Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Beverly Hillbilly Monday

Two days ago, I drove home from Michigan with a profile evocative of Okies departing the Dust Bowl 80 years ago for the promise of moisture on the West Coast. I mean my truck was loaded.

After completing back-to-back-weekends of process consulting in Michigan, I was back-hauling furniture from Jackson to Rutledge. Ma'ikwe's mother, Kay was taking advantage of my being in the neighborhood to divest herself of various components of her apartment's landscape in anticipation of her relocating to Canadaigua NY in April, to be with her new sweetie, Dick.

Sandhill has a light 1/2-ton Toyota pickup with a short bed (6-1/2 feet long) and there was a certain geometric challenge to dense packing the following manifest:
—1 love seat (think juvenile couch)
—2 bookshelf units
—1 desk
—3 nesting end tables
—1 desk chair (on wheels)

As I had the dimensions of these items emailed to me ahead of time, I had a plan. I installed the desk behind the cab, with the end tables on one side. The bookcases lay flat behind the desk, nesting nicely between the wheel wells. I deployed the love seat cushions as bumpers to protect the desk from rubbing against the bookshelves in transit. Since the combined height of the two supine bookcases exceeded the height of the end gate, as was able to lay down a sheet of 3/4-inch plywood next, to serve as a platform for the love seat. After mounting the love seat (on its back, with the legs unscrewed), the top edge of the couch extended 2+ feet above the cab, and I occurred to me that I was already offering a large enough profile as a plaything for the gusting-to-30 mph winds predicted for the day.

With images of Granny (Irene Ryan) strapped into a rocking chair atop a precariously piled mound of possessions—a visual image I've retained from the opening sequence of the long running CBS comedy, Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971)—I contemplated whether to add the final piece from the manifest: the desk chair on wheels. The phrase "hell on wheels" popped into my head at this juncture, at which point Kay & I prudently opted to leave the desk chair in Michigan. Hell, we figured, they have chairs on wheels in Missouri, too.

Next came the tarping down, made all the more exciting by the early arrival of the predicted gusting winds. At this point, it came in quite handy that I'm experienced at transporting canoes safely into wilderness access areas atop passengers cars traveling along back roads where the scenery is pristine but the paving is not. In a situation like that, it's not so much knowing one's dos and don'ts as it about having a nose about knots.

Fortunately, I know my knots and how to keep loads with a high sail profile firmly connected to the vehicle. After much threading of line through grommets and cleats—and the appropriate application of bowlines and tautline hitches—I had myself a covered load.

At 11 am I pulled out of Jackson and headed west. For the first hour I kept my speed below 55 and watched the side mirrors (all I could see in the rear view mirror was the back of the desk) for telltale signs of loose lines or a shifting load. I scanned as diligently as a mother hen taking her chicks out for their first post-hatch constitutional, worried that a fox might sneak up on my brood. When I paused at a rest area on I-69 I was able to correct some of the rigging and tightened everything down. After that, I gradually found that the load remained stable at regular highways speeds and I inched up to 65 mph.

[It's noteworthy, I think, that I could spend 8+ hours traveling at 65 mph on the interstate and only pass one car all day. If peak oil will necessitate significant lifestyle changes, people in this country have not yet gotten the memo. We clearly remain a nation in a hurry—and don't particularly care (yet) about how much oil we burn to get there.]

Happily, the remainder of my drive home was blissfully uneventful, excepting for the speed trap I stumbled upon once I got off the interstate and was pulled over for going 49 in a 35 mph zone with no traffic. After being self-conscious about the possibility that I might be going dangerously slow most of the day, I attracted the unwanted attention of a bored state trooper for not hitting the brake as I glided through a small town with rolled up sidewalks at 9 pm. Sigh.

Lucky for me, the temperatures were above freezing all the way and the roads were mostly dry. There were occasional patches of water resulting from the snow that's steadily been melting from the huge dump of two weeks ago [see my blog It Snow Miracle of Feb 1 for more on this], but this resulted in only minimal splashing. Whew.

When I got to Dancing Rabbit (circa 10 pm) I was more than ready to stop driving, but I had to figure out how close I could get to Ma'ikwe's house without risking the truck getting stuck. How thawed was the ground? At the first sign of things getting soft, I simply stopped for the night—about 100 yards from the house.

In the morning, the temperatures had dropped into the low 20s and the ground had crusted over, providing me just enough firmness to drive up to Ma'ikwe's house (after coffee, of course), unload the furniture, and get back on terra firma without rutting things up (For many years Sandhill had as a neighbor Willis Otte, who was fond of saying that the more firma, the less terra—and I knew what he meant when it comes to driving on thawing ground and you risk the bottom going out at any moment.)

When I drove home later in the morning, I reflected on how very different it was to arrive home in the sunshine, with meltwater streaming down the roadsides. I had left at dawn 12 days earlier with temperatures at -9 F and post-storm traffic reduced to one lane on the blacktop. I had left in the dead of winter, and returned less than a fortnight later with the maple trees already tapped, and the gardeners itching to start seedlings.

Spring is coming, pass it on.

No comments: