by James Van Pelt
Happy and scared and thinking about odds, I turn from Forest onto Broadway, setting sun behind me, a mile from The Haggard Traveler, a sports bar where the afternoon phone crew meets for FAC.
Broadway's a miserable stretch of road between Forest and the bar: ten unsynchronized stop lights, one per block. During rush hours it's possible to sit through two or three cycles per light, waiting for traffic to clear, only to hit the next light red, but I'm not thinking about that much. It's Friday and FAC. Madison might be there. I hope she is. Two days away from phone banks and scripted calls, and rush hour is past. The street's nearly empty, stretching before me with its stop lights, all of them, green.
I grin as I pass under the first one. I've never seen them the same, a long line of keep-on-going glowing before me. What are the odds?
The next one stays green. Two down, eight to go. It's not a big deal if I hit green lights. I'm not in a rush. In fact, I'm nervous, chewing the inside of my lip, an old habit from grade school. Sometimes, you know, you gamble, you spin the dice and take a chance, playing the odds, like these lights, like love, where they turn green to let you through.
Unlikely events rule my day. The customer has to be home to answer the phone, and he has to not be one of those people who doesn't pick up an unidentified number, and then he can't hang up when he realizes I'm a telemarketer. This week it's timeshares. "How would you like to spend a week in your own condo in Tahoe?" I ask. "A timeshare is an investment in relaxation that's risk-free," I add. At the desk across from mine, Madison makes her pitch. We catch eyes sometimes. She has a beautiful phone voice, cultured, melodious, slightly British. I almost never hear her talk to anyone at work. She's reserved, maybe, or shy. Does she know I like her? Does she care? She's been there six months, and all I've managed is an off-balanced, "Hey, how are you?" or "Nice day, don't ya' think?"
She's leaving, though, for another job. Tonight was her last day on the phone. It's now or never.
The lights remain green in front of me. I haven't timed them. Are they green for only thirty seconds? It seems like that when I'm in a hurry, but maybe it's a couple minutes. Maybe the timing changes in the evening when traffic is slower, but I've never hit four in a row.
The fourth one slides past.