Tag Archives: cars

The Indestructible Manliness of the Stay-at-Home Dad

On those days when Heather goes into the office, I’m not awake when I get out of bed. I’m standing, yes, and making my way down the hall into the office where I know I’ll find Maggie (who usually wakes up about a half hour before me) watching some movie she’s put on the DVD player or working furiously on a drawing or one of several books she’s trying to complete. I’ll greet Maggie, turn on the fan, then lie down on the black futon for a few more minutes—or, if Maggie isn’t hungry yet for breakfast, another half hour. Twenty or so years ago, I’d often wake up feeling pretty much the same way—except it would often be because I was hung over. And, at one in the afternoon, I’d need a lot longer than half an hour to get myself together. Luckily, those days are behind me.

I remember when I was young, sometimes my Dad would come in to wake me up. Then, sometimes, he’d sit down on the bed, lean back, and fall back asleep again while lying on top of my feet. I’d lie there, awake, trapped by my feet, lost in my thoughts. Thoughts which, I suspect, were a lot less complex than the thoughts Maggie has now (I’m a guy, and I’m a firm believer that for a lot of guys, complex thought doesn’t begin until much later in life). So, on those days when I do just go right back to sleep, slipping momentarily from the complex thoughts of my neurotic state of mind, I’m just keeping with tradition—even though, in most ways, I suppose, I’m anything but a traditional sort of father. And it’s not just because I’m a stay-at-home dad.

First of all, I’m not really into all that usual guy kind of stuff—you know, the kinds of things it’s assumed that men enjoy doing. Take, for instance, hunting. To me, taking a rifle and shooting at wild animals in the woods isn’t exactly my idea of a fair fight. If a deer were able to shoot back at you and yell, “I’m gonna get you, you fucker”, then maybe you’d have something. Maybe then I’d even consider calling it—as many often do—sport. But until a deer or other animal is able to shoot back at you and transform you into cuts of meat, it’s still pretty much on the same level as picking wild strawberries as far as I’m concerned. Which is to say, I don’t think hunting is all that fucking macho.

Not that there isn’t skill involved in hunting, because of course there is (and, yes, hunting can be one way of putting food on the table). But we have highly developed brains and our prey doesn’t—hell, a deer, as we all know, doesn’t have enough brains to get out of the way when a Hummer is heading its way down I66 at 70 mph. And we have the technology in the form of high powered hunting rifles (I could list the names of several different kinds of guns here, but I don’t know the names of different kinds of fucking guns). Now, I’m not a vegetarian nor am I a person for whom animal rights is a big priority, but still, shooting an animal with a gun doesn’t seem like sufficient reason to go patting ourselves on the back.

As for cars, another classic obsession of the macho state of mind, I can only respond a la Homer Simpson by saying, “BOR-ing.” Sure, here and there, usually during some dreadful parade, I’ll see some antique car that will get my attention for a couple of seconds, but no longer than that. It’s like when someone shows you the scar from an appendectomy—you go, “Wow,” and then, after an incredibly brief moment of fascination with the grotesque slit in the flesh that’s held together by stitches, you turn away. Maybe that’s just me—but most of the time I care less about cars than I do about Glenn Beck’s hemorrhoids. (Wait, I do care about his hemorrhoids—I hope they get worse.)

But whatever the case, I tend to find most cars kind of ugly, in fact, especially any car that has one of those spoilers in back or is blasting some Toby Keith song as it zooms past me going twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. Cars don’t move me—well, not that way. All I want in a car is a vehicle that will get me from one place to another with a decent amount of comfort and a minimum amount of difficulty. And the less gas it takes to run it the better. So, in response to a vanity license plate—on an SUV I often see in my neighborhood—which begs the question UJEALOUS, I must answer, in a word, NO. Hell, I drive a mini-van, and people like me who drive mini-vans obviously do not give a fuck.

As for the big spectator sports, well, when I was younger I regularly watched baseball, basketball, and especially football on TV. I was, for a long time, an actual fan of Washington’s unfortunately named football team. But one thing I rarely did was attend a game in person. In fact, when I was in college, I didn’t attend a single one of my school’s sporting events, and in high school I only saw a few—and that was only when I knew that one girl or another I was interested in would be there.

In my drinking days, there was nothing worse than being somewhere where the only place to drink was a sports bar. And that’s because, to be blunt about it, I pretty much hate sports fans. I don’t like being around them, and even when I did watch sports, I didn’t like to talk about them. For me, once a game is over, it’s over. When I was in high school, a game wasn’t like, for instance, James Joyce’s “The Dead.” That I wanted to think about more (and no matter what one may think of Joyce’s later, almost impossibly difficult works, his stories in Dubliners, I think, hold up as masterpieces of short fiction). As for those games, they were the quick and easy entertainment. Yeah, I could appreciate a great catch, an impossible jump shot at the buzzer, but after it was over I saw no point in thinking about them any further. The ball was back on the ground, the points were scored, one team won and one team lost and it wasn’t such a big fucking deal anymore. Or at least—even when I did dwell on such things, it didn’t seem like these things were worth dwelling upon. Unlike “The Dead,” I thought it was a waste of time to think about them any further. Which was why things like these were called games—when they’re over, it’s times to move on to the important shit.

Now a lot of friends of mine, including a lot of the poets I know (my falling out with sports has nothing to do with my artistic “sensibilities”), are big on sports. I am now confessing to them that, at least in more recent years, when I’ve said something like “Oh yeah” or a mild “Wow” when the talk turned to sports I was just being polite. I will still watch DC’s terribly named football team on occasion, but it’s not at all like when I was young and screaming when some unknown Dallas Cowboys rookie was leading an absurd comeback over the Skins on Thanksgiving. Yeah, I was into it then, and right now I’m at the point when don’t even care about football anymore.

And what I wonder is if, for me, fatherhood has anything to do with that. I know a lot of other fathers who are still are rabid sports fans, and I’m not saying that you can’t be a big sports fan and still be a dedicated father—but for me my entry into fatherhood seemed like the point when sports really started to lose whatever importance they still had for me.

My daughter Maggie was born mid-summer—training camp time for American footballers. This was a time of year when I used to think, without a trace of sadness, that summer would soon be over. And the absence of sadness at summer’s approaching end was because I knew that football season would soon be here (again, as I said, I was actually into it) along with the crisp cool air, fall foliage, and all that other wonderful crap.

But, since moving out to the valley and becoming a stay-at-home dad, whatever interest I still had in sports pretty must got obliterated like a rabid squirrel run over by a monster truck.

It’s not because I work from home, writing and editing. For some people the problem with working from home is that home and work are no longer separate. That’s not the problem for me. My routine of taking Maggie to school, going to the grocery store on the way back, then going home, walking upstairs to our home office suits me fine. I can work in our office, I can read there, I can even fall asleep there. I can easily switch from formatting an article on greener supply chains for a website to writing a poem about Thelonius Monk. When I’m done or need to take a break, I can readily banish the work I’m getting paid for from my mind and switch to doing laundry, fixing a screen door (OK, trying to fix a screen door), or cooking dinner—there’s always something that needs to be done. And here, in the valley, spending time as a fan, as a spectator watching some game, seems like a luxury I can’t afford anymore.

But it’s not simply a matter of time. There’s also the reality that here there are so many people who are looking at me. Me being, to them, that strange, unfathomable being—or a sign of what they think has gone wrong with this country, with what they see as their country. After all, I’m one of those minorities who Glenn Beck maintains is ready to start the next race war in this country—which means that Beck and his followers are watching my every move. Spending time as a spectator, even if it’s only some sporting event on television—seems risky to me now that I’m the one who so much of the time is being watched.

It’s not that I don’t watch anything anymore—it’s just that I’m not watching the game. Now I watch the parents of the kids Maggie befriends when I take her to the Fantasyland Playground—those parents who refuse to look me in the eye even though our kids are playing together happily. Those parents at kids birthday parties who stare at me and suddenly look away like frightened schoolchildren when I turn towards them and who, clearly, do not want to be in the same room with me—or, rather, don’t want me to be in the same room with them. Those people in their monster trucks who drive past me, and look at me boldly, because in their monster trucks they feel like they’re at home watching a game in which I’m one of the competitors. And some of them, I gather, are rooting for me to lose, to go back where I came from, so America can once again, be “the America of our founding fathers.” Yeah, it’s that game where their goal is to take America back, to Glenn Beck’s vision of what America should be. And my goal is to stop these ignorant fucks.

Becoming a father, rather than making me weak and sentimental for some distant past, has actually made me stronger and angrier. It’s made me focus on the future. Of course, it has filled me with love, for my daughter, and reinforced my love for my wife. But it’s also filled me with hate for the racism and idiocy out there—because these I see as the real threats to the world that Maggie’s going to live in, not some invasion of illegal aliens.

My Dad became an American citizen around 15 years ago, when he was eighty, after having already been living here for nearly fifty years. He’d lived through a real invasion of his country during World War II when Japan invaded the Philippines—how many of Glenn Beck’s goons actually know what that’s like?

My Dad is 94 now. If I were to take him to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, he could easily be stopped on suspicion of being an illegal alien. He has never been here illegally, but now, because of the legislation about to take effect in Arizona, he can be treated like an illegal alien just because of the way he looks—meaning that he and I and Maggie can be considered under suspicion simply because we aren’t white.

My Dad worked hard all his life to give his kids a better, easier life that he had. I, in turn, along with Heather, am working damn hard to give Maggie an even better life than we’ve had. I’ll be damned if some goons in Arizona and any other places that want to enact similar laws are going to fuck that up. And I say this sincerely, as a father, to anyone who supports the law in Arizona: Go fuck yourself. I have nothing but contempt for you. I, with neither shame nor regret, piss on you.

And one day, maybe, I will be able to watch the game again. To just sit back with a drink—just one drink to help me keep my strength—and cheer my team on. But now, because I’m not a spectator anymore, I feel—whether rightly or wrongly—like I’m in control. It may just be another fantasy, another in an endless series of incarnations of the so-called American Dream, but despite everything that’s out there, I can still see it. Because, as a father, I have a tradition I’m trying to uphold. I may not be upholding it in quite the same way as my father, but I am, nevertheless, determined. And I don’t have to wait until between innings, between plays, between shots from the floor, to move towards it.

-Jose Padua



Where the Crack Dealers Meet the Flaming Commuter Bus

BusPhotos3The first rule in commuting is to survive the ride. This sublime truth is revealed to me as we pull into the park and ride lot in Front Royal just off of Route 66 after 12 hours in the city. My body feels like a wad of gum that has been chewed for several days and stuck on a bedpost overnight. Inert in my seat, I let my mind wander, trying to squeeze in a few more seconds of rest.

As the bus rounds the turn into the lot, I happen to look out the window. There’s no way we’re going to clear the enormous metal dumpsters—those sharp corners are heading our way fast, the turning angle all wrong.

Sure enough, we slam right into them. The impact sounds like a giant can opener ripping through an equally enormous tin can just under my window. I jump 10 feet out of my seat then check to make sure all my body parts are still there. I seem to be intact.

I clamber back into my seat and see that, despite the horrific screech of metal against metal, the bus’s outer shell has not torn all the way through. When I get off, I gawk at the eight-foot gash in the metal skin of the bus. Pink insulation sticks out everywhere like artificial guts. The driver gets off and paces up and down with his cell phone smashed into his ear, talking to the owners no doubt. I hear one of the other passengers say that today was the driver’s final test run—it had gone really well until that last turn, poor guy. The next day the owners can him.

I’ve decided that such incidents are to be expected. The bus service is run by a mom and pop operation that took up the route after a larger company abandoned it. Most of the passengers take the never-ending glitches in stride because it beats dealing with D.C. traffic from directly behind the wheel. Personally, I think Buddha is testing us. Once again, I remember his assertion that life is suffering.

So when the front windshield falls in onto the driver one morning, no one blinks an eye. Somehow he pushes it back up into place for long enough to finish the drive. And when the same driver pulls over and goes around to the back of the bus to check on something, then comes back with his head gashed and bleeding, it hardly causes a stir. He finishes his route with no problem.


Then there’s the morning the bus skids wildly in a pouring rain and the driver almost loses control. We’ve blown tires and had to stop in the dark to change them. We’ve broken down in the middle of city traffic and had to get off so the bus could be towed away. We’ve gotten a jump from a traffic cop in the middle of the summer on a packed route 66. We’ve had no air conditioning on 95 degree days. We’ve joked about scooping water from the Tidal Basin in D.C. to cool the engine off when it overheats.

Oddly, many of these incidents seem to happen on the days when I don’t ride. On the days I do ride, standing with the other passengers at 4:30 a.m. in the park and ride lot, I always start a conversation like this:

“So, what happened yesterday?”

“Oh, yeah,” someone will say, “broke down after Linden,” or “almost hit a bike,” or “bus caught on fire.”

Wait, that last one takes us to a new level.

“Yes,” one of the bus managers tells me, as we wait for the evening bus back from Rosslyn. “One of the new drivers, who obviously doesn’t know what he’s doing, left the break on and it burst into flames. They kept telling him to remember to let out the break but it didn’t make an impression.”

I’m picturing a tiny little fire in the engine when she says, “the bus was barbequed. Lost a bunch of seats. It’s out of commission.”

Okey dokey. “And the passengers?”

“They pulled over and got them off just in time.”

Well, then, no problem. I say a thank you to my higher power right then and there that the drivers on my morning and evening routes seem to be fairly professional. The other two routes are not so lucky.

Then, with an awful sinking feeling, I wonder if the burned up bus is where all of my missing pillows have been hiding. If so, they’re toast now. Goodbye, baby blue satin throw pillow handmade by mom.

It hits me that after two full years riding this bus back and forth to D.C. for 140 miles roundtrip three days a week, I deserve a freakin eagle scout badge or something. Do they make a badge for middle aged moms riding public transportation for three hours a day? If not, then the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls need to get their shit together.

The first month I rode, I didn’t have a car and so couldn’t drive myself to the park and ride lot. I had to call a cab every night. Jose could have driven me but I didn’t want him dragging Maggie out of bed at 4 a.m.


Those cab rides motivated me to buy the first car I’ve ever owned on my own. So, in the same year that we got a new house just after my 40th birthday, I also got my first car, a 1998 black Subaru Forester. It’s a sturdy, no-nonsense vehicle—just what I needed. I immediately slapped a bunch of leftie bumper stickers on the back along with a sparkly Tinkerbell decal for Maggie. No point in hiding my political orientation.

My cab rides weren’t so bad really. But something about having to call the cab company every night and then be taken to the park and ride just drove me nuts. I wanted to go under my own power. Since I have never driven much, I practiced the route with Jose a dozen times before I was ready to tackle it on my own.

I was astonished that a 24-hour cab company existed in Front Royal. How could they afford to operate? It seems that there is never a shortage of late night partiers in our little town. Several cabbies told me about drunk passengers throwing up in their cars or being abusive. One guy described how much the town has grown and how quiet it was ten years ago. “There wasn’t nothing here,” he proclaimed. “That’s why I liked it.”

As we glided past downtown churches in the dark at 25 miles an hour, another told me, “You’d be surprised at the bad stuff that goes on here. This ain’t no innocent little town.” That seems true enough. All you have to do is look at the Indictments page of the local newspaper to know that wheeling and dealing just under the surface of this beautiful place are crack peddlers, meth makers, weapons movers, and a slew of sex offenders.

I liked talking with these cabbies. They knew a lot more about my new town than I did. All of them were courteous. And I never got the young one-armed driver who eventually drove into the storefront of a law office on Main because he fell asleep at the wheel.

Often, though, I felt a huge gap between me and the person in the seat in front of me. One woman, who smoked the whole time she was driving, sounded miserably unhappy, resigned to a job that was taking her nowhere. She complained that apartment prices were getting too high.

On the last ride I had, when my car was in the shop, the driver told me he really could write a book about all the crazy people he’s picked up. He preferred the day shift, when folks were nicer, but had agreed to do the graveyard shift that night. I told him I hoped he would write that book because I would definitely buy it.

Now there’s a new smoke-free Yellow Cab company in town. I call them instead of the other company just to avoid the cigarette smoke. It’s a refreshing change. Until my car decides to break down, though, I’ll keep driving myself to meet the “luxury motor coach” that I hope will stay on the road, all in one piece, and away from fires.

Or maybe I should keep a bag of marshmallows, a slab of ribs, and some spicy bourbon-infused BBQ sauce on me just in case.

-Heather Davis