If I had to venture a guess, I have been writing down thoughts on the Internet in a few different formats since I was 16 years old.  That’s more than a decade, but I have no body of work to look back on.  My best guess at what happened is that what I wrote at 16 was immediately blown up into the ether as too embarrassing to exist when being reviewed by the 18 year-old version of myself.  Coincidentally, the 20 year old version thought the 18 year old version was insufferable.  This probably happened a few more times over the years, as I can find no record of anything I wrote outside of this, a class-mandated 5-post blog about any subject I wish.

My great-grandfather was a drummer in a Jazz Band.  My grandfather was a painter.  My father is a writer and spoken-word performer.   I share my life with a modern dancer.  I remember sleepy late-night sessions filled with ginger ale and corn chips listening to Frank Zappa, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Residents, Jan Garbarek, The Ramones, Ken Nordine, The Firesign Theatre, the list goes on.  I was surrounded by it, but I’m not sure I ever got ‘bit’ by it.  Teachers and peers have been complimentary of my academic writing over the years, but I’ve never been able to sit down and write with the consistency and competency that I would like to.  I gave up alto saxophone after 3 years following a meteoric rise to the first chair (unseating an eighth-grader!) due to exhaustion. (Hey if celebrities can cite it, anybody can.)  I read and read and read growing up, and then one day I stopped and drank a lot of alcohol.  College also took a lot of the joy out of reading, and I failed to commit to the continued enrichment of my life.  Being able to get joy out of reading is a feeling that I have rediscovered over the last 4 years and is something I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.

Now to the crux of this.  Since coming to New York City, I’ve lived in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn.  I’ve always had my eye on New York City, and in the years leading up to my move from upstate New York, Brooklyn.  To be perfectly honest, North Brooklyn doesn’t exactly suit me.  I fit in just as well, and maybe even better in Astoria or Manhattan.  I don’t live the life of an artist.  I like certainty.  I like a little bit of money in my bank account. (Not that artists don’t, but I find myself to be a little more averse to the shoestring lifestyle.) But I was dead set on it.  I wanted to live in North Brooklyn.  I wanted to date an artistic girl who lived in Brooklyn.  I wanted to live the struggle.

Minus the struggle.  Since moving off the world famous(and fucking crowded) L train in 2011, I have lived a relatively comfortable life.  One filled with good food, good music, and a whole lot of hipsters.  An almost artistic life. And I think that’s what brings me back here.  To dig a little deeper into why I fight so hard to be here, and what it will take to make the jump.  Can the jump be made?  I’m hoping firing this old toll-collecting vehicle back up will help answer that question.   I am here to write.

This is Daisy.  She is the hippest cat I know and lives with us in Brooklyn

This is Daisy. She is the hippest cat I know and lives with us in Brooklyn

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My Facebook career summed up in one picture.

http://what-would-i-say.com/ is at once nonsensical and poignant.

 

I’m listening to Electric Light Orchestra.   You see, it’s not that I like Electric Light Orchestra.  To be honest, I don’t know a goddamn thing about Electric Light Orchestra.   It’s just that at my job we run this commercial advertising some classic rock collection (40 dollars for 8 discs so it must be a great deal) all the damn time and they have this one song from the Electric Light Orchestra that catches my attention all morning and I’m finally getting around to investigating.  I don’t think I like them but I’m going to keep listening.  I don’t know what to make of myself right now.  Get off my case, aight?

Annnywaayy, back in the old toll collection days, jokers used to pull up to my little toll booth and  ask me “HEY DO YOU FEEL SAFE IN THERE??” I usually shrugged it off and tried not to think about the hundreds of opportunities that multiple tons of  steel could take my ass out with one false move on the part of a driver looking for that last penny.   Well, check this out. Luckily, the driver and collector made it out with relatively minor injuries.  I spent a ton of time at a barrier pretty similar to this one about an hour away from Buffalo and it’s incredible how dangerous a seemingly mundane job can get in just a few seconds.   In that second, the neon safety vest and the countless hours of sleeping through OSHA-mandated safety videos won’t do you any good.  That’s your ass.  (Aside- After working an overnight, I fell asleep during the safety videos one year at the annual all day party known as toll-training day.  Luckily, I fell asleep on the shoulder of a wonderful co-worker who decided not to wake me up. )

Ouch.

 

With all the distracted drivers I encountered, I’m sad to say that it’s surprising this doesn’t happen more.  In the end, I’m glad that I made it out alive and no one had to eulogize me and my unspectacular and disappointing career by saying, “Vincent died doing what he loved, collecting tolls, taking money directly from the  mouths of hardworking Western New Yorkers without so much as a smile.”  (It’s not that I’m always mad, I’m just self-conscious about my smile, I promise.)

It’s not like I’m that much safer in New York City.  In fact, I’m probably less so.  One crazed hobo on my 4:38 morning train into Manhattan and they’re talking about how “Vincent just loved sliding those breaks, hour upon hour of monotonous, mind-numbing simplicity.”  Or the uplifting message we received from HR today telling us that midtown has tall buildings and lots of snow and ice is falling off of them.  SO WATCH YOUR ASS KID.  Thanks guys, I’ll just walk down the sidewalk terrified and face up from now on.   I’m quickly learning the less you think about sometimes, the better off you’ll be, especially in a place like New York City.

Seriously though, there is a reason that I came here and I need some help.  I’ve been meaning to throw this out there for a while but I keep  putting it off.  For those of you that know me, what do I like?  What do I talk about?  Do I talk about anything?  What am I interested in?  Do I actually show an interest in anything?

I know these seem like very self-reflective questions that I should be able to answer myself but I’ve been finding them very problematic.  Outside of, and arguably even during work, I’ve been incredibly unfocused.  I’m not terribly interested in what I’m doing these days but in the past, I’ve always been open to learning and trying new things.  Recently though, it’s been like pulling teeth.  I’ve been attributing it to disinterest but is that all that’s really at play here?  Even during downtime hours, I have the hardest time doing anything constructive.  Even coming here to write about this disconnect has taken far too long.

Every time I run down my internal laundry list of ‘interests’ I usually respond to myself with a whole lot of ‘meh.’  It’s getting a whole lot of frustrating.

I need something to do.  Hell if I know what though.  And I’m starting to feel like time is slipping away.  You still feel young, but I don’t want to wake up one day looking back at things I didn’t do.  Problem is, I don’t know what these things are and I’m scared that by the time I figure out what they are, too much time will have passed.

So what’s my problem?  Just jump in and try something right?  Something is holding me back.  And I don’t like it.  I’ve always been proud of being an un-medicated American youth who sucks it up and pushes through the bullshit but this lack of focus and ambition is killing me.  Is there a drug for that?

Of course there is.

Doesn’t mean I want it though.

I think I like Electric Light Orchestra.  I sure hope they aren’t my gateway into classic rock.  I don’t want to like classic rock.  Please don’t make me like classic rock.

Hey guys.

I’m not really sure what kind of crowd(and I’m using that term loosely) frequents this these days but I came across something that I think is worth reading.  Yes, it does come to us from New Jersey, but seeing as how they haven’t figured out how to transfer scent through the Internet I think we’re safe to read it.  (That’s my obligatory New Jersey smells joke)

Anyway, check this out.   Maybe I’ve just become an all things toll-related nerd, but I always think it’s interesting to read something that is neither from the outraged-public nor prepared official media statements of high ranking officials.   There are a lot of people stuck in the middle of these kinds of debates and I think it’s important for us to pull back and realize that these kinds of debates aren’t necessarily as clear cut as us vs. them.  As easy as that would be, the world rarely functions in such a simplistic way and our belief that it does often ruins the chance for any sustainable progress.

While the Turnpike Authority should be constantly scrutinized and held accountable because of its high profile place in the daily lives of many people traveling through New Jersey, the benefits of keeping it both independent of the state budget and away from privatization should also be taken into account.  While I didn’t work at an agency in New Jersey, I can sympathize with the misnomer that the public often makes about toll collection.   I couldn’t tell you how many times people dropped money into my hand and made some crack about me, the state, the governor, Obama, etc..

The bottom line?  The public has no freaking idea where their money is going.  Clearly we have a disconnect here.

Are the media relations people not doing their jobs effectively?  Are authority officials even doing all they can to run an efficient system? Is the public unwilling to do the leg-work and learn a little bit about the world they live in?  Do they have a right to be mad?

I dunno.  I get as frustrated as anyone else by agencies that can’t seem to get their act together.  At the same time, I have no sympathy for people who are mad and take it out on the first person they see.  But a common theme across any number of industries always seems to be that the voices of reason just trying to make a living get stuck taking the brunt of the abuse by authorities who only want to sustain their way of life and a public that wants somebody to piss on.

I hope you guys are doing well.  I’ve been getting up at 3:45 in the morning for the past month and all told, I get about two hours of light outside of work per day.

It’s alright though, I’ve been sleeping well.

Yo.  Haven’t been on in a while and I apologize for that.  Initially, you could attribute my absence to me being sad about my job and not particularly wanting to drag the supposed entertainment factor of this thing down with my general life malaise.  You could probably throw a little bit of laziness, a dash of ‘where did that witty comment I had earlier go?’ and a post-collegiate identity crisis (which is far from over.)

I’m not a toll collector anymore.   I haven’t been for a few months now.  Don’t worry, I didn’t finally lose my shit and throw my ever-growing stack of dollar coins at some jerk’s face.  I got a job.  Imagine that.  Called on a Friday, picked up my life, moved eight hours away and started on the following Monday.  Having spent a year out of college in this dead-end job, I felt that a lot my older co-workers had kind of given up on me.  They always were so encouraging when I was in school, and interested to hear my big plans about moving away and making it big.  And then nothing happened.  They were still just as accepting as always, but you could tell they were a little disappointed.  Another kid destined to end up just like them, wondering about how things might have gone.  The ones with degrees who had the misfortune of graduating during the Carter years and ‘lucking’ into this profession shook their heads at my frustration, partly in empathy, partly in bitterness.

And then I got a shot.  And that’s all it is.  One shot.  Sink or swim.  Nothing assured.  No comfort zone.  You suck, you go home.  No pressure, kid. But that’s my own issue.

The warmth I experienced in my last two days was completely unexpected.  I had no idea I had so many friends.  So many well-wishers, so many hugs. (Yeah, toll collectors hug too)  I feel like I’m carrying a little piece of these people with me.  The ones who had a kid(or two.)  The ones who never went away.  The ones who did and came back.  The ones just biding their time, waiting for their own moment.  I love them all, some much more than others.  And in their own ways, they have all pushed me to this.  Whether they ever even did anything at all.  My success (or failure) is my own, but I will always carry them with me and my time with them will serve as the greatest motivation of all.

So while I could pull a President Madagascar and ‘SHUT. DOWN.  EVERYTHING.” I don’t quite feel like I’m done here.  That being said, I’m not exactly sure where to take this.  It’s not as if I updated frequently back when I was collecting tolls, so I can’t say there’s much on the horizon.  Should I write about the plight of the civil servant?  The trials and tribulations of the service industry?   Customer service horror stories?  Life after toll collection?  Honestly, who knows..

But I do think I have a slightly different perspective on things.   Maybe that’s why I give the security guards a big ‘good morning’ on the way in and a simple ‘have a good night’ when I leave.  Nothing holier-than-thou.  I don’t do it out of guilt.  I’m not afraid they’ll commit suicide if I don’t squeeze out eight words.  Bay day?  Good day?  Whatever.  It’s just the right thing to do.

No big revelations here.  Just be decent.  And always treat your bartender well.

BTW, I’ve never actually introduced myself.  Name’s Vincent.  Nice to meet you guys.  We’ll talk soon.

—————-
Now playing: Muse – Exo-Politics
via FoxyTunes

Guess what one of my new years’ resolutions was?  More blogging.  Well, we’re already one full month into 2010 and this is my first attempt.  Actually that’s not true at all; new years’ resolutions are crap. In any event, I don’t appear to be doing any better so far.  BUT!  Things actually happened tonight and I feel compelled to share.

First, the plus side to getting up ass-early in the morning:

I usually lean on my facebook updates to compile these blog posts as they act as a mini-blog of sorts and I can refer to them later to expand on.  Imma go ahead and throw up some of the best ones and elaborate when necessary:

“They must be paying you higher; they’re charging us more!” Bad troll. 0/10

Just had a staring contest with some Asians. Not really sure what the hell that was all about.

-Totally serious.  They gave me some money.  I tendered their change.  Then we just had it out.  Occasionally they mumbled something incoherent, I explained that I couldn’t understand them and the staring continued.  Eventually they drove away so I think that means that I won.  These next few don’t really need any explanation.

“ARE YOU BORED? ARE YOU BORED? YOU LOOK BORED.”

“Yea.. All I have is nickels.”

I’ve never seen so many Canadians by 8:30 in my life. Also, the flames on the truck make it go faster.

“Hold out your damn hand!”

“Can you just let me go? I don’t want to hold people up.” “There’s no one behind you.”

“Happy New Year; you don’t have to stay sober if you don’t want to!”

“My daughter thinks your handsome and would like you to have this.” (Bag of Candy!)

“Thank you ma’am-er, sir, er, whatever.”

-In fairness, my hair is getting pretty long.

Question of the day:

“Um, what is this exactly?” “…A tollbooth.”

-We shall call him “bewildered and cashless.”  Perfect.

Alright, which one of you hipsters put the Apple Computer sticker on that redneck’s truck?

-I’m sorry, but there is NO WAY that he is a mac enthusiast.  No way dudes.

Free gum from a trucker. Does I open?

– I did.  Still standing.  And it was tasty.

The employee who thinks I hunt just showed me a picture of a “17 pointer” Not sure what that even means and I’m pretty sure he’s going to find me out eventually. But until then the charade continues; told him I haven’t gotten anything yet this season. Have a feeling I’m not going to get anything either.

– I think he totally found out from someone else that I don’t hunt because he doesn’t bring it up anymore.  In fact, he barely acknowledges me.  A friendship built on lies never succeeds.

Plus side to fat co-worker? Free ten piece.

Also, don’t know exactly what that trucker said to me but I did hear “needs money for prostitutes.”

Looking back on those,  I don’t know how my Facebook friends deal with all those updates.  Actually, it does explain why I’m losing about one a week.  Annnnyway, two fun stories from tonight.

First, a carload rambunctious black girls pull up.  The very first thing I hear from one of the girls in the back is “Oooh he’s cute… Chandra(or some other urban name) you should go for him.”  They proceeded to ask(yell at) me for my phone number and to hang out with them later, on the assumption that I knew what would be up in town.  When I failed to show any interest, the next question was “WHAT?? YOU DON’T LIKE BLACK GIRLS??”

Mind you, I’m just trying to collect a toll.  I politely told them that I was working and that I really didn’t want to hang out.  (Repeating this a few times as they continued to yell over me)  As I gave them their change they told me that it was my loss and proceeded to repeatedly tell me that I was ugly.  Guess I missed out on a pretty good time.

Right near the end of my shift tonight a lady asked me how I had come about to become a toll collector.  I never really want to get into the story (partly because I’m not all that proud of where I am these days) and I think she was a little put off at first.  I did humor her but the quote that stuck with me was “Oh god, I hope he doesn’t have to work there for like another forty years!”

Me too…

I think that’s plenty toll hijinx for one night.  Thanks for coming by!  I’m definitely hoping to be here a little more often (though I ultimately hope to get a new job and shut this all down and block this part of my life from my memory forever.  But hey, until then, we muddle on!

As I sit in the dealership where I purchased my car cursing the the final of three free oil changes (the catch must be that they take ALL FUCKING AFTERNOON) I’m reminded of a few stories from quite some time ago.

The first goes back to a cold rainy night at a small station a few years back. Its a quiet night and I’m handing out toll tickets to a pretty sparse crowd.  It was the kind of night I always look forward to.  Shitty weather, light traffic, and plenty of time to bury myself in a book (or Nintendo DS depending on my attention span for the evening)

There was also a lot of time for staring off into space and I as I was doing so I noticed a dark figure hurriedly approaching the plaza.  Once the frantic black man reached my booth I realized I was in for some fun.  I was expecting an African American with a broken down vehicle.  I got a straight out of Africa African wearing a hospital wristband.  The next hour consisted of a phone call to the dispatcher, a lot of confused stares, stammering, me yelling (because foreign languages make more sense when loud), yours truly speaking to equally African family members that are apparently on their way on a cell phone that dies every thirty seconds, fellow collectors in the next lane over laughing at me, and general confusion all around.

After about half an hour he got a little tired of standing in the cold rain at a toll plaza and headed back off into the darkness from where he had emerged.  A state police officer caught up with him on his way back to the hospital and sorted things out.  Apparently the language barrier had proven to be a pretty big obstacle at the hospital and the man had left in frustration, leaving his wife and child behind.  Later in the evening, the aforementioned family members showed up at the correct exit, (to my extreme surprise) picked up the whole family from the hospital and nearly blowing right through the entry lane without a ticket, stupid confused smiles and all.

On another occasion I had a biker chick, drunk and equipped with a beer in a paper bag stumble on over from the local convenience store with a sob story about how her biker boyfriend left her at the gas station.  (Presumably because she was a drunk crying whiny annoying bitch)  After several attempts to call the state police for help that were immediately and vehemently denied by drunk crying annoying whiny bitch, I started to get a little annoyed.  I think the last straw was when she started to enlist entering truckers for a ride.  She peaked their interest because although busted, she had blond hair and an attractive enough body.  I probably should have just let her go but I really didn’t want to pass drunk crying annoying whiny bitch off on them.  One trucker was seriously weighing things over in his head until I gave him the look that only two men can really understand.  I’m pretty sure his truck left the pavement briefly as he hightailed it out of there.  Plus, hitchhiking is prohibited where I work.  Just doing my job, drunk crying annoying whiny bitch.  She disappeared back into the night (to the convenience store for more beer) and I heard nothing further of her exploits.  Thank God.

So yeah, neat things happen at work sometimes.

—————-
Now playing: Arcade Fire – Wake Up
via FoxyTunes

Turns out the fucking oil change wasn’t even free.  “Oh yeah that expired 130 days ago.  We figured telling you before you waited an hour and a half might discourage your business. Hope you don’t mind.”  Fucking car dealership, I wash my hands of you starting…. NOW.