Russ Ringsak

What Looks Best Receding in My Mirror

June 15, 2004

I had to renew my DOT Health Certificate this past week, like we commercial drivers do every two years. During the chest exam the doc put the stethoscope on me and said “big breaths” and it reminded me of an old joke, wherein a teenage girl is going through that same process and the doctor says, “Big breaths,” and the girl says, “Yeth -- and I’m only fourteen.”

I told him the joke and he appreciated it so much he told me one back, about a woman who goes to her family doctor and tells him that her husband had died the previous night, at home, while she was there. He’s sympathetic, expresses his feeling of loss for an old friend and doesn’t push her for details, finally asking if he had made any last requests. And she says, “Well, yes, he did. . . . He asked me: ‘Would you please put the gun down?’”

The doctor said my blood pressure was that of a man half my age, 134 over 82, and my pulse rate was that of a pro athlete, 64 bpm. I’ve been on the big-meat diet for six years now, not for the health benefits so much as for the enjoyment of pimping my hip and learned friends who bought into the New Age framework a while back and still can’t admit to allowing themselves to become under-fatted and over-carbohydrated for all these years. So whenever I get good results from a physical I just come out and brag about it.

The bragging is not a good thing and no doubt indicates some deep insecurity on my part. And I might even be flattering myself there, to say it’s a deep insecurity. It could be a shallow insecurity. But it’s an insecurity about which I don’t give a rip. I’m uninterested in the source of my weakness, and that of course irritates those same people even more because they have mostly rooted out and dealt with, however halfheartedly, the sources of their own insecurities. Generally they blame it on overzealous parenting or a church, or both, but whatever it is, most of them would rather not listen to my jabbering about carbs these days. The thought of them smirking at my funeral - and that could happen any day, too, we all know that - doesn’t bother me either. Glad to be of service as the smirkee. I’ll just be happy they could show up for it.

Speaking of church, out in California some non-church people are making a big deal out of a tiny cross in an old county seal, in there with an oil derrick and a few other historical bits. I don’t get this. These non-goers are free to not rise on the weekend and not get dressed up and not drive to the temple to listen to stuff they’ve heard many times before, and free to not donate money, and free to not go to meetings about the building fund and all the rest of what the church folks go through. And are they grateful? Do they appreciate their easy existence? Doesn’t seem like it, the way they keep bugging the working church folk, who are probably their relatives in the first place.

As a lapsed churchgoer myself, I wish to make mention of those of us who are content to accept the free ride and are happy to shut up about it. Putting up with a tiny cross in a county seal is a very small burden and we can bear it. It’s the least we can do, in fact, and for most of us, we’re pleased to do it. The malcontents are not speaking on our behalf.

Other silliness in the news came from New Jersey, where some fool complained that Ladies Night in a tavern was discriminatory against men. He was supported by a powerful idiot of a bureaucrat who declared the practice illegal and therefore to be stopped forthwith. Even the governor couldn’t take that, and his office issued a statement denouncing the ruling. Idiot is a harsh word, I know, even for a bureaucrat, but it is a useful word for exactly this sort of behavior. I will have to say I’m glad the story was printed, though, because it lets the public in on what truckers go through all the time, dealing with knuckle-headed bureaucrats.

Getting around to business here, I left Minnesota in the truck on Tuesday and got into Wolf Trap on Wednesday, a day earlier than necessary but there have been times when that slack has eased a crisis. I was slightly lighter from having those two lunker molars removed on Monday but it wasn’t enough that I’d recommend it as a weight loss program or anything. They do give you a prescription for painkillers in the aftermath, which I had filled but didn’t use, thinking they might be handy someday if the lower back locks up in the middle of a tour. But I wouldn’t recommend having teeth removed for the purpose of gaining access to painkillers, either. One’s teeth are a limited resource, and there’s no guarantee back pain will respond to a tooth painkiller anyway. More importantly, I don’t want to be on record as having issued an illegal prescription here.

I will say the big oral surgeon guy looked the part: Had he been a half foot taller he could have passed for a pro linebacker in any sports bar in the country. He had short black hair and the cheerful sunny disposition you’d expect from a guy who gets paid good money to rip people’s teeth out of their skulls with a pair of pliers. Very well made pliers, too, they were. Very sturdy. I believe they were stainless steel.

At Wolf Trap we had a brass quintet supplied to our show by the U.S. Army: Three Sergeants Major and two Sergeants First Class, in their dress blue uniforms with the lavish big sergeants’ stripes on the sleeves. They were wonderful musicians and they looked terrific, and one of the trumpeters, Sgt Major Woody English, had played Taps at my dad’s funeral. And that morning I had been to the Mall, where later in the day they dedicated the World War II Monument. A grand and emotional day, it was.

From there we drove up to the Meadowbrook outdoor pavilion at Gilford, New Hampshire. It’s good to drive the Northeast now and then; the grinding traffic, the toll booths, the constant road repairs and the general smothering effect of all the interchanges, one every mile it seems, makes your exit from it, when it finally happens, feel like a jailbreak. Those who grew up there don’t see anything strange about it, but I’m accustomed to running on cruise control for hours at a time and I’m not happy in the corral. I like the horse at a gallop. What looks best receding in my truck mirror is a city skyline.

But New Hampshire is a little surprise, about 90 percent of it woods, and long stretches of I-93 that look like northern Minnesota. They have state liquor stores in the rest areas, where they sell cigarettes, whiskey, wine, beer, and lottery tickets. And no sales tax. Part of that route is a toll road and they let you know with a yellow sign above the big green Interstate sign. It says, “A Toll Road.” Amazing to see that civilized little modifier up there, so unlike your usual terse highway department sign. You wonder if there are more, perhaps “The Road Ahead Curves Smartly To The Right,” or “A 6% Downgrade Awaits.” Could be the beginning of a new era in official signage. “This Ramp Is Your First Of Four Possible Exits To Manchester.” “A Bridge Ahead Is Occasionally Slippery.”

A sign in Massachusetts where I-93 left I-495 read: “Caution - Breakdown Lane In Use.” It meant the lane nearest the wall of the overpass was the exit lane but to a newcomer it read as if someone was having such a serious breakdown they had to come out and put up a sign, lest you make it worse yet. It speaks to another cultural difference; out west they call the breakdown lane the “shoulder” and they don’t presume what you’re doing there. You could be changing drivers, checking your map, digging around for your sunglasses, anything. In the highly-stressed and tightly-packed colonies they assume you are having a breakdown. It could be mechanical or it could be nervous, but you wouldn’t be out there if you weren’t breaking down. Passing drivers shake their heads, click their tongues and think: “Another one bites the dust.”

Leon Redbone was on the Meadowbrook show. A guy who has created his own job description, and whose appearance we always look forward to. (Interstate drivers are allowed to end sentences with prepositions, or at least aren’t prohibited from such. Probably because they didn’t think of it when they wrote the regulations.)

We are heading next for New Jersey, not sure if we’ll find the time to go looking there for Ladies Night or not.

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