Archive for November, 2011

Caveat Viator

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

My Latin is pretty weak, okay it’s non-existent, but Google tells me that caveat viator translates into traveler beware.  Since Rice County will probably never adopt that as their travel and tourism slogan, it falls to me to spread the warning.  If you ever have the misfortune of traveling the unpaved roads in Rice County, be prepared for a flat tire.  If you travel them daily as I do, be prepared for LOTS of flat tires.  Some months John and I have a combined average of as many as two flat tires a week.  This is not an exaggeration.  I have had two flat tires on the same day, and I am on a first name basis with the employees of the automotive department at Sears.  I always buy the road hazard warranty on tires because it will pay for itself three or four times over the life of the tires.

My most recent flat occurred last week.  When I took it in to be repaired, I was told the puncture was too close to a previous patch to be fixed.  The current set of tires had quite a bit of wear on them, but they were probably still good for another 10,000 miles.  Rather than have one new tire and three old tires, I bought a new set.  Between tire repair and replacement, living in Rice County has some significant hidden expenses.

These multiple tire mishaps are caused by the material used to “gravel” the roads when they start to deteriorate.  The Rice County Commissioners, in their misguided efforts to save money, have chosen to crush construction debris and use it as resurfacing material on the roads.  Construction debris = demolished buildings.  The remnants of these demolished buildings include screws, sharp pieces of metal, and nails.  Some of the nails have square heads (see picture) and are made of iron.  These haven’t enjoyed widespread use since the early 1900s making their appearance on our road by accident highly unlikely.  Objects similar to the ones I picked up have been extracted from my tires.

When I complained about this practice, I was told by one of our county commissioners that our roads couldn’t be consistently maintained without using this cheaper, low-quality material.  My response was “Fine.  Don’t do anything to the road if that is the material you have to use.  I have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and I find mud infinitely superior to nails as a driving surface.”  Unfortunately, my complaint didn’t stop the practice.

So I will continue to get tires repaired and replaced until I retire and can move to an area that values the opinions of its rural taxpayers as much as the city dwellers, but you can avoid the unpaved roads in Rice County.  If you can’t, caveat viator.  At least you have been warned!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

It’s that time of year again. At our house, we look forward to this magical season with great anticipation. It’s a time of limitless possibilities where all your dreams can come true. What, you thought I meant Thanksgiving and Christmas? No, I was obviously talking about Coon Season. It’s the time of year when our furry, woodland friends must pay for all the corn they destroyed in the garden during the summer. It’s the time of year when the dogs have to actually do something besides eat and sleep. It’s the time of year when John is absent from 6–10 p.m. most evenings, and I am lord and master of the television remote. Yes, it’s truly the most wonderful time of the year!

John keeps asking me to go hunting with him, but if his evenings’ activities are anywhere close to the way he describes them, I’m really not interested. First of all it involves going outside after dark in the winter. I don’t like the cold weather to begin with so why would I wait until the coldest part of the day to go outside? Even though he has high-powered, high-dollar head lamps (think coal miner only dorkier looking), you are still wandering across uneven terrain and around obstacles in the dark. That’s not my idea of fun.

The second obstacle to a rousing good time is the dogs. You have to follow them wherever they go. Of course his GPS tracking collars are a huge, high-tech step above the old fashioned method of listening to their calls, but you still have to follow their movements which can involve wading through icy streams and sliding down steep creek banks. Then when you actually find the dogs, you get to lead them back to the vehicle over the same treacherous path. Did I mention this is all done in the dark?

The third negative aspect of this recreational activity is the target species. Raccoons are not the cute, gentle creatures delicately washing their food in a babbling brook as depicted in most nature shows. They can be pretty savage, especially when an 80 pound dog is trying to crush their spinal column or some brightly lit Cyclops is peppering .22 caliber bullets into the tree they inhabit. In fact, if you drag your dog up a riverbank and he decides to let go of the raccoon he has been using as dental floss, the varmint can inflict a nasty bite to the leg if it hasn’t been incapacitated, or so I’ve heard.

Unless the fur industry silences PETA and launches some miraculous public relations campaign that make raccoons worth $500 each, I’ll continue to tend the home fires and leave the coon hunting to the guys. Sitting by a roaring fire on a cold night is much more comfortable and infinitely safer than wandering the countryside in the dark looking for nasty, snarling little corn bandits. Now if Santa will bring new batteries for the remote, it will really be the most wonderful time of the year.

One Wrong Turn

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

I went to Kansas City last week, and as I customarily do in that metropolis, I got lost. Not the frantic, “I’m never going to get out of here; I’m going to join the Navy because I see a sign for the Navy pier and that’s the only thing I recognize!” kind of lost that happened to me once when I was trying to get out of Chicago. This was more the kind of “I followed the directions perfectly so where the heck is the hotel?” kind of lost. This was also the first time I got lost since I’ve had my smart phone. In the past, I would have retraced my steps and tried to figure out where I went awry. This time I pulled into a convenience store to fill up with gas and simply put in my current location and the address of my hotel. In a matter of seconds, I had a new map and a huge sense of relief. Unfortunately, smart phones weren’t available in 1979, and correcting my wrong turn then wasn’t nearly that simple.

It was a muggy 4th of July that year, and the fireworks display that I attended with my in-laws went off on schedule despite the scattered thunderstorms in the area. As we drove back to their house a mere 30 minutes from the show, it became apparent that the predicted high winds and torrential rains had hit this area while we were gone. I put my daughter and son in our car and headed home. About two miles from their house, a large tree had blown across the road blocking our progress. I put the car in reverse and backed up to the intersection fearful that if I tried to turn around, I would get stuck in the muddy road. As I headed east, I didn’t think it mattered which road I took back north because any of them would take me to the highway. As it turned out, any of them would take me there except one.

The path I chose became less and less of a gravel road and more and more of a muddy trail. I knew there was no chance to turn around without getting stuck and backing up the two or three miles I had come would be impossible as I was having trouble staying in the worn track going forward. Finally, even the trail gave way to a muddy wheat field and with a sickening thud, the car jerked to a stop. I put the car in reverse, but the spinning whine of the tires signaled just how badly I was stuck. And it started to rain.

I thought about just spending the night in the car, but I knew the remote location would make us difficult to find, and I didn’t want John and the rest of the family frantic when they discovered we were missing. Instead, I got out of the car with my four-year-old daughter and almost two-year-old son to brave the elements. We hadn’t gone very far when the pull of the mud was too much for the thin strap of my sandal. It only took a few steps to realize walking barefoot was much easier than walking with one shoe off and one shoe on. I can only imagine the spectacle we made as I carried my son, gripped my daughter’s hand, and slogged sans shoes across the muddy field.

I tried desperately to remember how far we had come so I would have some idea of how long a walk stretched before us. I calculated that we had at least two miles to reach the county blacktop and another half mile to the closest house. Jagged lightning lit the sky, and my son whimpered. I gave him words of encouragement and tried to spin this as a grand adventure. I’m not sure if my daughter believed that story or if she was in shock because she was uncharacteristically quiet. The rain slowed to a drizzle, but we were already soaking wet when we came upon a combine left in the field so I decided to take shelter in the cab to rest for a few minutes.  I’m glad the farmer took the keys because I might have been tempted to try to drive it out of the field which would have undoubtedly compounded my predicament because I’d never driven a combine before.

We left the combine and resumed our trek.  I wasn’t sure how much longer I could carry my son when I finally felt the firm pavement beneath my feet, but now I had to decide if I needed to go east or west to find an inhabited farm.  Heading in the wrong direction could prolong our misery by several hours. I strained to see any recognizable landmark with each flash of lightning.  With little confidence in my decision, we headed back west knowing that it had to be close to midnight so the chance of any traffic on this road was remote. In about 10 minutes I saw the sweetest sight I had seen in a long time–a security light illuminating the driveway to the house of some friends. Not wanting to frighten them, I yelled my name as I pounded on their door, and we were soon drying off in their kitchen.

John is not at his best when awakened in the middle of the night so he chose to focus on the mistake I made by taking the only road in a 13 mile stretch that didn’t connect with the highway. I chose to focus on my resilience and fortitude that got us all out of a bad situation safely and the fact that he chose not to go see the fireworks with us.  Of course he was the one that had to drive 30 miles to pick us up and pull the car out of the field with a tractor the next day. My children were small enough that I don’t think they remember that night, but I will never forget it. Sometimes we pay a pretty high price when we take a wrong turn. I know I did…I really liked those sandals.

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