Cyrus Howard sat in his office, looking out the window. It was a warm spring day, and in direct conflict with Cyrus’s mood. As he sat staring out the window at his assigned 1951 Packard, he contemplated the path of his life. Cyrus was glad that his bouts of introspection were infrequent; for him, they always created a number of “could have” and “should have” quandaries.
After graduating high school 23 years earlier, in 1930, Cyrus had typical teenage uncertainty about what to do with his life. He knew that in those early days of the Great Depression, his high-school diploma gave him a huge advantage over his peers. Even as a teen, Cyrus was wise enough to know a person only gets one chance at life, so he wanted to steer instead of being steered.
After a few semesters at the local college, Cyrus found a true passion, one he wanted to translate into his life’s profession. While it was definitely a path that had not occurred to Cyrus before, it nevertheless seemed so natural. Shortly after making that discovery, Cyrus shared his goals with his family, which did not welcome the news. In fact, the only encouragement he received about pursuing his chosen vocation came from his fiancée (now wife), Ruth.
The path Cyrus chose necessitated employment in state or federal government. Although not wild about that particular facet of his chosen career, Cyrus also knew he could gain an ever-increasing degree of autonomy as his successes mounted. What’s more, the public sector offered a high degree of stability—a very alluring proposition given the general lack of stability in the mid-30’s. Regardless of whether he practiced it in the public or private sector, Cyrus realized his profession had a flavor unpalatable to many.
Cyrus found success, quickly climbing through the ranks in his state government job. His path was not linear, and it required him to relocate several times to a different part of the state. While every move was noticeably more difficult than the last, they all had paid significant professional and personal dividends. At age 39, Cyrus and his family made their final move.
Three years into his current position, Cyrus was the man in charge. He was working in the state capital, which he likened to being in the belly of the beast, with all eyes easily able to focus on him. The advantage of that was knowing that if he did a good job, it would be in full view of everyone; conversely, if he did not, it also would be in full view of everyone.
Breaking his gaze on the ’51 Packard, Cyrus opened his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Hiram Walker. Cyrus kept the bottle handy for occasions like today.
Pausing for a moment, he could not detect any sounds from humans, only those of a few birds chirping and metal fan blades oscillating briskly in his office. He thought it odd, given the number of people nearby.
After pouring a bit of Hiram’s goodness into a drinking glass, Cyrus poured it straight down his throat. Drinking on an empty stomach always gave him a quick feeling of warmth all over his body. It was also relaxing, and it was relaxation he sought.
He poured a second drink, for sipping. Cyrus knew his drinking wasn’t helping curb the recent expansion of his waist. He rationalized that he would rather be chubby than gray-haired or balding, two traits of aging that he had so far managed to elude completely. He refocused his gaze on the Packard.
Cyrus knew that he was lucky, in a way. Shortly after his arrival in the capital, he’d been assigned the Packard when it was new. Most days he thought the Packard was fluff, and drove it only between home and work. Of course, the length of his commute would vary due to his monthly meetings with counterparts located around the state. That was the case today, and thus the reason he had the Packard.
The Packard remained the object of Cyrus’s focus. He truly liked it. Its smooth lines bespoke sophistication without condescension. It rode very smoothly. It was a trait he liked, having grown up riding in and driving Ford Model Ts and As on rough, unpaved roads. The Packard’s inline eight-cylinder engine was as buttery smooth as its exterior was dignified. Large, smooth-riding cars were the only way to go, thought Cyrus.
His was one of the few Packards in the state fleet. Many times, Cyrus had considered purchasing it for himself at the end of its service life. He knew how it had been babied and who had driven it. His wife really liked the car, although she had never been, nor ever would be, a passenger. Still, he knew that despite how much he liked it, he wasn’t about to purchase it; too many memories. It would be best if it went to auction and go to someone who’d never know its history.
Continuing his gaze, Cyrus thought of his counterparts around the state, all of whom had been assigned Mercurys or Oldsmobiles. Clearly, the Packard was a distinct step above those, but still no one commented on the creamy-tan sedan. Every one of his contemporaries knew exactly why he was assigned the Packard; it wasn’t due simply to his being in the state capital, but rather that Cyrus performed a specific duty they did not.
Picking up the bottle, Cyrus poured his third drink. It was just after 7:30 PM; the time was drawing closer. After downing his last allotted amount of Hiram Walker, he stuck a piece of spearmint gum in his mouth and lit a cigarette to help conceal the liquor on his breath. He was about to talk to the press, and he did not want them getting wise to his routine.
Cyrus knew that all jobs, whether performed in the public or private sector, could entail some truly unsavory elements–like the one he was experiencing that day.
He spoke to the press for a minimal amount of time. The experience was typical: a barrage of questions, most of which sought more information than he could disclose. Invariably, such questions would continue to be mildly rephrased by others to the point of tedium. Cyrus answered the questions in his usual curt and factual manner without elaboration. He did not understand the seemingly endless attempts to get him to divulge confidential information.
At 8:45 PM, Cyrus walked outside and climbed into the Packard. Exhaling loudly, Cyrus focused mentally on entering what he called his “zone”. Depressing the clutch, Cyrus hit the starter, slipped the Packard into first gear, and drove across the complex. Unlike so many others, he viewed it as being a simple pickup and delivery. After making the pickup, Cyrus drove to a third location within the complex for the delivery.
Cyrus left the Packard parked near the door of a small brick building and put the keys in his pocket. He wanted to make a quick departure in a few hours.
At 11:15 PM, Cyrus had one last interview with a member of the press pool. Cyrus knew this reporter, who was much more personable and less pressing in this venue. Reality was imposing its weight on everyone.
Cyrus kept doing his job, staying in his zone for the next few hours. He had learned long ago that time could fly when he stayed in his zone–and also that occupying that zone was highly exhausting.
At 2:17 AM, Cyrus walked out into the humid night air. Pausing to light a cigarette, he looked up at the stars in the clear night sky. Cyrus inhaled deeply to stimulate his lungs. Climbing into the Packard, Cyrus started its big straight-eight. From the sound of its idling, it seemed as eager to depart as he was. He quickly drove to the edge of the complex and stopped.
Cyrus looked at the guard. He took another long draw on his cigarette as the the guard unlocked and then opened the huge steel gate.
“Have a good evening, Warden,” the guard said.
“Thanks Bob, you too.”
Cyrus eased the Packard through the gate, turned left, and drove home.