Fred pulled to a stop at the traffic light. “Does this look like the FDR to you?”
Ruth stared straight ahead. “No. You made a wrong turn.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
She turned to him. “You told me to shut up. You told me you would listen to the GPS. You didn’t.”
“It’s lagging. It’s slow.”
“So are you. Now I’ll be late for my appointment.”
He turned to return her stare. “If you don’t like my driving, why didn’t you ask Naomi?”
“She’s working. It’s your day off. And you’re the only other person I can trust.”
Great, a guilt trip instead of a road trip, he thought, but you don’t say that sort of thing to a co-worker, especially when she has seniority.
Behind them, a car tooted its horn.
“Why didn’t you drive yourself? You know the way.”
“Come on, Fred. I don’t drive in the city. Never had to. I always took public transport, trains, subways, buses. I still do. I didn’t even get my driver’s license until I moved to Connecticut.”
“Besides, I’m not sure that after my appointment I’ll be in any condition to drive back. You were my only choice.”
Behind them, several other cars joined in the chorus. Some zoomed around in the turn-only lane on the right.
“So now it’s my fault,” he said. “That’s the problem with the world today. Everybody looks to blame someone else. We need solutions, not blame.”
The horns stopped. He glanced at the light. Still red.
“Like Obama blames Bush for the recession.”
“It happened on Bush’s watch. Besides, Obama and the Democrats are taking steps to make sure Wall Street doesn’t do it again.”
“It isn’t working.”
“These things take time.”
“No, my point is that you can’t blame a president for the economy, just like a president can’t take credit for the economy. Policy is only part of the equation. There are too many other variables: supply, demand, war, famine, climate, strikes, the unexpected. Bush started off with a good economy …”
The cars had started honking again, but they didn’t register with either of them.
She snapped back: “… which he inherited from Clinton…”
“Whatever. Then came 9/11 and this whole city shut down. The nation shut down. The global economy came to a standstill. We came back. Then some bankers made bad decisions on risky mortgage securities, and the entire financial market collapsed. If anyone’s to blame, it was them. It isn’t Bush’s fault that he couldn’t fix things. It isn’t Obama’s that he couldn’t, either. Shit happens.”
The horns got louder, followed by the whoop! of a siren somewhere behind them. Fred glanced back up at the red light before turning back to Ruth.
“The recession started at the end of Bush’s second term, so the Democrats blamed him. It’s continuing into Obama’s second term, so the Republicans blame him. The next president might inherit the blame or claim the credit, but whatever happens it won’t be his fault.”
“Then something like 9/11 will happen and it won’t be anybody’s fault. Shit happens. The best we can do is deal with it.”
He was interrupted by a sharp tap at the window. A burly man in a NYPD uniform signaled him to roll down the window.
“License and registration, please, sir. You, too, ma’am. I’ll need your ID.”
“What seems to be the problem, officer?” Fred asked as they fished out their papers.
“Sergeant …” Fred corrected himself, handing him the documents. “Cross, are you?” he said, reading the sergeant’s name tag.
“Not particularly,” Sgt. Cross said with a straight face. “You’ve been sitting here through three cycles of the traffic light, and people say you’ve been arguing. You two aren’t married, are you?”
“Oh, no,” Ruth said with a smile. “Just colleagues.”
“All right, then,” Cross said, handing their licenses back. “Are you OK, Miss Gold?”
“Mrs., actually. I kept my name.” For the first time, Fred glanced at Ruth’s hand and saw a plain gold band. “We’re fine. He just made a wrong turn and we’re lost.”
Fred glared back at her. “You’re the New Yorker! You’re supposed to know these things!”
“And you’re the one behind the wheel!”
The sergeant interrupted them. “Folks, listen. I know you’re from out of town and it’s hard to find your way around the city. I also know you aren’t going to get where you want to go by pointing fingers about mistakes that were made a half-hour ago. Now, where is it you’re trying to go? Maybe I can help.”
Fred looked at the GPS. “York Avenue, down by the hospitals.”
Cross looked at him then at Ruth. “This an emergency?”
“No,” she said. “But it is urgent. We’re late for an appointment.”
“Well, folks, I don’t know how you got here but that’s not important now,” Cross said. “What matters is where you go from here. You’re on York. Go straight south, they’re clustered around 70th Street. Memorial, Special Surgery, Presbyterian, Cornell. They’re on both sides, parking garages on all the side streets, you can’t miss it.”
“Thanks,” Fred said. “We’re just doing this for an old friend.”
“Good luck, folks,” Cross said. “One thing I’ve learned from the last ten years is don’t look back for blame, keep looking forward with hope. And I hope everything comes out OK for you.”
Fred glanced at Ruth, who was still looking out the window. She gave him a weak smile as they drove on down York.
“How long?” he finally asked to break the silence.
“I don’t know. That’s what I hope to find out.”
“No. I meant how long have you been married?”
“Not long enough.”
“It never is, is it?” He paused, then: “Mine wasn’t. I hope yours will be.”