It happened in 1987 or 1988, a few days before Christmas. My boy was in high school in the leafy suburban town where we lived, about 50 miles east of Manhattan.
Now, just because I was a single mom did not mean we were living in poverty. We weren’t. I owned a house, and was getting ready to send my son to college.
Although I started out with a 20-month-old baby, a laundry bag and but a few dollars in my pocket when I moved to New York in 1974, over the next dozen years or so, I clawed my way into a comfortable middle-management position at the sixth largest newspaper in the US. Unlike many of my sisters raising children alone, I was doing well, with the insomnia, grey hair and stress-related health problems to prove it.
Our days began early and ended late. To keep sane, I ran at the beach before work. Just about the time my son hopped on his school bus, I was out the door and on my way to a 3-mile walk/run. I did this most days, in most kinds of weather. It was heaven and, if something interfered with this routine, I was out of sorts for days.
So, by mid-December, the days were so short, you could yawn and miss one. It was 25 degrees in the sun. Not only had the cold shut down my run, but snow and ice were falling, intermittently, which meant I had not been worth talking to for at least two days.
The morning in question began badly. For the umpteenth time that month, the kid slept through his alarm and missed his bus. This meant I had to drive him to school, which nixed any chance for exercise, even if I wanted to just walk a mile in the neighborhood.
I wasn’t happy about this, and let him know.
By the time I got him to school then got out on the road to go to work, it was snowing again. Hard. Even worse, it was beginning to stick. I was already a little late, but figured I could make up some time once I got out of our development and onto the highway.
At the first light, I got stuck behind a 1970-something Cadillac with bad rings, one exuding billows of blue smoke that got sucked into my circulating vents, which then threw it out the little slots on the dashboard and right at my face. Petroleum residue was burning up the oxygen in the car so fast I could barely breathe, so I rolled down the driver-side window. Immediately, snow blew into my face, coating my glasses. Meanwhile, the windshield fogged up so I couldn't see, anyway.
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Eventually, the light changed but the situation didn’t. Every single time I tried to pass this turkey in his decrepit sedan, he drifted to the left to straddle both lanes.
Our annoying little dance continued for at least ¾ of a mile on the very stretch where I’d hoped to make up a some time.
I’d pull out to the left. He’d pull out ahead of me. I’d go back into the right lane, and so would the belching behemoth.
Finally, the Cadillac spent a few extra seconds in the right lane, which gave me an opportunity to shoot around him in the left lane.
NOTE: I was not native to the Empire State, but there’s nothing more fanatical than a convert, right? Besides, I was a fast learner.
As soon as we were neck and neck, so to speak, I leaned over and rolled down my Plymouth Reliant's passenger window, just to get a good look at this jerk, who had to be either a teenage punk who lived to antagonize adults, or a centenarian who couldn’t see over the dashboard.
Either way, I didn’t care. He had ruined my morning, so I inhaled a lungful of that snowy air, preparing to give him a hefty piece of my very aggravated mind.
The jolly old man in the red suit stayed in his lane, as I went sailing by. In my rearview mirror, I watched him just toodle on down the road, smiling and whistling, belching and bouncing, probably going to his gig at the mall, where lines of moms with cameras had already assembled.
And, that was when it hit me: It was definitely time for me to get out of New York. I mean, I almost ran SANTA CLAUS off the road, for crying out loud!
All I could do was laugh (and cry) at my own stupidity and promise myself (and Santa) I’d get a life -- somewhere, somehow -- just as soon as I could.
Not many years later, the newspaper helped me keep that promise when it re-engineered me out of my job, and put in motion a journey that took me to a small New England town, a reunion with an old friend which led to a late marriage, and even a career change.
Thanks, Santa! That may have been the best gift you ever brought me!