“Okay, wait, are you actually crying, or is this an elaborate April Fool’s joke?”
I didn’t blame my mom for having her suspicions. She can usually count on a call from me on April 1 telling her some story about how I had just been fired or how my car had been stolen. I could keep the joke going for a few minutes before the obligatory “April Fools!”, and she would roll her eyes and we would go on with our conversation. I would usually call up a sister or two as well, placing weird orders at the deli counter where one worked (“Are you sure you want one hundred chicken wings?” she would say to my bad Southern accent) or pretending to be another’s favorite radio station offering a terrible prize (“Neil Diamond and Britney Spears in concert? Well, wow…”). But this time my call was real.
I had had the kind of morning that could have been an elaborate April Fool’s prank by someone, but it was all too terribly real.
“Okay, slow down, tell me what happened.”
I turned my car around a bend in the Wyoming highway, finally out of the thick fog, and looked at my dashboard. 10 am, 40 degrees outside, and going an even 65 miles per hour. I sighed and told her the story.
“Okay, I got a call last night late that I was needed in a small Wyoming town this morning for a crisis call after an employee suicide. They wanted me here at 6 am, which meant I had to get up at 3 this morning and leave by 3:30. It’s a 2 hour drive, but it’s a company I haven’t been to before, so I wanted the cushion of time to get my bearings.
“The paperwork they sent me had the company name, but not an address. It said the company is several miles out of town, and that I would need directions to get there. I was told to arrive in town then call a man named Daniel on the phone and he would meet me and escort me out to the site. Sounds weird, but I’ve done it before. Lots of industries have work sites like this, like power plants and mining industries.
“The drive out there was uneventful. I ran the heater and listened to a biography on Nixon. I get to the town about 5:30. The whole town is blanketed by this thick winter fog, visibility is poor. It’s a tiny place, just a few stores and diners and a motel, but everything is closed except for this tiny gas station, which conveniently has a drive-thru liquor window on the side of it. No, I’m not kidding.
“So I pull over, call Daniel, and his number is disconnected. Okay, here’s where it gets a tiny bit complicated. Daniel works for a company who has an insurance company. The insurance company hired me, but through a third-party handler. So I don’t have any other contact information. I call the handler and the insurance company, but they are still closed. I use Google and find the company phone number, but the machine says they are still closed, and there is no address. I wait, then call, wait, then call. Pretty soon, an hour has passed and I’m still at the gas station.
“The insurance company calls me back and says they can’t get a hold of anyone. They give me an alternate number for Daniel. It’s disconnected. They encourage me to find a local police officer and ask for directions to the site. I find the police station, it is dark and closed, no phone number, and I’m not calling 911. Another hour passes.
“Finally I get a working number for Daniel. He answers but says ‘hey, Chad, we’ve been waiting to hear from you, but I can’t talk right now. I’m on the toilet.’ Yes! Yes, he actually said that to me! So I wait 15 more minutes to finish my business and Daniel calls me back and says something like ‘Well, we sure did need you this morning, but since you weren’t here, we made do without you.’ He talks about how the company is on some switchback road outside of town and up a mountain, and they have no cell service, but he wonders why I couldn’t find it.
“So it’s now 9 am and I’ve been up for hours, and I’m super frustrated, and I’m driving back down this dumb road out of town. The sun is up now and the fog is worse somehow. And out of nowhere this cop pulls behind me and flashes his lights. I’m driving in a fog, behind a semi, with a cop behind me, and I’m exhausted. We are on a busy road and there is no safe place to pull over, so I drive for a ways looking for a side road. The cop gets impatient and blares his siren, loud, right behind me. I look in the rearview and he is indicating angrily with a finger for me to pull over en-oh-double-you NOW.
“So I pull over, right there in the fog. The cop comes up to my window. ‘Why didn’t you pull over right away!’ I said I was waiting for somewhere safe. ‘I’m the officer and I decide when it’s safe and when it isn’t. You pull over when I say!’ He says I was speeding, takes my information, asks me a dozen questions about why I’m in Wyoming, then makes me wait ten minutes while he writes me a ticket. For speeding. At what he says was 92 miles per hour in a 65. And I tell him there is no way, and he says I can see him next month in court then in Evanston.
“And then I was driving away and I started crying because I’m a big baby and it has been a terrible day, even though I’ll still get paid for sitting in a stupid gas station parking lot for hours, and driving for more.”
“Oh, son, that’s a terrible morning,” my 72 year old mother says. “What a terrible April Fool’s Day. Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant.”