T minus two days. The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter. What a relief to drive into the garage compound without the Red Sea Crossing. Inside, RB had brought in breakfast, and over coffee and bagels there was still a haze of mixed feelings about the end of the strike. The morning prayer was short, we saddled up and headed out.
Mike and I had swapped jobs with Fred, because apparently Fred’s original jobs were in his neighborhood and he didn’t feel like running into people he knew. Fine, whatever, at this point it made no difference and it would be a nice change to get out of Monsey, so we switched. Our first job was a “no access” right off the bat because we couldn’t get to the telephone box on a Sunday. Our next job was in a duplex where the upstairs apartment had had intermittent static on the dial tone for over a year, and in the past week the incoming calls were not getting through.
This was the first job we diagnosed ourselves, alone, without one phone call. It took hours, again in a rundown house with no A/C, trotting upstairs and down, wiring and rewiring, finding and losing dial tone. Finally we took a lesson from the past and installed a new NID, rewired the jack and the problem was solved. I say “installed” and “rewired” rather blithely…the Rabbi and I have sworn a sacred oath that what it takes for us to manipulate the ends of copper wire, tiny little screws, 18-volt power drills and what-all else to get the job done, shall remain an inviolate secret to the grave.
We took our triumphant selves out to lunch, and not to a deli for sandwiches eaten in the truck or the break room at the CO, but a proper sit-down at a cafe (and oops, as I write this I realize I forgot to take my receipt with me to expense). We were tired, but we marveled at how the human body adapts, for two weeks ago the fatigue had been crippling, now it was merely part of the background noise. Yeah. Tired. What else is new. Carry on.
We carried on to our last job, which ironically had us in the exact same neighborhood where we had done one of our very first jobs, two Mondays ago. It felt like two years ago when we stood around Glen – the only one with a modicum of experience – watching him and trying to make head or tail of what he was doing, trying to match it to something, anything we had learned in training, struggling with frustration and weariness and feeling stupid. Now we were out on our own and finding a groove. I was climbing on the roof of the van taking out extension poles so the Rabbi could knock an old piece of aerial wire down from a tree. It turned out to be the wrong piece of old aerial wire, as we discovered when we called the customer to say the job was done: we were around the block from his house and he was staring right at his piece of dangling, old aerial wire. Well, I said we had a groove, I didn’t say we had a GREAT groove.
We drove around the block and inspected the wire. This was dangling off the strand along a road that sloped down an incline too steep for our inexperienced taste. We explained to the homeowner that we were barely confident putting a ladder across a strand on level ground, let alone on a hill. He was understanding about it, safety first and all that, and we said we’d send it back for someone to come with the bucket truck and get it done in six seconds.
By then it was four-thirtyish. We took the long way back to the CO to call in our tickets, then headed back to the garage.
The whole day it was in the back of my head that tonight I would be saying good-bye to the Rabbi. Having worked six straight days, he is entitled to a day off, which he is taking tomorrow. So tonight was it. In two weeks this guy had gone from a complete stranger to a trusted friend. I would never forget what he’d done the day I was up on the ladder and the picketers came, hearing his voice saying, “Listen to me and only me,” and knowing he was right there with his foot on the bottom rung. We’d merged our brainpower, stumbled and stuttered through the learning process, found trust and amassed a few private jokes, and somehow coagulated into a functioning team. If the strike had gone on, I knew we only would have become better at it. There was almost a degree of wistfulness of not knowing what we could have been.
The rain was coming down hard when we all came out of the garage tonight and headed for our cars. The Rabbi and I hugged hard under his umbrella and said good-bye. “It was a privilege,” I said. “I’m gonna miss you,” he said.
When I started up my car, out of my iPod came Dave Matthews’ “The Best of What’s Around.” Never before have the words been more true: turns out not where but who you’re with that really matters…