only time during my week that I don't really have to think. I smile and I laugh; and I smile, and I laugh.

Aside from the owner’s wife and the part-time cleaning lady, I am the only female on staff. The boys have nicknamed me Halfday, in reference to my skidding out of there at noon each day to head off to my contract job. For a while it was Mitsy Halfday, as I’ve taken to wearing mittens in the often cold garage; but that sounded too much like...well, some other kind of profession. They have done a graceful job of striking a balance between ensuring that they treat me with respect and including me in the good-natured fun. Jokes told in my presence never quite cross the line. They call on me specifically when the hot little sport cars need to be moved and then rate how I look in each one as I pull out of the bays (and rib me in equal proportion when I go lurching out in the junkheap jalopies). I bake them chocolate chip cookies to help get them through a busy Saturday. This weekend we’re all going go-carting together. I can’t afford to join in on the actual four-wheeled fun, so I’ve offered to be the pit girl. You know - change a few tires, possibly fix some troublesome mechanical issues....that sort of thing. The point is that I am included. They have accepted me into their close-knit, greased-up world. Or maybe it was just the cookies. No matter. I look forward to every shift.

Car jockeying also provides me with a unique and uncommon viewpoint from which to observe and study intricate aspects of human nature and the human condition. I am dismayed at the level of disregard with which most individuals treat the second-largest purchase of their lives. I take mental note of how few listen to classical music, and how many listen to talk radio. I know which of you eat in your cars (and unfortunately, sometimes, what you eat). I know who pretty much lives on the road and who only ever drives to the corner store and back. I most definitely know if you smoke or have a dog or kids. I sometimes even know if you have a mistress....but I will not tell you how I know.

And I see the way some of you look at me, sizing up what you think my life is about in 15 seconds, based on the job I do. You are the ones I give the biggest smiles to.

But of course, the ones I get to know best aren’t the customers, but my workmates. I am reminded daily that we can become intricately woven into colourful human tapestries we never knew existed, simply by forging connections with individuals that we would never normally have the opportunity to connect with.

There is C, the handsome and hilarious gentleman with Tigger-like energy and optimism who lives in a world that’s a cross between the Dukes of Hazard and a live Elvis concert from the 50s. M, who is heartbroken after his wife of 17 years went back to Mexico with their two children, and who is counting down the days until he too can return to the homeland. As he slings tread-bare tires onto the discarded pile, he proclaims with a crooked half-smile and a heartbreaking measure of sarcasm, “Papa would be so proud.”

R, who at the tender age of 25 already has a wife and three children under the age of 3 at home, and who happily and willingly stays after hours at the end of a long and tiring shift on his own time and on his family’s time, to fix my cranky car at no charge.

Tall and lanky P, who hops into his perfectly polished little red sports car with music blaring full-blast every day at 10:30 to make the run to Tim’s for the mid-morning re-fuel.

There are of course so many more. There is every letter of the alphabet; every colour under the sun. Every personality trait, the good and the not-so-good. There is Greek, Trinidadian, French Canadian, Philipino, Mexican, Italian, and more.

It is a world. And I am all about worlds.

I already miss my new family, though there are still a few weeks left before I’m laid off for the quiet season.

We are all doing what we can to make our own ways. We work hard and we have fun. We smile and we laugh; and we smile, and we laugh. If you can say the same about how you spend your days, then you are as lucky as I am.

“The heights of great men reached and kept/ Were not obtained by sudden flight/ But they, while their companions slept/ Were toiling upward in the night.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow