I had this dream last night where I was on shift as a waitress, and it was dinner so the place was busy. I was new, and didn’t even know how to clock in, or what to do, and everyone was rushing around. But it was a truck stop diner, and back behind the restaurant was a big, uneven lot with some trucks that needed parking or moving around. Even though it was cold, and dark, I decided to go out and do that instead. My boss needed help with two types of work, and without any guidance I only knew how to do one of them. So I moved trucks around, and there was some ordeal with a low slung, decrepit flatbed that was stuck in a weedy patch of ruts, and I couldn’t get around it, so I drove up onto it (in what was suddenly my car), and exchanged small talk with several people standing there.
It was night, and we were outside. We were there for work, ostensibly, and we were all generally working, but it was relaxed. Not the pressured scrutiny of what the people inside the building, running the restaurant, were enduring. And we might have had to move a little faster if it had been daylight. But out here, at night, we could just work how and as we liked. Trucks and ruts and safe backing couldn’t be rushed.
At the end of the night, my boss asked me how my shift went. He was rushing, harried, deliberately remembering to be concerned for the experience of a new employee but also really not having time for this. I said I had gone out backing trailers instead of waitressing, and I hadn’t clocked in or out because I didn’t know how, and my night went fine. I knew he didn’t have time to train me, and he never would. I would just hang around, learning things by virtual accident. I’d be slowly absorbed into the beehive metabolism of this employment machine; or just as likely, I’d drift off and find something else, somewhere else.
I woke up and realized that my boss in the dream was a compendium of several bosses I’ve had in the past. One was the owner of a restaurant where I played classical guitar for the dinner guests. The restaurant was downtown, and I would set up by the large glass windows, facing out on Heritage Square, presumably so that more guests could be lured in by the sight of lovely, live, nylon-stringed music. In summer, the door was propped so music and the aromas of food could waft — just enough vegetarian faire to cry progressive, and just enough carnivorie to avoid threatening the sensibilities of people whose sensibilities are threatened in that fashion. Everyone would have to tip me on their way out, too, or else feel like assholes. The Flagstaff locals didn’t tip, accustomed to this feeling, but the tourists did.
As in the dream, the galvanic workings of the restaurant were not my problem. Its employment-victims hurried and scurried all around me, decorously, but I knew the shit show, backstage. Thank god I had a trade to ply.
My boss was many things, but he was mostly sad. His sadness pervaded the place, but only in a soft way. He was an old hand at this, and was unimpressed by all of it, probably mostly by himself — but look at this thing he’d created, giving us all a place to work, eat, play guitar. He had neat brown hair combed to one side, and a formerly handsome but somewhat fallen face. He was slight, quick, efficient, his time and attention punctuated by each next smoke break. I didn’t need much from him, being my own necessarily self-contained system in this scenario, and he liked that. He’d talk with me about the sources of his sadness, mostly having to do with being a widower, twice over. I was older than most of his employees, in my soul at least, and a safe outlet for him. He didn’t need to be an authority figure for me.
Years before, in my early twenties, I’d had another boss. He was also formerly handsome, with sideways-combed neat brown hair, speckled with gray, and more angry than sad, but also in a soft way. He was compact, restless, also moving from smoke break to smoke break, and generally distracted by the background noise of his own calculations — how much money he was making right now, how much he was losing. He had dreamed the dream of trucking, buying one more each time he could afford it, spending too much money on chrome and not enough on jake brakes in my private opinion. He’d hired me on a lark, partly, but mostly out of desperation. Is this what it had come to? Twenty-something white girls taking a year off college?
Then he was pleasantly surprised that I could find gears and drive, and in some sense I was also insulated from a need for him to be an authority. All the other drivers, and there were only five, were decades older than me, and male. Men comfortably and jostlingly settle into their own pecking orders. Even when they don’t like it, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Women exist outside of this, exerting our own oblique pull, like the moon, but remote and steady in our separate orbit. This can result in our becoming the unwitting therapist to these men, these bosses. It’s not the download that bothers me, it’s the embarrassed rebound, shoving me back to emotional arm’s length when a closer approach was never my aim.
This boss was not widowed — the doors of our trucks were emblazoned with the company name, which was an amalgam of his and her names — and that was its own trial. I don’t mean I was involved in their private affairs, but simply that the only thing worse than a spouse dying is a spouse not dying. Or sometimes it seems that way, from the outside looking in. I couldn’t imagine either scenario, for myself, being as well-insulated and self-contained in that area of my life as in most others. Money is a stressor — how to get it, how to grow it, and small scale trucking is one of the fastest ways to burn a couple out. He would check in with me, ask me if I was handling things okay, but whether I was okay or not, he was stretched too thin to really help. He overworked us all, but we felt too guilty to complain, seeing he and his wife’s level of strain at all times. They created something for us, a job to do, a paycheck to earn, and it took everything they had.
My dream last night reminded me of my bosses, over the years.