Russ Ringsak

Two Trips to Town Hall

January 6, 2006

I stayed in Lansing a few days before heading to New York on the last of November, a Wednesday. It was a smooth trip all the way to within five miles of the George Washington Bridge, where a lighted sign over the road said it would be 45 minutes to the toll booths. Thirty minutes later and two miles closer another sign said the city was again 45 minutes away. Manhattan was either full or drifting out to sea. Or both, like a barge. When the truck finally reached the elusive shore I began counting gear changes down the 148 blocks to the Javits Center, where the parking is. It came to 287 shifts, and the truck parking curbs were all jammed full. I finally set it where the signs say NO on 12th Avenue and caught a taxi to the hotel.

Early next morning, December 2nd, a cab took me back to the forbidden parking place and the rig was gone. I was lucky the driver knew where we might find it. I had expected nothing worse than a whopper of a ticket; didn’t expect a whopper towing fee in there, too. But you can’t just drive around the city all night, and the $370 turned out to be much cheaper than most midtown hotel rooms, where it wouldn’t have fit anyway. And the truck reached Town Hall on schedule and the guys made short work of unloading it.

I drove back to St Paul, parked the trailer and turned the tractor back to the rental company and three weeks later, on December 21st, went back and got another; drove back to New York to fetch the gear after the last show. On the way took notice of the Wisconsin exits to the Glacial Drumlin State Trail and to Oconomowoc. Drumlin is one of those modest words that sit there in a little language backwater, along with esker and moraine and even kettle moraine, to slip out into the main body now and then. And Oconomowoc just makes a person wonder if it can be as much fun as it sounds.

It was steadfastly overcast on that shortest day of the year and most cars had their headlights on all day. What light there was came in low. It was like an all-day dawn. My lightly tinted brown glasses helped ease the toneless feel, giving landscapes a high-quality sepia paper look instead of the usual overexposed cheap black and white I get from my regular eyes. A farmer in a bright red parka, standing by a fence a half-mile off, leaped off the paper; looked like he was hand-painted onto the print, the only colored object on those monochrome midwestern fields. Could have been the opening scene of a movie. If I were ever to get into the movie trade, my only useful talent would be in finding moody opening scenes. After that, it all gets too complicated.

Entering Chicago I realized I misspelled Pfingsten Road in the last piece and nobody wrote in about it. Kind of a disappointment, to get away with a blatant spelling error. If you’d like to comment, or if you just don’t much care one way or another and would like to make that perfectly clear, the address again is R-dot-Ringsak-at-visi-dot-com-, coded like that because if you write your address as you’d actually type it, dumptrucks full of junk mail from around the world will soon be dumping into your mailbox. Every day. They have search engines out there, and they know how to use’em.

A Chicago version of the modern overhead bad news beacons told me it was 58 minutes to the Edens-Kennedy junction, which is miles before the downtown Loop, and right away I hit the big arterial blockage and settled in for another long slow rowing through the gearbox. The trip through the Hog Butcher to the World this time was at about the same speed the original bulldozer was able to muster clearing it, and I was thinking if I’m moving that slow it’d be more fun on the bulldozer.

I slept in a parking lot on the Indiana toll road and the next day stopped at the Brady’s Leap Service Plaza in Ohio for a quick burger. I wondered what kind of a leap it was that Brady made, and later learned he was Captain Samuel Brady, a legendary scout and Indian fighter, who leaped a 22-foot wide canyon of the Cuyahoga River with a band of Wyandots in close pursuit. He was shot in the thigh as he scrambled over the far side but made it to a small lake, leaving an obvious blood trail. He hid underwater until nightfall, breathing through a reed. The lake had already been named after him from a previous adventure, and whatever thoughts were going through his mind those hours he sat submerged in it, they could not have included a notion that his long jump would someday be memorialized by a plaza on a six lane major highway, offering diesel fuel and Wi-Fi; and McDonald’s, Starbucks, Sbarro, Au Bon Pain and Krispy Kreme.

The rest of the trip was routine, if running the grand mountains and valleys of the Allegheny Mountains can ever be routine. At the George Washington Bridge there was again the massive buildup, and as usual I sat there for a long time in wonderment that people would submit themselves to this sort of abuse day after day.

The New York transit strike was in what became its last day and, once through the cash box, traffic was fairly light. Times Square was filled with locals and out of towners, easy to distinguish, peppered here and there with officials in dark uniforms wearing flashy vests with bright letters spelling out important concepts in which the wearer was apparently an expert, like TRAFFIC and SECURITY, and something like READINESS but it wasn’t that. I looked around to see if there were others; CLOSURE perhaps, or MEANING. Maybe HARMONY.

We loaded up after a late Friday night show and on the Christmas Eve return trip through the Appalachians of central Pennsylvania I was passed on a long upgrade by a bright red and chrome classic Peterbilt pulling a gleaming stainless tanker, running empty and no doubt heading for home. The big guy driving gave me a wave as he went by, looking like a happy man, and two miles later on the downgrade his rig seemed to shudder and jerk slightly to the left and the brake lights came on, and at that instant there was a billowing of tire smoke from underneath. I moved left and applied some brake, expecting shards of rubber, and then an entire tread rolled out from the tractor, ran under the trailer wheels and came hopping out behind like a big turkey. It fell on its side, doing little circles on the right lane.

I wondered which wheel it came from and as I slipped by I saw him looking grim, easing the rig to a slow stop, with the left front tire completely gone. Riding on that beautiful chrome wheel rim, and what a lousy thing for Christmas. But he had done a great job keeping the rig under control. I had traffic behind me and would have been a long ways down the hill before I could stop, so I went on my way and assumed he had a cell phone and that help would be coming. Eventually.

Later I was the only big truck moving through light Chicago traffic, just like on Thanksgiving, and what a smooth luxury. I took it as a gift from CIRCUMSTANCE, another important concept. It took my mind off all the happy people sitting around Christmas trees at that moment, up to their elbows in wrapping paper, all smiling. And at least I made it back in time for Christmas Day.

Last night I watched the Orange Bowl, which was of compelling interest because my favorite coach, Penn State’s legendary Joe Paterno, was about to retire. To add to the drama it was against the other living legend, Bobby Bowden of Florida State. It was a terrific game. Went into an epic three overtimes, with old Joe Pa finally winning. I kinda figured he would.

Bowl games used to be named after things you could actually put in a bowl, like oranges, roses, sugar, peaches or cotton; a big enough bowl could even hold gators. But there’s not much luster in a name like the MPC Computers Bowl, or the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The GMAC Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, the Outback Bowl. And the Insight Bowl? Good grief. Anyway, I was glad Joe Paterno won, and that it was in a bowl with a real bowl name.

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