A FedEx truck and a DHL truck pulled up side by side at a traffic light. The FedEx driver looked across, past his rolled-down window, to the yellow truck with the red DHL letters printed on it. The other guy was already looking at him, then started to look away but couldn’t, he’d been caught.
"Good morning," said the DHL driver.
The FedEx driver smiled back. Good morning was assumed. "Nice day," he said, instead, leaning towards his window to get his voice out. That comment wasn’t quite trivial, because yesterday they’d had to work in a driving rainstorm that had thrashed their windshields, filled the road ahead of them with wincing vehicles whose caution became a quagmire, and made war on their packages. Bullets of water had splattered on their handtrucks, and at the other end of the elevator, secretaries had drawn back from the ugliness of the wetness as they signed the receipts.
"Yeah, the sun came back. Must’ve got a pay raise!"
"They ain’t paying you enough over there?" the FedEx man queried, exploring the joke, but burying his curiosity under a grin.
"It’s just fine. Good insurance, too, for when they have to replace my knees."
The FedEx man laughed. "My knees are doing great. Your package, you come down the stairs. No elevator, use a fax!"
The DHL man laughed. They paused to watch a truck cross in front of their path, which was blocked by the red light. The truck was big and uncared for, and looked like it had been sideswiped more than once. Smoke was billowing out the back, it was like a one-vehicle version of Elizabeth, New Jersey. "Big Apple’s going to get some revenue from that one!" said the DHL man.
"Yeah, that’s one for the junkyard."
Close behind, a school bus followed. "Gassing the kids," said the DHL driver.
The light changed, but the bus got stuck in the middle of the street, a taxi had just wedged itself in between the truck and the bus, and become a roadblock with a furious, trapped passenger inside yelling something about a meeting, and a man from the Punjab wishing he could look out the window and see snow-peaked mountains. Horns began to charge into the injustice, while swarms of pedestrians, like ants, quickly flooded the gaps between the vehicles, defending themselves from the enraged traffic with curses and middle fingers upraised like flags, making all motion backward or forward impossible. They were suicide soldiers fighting for immobility.
The FedEx driver and DHL driver looked at each other, disgusted but amused. Cynicism isn’t evil, it comes to protect us. "Time is money," the DHL driver yelled to him across the din.
"I’m going to miss a deadline," the FedEx driver said. "But what the hell am I going to do, plow through them like a bulldozer?"
"Got to love this place," the DHL driver said. And he sang: "The Daily News… the New York Times…"
While the FedEx driver added, "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere…"
The light changed back again, once more against them, and they hadn’t moved an inch. The trapped taxi managed to crawl away, while another car just in front of them, infuriated by the wait, gunned through traffic against the light as a new eruption of horns lashed out at it, like artillery shells bouncing off the Merrimac. It was grazed twice by the "F" word but otherwise escaped unhurt.
"So – how’s business?" the DHL driver asked. Lately his own load had been dwindling; a new driver and a new route had been added absorbing some of his work, but at the office, and in chance encounters in the field, there was talk of business lost to FedEx and UPS. The drivers talked among themselves, muttering, "We’ve got two hands, we’ve got two feet, our trucks have gas. Must be the upstairs people, falling asleep. FedEx has: When it absolutely has to be there overnight. We need a good one-liner, too, some marketing wiz to package us right." Some said the decline was company-wide, some that it was only in the city, others that they were gaining business in the city, and only losing it in this territory. "It’s the Germans," someone suggested, referring to the international owners of the enterprise. "They don’t give a damn what happens in America: take the money and run!" While someone else said, "That’s not true. Will you shut up already, World War Two ended fifty years ago."
"Business is great," the FedEx man replied, as the sirens of a distant ambulance forced him to lift his voice. "Backs are breaking like never before!"
Maybe FedEx is gaining the business we’re losing, thought the DHL driver. He looked over at the FedEx man, trying somehow, almost esoterically, to ascertain the state of his life, to see if he appeared well-fed, happy, optimistic.
"Why?" asked the FedEx driver. "Are sunny days over at DHL?"
"No," replied the DHL driver. "We’re working away. No end in sight for the donkey. Not until they invent transporters and start to beam packages into the office."
By now, both drivers had waited long enough. This time, as the light changed in their favor, the steel butt of only one car, shiny, new, but overambitious, stuck out past the intersection, impeding their way. But a daydreaming pedestrian, slow to lead the human charge across the street, delayed too long to hang him up, the motorist managed to wiggle his car out of the way, to ward off the multitudes, and then move on as the traffic beyond him awoke from its hibernation.
"All right, have a good one!" the FedEx driver said, silenced by the open road as he stepped down on the gas and lunged ahead towards his next delivery.
"Yo, you too!" replied the DHL driver, following close behind. For a moment, the two of them persisted like twins, before the ones they loved back home became nations of a sort, to be defended with the weapons of their trucks, armed each month with thousands of rounds of packages. It was not that they could not have been friends, it was just the way the world was made. You live in the house you are born in. You let in a little bit of the other, but not so much that you cannot press your foot down on the gas.
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