Monday, August 13, 2012

The Dispatch From Escalatorville: For Folksy Hipsters and Hippie Folksters

I passed by an old apartment that Bess and I had lived in  a number of years ago and noticed the buildings owner - frustrated and on a ladder. He was angrily slicing branches from the top of an over-sprouted palm tree in the front yard.

I couldn't help but chuckle as he cursed through his struggle.

The man sawing through those troublesome limbs was the exact person whom had loudly, viciously, castigated yours truly a half dozen years ago for attempting to prune the very same tree - which was then about 1/3 it's current size.

Time may not heal all wounds - but occasionally allows the brain to think:
"Ha ha! Take that, jackass!"

Overheard in a downtown area store, in the beach burg where I live:

"Daddy," said the innocently inquisitive child, "What's your favorite shell?"

"Oh," responded the petulant paterfamilias,with possibly the worst answer to that question, "They all look the same to me."

One Jack and A Million Flakes
Everyone has a memorable road story. Having driven across this country four times, and up or down both coasts, I've racked up a few. Every so often, I recall one particular trip to the Garden State.

It was mid-winter, and I headed up to New Jersey to visit with an ex-girlfriend. We'd been split for a little while at the time, but remained friends and, as I had been in Richmond, Virginia for the Yuletide holidays that year, a relatively short journey a few states north seemed like a pleasant diversion.

I forget exactly how I'd arrived in Virginia from Florida on that vacation; probably by train, although it's a distinct possibility I made that trek via Ye Olde Grey Hounde. Nonetheless, for the trip to New Jersey, I had borrowed my sister's car; promising, of course, to return it safe, sound, and full of gas (Isn't this the ultimate promise of all car-borrowing tales? There's a similar pledge in a story for the next Dispatch as well).

The vehicle was a Tercel, I think [Erin "Stopsign" Lively - whose nickname is now over 3-dozen years old and is probably growing tiresome to my dear sibling - will correct my faulty memory]. It drove well, and I liked the feel of it. I could handle the highways quite mightily and expeditiously on the swift jaunt up I-95 toward the infamous Jersey Turnpike.

Turnpike. Let's examine that phrasing for a moment, shall we? A combo term springing from the words 'Turn'- meaning a move, or change in position - and 'Pike' - meaning a sharp, pointed weapon, or a voracious fish.

Indeed, due to an obnoxious weather system coupled with directions writ in my own shorthand, a sharp and fishy change was about to occur.

In my defense, I am a fairly decent driver, and a pretty darn good navigator. Alas, serving as a navigator for myself when driving doesn't seem to be a fruitful mix. Oh, I got on the New Jersey Turnpike with ease, but, as with all implications of the following statement - getting yourself off requires concentration and finesse.

I took Exit A, when I should have taken Exit B, maybe transposed an 8 with a 3.
My shorthand kind of sucks.

As soon as I left the off-ramp, I knew something was wrong. The pavement got quite a bit rougher, and I slowed the cars pace. In the not too far distance, I could see industrial machinery, mountains of displaced dirt and gravel. As I rolled through this dusty wasteland, it began to snow.


There were no other passenger vehicles on this road, only monstrous construction and destruction based conveyances.


I gazed out the windshield to see dump trucks, backhoes, bulldozers, excavators, those really big earth movers with tracks that look like the kind used in grain elevators, the -


While my eyes got lost in the world of out sized mechanical mega-transportation - they missed the giant pothole directly in front of me. The Tercel (or whatever it was) bounced into and out of a gargantuan divot with apparent ease. Yet, it didn't feel right. I turned around as soon as I could, and headed back to the highway.

This being the New Jersey Turnpike, I soon came upon a toll booth. I scrounged up enough quarters to make my way through and got the green light from the operator. Alas - as I pulled away, I heard from the front passenger side that awful wha-poop, wha-poop, wha-poop that can only indicate one thing - a flat tire.

Being the dutiful and gracious vehicular operator that I am [at present date; I've a quarter century of driving under my belt - with  a spotless record, if I may brag a bit (further information regarding anything else under my belt will cost you some cash, pal)], I carefully and slowly pulled over to the side of the freeway. It was still snowing like mad. A bit of a blustery blizzard to be honest. Not the kind of weather one really wants to change a tire in, but I've been known to appreciate a challenge. Not all, but some.

Picturing the famous scene from the film 'A Christmas Story' ("Oh Fudge!"), I laughed and convinced myself that I could perform the necessary task without losing any lug nuts or cursing my luck ("Only I didn't say 'fudge.' I said the word. The big one. The queen mother of dirty words. The 'f, dash, dash, dash' word."). Hurriedly, I got out of the car, took the keys to the trunk, and opened it to find the cars jack and 'donut' spare - which had been unused up to that point.

I'd performed the task a time or two before, so I knew pretty much what I was doing. However, the peculiarity of this circumstance - changing a flat on the New Jersey Turnpike, 300 miles from anything familiar, in the middle of a raging snowstorm - made things stressfully humorous. Probably more humorous in retrospect, but I made it a point to clear my head and finish as quickly as possible, lest I start to have a smidgen of a freak out.

Moments later, I was back on the road - a bit hesitant at first, but more confident of reaching my destination than ten minutes before.

After a few more miles, and eventually finding the correct exit, I entered Morristown, New Jersey. It's a nice little town, even when covered in ice and snow. I must admit, when I appeared at the home of my hosts - all I wanted to do was to get out of the car and take a nap.

However, instead of the "Hello'" and "How Are You?" that would usually accompany such an arrival  - my first words as a guest were "How far are we from a good mechanic?"

After replacing the tire, which cost about a third of my budget for the trip, I had a really nice visit. A side trip to New York City (including 'Phantom' and a minor celebrity sighting whilst avoiding drifts of snow, both white and yellow), a few peaceful days doing nothing but hanging out in a different place - then it was back to Virginia.

I drove quite cautiously as I made my way out of the state, carefully navigating the highway system until I hit Delaware. Then I had my foot to the floor all the way back to Richmond. Don't tell that to my sister.

Crack A Dial
If you ever want to explore a different culture, while remaining in your favorite spaces, here's a suggestion: change your favorite radio station for a week. Switch to a format you've either avoided or have never explored - I bet within a few days, maybe hours - you'll have developed a bit of understanding into how some of your fellow citizens view the world. It's ear-opening to say the least.
The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively, Proprietor/Ginger Alien - where things get writ. where writ things get.

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