Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Email to My Editor

Teresa and I are in Tennessee visiting her sister and her husband. Faith and Aaron moved here 20 years ago to be close to their kids. 

  I'm going to make a fool of myself here with my snap judgments of the South but you're used to me doing that. 
We are in the middle South, in the little town of Gibson which is just a few miles from the much bigger town of Humboldt, and the much bigger city of Jackson.
Spring is in the air, the birds are chirping, the blossoms hang white or purple... it's nice. We had freeway or four lane highway all the way to within 20 miles of Faith's. This last stretch was quite 
narrow, a step back into the old South. Traffic was light as we buzzed past viarious architectural styles: classic high pitched cabins, small brick ramblers, kudzu covered trailers...the Skime of the South. The road was up and down and curvy, little chance to pass. Wetlands, pastures, small tillages. Not the megaculture like up in Missouri. 
 After lunch Teresa asked Faith if there were places to walk nearby. "Only if y'all hope to be cut down in the prime of your life," Faith said. "The road is narrow and the ditch is deep. Now why don't you just relax here and have a nice gin and tonic." Teresa opted for a glass of warm wine, but once her wine was gone she still wanted a walk. Faith said "OK, chile, how about I give you a tour of the area and then we'll stop by the liquor store for some Guinness."  Faith is making corned beef and cabbage and we're having a late St Paddy's Day celebration. What a great sister in law!
 So we take this tour of the area. I'm driving. Just one g. and t. under my belt. "Now what you have to understand about the South," Faith says, "is you'll see a mansion next to a trailer house. It's part of southern gentility. You don't want to put yourself above your neighbor. I thought it would hurt property values, but people here told me, 'No, we don't mind having a mansion next to our trailer house.'" 
Faith pointed out a collection of yellow brick ramblers built in the sixties. The houses were shaded by mature trees on hilly plots. Some were well kept, others obviously abandoned. "Gibson Country is depressed," Faith said.  She pointed to one, a burnt-out shell. "That was because of a boy who lacked parental guidance."  I thought I saw movement inside, but it was just the wind.

Sent from the Road

Friday, March 17, 2017

Care Befull

  If you're not careful you will fall eventually. The Romans knew that. The Latin verb for an unforeseen happening is accidere. And they went on to have the biggest fall of all time. The websites for the ageing say that you're going to slip in the shower or doze off while driving, etc., etc. These things will happen but you can work around them. Munch on candy as you drive. Wear your boots in the shower. But you can't remove all risk if you intend to have fun. Go to Europe! Go to Laos, or Machu Picchu! Just be back in your hotel pub before the youth gangs begin to prowl.

The Accident

 Listening to people's ailments makes me ill, in sympathy, so I'll keep this short. Last Sunday we were out walking on the perfectly smooth river ice. During the thaw two weeks ago, the river came up and the ice went out. Then the temps dropped to zero and the surface froze. Beautiful! But as the water ran out, the ice began to collapse to it's normal depth of one foot. To get onto the river you had to climb or slide down a sharply angled ice floe. This is where members of the party started to fall; nothing worse than a whacked funny bone for we were padded against the cold. When we reached the bridge we began turning over the floes by the shore, marveling at the patterns formed by the river on their undersides.
  At last it was time for hot chocolate by the warm stove. When I stepped onto the ice in the ditch, the goddess of gravity grabbed my ankles and thumped me on my back like a freshly caught halibut. My companions gathered round and helped me to my feet. I hadn't hit my head and my limbs still worked, but my inner works were all ajangle. My lungs felt too flat to take in air. My voice was thin and wheezy. My spine felt fine but the affiliated ribs were not happy.
  Once back home, I popped a couple of pills and sat quietly and thought of people in car crashes and running backs blindsided. I thought too of soldiers and hand grenades until I convinced myself things could be worse. I had promised to grill that evening, and a glass of wine settled the shaking in my hands. Matt fired up the coals and supper was served on time.
  By coincidence, I had a physical scheduled for later in the week. The doctor said I'd be fine. He told me he was in the middle of inventing boots with studs that would retract into the soles when you went inside so you didn't tear up the floor. I told him to put me on his list.

Beneath the floes. Beautiful, cold; indifferent to you.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Open Road

  Toad of Toad Hall loved the open road. He described it thus: "Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing! But Toad wanted to travel in a gigantic horse drawn gypsy cart. I prefer to travel with a toothbrush and a change of underwear, relying on public transit and the kindness of strangers. The idea of life in an RV gives me the fantods. A ride in a semi-trailer truck from point A to B with no strings attached would be a different matter. My mother told me my first sentence was "Big, big truck," and I've been fascinated with the big rigs ever since, with no desire to get behind the wheel. I've watched the trucks pass a half mile to the east of our place for over forty years. I can tell which are loaded by the vibrations passing from the cracked highway, through the open field, and into my couch.
  Last winter I convinced my editor to join me in a truck count in Roseau. For several hours we sat just south of town counting the trucks that came and went, following the occasional one to see where in town it went. If you know my editor, Mr. Steve Reynolds, you know this was more interesting than it sounds. But it was a bust because Polaris, the town's largest employer, was closed just then for its winter lay-off, so truck traffic was way off. Nevertheless, I published my findings in The Raven.
  Soon after, my friend Bob Aronson called. Bob drives for Byfuglien Trucking. He had seen my story and wondered if I'd like to ride along on his daily run. Bob picks up parts for Polaris in Bagley 100 miles to the south, and is back home by mid-afternoon. "Of course!" I replied. As life whirls towards its end. it's good to be checking things off your bucket list. I imagine this list as slips of paper in an actual bucket. Mine is full to overflowing.
  Bob picked me up in Wannaska on a cool and sunny March morning not long ago. I was wearing my work boots rather than my usual sneakers. I had my mug of coffee and a couple of muffins. You never know what can happen when you leave home. Do you know why they call the big trucks semis? I looked this up. It's because the trailer has wheels only at the rear. If it had wheels at the front end too, it would be a trailer, but it doesn't, so it's a semi-trailer, pulled by a tractor. But not a farm tractor, though it will have the same engine used in farm tractors. Whew! I'll call the tractor the truck from now on.
  Bob's International truck looked brand new to me, but he said it was a 2011 model with over 700,000 miles on it. He keeps the truck at his home just east of Roseau. Every morning, Monday through Friday, he runs over to Polaris and picks up his empty trailer then heads for Team Industries in Bagley to pick up transmissions and differentials for Polaris's ATV products. "People ask if I don't get bored driving the same route," Bob says, "but I don't. I see something different every day." Driving semi is Bob's retirement job. After 33 years in Polaris's engineering department, Bob felt the need to keep doing something useful. Byfuglien Trucking had him shuttle trucks around Roseau for awhile before putting him on a day route, first to Detroit Lakes and now to Bagley.
  I had always wondered how smooth the ride would be, after all you're sitting directly above the engine. My seat was comfortable and the cab seemed well insulated, but I did feel every bump. Bob knew all the bad bumps and slowed before we reached them. I was also aware of the powerful engine beneath my feet and was glad I had my hearing aids cranked up to catch Bob's conversation. He had grown up in my neighborhood and I learned much interesting area history. Twenty years ago we bought a piece of land that Bob's father had once owned. There was a rusty old truck body on the land and Bob told me who put it there. Bob also told me of two old bachelors who had lived one after the other in flimsy shacks on this piece of land. I did not know that. There is no trace whatsoever of those shacks.
  It's a cliché that you see more from the cab of a truck. I have driven this road to Bagley many dozens of times, but today I could see the hills beyond the hills. What a pleasant way to see the world. We arrived at the loading dock before eleven. Bob opened the trailer doors and pulled a lock pin that held the gang of rear axles in place. From the cab, he was able to move the rear axles to the very back of the trailer. This made the trailer more stable for the fork lift loading the heavy pallets of transmissions onto the trailer. Twenty minutes later, Bob pulled away from the dock, closed the doors and moved the axles forward. The further forward the axles, the tighter the turning radius for the whole rig. I never thought of that before.
  We drove over to the new Cenex truck stop and had lunch. Warm sunshine poured through the big south windows. On Thursdays Bob picks up print jobs for Polaris at Richards Printing in Gonvick. Today was a Thursday so Bob asked the foreman to give us a tour of the shop. They had printing machines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I was intrigued by the obsolete machines here and there that they keep running for the odd customer who still wants things done the old way. That is so sympatico.
  Bob had me back to my car by 2:15. Yes, I do love the open road. I'm willing to sleep in a hostel or even a frightening bus station if necessary, but there's nothing like my own couch when the approaching nap alert begins its gentle dinging.

Rush hour on the Gully Road