The Job Search

IT IS 11 PM AND I AM RUSHING from my plane to the newish BART stop near to the airport. The last train leaves, I am remembering, around 11:25 pm. Missing it means a very expensive cab ride to Oakland. Destination: home of my wife’s cousin, Olivia. At the turnstile a transit worker, noting my pace, assures me I won’t miss the train. Now I am on the platform; other prospective transit patrons are dispersed along the length of the station that looks a mile long. A few minutes pass and a train matching the station’s length rolls in. Doors snap open. We enter, most of us, into our own personal BART car. In seconds we are screaming under the City, hurtling toward the tunnel that carries us beneath San Francisco Bay.

Thus begins the longest job search of my career to date. By this writing I have traveled all of 20,000 miles with the month of July all but part of one day away from Saint Paul. Within the space of a week I have touched San Francisco Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. And within the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, all manner of opportunities have been explored with inconclusive results.

On the day following New Year’s Day I go to Montana, to Bozeman, and Montana State University. And there the pieces drop at last into place. Lo these many months I have been searching for them. Lo these many months they have been searching for me. Now the campaign is over. I wake up in the morning and need to send no more résumés. No more cover letters. I scan none of the myriad sites on which organizations advertise the hundreds of jobs for people who do what I do. In fact I begin dismantling the automatic e-mail messages that bring tidings of new opportunities in East Texas and New York City; Portland, Oregon; and central Kansas. What does one DO the day after a campaign ends? Sleep in? Give in to a cold one has been suppressing with massive doses of garlic, zinc and vitamin C? Venture into the bitter Minnesota winter just to note that the sun is shining?

EVEN MY SUIT BAG HAS GIVEN UP. Just as I am about to run out the door for a cab and a plane to Montana the zipper steers a crazy course and I am scrambling madly for the garage while Wendy backs up from the old bag, steadying the revolver in her hand, prepared to end its misery after a good 15-year life.

Now we turn to making lists and lists of lists as we prepare for a careful phased withdrawal from the land of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

I search my memories of this marathon frenetic dash and there are so many images I have trouble choosing. The people leaning casually on the bar-like brass rings at the MAX station in downtown Portland, a city so modern that it is possible to believe the future has advanced more quickly there than anyplace else in the nation. Wendy and me literally tossing our luggage over the turnstiles in a New York subway station. Exiting the Green Line in Kenmore Square to find myself walking against the crush of Fenway Park patrons departing a Boston Red Sox game. Sitting in an outdoor café in the Back Bay watching a mysterious streetlight flashing on and off as though it is signaling Patrick Henry across Boston Harbor. Driving my rented car INTO Manhattan and finding a parking spot ON THE STREET only a few blocks from my destination. Wandering in the shadows of Baltimore’s historic downtown where I can aim my camera in any direction and capture something truly remarkable (how did I miss this city growing up in Philadelphia?). Arriving in Davis, California, for an interview and they are NOT expecting me. A woman in Kansas shaking in her car after sliding on the snow 50 feet from the freeway to a precarious embankment and I realize I will have to wait with her and summon a wrecker from AAA to yank her vehicle back from the abyss. Driving everywhere in Beloit, Wisconsin, looking for a good place to have dinner and concluding that THAT PLACE is the restaurant in the hotel at which I am staying.

The entire eight months becomes a colorful blur. The faces of executive directors and chief development officers whirling past me. Smiling staff people who seem to be whispering … if it were up to us we’d hire YOU right now. Questions. The same questions asked almost in the same way. Won’t you allow me to just push this button and it will, efficiently, give you the answer? Do I have to look enthusiastic while I say that? Oh, couldn’t you, like, take me at my word that I REALLY DO know how to do this stuff?

THERE ARE CREEPY MOMENTS as in when I realize that even if the position is offered, I cannot accept. I am having lunch with a CDO in the basement of the Chicago O’Hare airport Hilton Hotel. My third plane ride for this one job. I can’t feature the purpose of this meeting. When lunch is over I order coffee and just ask him if he is planning on making me an offer. He responds: not yet. He’s trying to be very careful and he really wants to know why I want the job and he can’t understand why I WOULD want it. But he doesn’t say the exact words I have heard uttered before: Don’t you think this job is a little junior for you? No, no. He’s not stupid.

After awhile I am never quite sure where I am and whether where I am going to next is close by or far away. What does it matter? I will climb onto an airplane. Nothing but an uncomfortable waiting room. The train is on its way to Atlantic City. I am on the Metro roaring deep beneath Washington DC’s Dupont Circle. I am calling Grace at Greyhound and Julie at Amtrak, neither offering good news. I am careening up the New Jersey Turnpike wondering when my spouse is going to start blocking my incessant calls to her cell phone asking that she make reservations; cancel reservations. The interviewer in Manhattan tells me I am the first person to visit her by traveling in an AUTOMOBILE.

I imagine I am in a movie made by a host of directors: Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Sean Penn, Doug Liman. But no one is asking for another take. I am jumping from one on-location shoot to the next. Racing through the yellow tape. A policeman’s whistle behind me. An angry producer throwing his clipboard at me in disgust.

Now all is at an end. I sign on the dotted line. Very soon I am getting up each day; walking to my job, lunch pail in hand, wondering whether it’s apple or cherry pie for dessert.