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I had an A-ha moment last week–I guess we all have them from time to time, in different forms–for me, it’s when I catch my reflection in the window of a store I am walking past, or when I try on an old shirt from the back of my closet.  I surprise myself and I’m reminded in an instant that I’m not the fat guy I used to be.

This A-ha in particular (resist the urge to sing Taaaaaaaake Onnnnn Meeeeeeeeee right now; I know I am) I was getting into a friend’s car.  I use the term ‘car’ loosely–it was more like a little Japanese aluminum can.  You know what I’m talking about–a teeny tiny four-door roller skate of a thing.  So my friend had her baby strapped into the five-point NASCAR harness in the seat directly behind shotgun, which gave me absolutely no room to push back.  (Standard Operating Procedure from my days of old, you understand–push the seat back, lean the seat back, whatever gave me the most room.)  The back seat on the driver’s side was already occupied by another friend, so I took a deep breath and folded myself into the itsy-bitsy front seat.

But this time…I didn’t have to fold much of anything.

HOLY CRAP I FIT!  No need for the airline seat belt extension, no need to stretch the limits of the track on which the seat rests by pushing it as far back as I can…didn’t even need to lean the seat back.  I just got in and hooked up.

I don’t know how to explain it to you, but it’s the most wonderfully surreal feeling in the world.  I was just so used to being so uncomfortable.  Never before would I EVER have allowed myself to be put into a position in which I was gonna have to jam my 9XL ass into a car built for three feet tall Asian people decked head-to-toe in Hello Kitty.   I made sure that if I ever went anywhere, I drove.  I ALWAYS DROVE.  My cars (vans, trucks, etc.) were set up for my girth.  I was comfortable in them, and I had a win-win system, because I’d drop people off at the curb so I could go park the car alone.  Totally selfish on my part.  Not only did I score major friend points for my door-to-door chauffeur service, but keeping the car empty when I parked would allow me to hug the passenger-side line of the parking spot, allowing me more room to get out on my side.  It’s a great feeling not to have to do that anymore, you know?

Back in the late eighties, (I know–I still need you to repress that                      A-ha earworm that’s dancing around in your head) I worked for a number of finance companies.  My job was to handle repossessions and collections.  Since one of the companies was owned by Ford, it meant I got a company car to make field calls.  Most of the time, it was either a Ford Tempo or a Mercury Topaz–what I lovingly refer to as a ‘disposable car.’  The American version of the Asian car I referred to above, only slightly larger, as all American things are (and should be, right?!?) 

My location was the only office for four counties, so our service area was about 150 square miles.  Part of our territory included a place called Klamath Falls.  The area is an economically depressed, high-desert basin that is hotter than Hades in the summer–and bone-numbing cold in the winter.  The city is old and blighted; the lumber mills closed long ago and with no other industry to speak of, there wasn’t (still isn’t) much work, which means no prospect for recovery.  I decided long ago that if they wanted to give the planet an enema, Klamath Falls is where they would put it.  It’s also the perfect area for a finance company to feed upon the blue collars who choose to live there.  I spent many days in those parts, chasing down people past due on the payments for their new 4×4 chrome wheels.

During one winter when I was driving the disposable company car over to the city, it took me a bit over an hour to cross over a particularly gnarly mountain pass.  It drops down into the basin, into the snow, and then the road crosses an area with a lake on both sides–but there wasn’t a bridge–it was just a spot where the builders built up the road bed.  It was really narrow–just enough to cross over the wetlands–but during the winter, the angle of the wind always built up ice on the sad excuse for a thoroughfare–which, of course, didn’t have guard rails.  Now I don’t normally get nervous (given my past life as a bill collector) but I was TERRIFIED that I would slide off that thin ribbon of icy dirt road.  Given my size back then, there was no quick escape–I’d be trapped underwater in that coffin of a  disposable car.  I could just see my cause of death on the certificate…drowned in a car. Classy!  I climbed (at  just a tick under 600 pounds) in and out of that little death trap all day.  By the evening my guts, feet and back would ache.  I even did my best to practice escape maneuvers, just in case.  (Heaven forbid that I waste a workday and come back to my office empty-handed, right?)  

So the day I climbed into my friend’s rinky-dink vehicle, it brought back all those memories–all that uncomfortableness–and then I had my A-ha.  I am not that person any more.  What relief!  What freedom!  I wish I could go back 25 years ago and tell myself start sooner.  But the good news is that I did it now.  Better late than never, right?

Paul

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