Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 28 - Roll Me Over...

          This morning I felt like hell. The pain was back. I had a fever. I stayed in bed and popped pills all day. I didn’t even get up to watch Kelly Ripa. I just didn’t have the energy to tolerate a lot of morning venue nonsense for a dose of Kelly's high spirits. It seems life is always giving you trade offs. Sometimes they’re just not worth it.
          In my fitful, drug induced sleep I had one bad dream after another. I never have bad dreams. I have weird dreams sometimes, but never bad ones. I don’t pretend to know the purpose of dreams. Maybe they’re just another one of life’s little trade offs—stuff you deal with in your sleep to balance out stuff you didn’t deal with when you were awake. Like I say, I don’t know. All I know is that, now that I don’t have to go to work any more, I dreamt about being at work. I dreamt about the job I just left, the job before that, and the job before that, all the way back to when I used to work for my dad. All the disagreeable crap that ever happened to me at work came flooding back in serial form like bad daytime TV—only there was no scantily clad window dressing and no Kelly Ripa.

This truck is the approximate age and size of the truck that I wrecked. You'll have to imagine it with an open top covered by a red tarp, oxidized paint, bald tires, cracked windshield, wired down hood, and a lot of rust and dirt. Put that all together in your mind, and you'll get the idea.

          One such dream was a graphic replay of a real event. It had to do with driving a 1952 Ford straight body bulk feed truck, something that I did for my dad in 1965 when I was 17 years old. I drove it because nobody else who worked for Dad would get in it. It wasn’t safe. The windshield was cracked. The hood was held down by a piece of baling wire wrapped around the radiator grill. The two front tires were worn down to the cord. The whole rig was so poorly balanced that with a full load the driver had to exercise extraordinary caution when easing out the clutch in first gear to avoid lifting the front wheels off the ground. Dad paid me $4.00 an hour to drive this truck around three counties delivering feed to ten flocks of ranged turkeys. Why Mom let him do this is a mystery to me to this day. I can only guess that she had no idea how dangerous it was.
          Dad was a country veterinarian with an entrepreneurial heart. He longed to build a thriving business, to become a captain of industry, and eventually to pass on a financial empire to his sons. He started with a fertilizer business—a pole shed with a mixing tank and some applicator equipment to side dress corn. Then he added another facility down the road and next to a railroad siding to mix and bag dry fertilizer. He hired managers to run the plant while he continued his veterinary practice.
While he was still trying to get traction in the fertilizer business he decided to branch out into poultry. I guess he figured if anyone understood animal husbandry it should be a vet. He bought a grain elevator in another town to store and mix feed grains for turkeys. He bought about 100,000 hatchlings and paid to have them raised to pullets in brooder houses and then transferred to contract ranges to mature to packing age and weight. My brother and I ranged 10,000 birds in two flocks on 40 rented acres, and I drove the truck to feed all the birds. By any stretch in our little town it was a big operation. He certainly had a lot of money tied up in it, and he lost it all in pretty short order. I helped. I wrecked the truck.
I don’t think in all fairness you could call it my fault. Dad did, but then he had a lot at stake so I understand his frustration and his need to find someone to blame. The truck wandered all over the road. There was the balance problem I already mentioned, and the treadless tires didn’t help matters any. The tie rods were loose, the steering gear nearly shot, the suspension was overtaxed, under-designed, and older than dirt. If we had lived in a populous area I would have been involved in a serious accident the first day I drove off the lot in that death-trap. As it was it only took 6 weeks.
I was driving down a one lane country road with a full load on my way to feeding our remotest flock. It was early August and the air was laden with ragweed pollen and other caustic allergens that had my nose running and my eyes watering. I was popping over the counter allergy medication like candy oblivious to the warnings (if indeed there were any warnings in 1965) not to operate heavy machinery as ‘use of this product may cause drowsiness’. It didn’t have any effect on the allergies, so why should I think it might put me to sleep?
The truck drifted to the right and the right front wheel got onto the dirt berm that bordered the drainage ditch. The berm broke under the weight of the truck, and the wheel dug sideways into the ditch. I jerked the steering wheel to the left to keep the truck from plowing headlong across the ditch. The wheel popped up onto the roadway and bit into the pavement, finding just enough traction to fling the truck into a broadslide. I jerked the steering wheel back to the right, overcorrecting the skid into another broadslide in the opposite direction. The truck slewed back and forth like a big, lumbering boat and finally settled into an irretrievable slide into the left side ditch where the wheels dug in and flipped the truck over one complete revolution. The truck came to a rest right-side-up about ten yards into a wheat field.
I took an inventory. My glasses were missing. There were wires down across the roof and hood, but because I didn’t have my glasses I couldn’t tell if they were power lines or phone lines. I kicked the door open hoping to avoid being electrocuted, climbed out of the truck, and made my dazed way back to the road. I looked to my right and saw a farmhouse near enough to walk to and hopefully use a phone. I looked to the left and there was a car coming. In six weeks of driving this road I had never seen another vehicle on it. Even more amazing, the car was the county sheriff’s cruiser. More amazing still, the county sheriff drove right by me as if I weren’t standing there in front of a wrecked truck and downed power lines. I wondered if he couldn’t see me because I was dead. I waved my arms at his back window. He stopped and backed the cruiser up to where I was standing on the road. Okay then. I decided that I probably wasn’t dead.
He rolled his window down. “What’s the problem, son?” he asked.
“I think I just rolled that truck over,” I said.
We both looked over at the truck. Dust was still rolling across the field from the mishap. Six tons of turkey feed lay in a neat pile atop a red tarp in the middle of the ditch. The truck looked pretty much just as it had when I first climbed into it that morning. The only sign of something amiss was the downed lines.
“God A’mighty, son,” the sheriff said. “I seen the truck and a cloud a dust. I thought you was combinin’ wheat.”
The sheriff took a report. We determined that the downed lines belonged to the telephone company so I climbed back into the truck and retrieved my glasses. The sheriff radioed his office, and his office called Dad’s manager at the grain elevator. About 20 minutes later the manager showed up with a crew and a trailer and they started shoveling the feed off the tarp. I watched. No one had much to say. The sheriff left, and someone gave me a ride home.
I had a skinned knuckle and a stiff neck. I occurred to me for the second time in my life—the first being after I had got myself crossways with an electric arc welder—that I was lucky to be alive. I took a shower, changed clothes, and sank into an easy chair in our living room with a book. I didn’t read the book. I just stared into space. I don’t remember what I thought. I think maybe I thought that I should occupy my mind with weighty issues of life and death, good and evil, judgment and redemption. Nothing like that came to mind—at least not in such a way that I can remember it 42 years later. I was still in the chair when Dad came home.    
          “What happened?” he asked.
          “The berm broke,” I said. “I rolled the truck over in a wheat field.”
          “That’s going to cost me a thousand dollars,” he said, and walked off.
          That was my first indication that the lives of managers are different from the lives of workers, and that no matter what other connections may exist the two are rarely if ever truly in sync.

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