Friday, April 25, 2008

Almost Heaven, whatever.

I'm having this love affair with West Virginia. I just love driving through the state. In fact, the Appalacians, in general, make for a great drive. Just recently, I had a wonderful drive from North Carolina up through the western end of Virginia into West Virginia and then into Ohio.

At Ravenswood, WV, I left the Interstate, a rare treat, and headed to Columbus on US33. I went across this cool steel bridge as a lazy tug nudged a half dozen coal barges downstream. With its wake on a funky angle, I watched the tug work the barges around a curve. Southeast Ohio is just more West Virginia that happens to be north of the river. The drive through the Hocking River Valley is one of my new favorites. Along the way, I saw a sign for the Fur Peace Ranch. Fur Peace is a play on "a fur piece down the road." The ranch was started by Jorma Kaukonen and his wife as a "ranch that grows guitar players." Jorma and his famous friends put on guitar camps throughout the summer. Jorma was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. He is a Piedmont fingerstyle acoustic blues guitar master. One day, I'm going to go to camp there.

I went up into Ohio for a delivery past Columbus. from there I picked up and headed right back down through the Virginias to North Carolina. This time I couldn't avoid the Interstate. Crossing the river north of where I did before, it was getting late and I needed to stop for the night.

I got off the hishway at the romantically named Mineral Wells, WV. Sometimes, coming off that solitary black ribbon of highway onto an exit can be information overload. There was two hotels, a McDonalds, two convenience stores, a four wheeler gas station, a Federal Express terminal, two truckstops, a strip bar, a BBQ joint, an adult bookstore, and a bar. Somehow, I drove past the poorly marked service road and missed both truckstops. Now, I was on a narrow WV State Highway. Ever the optimist, I just knew there would soon be a place to turn around.

Around the curve, I saw a large crane shovel. I slowed to turn around, but the lot it sat in was lumpy loose gravel. Not wanting to get stuck, I kept rolling.

There were a couple small businesses. Perhaps, I could swing into the edge of their parking areas and do a "U" turn. The Five O'Clock traffic was all around me. I didn't want to tie them up. Drivers can get a ticket for too much of a traffic delay.

Now there's a sign telling me the bridge ahead can only handle trucks and buses one at a time! Just across the bridge, a stop sign and another strip bar. At the stop sign, two WV highways split. One looks narrow and residential. I took the other one. Leaving the stop sign, there is a tight curve. Shifting gears and watching my tailer come around and trying to decide if I can get behind the bar to go back the other way I came. And I'm watching the four wheelers buzz around me like gnats. I might have made it behind the bar, but I'd rolled too far before deciding. I'm on a hill that curves off to the right. There is barely any shoulder here for the rock outcroppings but I stop to assess my options. Cars are going into the other lane to get around me. Where did all this traffic come from? When a Harley Dude and his wife go into opposing traffic and around me, I know I've just got to move.

::This has been a special preview version of the Sailorbum Blog. ::

Read the rest HERE.

Baby, why you been gone so long?

My truck is a "condo." Beside being my Home-Sweet-Truck, it has an extra bunk for team driving. The roof line of the sleeper is higher and there are a couple windows where the cab roof angles up to the sleeper height. Last night, in Minnesota, I was in the bunk watching a nice storm pass. The sky was purplish grey. The lightning would flash splashing a bright yellow on the clouds nearby; like goldleaf. The truck and trailer shook in the gusts while the rain came down in sheets.

I've been avoiding work on a couple creative projects lately. Like the cloud lightning, my brain flashes energetically but nothing is touching the ground. My schedule has been a little crazy as well. That promotes my procrastination. I'm working on a real long post. It'll get posted as a preview with a link to the rest. Be well, do good work [stolen from Garrison Keillor].

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

West Virginia Early Morning Springtime

Driving through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio today spring was deafening. The wildflowers were singing everywhere. The buds on the trees were chiming in. The Dogwoods on the edges of the valleys were shouting to be heard. The backbeat was a glazed brick silo, some ramshackle plank sided outbuildings and old barns. Grey, weatherworn wood falling off frames topped with old metal roofs. Every roof was the wine dark burgundy of decades long rust. Cows and goats walked on grass so proud to be back from the long winter that it just shouted green; glowing as if lit from below.

Last weekend, I was driving through Kentucky and Tennesee. All I could hear was the sproing-oing sound of spring springing. The mountains were sprinkled with bursts of color, like a fireworks display. Trees were popping their buds. There were neon green trees and burnt yellow. Trying to read the bark, they were both maples, I think. And a golden brown I think was oak. Near the Kentucky Tennessee border, a bright purplish pink was everywhere. It covered shrubby little saplings and gnarled trunks alike, sumac maybe.

During the week last week, Dad rode with me to Bay City to uncover the boat. We talked about the grey green drab of pre-spring that we passed. Michigan is just behind these lower states, but it's coming! "In A Mist" seemed to weather the winter fine. It was good to walk around her dragging my fingers along the curve of her hull.

Dad helped as I restrung a tarp over her aft half. I had two tarps from stem to stern, covering her decks for the winter. The forward tarp came off for ventilation. Keeping the air moving is important to keep the mildew down. I left the huge tarp over the Main Cabin hatch and the cockpit. These two areas are where I'm getting some water leaking in.

I organized a little down below and pumped the bilge. There was water passed the knuckle on my index finger; maybe 2". That was not as bad as it could have been. It was clean clear water so I don't think I have any rot going on; just a leak, or leaks, somewhere. I'm sure the cockpit coamings are leaking. They need rebed. Then there is all manner of deck hardware from stanchion bases and blocks, to pad eyes and winches that could be leaking.

I have been visualizing the cabin as I drive around. It was good to take a moment in the cabin and reacquaint myself with her proportions. The pilot berth is higher and nearer the center of the main cabin than I thought. This will become a pantry of sorts, I think.

I can't decide if I think there is less work than I thought; probably not. The cockpit floor will be replaced, the holding tank replumbed, and some wiring done. I am looking forward to spending a some quality time in Bay City this summer.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Today's post is dedicated to Chuck and his heroic actions to save a van. Not only does his Chebby Van live on, but he has joined a subculture. Branding is a radical body mod way more hardcore than a tattoo.

I lived in a house in Royal Oak with a couple other guys. Paul owned the place, inherited it I think, and slept on the first floor. He was an Executive Chef at the hospital. Dave lived in the basement. He was a quintessential Dave in the late 1970s Cheech and Chong sense of the word. Dave was a heavy equipment operator in the days when construction stopped at the first frost. He worked all summer, driving bulldozers and earthmovers, and then partied like a madman all winter.

I moved into the second floor in the fall. It was a cool open space with a wood planked floor painted black. The long walls were about four feet tall and then sloped upward with the pitch of the roof. On each short end was a window. The window by the stairs doubled as my hobo fridge. I kept wine coolers and cheese between the panes in the winter; back in the day when wine coolers were a thing.

I had a sofa bed that was upholstered in black and white, somewhere between houndstooth and zebra. The couch sat on a cheap oriental rug that defined some space in the center of the open room. It really tied the room together. On the end by the stairs and the hobo fridge, I kept my dresser near the low closet. My desk and stereo were in the space on the other end of the room. A stack of vinyl records, three and half feet tall, with a lamp on top, functioned as an end table.

My girlfriend at the time was still back on campus at MSU. We had this bizarre weekend tradition of White Russians and Chinese Food. Specifically, it was always Almond Chicken from Wong's Cantonese on Woodward Avenue. Wong's made the best Almond Chicken I've ever had. It wasn't the braised chicken, nuts and vegetables that probably comes to mind. It was a chicken breast battered, rolled in sliced almonds, then fried, cut into strips, served over rice and vegetables with fresh green onion sprinkled on top. Magnificent!

[Editor's Note: Checking in 2016, Wong's is reported as closed on Yelp]

One midterm week, she came to my place to escape the hustle and bustle. Except, of course, I was there. We worked out a compromise. She studied in the nude so that I could sketch figure studies while she read, lubriciously strewn across the couch with a Labor Relations Text or something. Though it was just a mechanism to allow me to stare at her awhile, I made it up to her later. Even later, I married her, but I'm not so sure that could be considered making anything up to her.

I don't remember if the party came first or the fire. The party scared me into moving, so the fire must have been first. New Years Eve 1987 lasted three days at the house. A wild and varied selection of Royal Oak's finest citizens called; some stayed awhile, some never left. There was a biker chic passed out for what seemed like 24 hours, on the toilet, pants around her ankles and a butterfly tattoo on her thigh. There was a guy who looked for all the world like Jesus, except his beard was more like bread mold than that of a stained glass icon. Jesus never left the dinette in the kitchen. A BernzOmatic Propane Torch, always at the table, never went out - marathon freebasing.

Each morning that weekend, the living and dining rooms were littered with bodies like a hostage standoff gone horribly wrong. I was also getting the idea that a fairly large percentage of the coke traffic into Royal Oak was going through the basement. It was time to find a new place to live. As cool as it was to be half a block off Woodward Avenue, if the cops busted in, we were all going with them.

The fire was some weeks earlier. I was the token working stiff with a regular job. Paul's swing shift schedule, slinging hash for the MDs was ever changing. It was late fall, after the frost, Dave wasn't working, he was partying - full time.

I was upstairs sleeping. Selling packaging materials to auto industry suppliers was a contact sport. The beeping of an alarm seeped into my consciousness. Half asleep, I rolled over and checked the clock; it was barely past midnight. Paul must be cooking on the night shift this week. Back to sleep.

Minutes later, the alarm woke me again. More awake this time, I laid there trying to decide if it was Paul's or Dave's alarm. What the hell would Dave need to get up for? Maybe it didn't even sound like an alarm clock. Hmmmmm. What is that noise?

That's when I smelled smoke!

I recognized that noise! Smoke alarm! Smoke!

I threw on some jeans and stumbled down the stairs. With the door open to the downstairs, I really smelled smoke! Dashing toward Paul's bedroom, there was less smoke there. I spun around to see lots of smoke in the kitchen! Not good!!

Through the kitchen, which is still right out of the 1940s, it was two steps down to the landing and a hard right toward the basement. Looking down the stairs, the basement was filled with a brownish grey smoke. Worse, I could see an orange glow coming from the direction of Dave's space. Dave didn't really have a room. I'm not sure he paid much rent. He was Paul's girlfriend's older brother and apparently that got you a cot in the corner of the basement.

I bounded down toward the glow and went into slow motion. Dave was in his bed. Next to the bed was a folksy German chair. It had elaborately spindled legs painted bright colors with a heavily wickered seat, like a thatched roof from the movie "Heidi." Except the wicker was on fire(!), popping and cracking like an evil breakfast cereal, sending little strips of wicker ash into the air. A black blob, which I later found out had been an ashtray, was under the chair. There was our source!

Dave lay on his bed with his arms crossed over his chest, still dressed, shoes and all. Wicker ash covered his face and chest, all over the windbreaker he was still wearing. In the back of my mind, I could hear someone saying "Don't he look natural." I shouted at him and shook him to no avail. He jostled back and forth on the cot but just laid there. I had to do something about the burning chair!

I hadn't had the sense to bring a bucket of water or anything. I had never been in the basement and didn't know where the utility sink was. There is a legend in my family of a house fire and a great uncle running out with an organ stool . . . just an organ stool.

Apparently, I'm following a family tradition of 'grace' under pressure.

Squatting down, I grabbed the front legs of the chair down by the floor. It was fairly light and I carried the chair, still burning, up to the landing. Holding the chair out into the kitchen with one hand, I unlocked and opened the side door with the other and tossed the smoldering mess out into the driveway.

Relieved, I got back in the house and knocked on Paul's door.

"Paul, wake up."

"Yeah," just audible.

"There's been a fire but its out. I can't tell if Dave is alive or not."

"Oh, $%^&*!!," shouted.

Paul burst out of his room, stumbled across the dining room, paused to sniff the air, got his bearings and looked around. The house was still there. Then he clod down the stairs into the basement.

When I caught up with him, Paul was standing on the cot over Dave, holding the windbreaker by the lapels and bouncing Dave up and down.

"You almost burned my #%^&* house down! You almost burned my #%^&* house down!"

Dave woke up.

A little after one in the morning, the three of us stood in the driveway, while Paul sprayed the chair down with a half frozen garden hose.

"You saved my house, man. I'm gonna buy you a beer," Paul declared. Looking at his watch "Right now. Let's go."

The three of us cut through the backyard, jumped a curb and walked across the Auto Glass Shop's lot and up Woodward Avenue, 1:00 AM midweek. There's always a few cars on Woodward, but it seemed eerily calm that night; or that morning, whatever it was. We ambled past the Florist, an Insurance Agency, a Little Caesar's and found a piano bar. I don't remember the name of the place, but I can still remember the sign: "Buddy Clark at the Piano. Nightly 9:00 to 2:00."

We were a motley crew for a piano bar, but there didn't seem to be anyone else but a waitress and a bartender. We sat right next to Buddy, as he tickled the ivories, in a tuxedo.

He finished a tune and asked "What would you like to hear?" The twinkle and the smirk silently said "You crackers probably can't even spell jazz."

"How about some Duke Ellington," I said.

The smirk disappeared but the twinkle remained. "Lucky guess" he must have thought. "Ever since those damned Rolling Stones played "Take the A Train" as a live show intro, all these unwashed rockers think they're audiophiles!"

Just on the verge of patronizing, Buddy asked "Well, there's so much, what Ellington are you in the mood for?"

Oh, ye of little faith. I whipped out my jazz chops, "Gosh, how about "Take the A Train" or "Satin Doll," maybe "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Perdido" or "Black and Tan Fantasy."  Or maybe that song Paul Gonsalves went crazy on at the '56 Newport Jazz Fest. What was the name of that tune?"

Chagrined, but almost impressed, Buddy played a couple Ellington tunes, then decided it was closing time and disappeared. We finished our beers and headed home. It was almost three, I had to be to work in 4 hours or so, but I had a great story to tell.

The Cop and the Corn

I’ve written before about the DOT regulated hours I have to track as a truck driver. I can drive for eleven hours a day, but once I start,...