Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will
worry about itself. Each day has trouble of its own.
It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult. For years I volunteered for Meals on Wheels, a small gesture of good will to get me out of the office and into the apartment buildings that dotted the downtown Minneapolis skyline. But at the moment I wasn’t at work or delivering meals. I was in limbo.
I strangled the steering wheel. I never liked Franklin Avenue. With little room and constant traffic, everything about the avenue was mad-dash and chaotic. At the moment I wasn’t even moving. I was stuck in the same spot for over ten minutes and I had no idea why. All I knew is what I felt. If danger can be sensed, I was picking up the vibe, much like a soldier who feels a chill when a sniper is near. But this wasn’t a chill. This was pulsating heat and the heat was telling me to be careful.
Traffic started to move so I inched my car down the block. When I reached the intersection, I soon discovered the reason for traffic jam. Smashed glass and twisted metal lay everywhere. A couple of squad cars were tending to the injured. A car sat on the front lawn of the corner church.
Straitgate Church may have been open to all souls, but when it came to wayward drivers, its stone foundation was unforgiving. The crumpled car lay at its base as the owner sat on the front steps. She was a young African immigrant. She had a dumbfounded look. It said, “What am I going to do?”
Moments later I pulled into a parking lot and walked into the nursing home nestled next to the I-35/94 interchange. I was twenty minutes late and saw the coordinator on the phone. Pat was worried and about to call me. I quickly told her about the delay and we went over the route before I ran back out the door.
Heading down 1st Avenue into downtown gave me plenty of room until I turned left onto 15th and into the path of a man crossing the middle of the street. There was no immediate danger for I wasn’t driving very fast. The problem was the man was not only walking a miniature poodle but also carrying a Styrofoam container of food.
Even though I slowed my car to a crawl, it didn’t prevent the man from bolting in a complete panic, causing a paper napkin and a plastic fork to flutter off the Styrofoam container and float to the ground.
The man, the dog and the meal made it safely to the other side, but his eating utensils and napkins were crushed by my car’s tires.
I could not believe the irony of the moment: That I inhibited one man’s meal with my wheels. Did I just cancel out my good deed? Should I stop and give the guy a fork? No, it would be idiotic to stop in the middle of the street. He would find other cutlery. Plus, I was running late.
When I arrived at the Maryland, I could find no place to park. Normally, there was a spot in the small driveway, but today was not a normal day. In fact, the driveway was overloaded with construction equipment spilling onto the sidewalk.
I drove down the street and found a spot a block away. As I approached the Maryland again with two full bags of meals, construction supplies were everywhere. A giant crane was in the process of being assembled.
I reached the front lobby, rang the front desk and the manager let me in.
“Am I okay to deliver these meals,” I asked.
“Yes, yes,” She replied. “Just be careful on the fifth floor.”
“What happened on the fifth floor?”
The manager waved off my question and scurried back into the office. I shrugged my shoulders and felt the heavy load of the two bags. I had yet to make one stop.
Delivering the meals at the Maryland was a little different than most places. At any usual stop I would knock at the door.
“Who is it?”
“Meals on Wheels.”
The door would open and I would hand over a hot meal in a shrink-wrapped plastic tray and a cold meal in a white paper bag.
“Thank you so much.”
“Not a problem.”
“Have a good day!”
It was that easy, but the Maryland residents didn’t even want this limited interaction. Instead of knocking, I placed the meals in the coolers that were in front of the resident’s doors.
It wasn’t always this way. I worked this route long enough to remember when most of the residents came to the door, all except for two – Sally and Dorothy. For years I delivered their meals and never once did I meet them. Many times I wondered what led them to this circumstance. The possibilities were many and I was sure I would never know. All I knew was Sally and Dorothy’s aversion to the outside world started to spread to the other residents until no one at the Maryland came to the door.
As I walked the hallways, dropping off the meals in the coolers, everything looked the same until I got to the south corridor. At first I heard the whirling and then I saw the giant commercial fans tucked underneath the hallway’s damp carpet in an aggressive attempt to fight off mold.
I finished delivering my meals on the third and fourth floor, opened the door to the south stairwell and saw no carpet. All that remained was a blackened, gooey resin. So I carefully moved up the sticky steps.
When I reached the fifth floor, it was apparent a fire definitely broke out on this level. The carpet had been ripped up and the ceiling tiles were gone. The door to my right had been kicked off its hinges. I peered into the charred remains. I didn’t step any further. It felt wrong. Whoever lived there lost everything.
I eased down the hallway until I came to Dorothy’s door. There was no cooler. I didn’t know what to do. She always had a cooler. Had it burned in the fire or washed away in the flood? I tentatively knocked and Dorothy opened the door. She wasn’t a gargoyle, a witch or a kissing cousin to Boo Radley. In fact, she was perfectly normal. I handed over the hot and cold meal and she thanked me. I stood in the hallway and she remained at the door. I couldn’t help myself.
“What happened to your neighbor?”
Dorothy did not wave off the question. She instead told me her neighbor tuned on her self-cleaning oven and went out for the evening. The oven went on the fritz and everything went up in flames. “Water damage all the way to the first floor.”
The pulsating heat that licked at my car on Franklin had partially destroyed this building. I told Dorothy to be careful and gingerly moved down the hall, a gummy resin sticking to my shoes.
I crossed over the I-35/94 interchange and pulled my car into a parking lot that sat behind a hardware store. I liked this parking spot for I could hit three different apartments within a couple blocks.
Today, I only had two and I was happy I didn’t have to deliver to Steve at The Coyle. He was a large man and perhaps unable to walk down the flight of stairs to let me in. Also, he couldn’t buzz me in from his room. Instead, he would walk to the balcony and fling his wallet with the key card at me.
I usually caught the wallet with my face.
I was glad that I didn’t have to catch a flying wallet and I was happy that my next two stops were my favorite.
I always liked delivering to Irv. He promptly answered my ring and quickly buzzed me into the building. He was cheerful and always greeted me with a Howdy-Do! Delivering to Irv had never a problem, except for today.
Six squad cars surrounded the front of the building, but I didn’t see any police officers, which indicated the situation was not secure. I thought it best to come back.
I headed down the street to Lydia House, which is a text book example how every delivery should go. When I reached the front of the building, the doors automatically opened for the person at the front desk saw me approach. I then crossed the small lobby with a “Good Morning!”
That’s right, I was running late.
I pulled out the hot and cold meals and handed them over.
“Have a good one.”
When I returned back to Irv’s apartment, a couple of police officers were standing around a squad car with a screaming person in the back seat. The moment still looked sketchy.
I tentatively approached one of the officers. “Um, I have to deliver a meal. Is it okay to go into the building?”
As I ascended the stairwell, I wondered how much faith I should have put in the officer’s belief that the third floor was secure. Did everybody in the building know this?
I quickly delivered the meal to Irv who appeared oblivious to the activity a couple flights below. We only talked about the weather and I didn’t mention the ruckus.
After delivering Irv’s meal, I had one meal left and I looked at the list.
“No,” I groaned. “Not Lech.”
At this point I was forty minutes late and if there was one person who would not be happy, it would be Lech.
I think Lech was born cranky. He was a Polish transplant in his mid 70’s. The apartment he lived in was mostly filled with African immigrants and Lech did not like his situation for he really didn’t like his neighbors. In fact, he never seemed happy about anything. The times I delivered his meals I got a heavy dose of complaining. One time he was upset that I was early. Another time he looked at the meal and said, “Do you expect me to eat this?” It was almost assured our encounter would not contain the word congenial.
I pulled into the tight parking lot and walked to the high-rise. I rang Lech’s number and he answered.
“Who is it?”
“Meals on Wheels.”
We lost connection, so I dialed again.
“What do you want?”
“I have your –”
It sounded like Lech was hanging up on me, so I dialed again.
I was baffled. I could not think of a situation where a person would refuse a free meal. All I knew for sure is Lech got under my skin.
“Buzz! Buzz! Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!”
The lady at the front desk saw the commotion and let me in.
“Meal for Lech,” She asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Why wouldn’t he let me in?”
She just shook her head.
I took the elevator to the 12th floor. The doors slowly opened and I saw Lech’s door pried open with a plastic snow shovel. It looked like a trap.
“Lech?” I stood at the open door. I definitely wasn’t going in.
Lech quickly appeared from the kitchen wearing khaki shorts and a loose fitting grey tank top. For being an old guy he still had muscles. He probably did a thousand pushups a day. I heard anger is powerful fuel. I definitely could see the veins on his forehead and they were bulging. He wasn’t upset. He was livid.
“Why so late,” He screamed.
My response was robust and forceful. Lech heard the frustration in my voice and smirked. “Somalis, they can’t drive.”
I was shocked not only by his prejudice, but that a half mile down the road was a frightened girl waiting for her smashed vehicle to be towed off of Straitgate’s front lawn.
I handed over the last meal of the day and moved on.
After spending close to two hours volunteering over my lunch hour, I still needed to find something to eat. Normally, I would grab a gyro at Taste of New York, but I was beyond late. I needed to find a place that was fast. That’s when I saw Jimmy John’s.
I pulled into Plymouth Congregation Church’s parking lot and waited for my turn to dart across Franklin. As I waited I saw a silver haired lady standing in front of her pearl-white Cadillac. She was shaking her head and talking on a cell phone for the front hood of her car was scrunched all the way to the windshield like an opened can of sardines.
“Unbelievable,” I said to myself.
I patiently waited for traffic to die down, then bolted across the street and dipped into the store.
I picked Jimmy John’s for as advertised they are exceedingly fast. In their commercials, the delivery guys usually beat police officers, EMT’s and Formula One drivers. It wasn’t bluster. There were times when I was given my sandwich before I could even hand over the cash. To walk into a Jimmy John’s is to walk into the emergency room of fast food. But when I pulled up to the register, nobody was there. No one was in a hurry as most of the employees seemed mildly interested in their current assignment. A kid refilling mayo jars eventually noticed me and sauntered over.
“What can I get you?”
“I’ll take a Vito.”
I handed over the cash but did not receive the sandwich. Instead, I headed down to the end of the counter to a sign that said “PICK UP.” When I saw five other people waiting, I knew my sandwich would be delayed. (It would also be the wrong sandwich)
I shook my head. What was late on top of late? The waiting gave me a chance to decompress. It even allowed me the opportunity to read the signs splattered on the walls like “SUBS SO FAST YOU’LL FREAK” and “WE’D LOVE TO SEE YOU NAKED” and “WE CATER WEDDINGS.”
Subs for a wedding? Is that acceptable? If Jimmy John’s was in play as a wedding caterer, is it possible to bring in a hot dog vendor and a beer man? Could they work the aisles during the ceremony like a baseball game?
Before I thought about peanuts and cracker jacks, my sandwich was tossed onto the counter.
Taking a final drive down Franklin, I listened to the announcer on the radio lament for she was having another birthday. I could relate. Mine was a couple weeks before and it was impossible not to be reflective. Whatever the sentiment, I was glad to be turning off of Franklin. Lyndale Avenue never looked so good. Soon it would merge with Hennepin and open wide like a delta. From there I would be on my way back to work with the firm belief that I drove through a chaotic core of car accidents, apartment fires, police raids and a possible trap with a snow shovel. All around disaster lay but I passed unscathed.
What more could I ask from a Tuesday?
† The places are real. The events happened although not on the same day. The names have been changed to protect the hungry.