TW: This story alludes to a mass shooting.
The vehicles are packed together so tightly we only move a few feet anytime it starts. A sign flashes to my left “expect traffic delays.” Yeah, no shit. I look at the time displayed on my car stereo, the only part that works unfortunately. The time says 9:05. I’m already late. Boss isn’t going to like it, but what can you do? Maybe if I cuss out the hundred cars surrounding me the line will start moving.
I consider exiting the freeway and attempting to get to the office by an alternate route. Would that be faster? Maybe. But I’m in the middle lane. Getting over to the rightmost lane will be… difficult. That and the next exit isn’t for two miles. I do a mental calculation of how long it’s going to take me to travel two miles when I only move about five feet every time I move. The math isn’t looking great.
My cell rings. I guess I could have called them when I first got stuck, but back then I was more hopeful that it was a temporary setback, a few minutes delay at most. I reach over and grab it. The person in the car next to me gives me a dirty look. Come on, it’s not like we’re moving fast or at all. I’d use handsfree if I had it.
“Yeah. I’m on the I90. Not really, no. Could try the next exit and see if it’s faster going a back route. Oh I hope so. Thanks for being so understanding.”
My boss is a peach. He said I’ve got an hour before he writes me off as a no-show. And me stuck in traffic like a bitch. Maybe he’s mad I didn’t call before my shift was supposed to start. Probably that. If you get wrote up three times you’re fired. I’ve already got one. Probably another for this and a day’s work missed. But that’s only if I can’t make it in an hour. I consider abandoning my vehicle and trying to make a mad dash. Probably not a good idea. I honestly don’t even know if I could make it on foot within an hour.
By the time I’ve managed to squeeze between cars to get to the exit lane, we are already past the one that was two miles away and it’s another mile before we get to the next. Then that exit is blocked off. This day is the worst. I don’t even have a radio to keep me company. I guess I could try using my phone, but the speakers aren’t very loud so all I’d be able to hear would be a faint buzzing that sounds vaguely musical.
I finally reach an exit at 9:20. Fifteen down, forty-five to go. I Grab my phone and ask it for alternate routes to my job. The app tells me I will arrive at 10:10. Five minutes too late. I look at the interstate. Maybe I’ll get lucky and get there faster than the app predicts. I have to try. There is less traffic along the side route, but it isn’t non-existent. I find myself getting particularly flustered when a vehicle in front of me fails to start moving immediately when the light changes to green. Come on.
The next time I’m stopped at a stop light, I take a chance and call my boss. Except, he’s not picking up. Must be busy. Damn. Just my luck. Maybe I should just stop trying to make it. Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me to quit already. The job stresses me out anyway. I understand that part of it is because we have fewer employees to work now, but for some odd reason we keep laying off perfectly good employees for dumb reasons. I could be the next one on that chopping block. Imagine letting someone go because they got stuck in traffic. Boss will say if I’d left the house sooner, I’d have made it in time. Maybe. I doubt it, but maybe.
Last week he let someone go because they called in sick but didn’t bring a doctor’s note. Like you’re not going to go to the doctor every time you get sick. Most people can’t afford that. Problem was, boss didn’t believe them. Thought they just wanted an excuse to miss work. Like wouldn’t we all love an excuse to miss work, but I don’t think that’s what happened. Since I can’t get him on the phone, I’ll just try my best to sweet talk him when I get there. Maybe he’ll be okay with it if I stay extra time without pay to make up for the time I missed.
What am I even saying? I don’t like the job and I’m willing to stay extra without pay just to appease the boss so he won’t fire me? But I need the job. I can’t afford to lose it. Not without another lined up, anyway. What’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I been looking? I’ve just been skating along at that job, stressful though it is. When I hit three lights in a row that are green without changing, I think my luck has finally taken a turn for the better. But that’s before I find out that one of the streets my app is directing me to is closed off because of an accident. The alternate route to that puts me even later. Maybe I’d be there by now if I’d stayed on the I90. I feel my stomach tie itself into knots as the clock flips over to 10:05. I am officially getting written up as a no-show.
For whatever reason, I don’t decide to just screw off for the rest of the day. I continue to the parking lot of my job. When I round the corner approaching it, there are red and blue lights. Someone got pulled over? Great. They’re blocking my entrance. I try to find another place to park. I try calling the boss again. Still no answer. That’s weird. The parking lot is blocked off. How are they that busy? Then I start getting a bad feeling. I feed the meter where I parked. I’ll move it as soon as I have a chance, but right now the most important thing is that I make it to work.
A policeman stops me. “You can’t go in there.”
“Why not? I work there.”
“It’s a crime scene. Disgruntled employee shot the place up. We stopped him, but it’s pretty bad.” My knees grow weak and threaten to collapse from underneath me. A news van pulls up.
“What happened here?” The reporter asks me. I shake my head.
“I was late to work.”