Authors: L Zimmerman
The ETA From You to Me
It took a second for Grant to get his office key to properly turn in the lock, cursing the entire way until it twisted and the deadbolt slid free with a loud click. He wouldn’t consider it his most shining moment, given that he’d been unlocking and locking the damn thing every single weekend for the past three years running, rain or shine. It might have been an odd line of employment to be a tow company dispatcher while in college, but it was the only job that he could work twenty hours a week and still have five days off to keep up with his school assignments.
Part of his difficulty with the lock probably had to do with the fact that Grant might have possibly had a momentary lapse in judgment the night prior. At the time, he’d thought it was a good idea to start playing video games at two in the morning when he had to be at work by eight. He’d powered through four levels and unlocked a secret cut scene and had felt pretty accomplished about it last night. Now though, with his bones aching for his bed and head muzzy with sleep, Grant was regretting that decision.
He slipped inside of the office, stumbling over the floor-mat-of-questionable-use, and turning on the light. Since the year was still deep in the throes of August, it hadn’t cooled off much overnight. So the first thing Grant did was to switch on the air conditioner and pull the chord for the fan. It made him feel kind of like a mystical creator genius in a fantasy movie, and he threw his arms out when the room instantly hummed to life, air conditioner whirring and fan creaking overhead.
Sadly, even if he was anything other than boring and human, only the cameras placed in opposite corners of the room would have been witness to it. As it was, all they were going to witness was Grant’s morning routine--which consisted of turning on both computers, setting down his satchel, clocking in and then doing a quick dust of everything in the office.
Grant sat down as soon as he was done opening and logged into the computers. While they booted up, he transferred the phones from overnight service so that the calls were directed to the office instead. He dialed the service center once all of the lines were transferred.
“John’s Towing, how can I help you?”
“Hey Adrian, it’s Grant, can I get the messages?” He fiddled with the paperwork from the previous day, shuffling them into order. Kelly, who worked the weekday evening shift, had neat and precise handwriting that made it easy to sort through everything. It made Grant pity anyone that had to open on Monday after he was on weekend, because he wrote much like the aftermath of drunk man who had decided to smash his hand inside of a desk drawer to see if he could still feel pain.
“Of course, sweetie. Did you sleep well last night?”
Grant hummed in a way that wasn‘t quite yes and wasn‘t quite no, eyes skimming the paperwork and shifting the phone between his jaw and shoulder. “Three hours is good, right?” he did a double-take when his eyes caught sight of an unfamiliar name on the dispatch sheet. He frowned, feeling a coil of frustration in his gut that nobody had bothered to tell him that they had apparently hired some new guy named Clayton.
Just for verification, Grant asked Adrian.
“Hey--who is Clayton? Did we get a new driver?”
The fax machine beeped to notify Grant that messages were being received, and Adrian made a sound of surprise.
“He started here a few weeks ago, nobody told you? This is his first time working the weekend shift.”
“Ohhhh,” Grant reached over to the fax machine, snatching the papers up. There was an awkward pause, because Grant really had nothing else to say. He could complain about nobody telling him, but his complaints would be a little pointless at this point. They weren’t a huge company and hiring a new driver happened once in a blue moon.
Grant shuffled through the faxes, sighing a little and saying, “alrighty then. I’ve gotta log into the GPS so I’mma let you go. Sleep well!”
Adrian bid her farewell and he hung up the phone. He stared down at the papers and then at the computer, scowling. Was it really that hard to just leave a note saying ’hey, we hired a new guy’ or something? Apparently it was beyond the operating capacity of their weekday staff to even fathom making Grant’s life easier.
He tried not to feel too irritated about it, even though he was eventually going to have to call this guy (who was probably an old creeper who had finally gotten off pedobear parole, and needed a job in which the questionable legalities of his past were not brought to the surface) on the phone and tell him what to do. Grant already had a hard enough time dealing with the drivers he knew. He had no idea what this guy’s temperament was like.
Logging into the truck tracking system on the computer, Grant sat back with a sigh, rolling his head around and then staring blankly at the small stack of messages that had come in overnight.
He’d barely written down the date before the computer was honking at him. It was a deafening sound that came from the speakers when a new job came in. It was supposed to simulate the horn of a car--but after working there for a year and hearing the sound constantly, all it really did was make him utterly terrified of midday traffic. Gotta love Pavlov.
Opening the job information, Grant couldn’t even hold back the long, drawn out sigh when he realized it was for a tire change. Tire changes were meant for the battery truck, but it was only seven in the morning and Elliot didn’t come in until nine. Any time they got calls like this in before Elliot showed up, Grant was scrambling to meet their promised ‘thirty minute ETA’. ETAs were a creation of the devil--or possibly Mitt Romney-- because they were offering roadside service and car tows, not delivering pizza. There was a distinct difference between the two, so why should they have the same policy?
Weekend drivers didn’t have set hours, they just worked on call. This meant that any morning runs were going to be late because, apparently, they had to be the one company where all of the drivers upheld an actual form of daily hygiene by showering right after they woke up.
Grant skimmed the faxes that he‘d yet to finish filling out, a small coil of dread pooling in his stomach when he realized that the new guy was the next person to be called on a run. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that he’d been out on a tow at three in the morning. All the other drivers had worked at some point between then and the office opening. It didn’t make things any easier on Grant, though, because he was still waking someone from what was probably a much-needed sleep.
Grant twirled his seat around to check the cork board, finger skimming through the list of phone numbers until he saw a new one scratched in with pen at the bottom of the list. He took a deep breath, mentally going over what to say to the man, and then dialed.
On the third ring, a sleepy, disgruntled voice answered with, “H’lo?”
“Hey, Clayton?” Grant glanced back at the number to double-check that he‘d punched it in correctly. This was the awkward moment of truth in which he had absolutely no idea if he’d dialed the right number. For some reason, the worst feeling in the world was misdialing or being given the wrong number and having to apologize to a stranger for inconveniencing them.
There was a tired, affirmative grunt, which didn’t make Grant feel any better about waking the guy up. He fiddled with the pen on his desk, glancing at the job information and just blurting out the first thing he could think of. “Hey, this is Grant, I work the weekends at John‘s Towi--”
“You do realize I got back at four in the morning, right?” Clayton growled tiredly. Grant bit down on his tongue, mentally wincing. So this guy definitely wasn’t a morning person. Grant probably should have started off a little gentler, maybe eased the guy into the idea of waking up to work instead of just shoving it down his throat.
“Yeah, but Billy and Mike were out around six. Elliot’s on the clock at nine. You’re all I’ve got.”
“All right,” Clayton grunted, “let me get my damn paperwork.” The line filled with the sound of rustling sheets and the creak of a drawer. Grant muttered a soft apology under his breath, glancing at the clock and waiting until Clayton was ready for the information. In the meantime, he decided to see how many times he could click and unclick his pen, hitting somewhere in the low thirties when Clayton finally spoke again.
Grant made sure to read everything slowly, not knowing how fast Clayton could write--or how awake he was. The second he finished, Clayton mumbled something incoherently and there was a click as he hung up the phone. It took Grant a second to realize this, slowly lowering the receiver into the cradle and staring down at his unfinished paperwork.
For a minute, Grant felt offended. After that minute, he didn’t really care that much anymore.
Shrugging, he went back to work and hoped maybe Clayton would be in a better mood once he was more awake.
The morning hours crawled by that day, broken only by the occasional calls that were frequent enough to have all of their drivers working steadily under the summer sun. He probably should have knocked on wood after entertaining a passing thought about how slow they were. It was just past noon when they got slammed so much in one hour that Grant found himself scrambling to dispatch calls and placate irritated customers who had been waiting too long or didn’t want to pay the fee for whatever service they needed.
By the end of the weekend, Grant decided that he was a little bit in love with the way that Clayton worked. Not only was the guy punctual when paging the radio with his times and miles, but he was always letting Grant know when he was on scene or finishing with a tow. He never complained about his assignments and never tried to talk a customer into getting their vehicle towed for a long haul that would leave Grant down one truck for over an hour at a time. He was a saint among truckers.
The only disappointing factor was that Clayton never bothered to come into the office when he stopped by the shop to get fuel or relax for a few minutes. When Grant called him over the intercom, Clayton would instantly be in his truck and ready for whatever information Grant had to give him on a call.
As the days passed, Grant realized that Clayton wasn’t friendly, but he wasn’t particularly vindictive, either. He was curt, and Grant often sensed a tiny coil of blunt humor in his dry comments about customers or situations outside of the norm.
It all came to a head three weeks and a good dose of mild bantering over radio and phone conversations later. Most of the time, they got along pretty well. Grant would send Clayton out on a job and occasionally toss out an obscure pop culture reference if the situation called for it. Clayton would either go on the call and ignore Grant’s chattering, or make some equally vague comment that left him cackling and most of the drivers questioning their insanity.
This particular Saturday, Grant had already ingested far too much coffee after completely foregoing sleep the night before to finish an assignment for one of his classes. He was jittery and his heart was beating hard, skin buzzing with energy and mouth going a mile a minute as he continually struck up conversation with the other drivers on the radio. He was bickering with Elliot about the possibility of getting vanilla Coke in the vending machine when Clayton cut in with a low growl.
“Grant. Can you shut up, for once?”
Grant wrenched his hand away from the radio’s broadcast button, feeling the tiniest bit hurt. His leg was bouncing up and down under the desk, making his chair creak in the otherwise quiet office. There wasn’t even a single crackle over the radio before Clayton finally spoke.
“Are there any runs, or are we all caught up?” This time, Clayton almost sounded apologetic for how harshly he’d spoken. That didn’t really make Grant feel any better, because he’d done nothing to warrant getting snapped at other than being a little more talkative than usual.
Grant pursed his lips, muttering under his breath and checking the paperwork. Usually the drivers avoided work, but apparently that wasn’t the case with Clayton. If Clayton wanted runs, he’d get as many runs as possible.
With that in mind, Grant pulled up a tire change that had been waiting for ten minutes. Originally, he’d planned on sending Elliot in the service truck since he was doing a lockout down the road, but now Grant was more than a little miffed. There was no better way to deal with hurt feelings than a little passive aggression.
“There’s a tire change on Morgan St.”