Russ Ringsak

Brute Force or Money

June 1, 2004

Duluth is a city that tells you what they’re up to right up front. You come over the ridge from the west and there it is, all laid out before you and they aren’t hiding a thing; got the giant ore boats in the bay, got the freeways all curling around, got the railroad tracks flying high on viaducts above the freeways, reaching out over the giant ore boats; got the big grain elevators there on the quay with lines of semis waiting to unload. Got your ocean-going freighters hauling that hard wheat off to Europe to be made into linguine and puff pastries. Got that big lift bridge there over the mouth of the harbor and the big blue water running off to the far eastern horizon. It’s an international seaport and all that goes with it, including a plethora of nighttime attractions on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the water. My hotel room came furnished with a fifteen-dollar pair of binoculars. A sign on the door to the narrow balcony read: “Thank You For Not Feeding The Seagulls.” It was a lot more excitement than one would expect to find up there in the north woods.

A week later one senses that Nashville’s primary contribution to society is not quite so obvious. Its skyline has the standard office-tower profile that suggests lawyers and stock brokers, and they are no doubt there behind the glass, but the real treasures of the city are hidden from the freeway approaches, except on the billboards. But they don’t call this place Music City for nothing, and even though it isn’t the only music city in this great nation it is the one most defined by it. In three days and nights in the clubs on lower Broadway, in Printer’s Alley and on Second Avenue, we heard so much terrific music it still rings in the ears a month later.

My trucker taste runs to this sort of thing, as it’s supposed to, and I am in hog heaven in this city, both for blues and country. The guitar players there simply knock my socks off. It’s loud, it’s fun, it’s nostalgic, the singers are usually terrific and the rhythm sections generally Get It. ‘The Pocket’ is not a mysterious term in this city. I am hoping to someday spend my wheelchair days parked in front of Nashville bar bands - like the Dean Hall band, for example - with the
amplifiers turned to 10 and my hearing aid on 11.

I know I’ve talked about this before. I like bars mostly because they are where all the fabulous music that makes us different from the rest of the world comes from, and it seems to me we needn’t be apologetic about that. It comes mainly from people who work at miserable jobs and who play by ear and from the heart, the music rising up in a most democratic matter, and it defines the American spirit better than any journalist or politician ever has. So I like Nashville and I like bars. I’d rather go see a band in a bar than in concert. Partly for the historical context and partly for a bunch of other reasons.

We had a couple weeks at the Fitz and then a week off before launching into our monster spring tour. Driving around the local countryside I noticed a sign offering new Twin Homes for sale. So either the word “duplex” has somehow, to some ears somewhere, begun to sound dated or perhaps even low class, or the Twin Homes term is an extension of the academic obsession of never using one word when you can find two that say the same thing only blander. Sounds like a case of academia filtering down into the mind of the developer here. They probably think it sounds smarter when in fact it sounds dumber, at least to a trucker, and it makes the rest of us glad we only have to put up with academia for 12 or 16 years and not for our entire existence.

“Duplex” is a perfectly good word and we all understand what it means, and “twin home” raises questions: Are they fraternal twins, alike only in parentage and date of birth, or are they identical twins, synonymous in arrangement and detail of features? In most single-floor duplexes, like these were, the floor plans are mirror images, one the reverse of the other, so they are not identical but opposite twins; a kind of twin that doesn’t exist in nature. If they did they’d be a pair, one right-handed and the other left-handed, who have identical markings on opposite sides and who, presumably, would disagree on everything. One’s hot, one’s cold, one’s quiet, one’s brash, and all the rest of it. “Twin Homes” is a term that should be shot down before it gets airborne. Before it becomes “Oppositely Identical Homes.” I urge anyone who is contemplating the purchase of a twin home to ask the seller to call it a duplex or walk away from the deal. Don’t open yet another can of terminological worms.

Living on the big city’s penumbra gives a person an aversion to surveyors. Not them personally, but the sight of one in action. Growing up rural, surveyors at that time seemed like the harbingers of improvement, almost like good luck charms. A transit or a level set up on the shoulder of a country road would mean that the gravel might soon become blacktop - we called it tar - or else the county was about to fix an old bridge no longer considered trustworthy.

But in the suburbs today a theodolite on a tripod means just one thing: Bigger suburbs. More traffic lights. More strip malls. More congestion. Less peace and quiet. Higher taxes. That’s more than one thing, and in fact it’s a lot of things, but they’re all the same thing. It’s all one thing in that it means life will soon be a little less fun than it is right now. And I suppose if that’s the worst thing a guy can carp about life can’t be all that bad.

Someone commented recently, and I can’t remember who it was or where, but they said that problems that can be solved with money or brute force are the easy ones. The hard ones are the other kind. So I suppose the problem of being trampled by galloping development is one that could be solved with money: If you had enough of it you could buy all the land in sight and just not sell it to anyone. It would take a very large Powerball jackpot to do that, and your odds of winning it aren’t real good. But my mother cheerfully maintained that your odds in any sweepstakes are fifty-fifty, because you have as good a chance as anybody else. It’s therefore an even bet. So far, ‘anybody else’ has been winning all the time. Maybe that means I’m due.

Speaking of problems, on the way down to Nashville I heard a trucker on the CB talking to another about his recent problems with his wife: “...and the thing about it was...well...I jist figgered sumthin’ was fishy when I come home from a run out to the West Coast and I saw the sleep number on my side of the bed had been changed...from 85 all the way down to’ it wasn’t her, neither, ‘cause she’s a 50...can’t believe she’d be messin’ around with some wimp like that...”

This seems on the surface to be in the category of the ‘other kind’ of problems, the harder kind. But at the same time, it could be real easy. She could be doing the guy a big favor and he just doesn’t know it yet. I myself have a problem that will be solved Monday afternoon by both brute force and money, plus some novacaine. Two back teeth need to come out. Tuesday the truck needs to leave for Wolf Trap. Should be a fun trip.

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