December 31, 2010
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The day was searing. Scorching. The oft complained of heat on the day that Tybalt stabs Mercutio? Nothing compared to this. And there my older brother, James, and I were, slaving away in the back of a gourmet deli, where the air conditioning has not gone under seventy-degrees for years, and the oven and grill add another blazing sun to the mix. Throughout the day I tossed envious glances at the abundantly populated fly light positioned in the corner of the kitchen; at least those lost souls were far away from the boiling soups and steaming chicken breasts that seemed so intent on making my life sweltering.
A contributing factor to this hectic atmosphere was an impending delivery order (how people drop hundreds of dollars on catered sandwiches, I have no idea, but they do it with alarming frequency) for later in the day. Our boss, Howie, decided that James and I would be the lucky ones to make this same delivery, which was due at five o’clock. Howie sat us down, pulled out his battered map of the Jersey Shore’s roads, and explained the route we were to take with great detail. James and I listened intently as he spoke, nodded every once in a while, gave a few grunts of understanding, and, finally, took a list of the roads that we were to take.
Forty sandwiches, potato salad, and a vegetable platter later, James and I sat in the front seats of the deli’s delivery van. When sitting in the van, we are fairly above it all (quite literally- the van puts us a good three or four feet over other cars) and, with the radio and AC blasting, are ready for anything. James started the van and paused.
“Where are we going?” James asked. I turned and stared at him.
“I don’t know. Weren’t you listening?”
“No. I thought you were.”
Ah! Already, our delivery was stalled by what I like to call the listening paradox. James and I were focusing so keenly on appearing to pay attention to Howie (including nodding and making astute comments) that we didn’t hear a word he said. Our efforts to appear to take it all in led us, in reality, to take absolutely nothing in. I picked up the chicken-scratch directions that our boss had left us and tried to decipher them; this was the best we had. We were off!

And then we weren’t. After cruising around the labyrinth of circles, highways and side streets that appeared, on that fateful day, to go on forever in every direction, we could not find the street that would ultimately bring us to the correct house. What were we doing wrong? The clock was ticking (in fact, we were already a few minutes late) and both James and I were becoming increasingly nervous as the road sign failed to appear.

The few minutes late turned into ten minutes, which promptly turned into fifteen, and then twenty. As if in cruel mockery, the skies opened up on us. Torrential rain, the type of hysterical, screaming weather that can only occur in the most extreme of temperatures, began to cascade down on the roof of the van. An inability to hear one another over the thundering of water did in no way aid our finding of the house.

In our desperation, I had to use our last lifeline and call in the cavalry.

“Dad? We’re lost.”
We pulled over on the side of a desolate country road (yet another oddity in the mess of suburbia we were navigating) and waited for our dad, a virtual GPS, to arrive. While we waited, I made the poor decision of calling Howie to tell him that we were a little lost.
“What do you mean a little lost!”

Needless to say, this did not go over well (perhaps because the order was already over a half hour late).

We felt every second of the ensuing fifteen minutes that it took my dad to arrive. Once he did arrive, we quickly found the house that we were looking for (a house which, incidentally, we had already driven past unbeknownst to ourselves). In his directions, our boss failed to mention a connecting road that would take us to the house, a road that it was impossible to arrive at the house without.

Amid many disapproving looks and comments on punctuality, we handed off the order to another employee (the sole fifty-year old woman working in a crowd of twenty-five and under) who would be serving the food at the house. We dared not test the age-old practice of our profession, namely to linger around the food for as long as possible in the hopes that some kind person would tip us, since our welcome (and food) was long overdue. Even my nagging suspicion that the server takes tips intended for the delivery boys was surpassed by a desire to get the hell out of there.
After assurances that we could get home fine, our dad (who had been parked across the street) left, and James and I pulled away from the house. Eager to be the bearer of good news, I called the deli back, and a coworker picked up the phone. I told him of the drop-off.

“That’s great, just things are, uh… kind of buggy over here. You better get back quickly.”

When I relayed the news to James, he stepped on the pedal. Except the needle was on ‘E’. We just couldn’t catch a break.

We swung around a circle (most evil of roadway structures), and saw it as if through a mystical, petrochemical haze- a gas station. We pulled to the tip of the circle and waited for a break in the traffic so we could shoot through to the gas station. Unfortunately, we pulled up a bit too far, so visibility was highly limited. Coupled with the fact that the van has the maneuverability of a boulder, and visibility akin to a blindfolded octogenarian, we were in a pretty tight spot.

The rain was still thundering, the traffic nonstop, and the cars behind us were adding up quickly; the honking would soon begin. The radio, which we had neglected to turn off, was broadcasting a booming version of “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” (a song, in case you are unfamiliar, in which the title is repeated an ungodly number of times).

“I can’t see from here!” James yelled; all of the traffic was coming from the van’s right, far out of his visibility. “Should I go?”

“Ah…Yeah!” The van began to roll. Suddenly, a pair of headlights cut through the pouring rain- “Wait- no! Don’t go!”

“What? Now?”

“Ye… No! Not now!”

This continued for a solid two minutes; I would perceive a break in the traffic, James would begin to roll, and then the other cars would speed up to fill the gap. The traffic and rain were still nonstop.

“That’s it- I’m just going!” I turned to James, about to tell him of an impending Volkswagen, when I felt the van shudder and peel forward. I closed my eyes, hearing the thundering of the rain, insane honking… “It’s the end of the world!”… and then- quiet.

We were safe- miraculously we had made it through the gap unharmed. As if by design, the rain ceased, the traffic began to let up, and that horrible, repetitious song finally ended. The ordeal was over.

James and I heaved huge sighs of relief. Was this divine intervention? Incredible luck? The Volkswagen must have missed us by under a foot, yet missed us it did. James turned to me.

“Thank God we didn’t get into an accident.

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