I was sitting at work one day when a colleague of mine asked “How do you book a pool car?”
The answer that came back across the room was “It’s the same as booking a meeting room”.
It crossed my mind that if you mixed the two things up that you’d have an interesting situation. So here is my take on an idea that came to me from a simple question.
THE MEETING (Short Story)
It was a warm mid-morning, a November Thursday and I sat with some of my work colleagues from EIO, a medium corporate entity, in a small car inside the organisations car park.
I sat in the driver’s seat. Next to me in the front passenger seat sat a colleague, Mike. Other colleagues sat in the back; Anna on the left passenger seat, Chris in the back right passenger seat and Andrea sat in the middle seat.
Leaning to one side and slightly forward through the centre of the bucket seats, Chris asked “OK Grant. Where are we going to have this meeting you’ve called?”
“Here,” I replied with conviction.
“What do you mean here?” Chris asked. Mike gave off a frown and a puzzled look as if he’d misunderstood what I had said.
“Here in the car,” I said again with more reassurance.
“You mean we’re sitting here and meeting inside the car?” Mike asked. “When you said ‘lets meet in the car’ I assumed we were meeting in the car and you were taking us somewhere for the meeting.”
“Well there were no meeting rooms left so I booked a car instead. The cars were all free and I couldn’t think where else the six of us could sit and talk,” I replied with some annoyance.
“Six of us?” questioned Mike doing a quick calculation and adding up the five people sitting in the car.
“Yes six,” I replied. “Byron’s in the trunk”.
Then came a soft knocking from the trunk of the car “Mmmmmpphhh!” the voice inside the trunk sounded like a call from a distant room.
Anna, who had suddenly zoned into the conversation hurriedly, asked “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere!” said Mike turning his head and shaking it in disbelief at the same time.
“This is crazy Grant. We’re going to sit in the car and have a meeting?” asked Chris again with a tone of disbelief.
“Is the meeting cancelled?” continued Anna.
“No,” I replied turning to Anna and then back to Mike, trying to address the two conversations at once. “I had no option Mike. So we can sit here arguing about whether it’s a bad idea or not and get nothing done, or we can forge ahead and have the meeting”.
“Mmmmmpphhh!” called Byron.
“Yes Byron,” I called. “We’ll get underway soon”.
Mike raised his eyebrows and looked up thoughtfully allowing his bottom lip to protrude. “So, who’s chairing the meeting?” Mike began, “because if we’re going to have it, we should start now”.
“You should Mike. You’ve chaired the last three so you should continue,” I said.
“Well I should sit in the driver’s seat then” Mike said using a tone of quiet indignation.
“Why?” I asked.
“Well the driver’s seat is the one who’s in charge of the car and I’m in charge of the meeting so I should sit in there,” Mike responded.
“Yes, but I’ve booked the car so I am responsible for it so I have to be the driver”.
“But…..we’re not going anywhere,” interrupted Anna still trying to understand the concept of meeting in a car.
Andrea, from the back seat, looked at Anna.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
Mike continued…“You don’t sit at the head of the table when you book a meeting room do you? It’s not like you’re responsible for the table?” “Nowhere,” said Anna to Andrea. There were now two conversations overlapping in my ears.
“It’s not a bad idea though,” Chris said. “Maybe we should consider that”.
“Who’s in charge of what?” asked Andrea.
I moved in my seat to turn and look at Chris.
“I agree,” I said. “Let’s minute that. I’ll move that we should consider that the person booking a meeting room should sit at the head of the table.”
“Can we put some music on?” asked Anna.
“No Anna,” said Mike with a frustrated tone. “This is a meeting not a road trip.”
I put my head out the window and turned it upwards so that I could be heard at the back of the car.
“Byron?” I called, pausing to listen. “Byron? We’re going to start now Byron. Did you get that last point? People who book meeting rooms should sit at the head of the table. Got it?
“RMmmmphooo,” came the reply.
I put my head back in the window. “Mike would you like to second that motion?”
“I think we should discuss that another time,” Mike said with a growing sense of frustration. “We’re here to talk about another issue at the moment so let’s just focus on that shall we.”
“Fair enough Mike,” I replied leaning my head back out of the car window. “Byron?” I paused. “Byron?”
“Mmmpppphhhh?” replied the muffled Byron.
“We’re going to discuss that point another time,” I shouted.
“Rmmmpho!” replied Byron.
“Can I have the air conditioner on?” Andrea asked. “It’s so hot in here.”
I fidgeted with my trousers and leaned back in my seat, stretching my legs and wriggling so that I might reach the car keys.
“Sorry Andrea I can’t,” I said. “I’ve got the keys in my pocket. I’d have to take my seatbelt off and get out to get them again.”
“Why have you got your seat belt on?,” Mike asked. “We’re not going anywhere.”
“Mike,” I replied with some conviction. “Need I remind you about the car booking procedure and policy? You know as well as I do that it clearly states that the driver of any EIO vehicle must put their seat-belt on before starting the car”.
“But……………… you weren’t going to start the car………..were you?” asked Andrea.
“No Andrea,” I snapped. “I suppose I wasn’t. And that’s why they are in my pocket and why you can’t have the air conditioner on.”
“If we were in a meeting room we’d be able to put the air conditioner on,” said Chris.
Everyone agreed and ‘yessed’ and called out ‘that’s right’.
“Look!” I shouted, clutching the steering wheel with my hands. “I know this isn’t ideal, but it’s the best I could do at short notice and I know it’s not quite the same as a meeting room, but let’s focus shall we people!”
There was silence for about thirty seconds.
“Could we at least roll the windows in the back down?” Andrea asked. “Right!” I shouted.
With that I released my seat-belt, opened the door and stood up out of the car, retrieved the car keys from my pocket, returned to the driver’s seat, put on my seat-belt and turned the ignition on so that the air conditioner would work. In the boot, Byron started to knock and call out. “Hmmmmph? Hmmmmph?” he called.
I revved the motor. “It’s alright Byron, we’re just getting the air conditioner working”.
Suddenly the windscreen wipers moved across the front windscreen making the screeching sound of dry rubber on dry glass. Startled, I tried to turn them off, however all I could manage was to make them go faster.
“How do these stupid things work,” I muttered.
“Turn them the other way,” called Chris, agitated from the back seat.
“I don’t think that air conditioner is working,” said Andrea. “It’s still hot in here”.
“Not that way,” called Chris. “Try turning them back towards you.”
I fiddled with the lever but still the wind screen wipers screeched.
“Mmmmpphhh??? Mmmmmmmmmmphh!!!???” came a noise from the boot.
“Shut up Byron!” I yelled as I tried to get the wipers to stop.
“Let me have a go” said Mike leaning across from his seat. Mike lifted himself up to try and reach across the steering wheel only he banged his eye against the rear view mirror. He let out a loud ‘owwwww!!!”
“Mmmmmphhhhh!!!!!!! Mmmmmmmmmmmmphhhhhhh!!!!!!!” called Byron from the trunk, becoming more and more agitated.
“Byron! Shut up. You’re only supposed to take Minutes. The meeting hasn’t started yet” I called, angrily pulling at the levers on the steering column. Suddenly the car’s lights came on and the wipers continued to screech. Mike was rocking back and forth in the front seat with his hand clutching at his eye “Owwwwww! Owwwwww! Ooooh!”.
“Mmmmmmmpphhhh!!” called Byron again.
“For God’s sake, you’d better let Byron out of the trunk,” Anna exclaimed.
I leant down to grab the lever which released the lock on the trunk. Pulling the wrong lever, my seat suddenly surged forward and I became pinned between the steering wheel and the seat which had reached the pinnacle of its forward position. My head became lodged in the steering wheel and my chin pressed down on the car horn which sounded off every time I struggled to release myself.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmppphhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” called Byron.
“That’s it,” said Chris. “I’m getting out of here,” and she reached to open the back door only to find that the child-safety locks were engaged and she and Anna on the other side of the car and Andrea in the middle and Mike in the front, were all locked in the car.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmphhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!” called Byron from the trunk.
“I want to get out. Why can’t we get out?” Andrea I said in a panic stricken voice.
“Grant?” Anna asked in a voice pitched to calm. “Can you reach the kid’s safety lock button?”
“Where is it?” I gasped, my chest and face compressed into the same place.
“I don’t know?” Anna replied. “This is a company car. I have no idea”.
“Mike!” called Chris excitedly. “Open the glove compartment and get the manual out and check where the kid’s safety locks are. Mike, still holding his eye fiddled at the glove compartment.
“I can’t,” Mike replied, tears streaming out of his right eye. “The glove compartment is locked. I’ll need the key out of the ignition to unlock it. Grant?” he asked with a sense of purpose. “Reach down” he paused.
“Take the keys out of the ignition” paused again, “and pass them to me.”
I fumbled around feeling for the key and turned the ignition off. The windscreen wipers stopped and all was quiet except the sound of me gasping as I struggled with the key.
“It won’t come out” I replied in struggling and frustrated tones.
“What do you mean it won’t come out?” asked Andrea in an anxious voice.
“You have to put the steering wheel on lock” Mike said.
“I have to what?” I asked.
“Put the steering wheel on lock. Turn the wheel anti-clockwise until it locks and the key will come out”.
“I can’t,” I said exasperated. “My head is stuck in it. I can’t move!”
“You have to,” pleaded Anna. “Otherwise we’ll all be stuck in this awful little car for the rest of our lives”.
I manoeuvred my body, turning the wheel to the left. “Are you sure it’s anti-clockwise?”
“Yes!!!” everyone screamed.
“Mmmmmmmph!!!!” called Byron from the trunk.
With that, I gave the wheel and my connected neck and head a mighty turn, bringing my buttocks up from off the seat and hard against the driver’s side door and with a great groan the steering wheel snapped into its locked position.
A collective sigh came over the car and then for a moment, silence.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmpphhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” came a call from the boot.
“OK Grant,” Mike said in a calming voice. “Reach around and grab the key from out of the ignition.”
I fumbled. Everyone held their breath.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmpphhhhhhhhhh???” called Byron.
“Shhhhhhhh!!!!!” came a group call from inside the car.
I continued to fumble.
“I can’t….” my breathing was heavy now…… “reach it”. I stopped and slumped. “I can’t reach it!” I said in resignation.
“What do you mean you can’t reach it,” protested Andrea.
“Try again, I need to use the bathroom,” cried Anna.
I was sounding desperate now. “I can’t. I can’t. I’ve tried and I can’t get my hand around the steering column”.
“OK. Everybody stay calm,” Mike said in a voice that hinted of elevated anxiety. “Now Grant, I’m going to reach underneath you and try to find the key and pull it out”.
“Just take it easy Mike,” I protested. “You know I don’t like it when guys touch other guys, especially if I’m one of the guys.”
“It’s alright Grant,” Mike said reassuringly. “I’m just going to…..” and with that Mike, with one eye partially closed, lifted himself off his seat, leaning across the gear-shift, stretched his arm underneath the steering column.
“Hey!” I called and flinched as Mike’s arm brushed against my legs. As I flinched, my left elbow came down and knocked Mike’s head down onto the gear shift, poking Mike in the other eye. Mike gave out an enormous cry and lurched back in his seat. Chris, who had been leaning over the back seat to try and see what was happening, was suddenly struck in the forehead by the back of Mike’s lurching head. In agony she lifted her head up, fell backwards, striking the crown of her head on the inside of the roof of the car. As she fell she stretched her arm out across the back seat, striking Andrea in the face with her clenched fist. Andrea’s chin lifted in reaction to the knock and the back of her head struck Anna’s nose who in turn screamed in pain.
Then, filled with frustration and anger Mike had lashed out, punching the dash board with his fist which in turn released the safety airbag, engulfing Mike’s face in a massive explosion of white.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmpppphhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” came the call from the trunk of the car. There was silence for a moment and then suddenly, the car alarm was activated and car horn commenced to sound.
There they sat. Chris, clutching her forehead; Anna holding her nose; Andrea cradling her face; Mike hidden behind a giant white air bag, his hands over both tightly clenched and watering eyes and me with my head stuck in the steering wheel and my body compressed and wedged against the driver’s side door. Each of us giving out our own calls of pain and anguish.
Suddenly, the driver’s door was flung open and with its release I slipped from the lock of the wheel and the door and fell to the ground. There standing above me was the group’s saviour, Lindsay the CEO’s assistant. “My God!” she exclaimed. “What is going on here?”
THREE HOURS LATER
Anna sat with a red nose and watery red eyes, looking like a girl who had been crying all morning. Chris sat with an ice-pack on the top of her head. Andrea had a swollen left cheek and occasionally gently touched her face as if to check that it hadn’t developed into a larger swollen mound of painful flesh. Mike sat with one eye slightly closed and the other still running with tears. Every so often he dabbed a tissue against his eye to allow him a moment of water free site. I sat with my head leaning toward my left shoulder, grimacing from the stiff pain in my neck. A waiter delivered a tray filled with coffee and iced water. No one spoke until I said very sheepishly, “we probably should have had the meeting here”. No one spoke. They just glared at each other and sipped at their coffee. Then Chris looked up and asked………………”Where’s Byron?”