Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guest Writer: Ed Dean

The Road

From my darkened driveway I watch a brilliant orange sky light up the evening after a very long week on the road. Thank God it’s Friday! It’s not that I’m physically tired like my father was after a long week in the factory or mentally tired like my school teacher sister, I’m just emotionally drained. But when I walk in that door I know I must garner enough strength to feed the psyches of three loving faces.
Actually my week on the road is TNT—Tuesday through Thursday—Monday and Friday are office days. Monday is usually a planning and briefing session and Fridays are debriefings but this Friday caught me in an emotional extension on the road.
The office techies keep saying that we’ll soon be replaced by the Internet and ‘computer-to-computer’ decisions. Sometimes I wish it were true but in my heart I know that ‘pressing the flesh’ will always have a place in the human sales equation.
Colored clouds float by spewing dramatic dark orange, and red highlights entertain my thoughts punctuated by headlights of other cars scurrying like ants on a hill, weaving their way to some quiet solitude. I am no different. I sit in the driveway with my headlights off and linger in contemplative review letting my psyche rewind. I too am one of the ants. I stop to look skyward once more before opening the door and remember the old Indian saying; “It is a good day to die!” But which life would cease? Is it all worth it, this double life of duplicity and deceit? I am only a minor player in corporate America. I truly am a road warrior and it’s a life that I have learned to love and respect. Every lonely sunset has become my friend, my lover, my mentor. There is never a duplicate, just as love is, easy and forgiving. There are smiling faces behind that door only for me. To be loved is a special thing and I think I have found more than my share in this double life.
As a Young Turk in my mid-twenties I received my golden spurs; road warrior by choice and avocation. Eager successful years promoted me to an expanded agenda with titles that I proudly accepted along with the ensuing money. Titles are always part of the package and are only meaningful on an embossed business card. Was I good; was I right? You judge because I know you will!
Early on I borrowed a great ploy from a mentor. When I landed in a local area, my eyes searched for a street urchin. I gave the carefully chosen kid a mind-boggling five-dollar bill to carry my card up to the receptionist and announce my appointment and presence. I was rarely kept waiting. My natural success was never about my ability to talk but more to observe and listen. Corporate customers lie more than any peddler in the world. They assume their crown will hide everything. But the truth is on the factory floor. A twenty-dollar lunch with a line supervisor gave me everything I needed to know.
Endless hotel and motel chains with earned honor points became my second kingdom but in the end it was only a plush lonely bed at the end of the day. Of course, there were lavish dinners out with exec customers but most evenings end with a B.L.T. room-service sandwich with two scotches from the mini-bar.
As in any upgraded city-center hotel, there was the ‘road warrior’ clan. Black Jack always seemed to be my shadow. He was neither black nor Jack; he was simply Dan. The moniker came from his prolific love of Jack Daniels. He never asked what you were drinking, but ordered a Jack-on-the rocks and let you choose a mixer of your choice. He personified the negative side of our trade. Jack loved to bemoan proliferation of skirts in our brotherhood. Most of the women were pharmaceutical or retail reps and rarely industrial, but Jack never missed a chance to hit on them every chance he got. Jack’s mantra was; no sex was worse than bad sex but most of us chose conversation and camaraderie at the bar. We were a fun loving family of ‘Can you top this?’ and most of the time it was “yes.”
Personal or professional problems were rarely up for discussion but when it came into the mix both genders’ advice flowed faster than the booze. We were family for the night.
When you work the Midwest, snowstorms and bad weather are facts of life. Familiarity with the hotel staff or guaranteed hotel reservations are your only port in the storm. When you’re one of the lucky, the peddler creed says that you share that extra double-queen in your bedroom. Your eyes search the bundled bodies in the overbooked hotel lobby and you offer. If your heartfelt invitation goes out to a ‘skirt’ you might be branded as a ‘dirt bag’ but most of the seasoned ‘road warrior’ gals know that it’s a sign of respect and accept graciously.
Sex is never the equation but only happens as an answer to a long night of camaraderie in the hotel bar. It is that natural and constant need of humanity to be validated by the intimacy of wanting and being wanted.
A late breakfast in the dining room brings news that the highways will be open by early afternoon. Hugs and well wishes flow over the tables and within a few hours the vast migration of the road warriors would suck the hotel empty.
You learn early on never to check your baggage. Carry-on is the only way to go. Ten minutes to the parked car and a dreary log jammed expressway-hour home and you realize that you’re just one of the leaf-cutter ants in the colony heading down the jungle road with your prize on your back. The headlights quickly pop on like stars in the early darkened skies and after fifteen years on the road, you wonder, “How long before I get the home office promotion? How long before I have only one life to lead?” But as you pull up into a darkened driveway and contemplate; you know she knows; she knows but tolerates the deception as the pretty little lady at all the corporate functions. She smiles graciously and makes the required small talk and does her part to be the perfect corporate wife. She is well paid for her pain, but money will never soothe her emotional scars. Was she a ‘sell-out’ just like me? She had a talented career that she chose to disregard for an easier life.
I can hear the lyrics to Tina Turner’s song, ‘What’s love got to do with it’ rattling around in my brain. I know it’s just a matter of time. How long before she gets tired and takes the kids and leaves? How long will the duplicity last? Have I become just another ‘Black Jack’ road junkie? And then you finally admit to yourself that you’re an addict and the split in your personality is becoming permanent.

© Edward Dean 2011

Edward Dean grew up in Dearborn and Highland Park, Michigan until being drafted into the army and subsequently into the N.S.A. Having been in sales and marketing most of his life, Mr. Dean is now semi-retired and spends much of his time writing. His own experiences in the military, traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe, and as a wine enthusiast provided much of the background to his book. Mr. Dean has three books in the works, including a sequel to The Wine Thief.

15 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this piece Ed, it has a rhythm not unlike a car trip, and some beautiful phrases (garnering strength to feed their psyches was my favourite, I think)

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  2. Ed, this is so solid and smooth flowing, so insightful and finely balanced. And honest. Superbly observed.

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  3. This lends creedence to more on The Road again, it's a delicious opening and leaves the reader yearning for more insightful quips about life. This is, for no other words, an appetizer for the soul, for what you say is no less about a travelling salesman, than it is about the human condition dealing with the obstacles that get in the way of a dream! Nice write/read!

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  4. The old man was a long-haul trucker; lived much the same life, but cmae home only infrequently to bark at the kids, bitch at the old lady for the way she was raising us, and pretty much treat her alternatively like a truckstop waitress or roadwhore.
    Finally, there was almost nothing left of him to drag home, so then, not unexpectedly, he didn't anymore. And that, as they say, was that.

    I really enjoyed your salesman piece.

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  5. I have lots of friends in sales (my wife, too, although she mostly works from home) and I've always thought of it as a vocation certain people are born to, just as certain folks are born singers or writers or athletes. You've captured the conflicts inherent in this birthright, as well as the camaraderie, the loneliness, the cost and the pleasures. I wish you the best reconciliation with your choices. A thoughtful, moving piece.

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  6. Ed Dean, you sure know how to tell a tale!

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  7. Ed,
    As an optician, I've known a few sales reps. Not only is long distance sales a lonely life it's also a dangerous one. You have written a sincere look into their lives and I believe it takes a strong relationship to maintain a marriage. Well done.

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  8. love the voice in this, ed. great topic! i'm sure lots of road warriors can relate. a blt and 2 scotches. nice.

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  9. What a story, Deano, narrated by a true, master con artist. It's easy to see why so many were sucked into it. But, sorry, I don't buy it. The narrator's conundrum is not the duplicity between his need to spend more time at home, and his responsibility to provide even at the cost of his suffering, sacrificing life of a weary Road Warrior. Right, that lonely, clean, fresh room with all the hot water you can stand, giant, white fluffy towels you let lie where they fall, crisp ,clean sheets, BLT extra bacon n mayo on whole-wheat, delivered. Or, the boring nightly bar camaraderie with all that pizz-u-pants laughter he can't stand. Or, the Sir Lancelot chauvinism of rescuing that fair maiden from a freezing blizzard with n'er thee thought of sex on thy mind. And having to look your SAHM in the eye and swear that you never had sex with that woman... and neither did Bill Clinton. Yeah, Sir Road Warrior is really suffering. And, he's been doing it for so long, he even has it down to one carry-on. Breakin' my heart.
    If our Road Warrior has any conundrum at all, it’s the guilt he feels living a life of so much pleasure and meaning, while every other schmuck is beating his head against a cage like a gorilla at feeding time in the local zoo.
    But, damn Dean, you sell it so well. Even made me misty on the third read. Then I remembered. The last time I read a story like this it was about some rabbit yelling, "Doon't throw me in dat briar patch."
    Luved it!

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  10. Thanks all for the feedback.
    @KAWF; Oh quit sniveling in your cereal guy.As a former T-shirt salesman, you know the drum beat!
    I'm sellin' here. This is my corner!:)

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  11. Both times that you made the analogy to an ant I nodded my head. I liked this piece and (despite Kawfee's cynicism) I did believe that driveway moment was real. Maybe it's not actual guilt that gives our salesman pause; maybe it's that he has to switch gears or colors like a chameleon. Either way, you've given us a slice of life story that's a really good read. My one and only quibble is with the last sentence -- in my humble opinion it should continue in the first person to read "And then I finally admit to myself....."

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  12. Good point Gita and I agree. I purposely went back and forth between I and you to emphasize the feeling of a split.I started it in the first person should have ended that way.
    Thanks.

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  13. By the way; Kawffee's remarks were tongue-in-cheek.
    He love's to jerk my chain and now I owe him one!:)

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  14. Happens more than we know. I liked the rhythm of this. And what's worse than knowing where he's headed? HE knows where he's headed. --KES from 6S

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