Translated by Lien Ly
My colleagues were more than surprised, to say the very least, when they learned that I had accepted an interview with Fraud (an organization set up to investigate fraudulent social support claims). They thought that I must have lost my mind. My supervisor just had her interview a couple of days before and was still awaiting a reply. She warned:
- Have you any idea how far it is from here? It takes a driver like me one and half hour, one way. Itís going to take you the whole day! How will you manage the drive if you get the job?
Itís not so much that she is concerned as she is threatened. After all, she and I are both qualified for the position. In addition to which, my previous director is deciding vote for the placement of this position. It was he who called me for this interview when he saw my name on the eligible list of personnel who have passed the supervisor exams. It is no wonder that she is all frazzled. I smiled at her casually:
- Oh, itís only an interview. Itís not like Iíve been selected.
Then I teasingly added:
- You know, this supervisor list is almost expired. If I donít get promoted, my passing the exam would have been such a waste.
My two gal-pals at the office looked at me, wondering what my devious little mind was up to. Just two years ago, they had witnessed my giving up a supervisor job in Pasadena to return to a worker position in Pomona, all due to the long commute. Now Iím about to interview for a position twice as far away from home!?! Ngim paced around my desk, touching my forehead, wondering if a recent fever had burned all my useful brain cells. Grace softly reminded me:
- Sandy is no longer here. Youíre heading for a river of no return. No one will be able to bail you out this time.
Sandy was the deputy district director in the Pomona office who had recently been promoted to another regional office. It was she whom I pleaded with after a treacherous week of commute to Pasadena:
- The drive is killing me Sandy. Sometimes it rains so hard, I cannot even see where I am going. If you donít intervene for my transfer back to Pomona, you will see me to an early grave.
Seeing me in tears, Sandy quickly left for the directorís office. Within fifteen minutes, she was back:
- Tomorrow, the director will arrange paperwork for your transfer. In the mean time, try to do a good job in Pasadena until the paperwork is finalized.
A week later, I was back in the Pomona office. Pasadena passed quickly from my mind like a bad dream.
This time, I decided on the interview at Imperial for only one reason Ė I wanted to take my father for a drive down Route 105, which just opened. I have never driven such a long distance on my own. Aside from the short drive to and from work, or running errands around town, I rarely drive myself. At home, I can always count on my husband. At work, there were always Ngim and Grace. I was never a good driver and my reputation as such was general knowledge to everyone around me.
As she had mocked my driving skills earlier, my supervisor had no choice but to allow me extra time in order to make it to my interview. Two hours drive, plus lunch hour, allowance for my getting lost, and the return tripÖShe grudgingly approved for my leave at 10 am, all on companyís time.
Actually, I am not really that bad of a driver. As long as I donít have to drive such a long distance on a regular basis, I can handle it. It just takes me longer than most people. As long as I donít hit the morning traffic, I can make it in time for the interview. And if I donít hit the evening rush, I can make it home for dinner.
I went back home for a light lunch. Took my fatherís picture and pasted it on the passengerís headrest. I taped his picture carefully just in case I should push the wrong button and open the window by mistake. In this position, he can have a good view of the 105, the freeway he had been hoping to drive since the day of its plan for construction.
When my father signed the papers to close the deal on the house in Norwalk, the real estate agent had reemphasized:
- Just you wait and see, construction for freeway 105 will begin shortly. Plans have been approved and you can find it on all the new maps. You can see all the homes that have been boarded up and ready for removal. Soon, you wonít have to use surface street at all to get to the airport. The 105 will take you there in no time.
The reason for his enthusiasm was crucial to the sale as my father was hesitant on buying this house. It is much farther from the airport than where we were renting. At that time, my family was living in Paramount. Back in those days, my father went to LAX almost every weekend. If it were not to pick up his majong friends from San Francisco, it was his army friends from San Diego. From Paramount, the airport was at most a half an hour drive. If we were to move to Norwalk, this drive would more than double. But with the construction of the 105, the drive would be a breeze.
Several years had passed since we moved to Norwalk, yet construction of the 105 never commenced. The boarded houses still remained on the side of the roads, through rain and shine, waiting for removal. All the maps still allotted space for the freeway ďunder constructionĒ. In the earlier years, my father would take my family for joy rides down this stretch of road, showing us the boarded up homes. After a few runs, everyone became bored of looking at the houses, including my father.
The years went by. I moved from Norwalk to the vacant hills of Phillips Ranch after getting married. I no longer had the chance to pass by that stretch of road though those joy rides with my father were still clear in my mind as if it were yesterday. Every time I visited my father, we would often discuss this infamous freeway and its perpetual construction plans. I consoled my father:
- Oh Dad, give it up. Your freeway is like the high school in my area. Plans have been approved by the city for over a decade now. My kids are almost done with junior high and they havenít started building yet. At the rate theyíre going, my kids will finish college before they break grounds.
As time passes on, my fatherís friends from San Francisco didnít visit as often. Their new-found majong dens provided transportation directly into Chinatown. There was no need for my father to pick them up at the airport any more. His military friends from San Diego had settled into their new lives. Some have married, most have managed to buy their own cars. My fatherís airport runs became the thing of the past. However, my father was still hoping to take that ride to the airport on that new road. Unfortunately, he never lived to see it open.
I drove along the 60, onto the 605 exchange, passed the Rose Hills where we laid my father to rest some eight years ago. I looked towards the hills and spoke to him:
- Are you ready for our joy ride, Dad? Weíre heading toward Route 105. Would you believe it? After all these years, it finally opened!
I drove my fatherís picture the entire stretch of the 105. Then I drove into the LAX as if to show my father all the changes that have taken place since he has been gone. The single tiered airport was now doubled, with separate arrival and departure levels, as my father had always reasoned it should be.
I went back onto the 105, made it to the interview with time to spare. It was a day to reminisce. Seeing my old boss, talking about old times, going through the old parts of town, old memories began playing through my head.
Donít know how long I will have to wait for the results of the interview. Donít know if I have to courage to accept the position if I were selected. Do I have the courage to the drive this distance on a daily basis? Reminiscing those old joy rides with my father, I wonder if I handle being on this road every day without being haunted by his memories. As I passed the stretch of road where those old boarded homes used to stand, tears came rolling down my face.
Mai Ly (1995)