The Sandoval Signpost

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Signpost Cartoon copyright Rudi Klimpert

Signpost Cartoon copyright Rudi Klimpert
The Bus

—EVAN BELKNAP
W aking up at eighty miles per hour, Burque, Tucumcari, San Juan, can’t move, can’t sleep. The huge man on my side has started to drool on himself as he falls sideways onto my shoulder and snores in my ear. I’m counting the hours until my next transfer, 3:40 a.m., Amarillo.

Dirty puke-green-yellow floors, the river of cigarette butts flowing below the unnecessarily large Texas flag outside the bus station, a cloud of smoke bellows from the designated cage outside. No one makes eye contact or smiles or waves—we are all here alone.

I walk outside into the deserted street, slump against a wall, and watch through the window as a small decrepit black man in full camo presses his face up against the glass, looks around suspiciously and upon deciding that nothing is there, licks the window, and returns to twitching in his corner chair. After a few minutes, I’m joined by two guys, eighteen and sixteen. They offer me a cigarette and we start the discussion of our past prison/juvi experiences. One of them just got out of juvi for being on coke and streaking through a mall in Omaha. The other had six months in prison for possession. “Hi, my name is Clive and I’m still paying my fine for getting caught riding a kayak on a car through Silverton.”

A less crowded bus, double seat to myself, an extra foot and a half of heaven, maybe I can sleep now.

The sun comes up within hours and we’re stopped again. The voice comes through the intercom, “Good morning, we will be arriving in Oklahoma City in five minutes. Those continuing on to Muskogee, Little Rock, Memphis, you have to change buses. Go to Gate Four.” I have heard that same voice on the intercom every hour throughout the night.

In the window I can see my eyes glowing red, bloodshot from a night without sleep. Wait in line, claw and chew my way to the front so that I’m not one of the many who are left behind. Transfer buses, a whole new group of stereotypes to connect with.

There is no comfort here. I’ll see beauty in it eventually.

A woman screams and it takes me a while to realize that it is only the music on my headphones. Okemah, Henrietta, Muskogee, Sallisaw, Ft. Smith, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, cornfield after cornfield, going on twenty-two hours now, I am genuinely sick of the bus. Only thirteen hours left.

The sun gleams on the horizon, burning a bright red hole in the darkening sky, the reddest I’ve seen. Crows and magpies chase each other through the flames, over telephone wires, under tractors. The day ends and all goes dark.

I am sucked back into my box and forced to pay attention to the girl sitting next to me who has not stopped talking for two hours: “And guess what. You won’t believe this! Okay, ready?! So, I have the SpongeBob CD player, SpongeBob pajamas, SpongeBob cell phone, SpongeBob shoes, SpongeBob mirror, SpongeBob watch, SpongeBob ....” I fear I will never see the light of day again. Reaching down into my bag, I shuffle around until I find the little blue packets of Tylenol PM, my only salvation. I throw a few into my mouth and swallow them dry. Coma patients don’t sleep this well.

“Good morning, we will shortly be arriving in Nashville, Tennessee. The time is 1:50 a.m.” I despise the guy on the intercom. He is evil, relentless, as though he’s watching me, just waiting for me to fall asleep so that he can wake me up again. I open my eyes to the swaying darkness of the bus. My head hurts, I can’t see straight. I want to sleep so bad, but I have to diligently wait for an hour in the Nashville bus station. One thought at a time, get inside, wait, get in line, find your ticket, get on another bus. I run it over in my mind, making sure I don’t forget anything.

Why is it raining? Thick drops of caramel-colored water well up in the luggage compartment above the whole left side of the bus and start dripping down on the unsuspecting mass of truck drivers, door-to-door salesmen, convicts, and myself. As though a bomb went off, screams, and curses fill the air. (Did you know that for only $11.95 at Target, you can buy a flexible, painfully fluorescent orange, supposedly watertight cooler?) Standing up, I cautiously reach for my cooler, trying to appear as aloof as possible. It takes a couple minutes to fish the soaked blob out of the overhead compartment and as soon as I grab it, both of the handle straps break off and the cooler falls to the ground with a loud “Splat.”

I kick the cooler under my seat but remain standing. I feel like I need to make a statement, as now everyone on the bus is glaring at me, sharpening their knives, cracking their knuckles. “Uh, he he.” Apparently the Tylenol affects the ability to make good apologetic speeches. “Sorry about that,” I continue. The bus stops at the station and I hop out as fast as possible, avoiding my large, scary, purple-haired, female bus driver.

Nashville to Knoxville to Asheville. I climb off the bus at long last to smiling friends and pancakes. Never again will I step foot on another bus, I lie to myself (I’ll worry about the return trip later). Ten days in the wet, green, beautiful city of Asheville will be worth all the pain.

Evan Belknap is a seventeen-year-old Placitan who likes outdoor adventure, playing the bass, and time off.


Slow down, you move too fast

—JIM STILES
These are difficult times for people like me. I love to drive. Nothing soothes me more than a long, empty stretch of road and a full tank of gas and no known destination. I love the rumble of the road, spotting a café in a town, stopping for pie and coffee and listening to locals talk about the price of cattle. I love hearing meadowlarks as I rattle by their perches on fence posts. I like to roll down my window and moo at the standing cattle and wonder if this urge is an affliction that will someday produce its own special medication. I love driving into a thunderstorm and listening to the rhythm of my wipers.

I know I can’t begin to justify my addiction, but there it is, for all of you eco-purists out there, who want to call me a hypocrite.
I am guilty as charged.

With the price of gasoline stuck in the vicinity of $3, and knowing that to wish the price would fall runs counter to my broader view of energy conservation, I had to do something.

First, I gave up my beloved 1986 GMC pickup which sports 226,000 miles on the odometer and which has faithfully conveyed me for more than a decade, but slurps up gasoline faster than an elephant eats peanuts. It might get 15 mpg on a good day, moving mostly downhill.

It’s now fired up only to keep the battery charged and the fluids circulating and to use only when absolutely necessary. I rely on my 1999 Subaru Forester on a daily basis, and although I’ve never really developed the personal bond with this vehicle that I’ve experienced with other cars in my automotive past, I can say nothing but good things about her performance and efficiency. It always starts, and even at above-freeway speeds manages to get 30 miles per gallon.

But I knew the Subaru and I could do better, and I knew it would require a sacrifice. My motto used to be: "Stay with the traffic flow or get out of the way." I could move from tranquility to road rage faster than you can say, "slow-moving Winnebago.” Some of my friends suggested counseling.

Instead, I slowed down.

If you’re under 40, you probably don’t remember that in 1973, President Nixon ordered a reduction in speed limits on all federal highways to 55 mph to conserve energy. For a country accustomed to speed, the double-nickel limit shocked the motoring public. Imagine driving across the desert from Green River to Grand Junction, Colo., at 55 mph—it was excruciating. It had never occurred to most Americans that driving at a slower speed had anything to do with fuel economy. I was skeptical and decided to put his proposal to the test. So I drove from Louisville to Cincinnati one weekend to visit my parents and scrupulously monitored my speed both ways. I became a believer when my gas mileage improved by 15 percent.

Still, the national speed limit was opposed by many Americans, particularly the trucking industry. In 1987, lobbyists convinced Congress to raise the speed limit on rural interstate freeways to 65 mph, but it wasn’t until 1995, 21 years after its inception, that the 55 mph speed limit was finally abolished by Congress.

Well, I have imposed my own national speed limit upon myself. I keep my speed under 60 on two-lane roads and under 65 mph on interstates. I try not to make a nuisance of myself by creating logjams for faster moving vehicles. If there’s no opportunity for cars and trucks to pass, I’ll pull over and let them go by, but if timid drivers who lack passing skills miss clear opportunities to get by me, they’re going to save fuel whether they like it or not.
Keep in mind that I live in the rural West and don’t fight heavy freeway traffic on a daily basis, where trying to drive at 55 is a suicidal gesture. But out here, when the road is relatively empty, I’ve begun riding for free. Did you know that northbound between Monticello, Utah, and Moab, you can coast for nine miles?

The bottom line for all my energy-saving efforts has been an increase in my fuel economy from 30 mpg to 36 mpg -- or a 20 percent improvement. On a 15 gallon tank, that means I travel 90 miles farther than I did before.

Beyond that, I feel calmer. With some notable exceptions (those mega-motorhomes!), my road rage has gone into hibernation. Life seems easier now that I’ve removed myself from the fast lane. I've never been happier. I almost feel like a damn patriot.

Jim Stiles is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr in Moab, Utah.

Heard Around the West

—BETSY MARSTON

THE BORDER
On a Web site called Gizmodo, which caters to computer gearheads and other gadget collectors, we found a controversial offering a few months ago from Argentinean artist Judi Werthein. She has designed running shoes for illegal immigrants that feature a built-in compass and flashlight, a pocket inside the shoe’s tongue for aspirin or money, and a map of “popular routes going from Tijuana to San Diego on the insole.” The shoes are called Brincos, a play on the Spanish verb brincar, which means to jump, as in jump the border, and they’re a flashy red, white and green with an Aztec eagle on the heel. Brincos are not cheap: “So-called hip stores in San Diego were spotted selling them for $215.” But Werthein has given them out free to would-be migrants in Tijuana.

COLORADO
Writing in western Colorado’s Mountain Valley News, Steve Widner confesses that for him, the fun in farming is all about violence—and he doesn’t think he’s alone. “In the blood of every farmer runs the yearning for power, noise, and if you get right down to it, destructiveness,” he says. Farmers aren’t that different from racecar drivers, he adds; they like nothing better than firing up a tractor in the early morning, then hearing it roar and belch smelly black smoke. One farmer, he says, gets such a kick out of pulverizing entire cedar trees into chips and mulch with his brush-hog that he calls it “addictive.”

WASHINGTON
Beauty doesn’t always win the prize. Capital Press says the gorgeous Red Delicious apple — so perfectly shaped, so intense a shade of red—eventually bombed with both growers and consumers because the redder it got, the more it tasted like sawdust. The “downfall” of the Red Delicious came in 1998, said orchard economist Tom Schotzko, when a huge crop went on the market after an unusually hot summer. The apple was of inferior quality, he said, but what was worse, the crop “hung around until well into 1999.” These days, hardly anybody plants Red Delicious. Schotzko said he looks for Gala and Honeycrisp in the fall and buys Cameo and Fuji later.

UTAH
Talk about a really big job: Mark Connolly is the only archaeology cop employed by Utah, and his beat encompasses 45,000 lonely acres. He watches over Range Creek Canyon, 150 miles from Salt Lake City. In 2002, rancher Waldo Wilcox gave this area, which is rich in Fremont Indian artifacts, to the public. As part of the deal, Connolly, a former game warden, was hired to thwart looters, reports The Wall Street Journal. He has been doing that not by firepower, though he’s well armed, but by his constant presence. He loves the job, and when he leaves the canyon, he says, he always stops at a pass “to thank the canyon for the experience.”

COLORADO
What’s in a name? Perhaps nothing, but it is curious that the Colorado Department of Revenue ordered a recent auction at a failed restaurant in Boulder, of everything from a refrigerator to a bun warmer. The restaurant was called “Fiasco’s Mexican Grill.”

THE WEST
Codes of the West keep proliferating as more and more urbanites head for the hills. All too often, county commissioners find that newcomers arrive clueless about irrigation practices and rights, the tendency of cute wildlife to eat flowers, shrubs and trees, and the fact that it just might be unpleasant to live cheek by jowl with smelly cows or farmers working with loud machines. In Wyoming, Teton County is considering adopting a code of conduct because new residents expect services the county can’t afford to provide, such as plowing remote roads. The county’s booklet harks back to an idealized Old West, where people were “bound by an unwritten code of conduct” guided by “integrity and self-reliance.” The hope, apparently, is that newcomers will follow in these footsteps — however imaginary. As Teton County Commissioner Roger Hoopes told the Post-Register in Idaho, “As more people come in, there’s more of an opportunity to have people disappointed that the services are not here.” Newcomers come with similar expectations in the southern Oregon county of Jackson, where land development around Medford is booming, reports the Oregonian. A 28-page newcomer’s guide, prepared by the Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District, is meant to prepare people for the vagaries of rural life. There’s a lot to learn, said a conservation district member; the newest newcomers “don’t even know what questions to ask a seller or a Realtor.”

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (betsym@hcn.org). Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.



 

 

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