Thursday, March 26, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Walleye. Yes, the fish.
Living here in the Great Lakes means we LIVE for the water. We have the largest freshwater resources in North America and 22 percent of the world's surface fresh water. (Threatened, I might add, by bottled water companies and the desert states out West.)
We all have our favorite places: Salmon fishing in Ludington, on Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes just up the coast, Mackinac Island, Lake Superior Provincial Park where you can see 800 year old pictographs painted on the cliff walls by the native inhabitants. There are regattas on Lake Huron, the Soo Locks at Sault Saint Marie between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, crashing waves at Point Presquile in Lake Erie, walking the planks at Cave of the Winds underneath Niagara Falls between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and, oh, so much more.
We love our lakes.
Those are the big ones. Michigan is dotted by thousands of other smaller lakes. We love those, too.
Our lake is actually a reservoir. It stretches perhaps six miles from the dam to the bridge one town over. There are beautiful inlets all along the reservoir, no wake zones and areas where you can let 'er rip!
Last year I became a boat owner. The 14 foot pontoon is not too big and not too small. An acquaintance won the boat in a divorce, but it sat in her yard for two years without being run. She had to get rid of it and we happily took it off her hands.
On a cold April day we pulled the boat from the snowbank and drove it two hours away. We could not wait for spring to really begin. A couple of weeks later we took the boat out for the first time. I had never owned a boat, or, for that matter, ever really been around one (also, I can't swim). The first trip bordered on disaster. The boat started fine, but sputtered a bit. Not far from shore it started to quit. We made a mad dash for shore and pulled back in.
Getting the boat back on the trailer proved difficult that first time. The front of the pontoon bumped into the back of the trailer and I learned a valuable lesson in physics: You know the one, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." As the boat moved away from the dock (rapidly, I might add) the rope popped out of my hands and into the water. I looked at it for a moment and then realized that THE BOAT IS FLOATING AWAY! I shrugged my shoulders and jumped in after it.
Let me tell you this, April is not the best month to go for a swim around here. The ice left the waters just a week or two before. A million needles stabbed me and I couldn't breathe. I lunged for the rope and pulled it back towards the trailer. I stood on the dock, stunned and shivering.
After replacing the spark plugs and the gas line connection the boat ran smooth. Every weekend and day off we spent on the water. Many worms met an untimely end. There is still a red and white bobber hanging high in the branches of a tree. (I checked, it's still there.)
As it turns out we had been putting the wrong oil/gas ratio in the tank. A piston seized up, blowing the engine. Depression set in as we went from one repair shop to another with quotes ranging from $1,000 to $1,800 to fix the engine. Then a hot tip came in. We found an older guy who's been working on engines since he was 6 years old. Now in his seventies, he agreed to fix the engine for $300. It's sitting in his garage, hibernating with rest of us.
The reservoir is quiet this time of year. A few ice fishermen are attempting to brave the sub zero temps. It's funny what a simple fish can do to you.
Friday, January 9, 2009
I'd never ridden in a semi for any long trips, just little jaunts down the road. When this opportunity arose, I couldn't say no. I wanted to know what it is really like to see the road from the vantage point of a semi.
Judging from other people's questions, JP's job provokes a lot of interest. JP happens to have very colorful and enlightening answers. Most people base their knowledge of truck drivers on 1970s movies like "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Convoy" which made truckers out to be outlaws and rough necks. Some of that still exists, but that generation of trucking is almost extinct. Today, there are vast gleaming truck stops and paperless logs will soon be putting the outlaw truckers out of business. In addition, truck driving is a bit more colorful these days as drivers from other races and cultures, as well as women, take their place behind the wheel. Don't be surprised to see a Sikh turban or a Mexican flag.
JP's schedule took some getting used to. Driving through the night and the into the morning means sleeping through the day, resting a bit in the afternoon and evening and then up again to drive all night. It takes stamina, a strong back and an ass that can take the abuse. That first night I struggled to get adjusted. My back and butt hurt. I leaned on the arm rest and my elbow got a blister. Banging around in the truck is very hard on the body. I had no idea.
By 2:30 a.m. that first night, I simply could not keep my eyeballs open. What had I gotten myself into? JP switched through the channels on the radio, stopped for a moment on Willie Nelson singing, "On the Road Again," then moved on. In the truck, everything moves on. Weary and in pain at 3 a.m., I finally collapsed into the bunk. JP kept right on driving.
The thing about the truck is that it never stops moving. It is either moving forward or humming as it sits in the lot. But, it never stops moving. There is never quiet, no silence and rarely peace. There is, however, pressure. Be on time, don't be over-weight, don't get into an accident, stay out of trouble. On the road there is always trouble.
Every driver has a million stories. JP has been shot at, propositioned by "lot lizards," lost in cities and the backwoods, defended the helpless and helped the desperate. Regularly he sees naked people while on the road (less so in the wintertime). He's seen horrible, unspeakable accidents and many, many incredible sunrises. Watching the sky change from velvet black to golden blue will make you think about your place in the scheme of things.
After that first brutal (to me) night, we still had to pick up our second load of the trip, a long-haul to Texas. Zombie-eyed and exhausted, we suddenly found ourselves face-to-face with nature on one of those golden blue mornings. Out of nowhere, a Red-tailed Hawk swooped down, captured breakfast on the side of the road and took flight, all just a few feet from the truck. It flew up into the air, and, wings spread, eyeballed us. Real eye contact for a millisecond. Chills instantly spread over my body.
One of the best parts of the job is honking the horn for little kids as they pass us in their shiny, quick cars. The kids hop and cheer. JP just smiles; it's a nice little perk.
I love collecting the names of interesting streets and roads. On this journey I noticed one called "Marked Tree Road." Some of my other favorites over the years include "Witness Tree Road," "Molly's Backbone Ridge," and "Starbird Road."
Another great hobby: collecting graffiti. Some truck stops are spotless and shocking in their cleanliness. They are also barren of the kind of graffiti humor that I have come to love. At the less-loved stops the graffiti gets good. Some gems from these journeys:
- One by one, garden gnomes are stealing my family!
- Let the people speak! (In another hand:) "No! They say stupid shit!"
- Stop writing on the doors. Thank you, The Management. (graffiti on a door)
- Beware the Ass Critters!!!! (In a foul outhouse at a job-site in Texas)
We knew, for at least a few days in advance, what our most scary moment would be in the truck. Hurricane Gustav was predicted to hit the exact area we were traveling into. I'll admit, fear got the better of me on that trip. At truck stops headed down into the affected area truckers stood shoulder-to-shoulder, two and three deep in front of the weather on TV. Some shook their heads and walked away. JP just fueled up and drove on.
JP has the reputation of being a bit crazy. Snowstorms in Sheboygan, Wisconsin do not scare him. Ice in the mountains of Tennessee? Not a problem. Michigan to Carlsbad, New Mexico and back in five days? Check out my dust. (While Michigan had two feet of snow on the ground, JP came back with a bug-splattered truck.) While getting shot at in Cincinnati, JP collected his paperwork from the security guard who had taken cover on the floor. Crazy.
Hurricane Gustav? Bring it on.
I've never been in a hurricane before. I had never seen rain like that. Never. We drove from Texarkana, Arkansas to Dallas, Texas in torrents of horizontal rain. Fierce winds lashed the truck. JP drove like he happened on a rain squall on a Sunday afternoon drive while I gripped with white knuckles the whole way. At about 12:30 a.m. we pulled into a rest stop and got the only spot left, right by the door, no less. Trucks lined the entire entrance and exit, as well. We crawled into our bunks and tried to catch a few winks.
I pulled myself onto the top bunk and tucked the blanket around me. Winds fiercely lashed the truck and I lay there with eyes the size of saucers. What had I been thinking? Drive into a hurricane? Sure! Not a problem.
"Will you stop moving around like that?" JP called from the bottom bunk.
"It's not me-E-e!" I sang from up top.
"That's the wind?!"
Oh, yes. The wind.
We stayed for about an hour and then hit the road again. We hooked up with another trucker and freight-trained through the storm. We didn't see another vehicle on the road the whole time. It ended up being the scariest 200 miles of my life.
Bear: Sheriff's Officer or police, in general
Chicken Lights: An overly lit truck (in an attempt to look cool). If even one of the lights are out, the driver can be written up at a Chicken Coop.
An Empty: Empty trailer
Pin Puller: A metal rod used by the driver to pull the lever on the King Pin, unlocking the trailer from the truck.
Steers: Wheels at the front of the truck that are controlled by the steering wheel
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The walls are covered with lighted vintage neon and tin signs. Airplanes and soapbox derby cars suspend from the ceiling along with every imaginable kind of sign and advertising. Every square inch of the space is occupied by some artifact from American history: from the 1600s to the present. Absorbing it all may just put you into sensory overload.
The collector of this astounding compilation is Bob Perani, a local minor league hockey star and the founder of the largest independent hockey store in the country. The flagship store anchors the mall that once fell on hard times as the surrounding community struggled with drugs and violence. Things are getting better, though. Dort Mall serves as an oasis of absurdity in an often harsh world. Who cannot smile at the Dort Mall car, after all? Not to mention the full-sized anamatronic elephant or the one-of-kind heli-boat? Or the gigantic golf ball or the 1910 drunk tank from Otisville, Michigan. And, yes, that is Spiderman on top.
The Dort Mall also features a large selection movie memorabilia, including life-sized versions of R2D2 and C3PO, Yoda, Darth Mal and Darth Vader among many, many others. There is also a huge selection of movie miniatures including a large viking ship that was used in Ben Hur and a variety of mini battle ships.
Perani definitely loves the nautical collection and there are some astounding finds: Original deep sea diving suits, a wooden periscope from one of the first submarines, carved figures from the front of ships in an astounding variety and cannons in varying conditions.
There are merry go rounds and carnival rides, "Wate and Fate" machines and other carnival contraptions, most in working order. If a sign can be lit, it is, and the same goes for the rides and machines.
The collection is called the "Museum," but I really wouldn't go that far. Many of the items are tagged, but many others are just there. Every few years part of the collection is sold to make room for more stuff. And, oh, the stuff that is there.
Dort Mall is located on Dort Highway about a mile and a half south of I-69 in Flint, Michigan. A visit is highly recommended. Take a camera and eat at the Star Diner. Be sure to order a coney dog. They only use Koegel hot dogs and everyone knows those are the best. Made in Flint, by the way.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Earlier in the year I made her a sock monkey. I even gave it an embroidery tattoo that read "LL + JJ" circled by a heart. About 8 minutes before she arrived I quickly wrapped the little guy; I forgot that little kids like to rip open presents. She loved the sock monkey, hugged it and wouldn't put him down. A good name for the monkey eluded us.
Instead we headed off to "Chinese!" This little girl, I'll call her "L," is about as sweet as they come. Beautiful and loving. She talked about her daddy, an uncle that treats her like his own. She snuggled with her older cousin and happily played with her ice cream instead of eating it. We let her. What could it hurt?
The fortune cookies came and we each picked one out. You can't open the cookie that you pick, you have to give it to someone else. A fast-paced, laughter-filled game of hot potato ensued. We reviewed our fortunes, lucky numbers and word of the day. L's word: Zhu Pai, pork chop. The monkey got a new name.
After the food it was off to the mall to visit with Santa. Despite the long line she patiently waited, sometimes dancing with Pork Chop and saying hello to a little friend she knew from baseball. She danced and wiggled, patiently waiting with Pork Chop to see the Big Guy.
When L's turn came she danced over and sat next to him in a huge over-stuffed green chair. He asked her name and how old she was. L held up five fingers. Had she been good? Oh, yes. She gave him her list (short and simple). Santa shook her hand and she danced back to us.
"Did you give Santa a hug good-bye?" I asked. She gasped, ran back to Santa and tackled him with a huge hug. As we left I touched his arm and said, "Thank you, Santa, for all that you do." He smiled and patted my hand.
Shopping involved the dollar store. A scrub brush and some lotion for L's mama. While we shopped a young man came up to us.
"We watched her with Santa," he said. "She was wonderful, so happy." He couldn't help but smile.
L fell asleep in the back seat of the car on the way home, Pork Chop snuggled in her arms.
We had a wonderful day and, frankly, we can't stop smiling either.