Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Who needs brakes?" and Other Tales of a Dangerous Truck

This is our beater. It has no brakes.

As Ron says, "But who needs brakes?"

That is to say, the beater has about 33% of what I suppose it's braking capacity must have been in 1977, the year of its birth. It conked out a number of years ago, and was only recently resuscitated last year, I believe, by one of my coworkers on a rainy day. Since then, it's mission has been to cause general havoc and mayhem. For example, after distribution on Tuesday, Anne gave me a ride to the bottom of the grassy slope which passes for my driveway up to my quarters. We park there for a second, finishing our conversation, when all of a sudden a yell which sounds like "Nuuuuhhh Braaaaaaa!" and a wooshing sound of grass. We look at each other. The yell wafts through the gentle breeze again, this time clearer: "No brakes!" I have never seen any one start an ignition as quickly as Anne did. Our car bumped forward at the same moment Ron came whizzing down the hill and took a hairpin scream to the right, back onto the driveway--narrowly missing us. He had, as we are often want to do around here, been rolling down in neutral, hence the peaceful woosh of grass rather than the more distinctive--and properly ominous--sound of an engine. Brakes or no brakes, I'll be flattened one of these days by these silent trucks of damnation.

The beater is actually surprisingly reliable--it always starts, it almost never dies, even when you do something stupid like, say, fail to give it the correct clutch/gas ratio when easing away from the barn on a cold engine. It's pretty quaint to drive, too, all full of the smells of sun-eaten leather and old hay, and you feel like a real farm hand until you peel out onto the main drive way and accidently get her going to, oh, 20 mph, and you realize as you crest the hill down to Polly's place and your head cracks against the ceiling that you actually have zero control over this situation. The seat is too far back to get a good toe-hold on the pedal, but it doesn't matter because you can floor that brake and ain't nothin' much gonna happen, sweetie. So you learn to use the gears to moderate speed and not nurse the clutch as I tend to do because gravity, well, she wins every time when you're in a quarter-ton pickup careening down a gravel road to an uncertain end.

It's like riding a rollercoaster without the pleasure of knowing the thing complies to safety regulations. That is to say, a lot of fun.

Take today: I had to do some weed-wacking down at Polly's. I've driven it a number of times now; I've got it stuck in the wet grass up at my quarters once, but other than that, all's well. I know how to ease up on first gear so that she slows enough to nose to a halt beside the barn. So far, so good. On my way back, however, I decide to park it up by our upper barn, on the machine pad, which means driving up a bit of a steep embankment. Well, I didn't have enough momentum, quite, and so she starts rolling backwards and I completely loose both my mind and any skill I may have had. Foot petrified on the clutch, I rip backwards down the drive, crunch over the gravel mound and manage to miss my coworkers new truck on one side of the road and the greenhouse on the other by jerking the steering wheel around the way little kids mime driving. She picks up speed, and I realize that directly in my path of destruction stands a) the office and b) the telephone pole--they're about 10 feet away by this point. So I crank the wheel again and the sheer momentum pushes me halfway up the opposing hill and I sort of rock to a stop at the bottom.

I sat there a moment, waited for the adrenaline to drain away, turned the key, and nosed back to the barn, grateful that no one in the office had been watching.



    1. I just got my copy of Poetry yesterday (finally). That's an interesting piece. I liked it, though I think it was a little unnecessarily convoluted and artsy. I kind of get tired of the Annie-Dillard-personal-essay imitators and they way they cram their works full of allusions and metaphors and flowery rhetoric. Just let the world be, damn it. Oh wait, that's a camp I belong to, isn't it? Well, if you can't beat them, join them. At any rate, I thought that sentence about the house being like the inside of a clock was stunning, really. I guess my beef with that school of essay/short story/whatever is that they somehow manage to turn the usual "show" tricks into "tell" tricks and they do it with a panache that distracts from what they're actually talking about, a panache which usually displays the ego as its main object. What do you think? Betsy and I have been talking about the difficulty of avoiding narcissism, as Betsy says, in projects like this blog. I remember you telling me that you didn't think I'd like Holy the Firm much any more. Well I haven't reread that, but I did just finish Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which happens, like, 40 miles from where I'm typing this), and I almost couldn't slog through the first half because it was so self-conscious that I wanted to throw it across the room and go for a jog. But then that changes in the last half with her apprehension of evil, I think. I've been reading Whitman, and I think a similar transformation happens to Leaves of Grass, particularly in the last edition (which I think is what I'm reading now...). Anyway, that was long. A post on Whitman will soon follow.

    2. Wow. So many typos. I have got to start proofreading things...