Angels on My Fenders, Published: Dec 16, 2020.
Flash Back 2007:
While driving at 150 kph the white, yellow, red and green lights of retail shops flash by smeared into streaks of cyberpunk neon reflected over rain rinsed roads as music plays. This is my surreal reality.
Amazing things happen in the darkness of deepest morning that most people never wonder about–let alone see. I deliver newspapers, by car, in Nanaimo, British Columbia five days a week. It’s not just me. Millions of newspapers get delivered every day and most people don’t think of how, unless they’re complaining about the guy in the car whose lights woke them. I do this so I can attend college and change my life, and I will drive this day and every likewise day until done. Sick or half-asleep, happy or sad just like so many others–I leave for work. My slice of reality.
Rising at 3:15 a.m. dark stress settles…sitting on my left shoulder like a cartoon devil, but there’s no angel on the right to lighten the load. I hoist my still sleeping legs over the side of my bed into trousers waiting. Socks, shoes, T-shirt, shirt, sweater, and a hoodie underneath a Cowichan sweater bought in a second hand shop. Cowichan toque on top, stuck like Velcro to my short, short hair. Belt, wallet, pocket knife and keys. Specific change in the left pocket. Deep breath. Out the door.
It’s me, the job, darkness and the road. Someone has to get it done and I might as well be the guy getting paid to do it. I step from the apartment and smell the morning air, tasting it for rain, snow, fog or stars. Stars mean the chance of a quick job but also maybe ice. Wish it were summer on this island in the Pacific. Sounds like heaven when months away.
Start my Pontiac Sunfire, hear its engine roll and rumble, turn on the defrost. Grab the scraper and attack the ice on the car. Frost rolls off the windshield as delicate filmy curls of white that look like Vietnamese roll cookies. Clear all the windows so I can see objects in the darkness. The car begins to warm and the inside of the windshield starts to clear.
Inside. Roll down the driver side window as soon as it’s de-iced. Keep it down for the next three hours. If it’s not raining or snowing then roll down the passenger side too. This way I can throw papers out both windows. This evens the physical stress on my arms and helps keep the aches away. Sometimes my elbows ache. Oh, God they ache.
Divide the defrost between feet and windshield. Close the door. Put the car in gear. This odd time of past-night and yet not-day is somehow not-real. It’s…daynight. The sun is almost something you can feel–lurking over the horizon, urging me on to get done before it shows up. Not many people on the roads. Sort of like Super Bowl Sunday but every dark day. My other life waits for the sun side.
Head uphill out of Departure Bay peering intently through the rapidly growing patch in the foggy front windshield that reminds me of the hole in the ozone layer. Bigger and bigger. It’s alright. Right now there is no sun. I drive like a mole or shrew. To each his tunnel–mine of time and darkness.
Top the hill and round the corner at 3:20 a.m.. Tim Horton’s. Run inside and pick up an extra large one and one. Have $2.14 ready for that other really nice, deep night wage-slave and she hands me back two quarters. Hate the penny thing. Work real hard to get rid of them. Off down the road and turn left at the traffic light that switches immediately–most do before 6:00 a.m.. I arrive at the relay delivery warehouse at 3:25 a.m.. If the primary truck is late it burns up time, but this time I round the corner and the truck is pulling out.
“He’s early by God!” Smile.
Pull up and park just so. Twenty minutes and I’ll be ready to go. Start running. If he’s not gone then help the press driver, Rayman, unload bundles of dead trees made into headlines. Always be nice to the press driver. My day often depends on this one man; treat the guy well even if he’s late as hell. Next, throw a worn wooden plank over a metal cargo bin and spread rubber bands on the left side of the rough wood.
Rubber bands are maddening but indispensable. Some curl into little spiral balls and roll away like Star Wars destroyer droids. Some come pressed together in the middle like little bow ties. Both are a waste of time. Spirals and bow ties get tossed. I once tried banding as I drove, but it was too hard to count papers, drive, listen to music and band at the same time, so I take twenty minutes before departure and prepare.
Roll and band the groups of papers in fives, tens, fifteens, twenties, and twenty-fives. Fives lay in the middle of the back seat. Tens on the front floor within reach. Fifteens behind me on the floor. Twenties (only five of those) on the dash. Twenty-fives on the passenger seat (fourteen in all). The remaining bundles of hundreds are a wall across the back seat. All get left.
Lastly comes a pair of rubber gloves. They freak people out, because people don’t normally drive around in surgical gloves—right? Ink is insidious, so if I don’t wear gloves some of it must get through my skin—right? Don’t like to let it in. Too much ink in these veins already.
Papers loaded, it’s off into the early morning, headlights illuminating the way like angels on my fenders. Launch the music.
Self Control by Laura Branigan
[Reminded of highschool and a girl]
At drop locations most papers get thrown. This causes stress on the arms, but to get out of the car is loss of time, spends minutes, and wears away my knee joints. Never get out unless absolutely necessary. Make each throw count. Bundles of tens fly like darts. Stop, throw the twenty, back up and go to the next shop. The gearshift does a ballerina dance for three solid hours. Slow down as necessary to toss a twenty-five. Tossing twenty-fives is tricky because sometimes the bands break and then it’s clean up time.
I drive by Wheatons, Tom Harris, Ford and Trojan Collision, a nondescript dental office, the Muffler place and on across a desolate parking lot at 60 kph. The angular painted white lines are like pieces of sliced bread, but I cut across like taking a meat cleaver lengthwise to a loaf. Avoiding lonely empty shopping carts is sometimes difficult in the darkness. Do circles in the parking lot of Save-On-Foods for fun.
A girlfriend came along one day and screamed.
Sometimes the R.C.M.P. like to sit, blacked out, observing. They know me. Just another daynight denizen doing darkside wage-slavery so I can have a sunside life. They don’t generally mind that I rush. Almost monthly I get to call in a break and enter at some shop along the road.
Sleep (Serenity remix) by Conjure One
[Think about the girlfriend I will have to leave…]
Behind Country Club Mall the surreality begins. Me and them: Fucking Zombies.
They step out of shadows from behind parked cars, trees, corners, and other zombies. Early morning employees wheel drunkenly in their early morning trudge to the shift change at the call centre. The back door is a Zombie magnet. They weave and swerve clutching cups of caffeine, with bags and coats—all wrapped against the cold. I dodge the zombies: avoid, slalom, swoop, go around, and yes sometimes stop. In I dive to deposit 80 at da door and be gone. Zombies converge, swipe cards and…Beep… go into the light.
Fractured Mirror by Ace Frehley
[LOUD: and remember how I ruined my hearing years ago]
Headlights caress unlit LED ‘Open’ signs in passing, but where moms and dads will, in four hours, pause and stop–I pass by. Passing. passing, passing through the darkness.
My hands spin around the steering wheel. Controlling, guiding, driving my Sunfire. Grip the wheel, left hand, spin on the ball of the hand, right hand, roll around to the side and over the pointer finger, slide across the back and continue back to the palm. Around and around. Circling in the parking lots around lamp stand islands. Across the parking lot at 120: speed—not time. Pure blur. All alone in the night—whirling.
Another morning, I stopped, spellbound, as snowflakes descended around the hips of the light standards of Nanaimo’s Rutherford Mall. I stopped caught in a snowy, sleepy dream. Snow danced down like little white wishes, and night closed in cocooning me in a silence cripplingly peaceful. Snowflakes fell on my face like burning kisses. A fiery cold that turned into tears and ran down my cheeks. Sunfire covered in white. Watched as long as I might. Needed to go. Left the tableau—but it hurt. It hurt to leave the dream-dance. Wanted to stay.
Wisdom by Delerium.
[Recall the first girl after my divorce]
Fives fly like arrows. Bang them on the steering wheel (like the Kurgan in Highlander) and their form is perfect. They take wing, whirl, hang in space, and alight where owners and wage-slaves will adopt them at each dawning day.
Each parcel an orphan of the night.
Leave them all behind.
To men and women of day they just appear. Tens, fifteens, twenties, twenty-fives all left by me and others that do this thing: Ted, Dave, Jon, Jess, Andrew, Gary, Sharon, and Lisa—all night names. Dayside people sleep…not knowing, considering nor caring what happens in the hours before they wake. Our small driver-seat ceremonies underpinning their sunlit information day.
Desert Rose by Sting
[The way that backup voice sounds…]
Thrifty Foods parking lot and it’s almost 4:45. Double doors two rectangle lights in a black wall expanse of night. Stomp the brakes when the motion detector, over the door, goes green at the Sunfire’s fender. Pitch a hundred out the window into a waiting shopping cart, and pause because there’s magic in the air. Open the door and close it slowly. I stand ensorcelled by the wafting sweetness of newly born Cinnibuns in their prime.
Bakers work even earlier than me.
Inhale sweet smelling rapture. Night becomes dream. Stars bright in the ebon dark and air scented with spice. Take a deep breath and try to hold the magic, again. Can’t.
The moment is too soon lost, for though this slice of leaven heaven is not regretted it does have to be made up. Back in. Back off. Ballerina dance. Put it in gear. Race around Longwood Brew Pub. I’m out of here. Poetry and all—I still have the day to live.
Oh, Yeah by Mello Yello
[Micheal J. Fox and that movie…]
Tires scream as I miss a Horror. I scream too. Horrors are cyclists that ply the morning without lights and are almost invisible. Horrors hover over dumpsters and peer into office buildings while wage-slaves sleep. An army of mostly harmless trench coat clad shadow people who steer big-wheeled bikes with ruthless abandon for daytime rules. Some pull wagons. Some carry sticks. Some break things. Some wave.
Always wave back.
They flash out of corners in the morning murk and darkness where even cars can’t lurk. Some shopping mall corners have beautifully manicured shrubs designed to some aesthete’s dream but at night they block vision. Burn ’em all is what I’d like to do. My nightmares are peopled by crimson Horrors I’ve never seen. Other daynight drivers know what I mean.
Return To Innocence by Enigma
[Voices of Kuo Ying-nan and Kuo Hsiu-chu…magic]
Make sure I get to the bus depot gate before 5:00 a.m. and leave four-hundred for the buses. Pull in around LordCo and off to the right 3 (three!) rent-a-cops of two companies stand around their cars and yak. It has to be the safest parking lot in the city.
“Oh, I feel sooooo secure,” I yell steering away.
Angel by Massive Attack
[An ominous feeling…]
Smile at a Shambler as I leave the R.D.N. Shamblers are older walkers in the daynight. They toss their arms, whistle—this one sings, picking up trash and things. A citizen that removes refuse the city doesn’t. Kids kick it around. Yuppies run past it. Most Yuppies don’t run this early—and heaven forbid they should whistle or sing. Do people even know how to whistle anymore? My boy whistles. Makes me smile. Shambler disappeared one day. Doesn’t come around now. Miss the dude. Heart attack?
Veteran of the Psychic Wars by Blue Öyster Cult.
[Heavy Metal and the imagery evoked of a worn-out psychic soldier]
Nanaimo Chrysler, Taco Bell, Canadian Tire, and Dollar Giant: 5, 5, 50, 50. Cut across the parking lot at 80. Thread Rocinante through two parked mini-vans, a scooter, and a cart corral. One early morning guy in a rusty Caravan stopped and stared like I was Charles Manson on coca/hero/metho/hol. He was blearing over a Timmy’s cup, and wondering what I was doing. I smiled and laughed because he was the one that had just driven across five speed bumps in a totally empty parking lot. Amateurs and denizens of day follow the lines that to me don’t exist. These people are like rabbits. Oh, yeah.
Before Lantzville, both sides of the road are lined with Leporidae variously arranged: standing, stooping, hunched, scrunched and pooping. Some brave bunnies trace parabolic “I dare you” paths in front of my racing ride. They rarely get to the other side; they run out, show their butts, and hide. They’re the lucky ones.
Rabbits in the road next to the rugby field stand and die. Never can figure out the why. They don’t move. It’s like they think my car’s some sort of bunny Jesus. They stare at the lights as I roll on over. Eyes flash red…and then they’re dead. Bunnies make a unique sound as they bound and rebound around underneath a Sunfire going 120.
Blop, Bonk, Thuggety—Thuggety…
“Don’t go into the light,” I mutter to raspbunny jam.
Mostly done now and off for Lantzville. Got up to 160 one morning just to see—or was that a dream too? Lantzville’s a short run. 5, 5, 10, 6, 4. They really ought to ask for more.
Enya and Caribean Blue take me away
Flash back past the uplit concrete, metal monolithic Nanaimo sign and back to Co-Op, Mickey-Ds, Michaels and ABC: 5, 25, 10, 40: Chapters, Save-On north, Woodgrove, Pharmasave, Starbucks, and White Spot.
Swerve and break to avoid the Sweeper that doesn’t know I exist. Sweepers are lot cleaners with brooms, buckets and chartreuse traffic vests that clean up what children in Hondas leave behind. Sweepers wear iPods, can’t hear me, and never will.
Cross Aulds and 15 gets chucked at Home Depot; Latteo’s and Delicado’s (25 and 10). Carrot on the Run, Island Natural and on I go. Glancing left I stare at the windows of an office building. Window panes are separated by metal frames that give the illusion of being a huge calendar. Each pane is slightly bent, reflecting the now-glowing sky like a mirage.
Art Knapp, Northgate Liquor, and Super Store next. MTM, and Black Bear booze, then off to Deerwood Estates on cruise.
I’m counting papers by touch and make a mistake.
Know the count is wrong, so I glance down to check. My head whips up as I thread the Sunfire between two fawns out to feed on retiree lawns. Where’s the doe? I don’t know.
Country Road by Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole
[Dead Iz sings of brown-skinned women and sandy beaches]
Back into town I come and realize my sentence is almost done. Few stops left and soon I’m heading east down into Departure Bay. Same road on which I chased a black bear jogging. We each paused, that morning, three metres apart. [Clatter of claws on tarmac, no shit]
“What’re you dooooing?” I asked. He just stared. I hadda go.
Pull away and slam-stop at a splash of brown amongst the verge.
Otter. Flash—he’s gone and so am I.
Following the Sun by Enigma
I pull into the parking lot of my apartment.
Turn the key.
The rumble stills and quietude closes round like a favourite wool blanket. I slowly exit, lock all four of the doors and stand for a moment outside the driver’s side and lean on the now resting Rocinante. Gaze in wonder at stars still visible along with a rising sun. I wonder what other people do at this time of day while this new sun rises over my horizon. I look up the vacant street and realize that people will soon come to wait for buses. On those buses will be papers. The ones I left. They will caress those pages and with them some small measure of ink will stay with them; I touch them all.
I strip the gloves (now lacerated, black, broken and torn) from my hands, and find the key that leads up to my apartment for a shower and two hours of sleep before six hours of class. I’m the only person to use this door this night. Inside, I strip the dripping stress and sweat-drenched clothes from my humming body, and I feel the stress lift like a heavy coat. I’ll sleep, and dream of Zombies, Horrors, Shamblers, raspbunny jam, Sweepers, and fawns—who too all dwell in the night.