He was a city boy, born and bred, but when his wife told him that he was going to be a father, he made a decision. His son would grow up in the suburbs. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for, a three-bedroom, one-bath ranch house, one of a thousand identical ranch houses sprouting in the fertile soil that had until recently been a potato farm.
He told no one of his plans. When his wife went into labor, he called the doctor, took a last look around the apartment and drove his wife to the hospital. Four days later, he put his wife and baby son in the car and drove them to their new home.
He bought a home in the suburbs, but just barely in the suburbs, 1.55 miles from the city’s easternmost border. And every day he made the commute from his home in the suburbs, through the outer boroughs to his job in the city, traffic getting heavier, day by day, year by year.
He didn’t mind the commute. It was, he knew, a small price to pay so that his son could grow up with a back yard. Well, not so small a price, he decided, when he thought about the toll. You see, there were thousands of men just like this man, tens of thousands, with their job in the city and their home in the suburb. The tollbooth went up at mile marker 1.
If you wanted to get to your job in the city, it would cost you a dime. If you wanted to drive back to your home in the suburbs at night, it would cost another dime. He did the math. Ten cents a trip, twenty cents a day. That’s a dollar a week. Fifty dollars each year (accounting for his two-week vacation).
And so, every morning, he would bypass the highway entrance at mile marker 1.55, working his way through the neat little neighborhoods, getting on the highway one exit closer to the city. And every evening, coming home, he would get off the highway one exit early, and make his way through those same neat little neighborhoods, on his way home.
When his son was old enough to understand, he told his father he was being foolish. But the man would smile. Do the math.
When the son turned twenty-one, his father surprised him with a car. A used car. A 1967 AMC Rambler American.
When his dad gave him the car keys he said, Perhaps now, when you’re the one driving, when it’s your dime, perhaps now you’ll understand. But the boy didn’t understand. Do the math. They argued about the value of a dime.
That was forty years ago. The tollbooth is gone. The Rambler is gone. The man too is gone. But his son has been cleaning out old file drawers, shredding a lifetime of receipts. He found a forty-year old receipt for a used car. A 1967 AMC Rambler American. When the boy turned twenty-one his father spent $1050 to buy him a used car. Ten cents a trip, twenty cents a day. That’s a dollar a week. Fifty dollars each year (accounting for his two-week vacation). Twenty-one years. He did the math.
(Fact meets fiction at mile marker 1. But what is fact and what is fiction? We did live in the suburbs. The exit off the parkway was 1.55 miles from the Queens-Nassau border. There really was a ten cent toll at mile marker 1. And my father really did bypass the tollbooth, every day, five days a week, commuting back and forth to work. He did the math. Everything else in the story is fiction. Except the love. Happy Father’s Day).