November 13, 2010
This piece began under the title Montana Florida Texas but on a quick reality trip home I found the following note stuck on the new health insurance instructions mailed here: "You MUST register online Between Nov 7 & 20th or you will loose insurance".
I'm about to loose my mind with how lose this Spell Check generation has become. I don't want to be loosing my insurance but I can't losen up about this pervasive travesty. This is coming directly from the headquarters of Minnesota Public Radio, my employer for twenty years, so the curse has found its way into the citadel of civil discourse. We have lose screws in the language now. We're going to loose it. There are bedbugs lose in the English language.
Where did the education system go? I went to school in a small North Dakota town where nearly every staff member, including the superintendent and the principal, taught classes. Half of them also coached a team. Everyone dealt with us in the classroom except the two secretaries and Fritz the janitor.
We took Math, Chemistry, History, English, Phy Ed. All the guys took typing; maybe it was required. She wasn't a real imposing teacher and on a warm spring morning the class rebel-clown bad guy, P.K., went to the big second story window and raised it and dropped his typewriter out. We heard it crack into smithereens on the sidewalk below. He turned around grinning. This happened in the very last sixty seconds of his education. No warning, no probation, no second chance. Out. Expelled. Gone right then. To graduate he'd have to move to another town. And no one thought for a minute that it wasn't exactly the right punishment.
So I hereby declare I will never vote another single nickel to any school district until they get these simple things straight: Quit fooling around! Teach English! And while you're at it, teach History too! Can that be so difficult? Why have you quit on that?
And why do I see not one small ripple of protest to these relentless pervasive boneheaded linguistic errors? Why the silence from the holders of high office? It's driving some of us crazy so it's a mental health issue. Or is everyone just saying, "Look the other away it's only a harmless old coot pissing in the wind. He needs to losen up and loose his angst."
Enough. Let's get on with the trip. My cousin in law has good stories to tell and can, in a most understated delivery, sometimes make your neck hairs stand. I'd happily drive a thousand miles to spend time in his company at some interesting bar out west, which I did a short time ago in Montana. After our show Saturday night at the Fitzgerald in St. Paul I went across the street for dinner at Mickey's Diner while the crew loaded the trailer.
Dinner At Mickey's Diner
I took it to the rental yard and drove the truck to its spot at the home farmyard at midnight, got in my fast auto and drove all night. Easily made it to the airport in Bozeman Sunday afternoon.
He rode an airline seat out there with a retired colleague from the fighter pilot trade, the two of them lured out by the prospect of taking an elk or two from the local snow-topped mountain range. Two nights before the hunt we settled into a Russell Chatham saloon in Livingston with a cattleman who owns a first rate bookstore out there. It was a lot of fun. To the point that I remember few details and would go back in a twitch. I do remember Bailey, the tall lanky waitress; she was cool and confident and intimidated not a bit by cowboys or truckers or fighter pilots.
Montana Flat Tire
Cattleman And Fighter Pilot
They stayed at a lodge while I drove the thousand miles back to Minnesota on Thursday and made ready for the worthwhile task of getting our show to the nation's first city, St Augustine. Left Monday and stopped Tuesday in Nashville, an excruciating nighttime exercise in squeezing a big rig into a motel parking lot filled with limos, tour buses and their trailers, straight trucks, and dozens of cars. An ex-trucker livery driver helped me get the thing in there. And it was worth it. Caught a cab to Broadway and found those loud fast bands and fired-up crowds that still make me grin.
Getting to the backstage of the outdoor venue on Thursday in St Augustine was also tricky. You turn into a little hole in the forest there off Florida Highway A1A, looking barely big enough for a bear to squeeze into, and find a tight turn in there under the green canopy. That poor tree on the inside of the bend there must tremble every time it hears a truck engine, because it has been wounded by nearly every trailer in and out. We missed it but barely. Passed through the trunk groove the others had gnawed out. Rode to the motel with our tech guys.
In the tiny yard the next morning I set about backing into the loading dock, assuming I'd quickly and smoothly slide in amongst all the lesser vehicles scattered around. But when the trailer lined directly up with the ramp it put the rising sun squarely in all four mirrors. Blinded By The Light, as the song goes, it took me about fifteen more minutes than it should have. The entire crew was standing there watching. Humbling. I'm thinking even superstars have their bad games. But that doesn't really cut it.
I left for Houston the way I had for Montana; slept all day and drove right after the loadout Saturday night. The idea was to get a jump on a flight home on Monday, which would be the only home time in the four weeks of this tour. I drive the Florida panhandle the first leg, bothered by the voltmeter showing a red light now and then. Twenty round gauges on the dash and all normal but one. Voltage at 14.5 is okay but at 15.0 it lights up.
I was thinking if I didn't have that gauge life would be so much simpler. Never had one before we got this truck. It's been blinking now and then for weeks. Nothing happens. But it's getting more frequent. And then something does happen: the dash lights all go out. They come back, 3 and 4 at a time. They go out again; come back. Then the headlights go dark. I hit the driving lights and they work. The headlights come back. I need a shop and I need sleep. I call the truck emergency line when I wake up Sunday in western coastal Alabama.
It takes a number of calls and false hopes but I finally pull in to a TA at Lafayette, and two hours later I'm back on the road with a new Delco alternator and it meters 14.0 steady volts like it's s'posed to and I should be real happy now. But the Interstate-10 causeway across the soft swamp of lower Louisiana has sagged into a hundred miles of punishing concrete bam and bounce. Not bad in a car but brutal in a truck, even with air ride. I'm a rat in a coffee can, in a cement mixer. And then it starts to rain. Hard. Now I'm a rat in a coffee can in the rain. In a cement mixer.
I get to Houston in the dark and the local guy in charge calls at exactly the right time, but I take the south I-45 when I should have gone north and then it's 20 minutes of sweating, wheel in one hand, cellphone in the other, down side streets and through intertwining tight turns with the trailer wheels jumping curbs in the darkness under the freeway. We -- myself and my cellphone -- finally emerge out onto a big parking lot.
I thought I was home free but it was not so fast, driver. It took another 45 minutes to get a taxi to find this lot. Twice they got close enough for me to wave at them and they didn't see it, not even with all the clearance lights on.
But I know the downtown hotel will be a marvel and it is. Way sweet. Flowered curtains. A potted palm in the room. Old style small tv; two brass valves on the shower. A bathrobe. Marble tiles and square corner lavatory mirrors so you can see yourself right way around. You can even see the back of your head.
I also know I've had tougher runs than this and have managed to forget them. Forget the road, remember the hotel. And I think we get deals on these older rooms.
The flight home Monday was easy, a smaller jet with two seats on each side. I got a phone call before I left that someone had found bedbugs in their luggage after St Augustine so I left my duffle overnight on the back porch when I got here. It was 30 degrees. I guess they freeze. I doubt they would have survived that rough truck trip anyway.
Thinking about it these many years later and picturing the black Underwood typewriter falling and turning, crashing on the hard concrete in front of the big double-door entry, it occurs to me that this was P.K.'s graduation ceremony. He didn't leave crossing a stage in a maroon robe to be handed a diploma, with speeches and smiles and tears all around, but neither did he leave slinking away after a stern visit to the office. This was his dramatic exit event, to be remembered as well as we recall our own more formal departures. And the kid left his mark on the school. Well, at least on the school sidewalk.
Flying back to Texas tomorrow, then Cincinnati and then New York City and back here for Christmas.
© R.Ringsak 2010
russring at visi dot com