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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Uninvited Motoring Guests

Just as I was settling myself in bed the other night, at about 1:20 A.M., preparatory to that strange process of falling asleep for four or five hours, all that I am ever allowed at any one time in these latter years, I heard a car hurtling down the gravel road. Our house is oriented so that the room in which I sleep is on the side that is closest to the road, which runs north of and higher than the house while sloping sharply downward in two directions, from the left eastward to the right, and also from its south side straight down toward the house, and I heard that car suddenly stop and then nothing else.

The silence was too sudden and sharp, not at all like the fading sound of the car reaching the bottom of the grade and continuing on into the distance. Then I heard some wheels spinning hard, very close by. Too close. And some of our windows on that side had been turned suddenly aglow with more than moonlight.

I got out of bed and looked out a window -- and as it happened, that was nearly all that I did for the next four hours, instead of getting some much-needed sleep. I saw the lights of the side of a stopped car, whose driver was trying hard to get the car to move, preferably back onto the road. I couldn't tell for sure but it seemed to me that he or she had driven off the road and had been rudely stopped short by a tree or trees, no more, as a laser beam shoots, than 100 feet from the head of my bed.

This wasn't unusual. The same thing had happened four times that we knew of, at various places along our several hundred feet of road frontage, in the 35 or so years that we've been living here. One of them was by a teenaged neighbor who, in plain daylight about 20 years ago, had left the road at almost the same spot, driving up a short but steep bank, before he was stopped by gravity, saplings, and good luck, with his rear end still in the road.

I thought that there was a similar bank there and that the car had somehow surmounted it before being stopped, because it looked to be sitting higher up than I recalled the road being at that spot.

Minutes went by, eventually quite a few of them, while I wondered what I should do, if anything, and while the driver obviously kept hoping that he could do something easy to get out of there pronto, on that lonely and most likely strange-to-him road, and to keep going to wherever he had been headed. He kept gunning his engine and his wheels kept spinning, but his car refused to move an inch.

After the first half-hour of that, I started making some deductions, as much to justify my doing nothing as for any other reason, because for many reasons I didn't want to put all my clothes back on and go out into the cold darkness and find out who it was and whether they needed help. I knew it was only one person. Any more and I would have long since heard a lot of squabbling out there, as always happens when one person has done something dumb and doesn't want to hear about it but has to hear about it anyway.

First of all, what was this bird doing being out on our road at that time of night anyway? At that hour all sensible people are supposed to be home in bed, asleep. And if he had some kind of job that required him to be out and about, then he would be going about extricating himself from this mess smarter than this person appeared to be doing. If a car in the country is stuck fast by something, you can rarely if ever get it unstuck by merely pressing on the accelerator as hard as you can. Instead you have to get out, take a good look at things, decide on some external course of action, and go about it, and usually that doesn't involve just sitting in the car, constantly switching your lights from one state to the other, though mainly keeping them fully on, as if hoping to spot a bear farther up in the woods, and stomping the gas every few minutes in a process much like beating a dead horse, and meanwhile not doing your battery or your axle or your transmission any good.

Going by his behavior, I became convinced that the person out there in the hung-up car was in one of four conditions. He was either stupid, or he was drunk, or he was crazy, or he had Alzheimers. And I wasn't up for dealing with anybody who was in any of those states. All four would obviously account for what was happening with his wheels. By relentlessly spinning them, over and over and over again, every two minutes or so, he should've known after the first five minutes that all he was doing was digging his wheels in deeper and deeper and more and more hopelessly.

Finally I decided that the driver couldn't be a man. By then a man would have set afoot some kind of action, more than just the one brief foray outside the car that I was ever able to see and then only because of his small flashlight, before he quickly got back inside the car and tried hitting the gas again, for about the hundred and fiftieth time.

Instead I decided that it could only be a woman, a crazy and probably drunken white woman. Such a person would have been used to having a car doing her will at all times, and she would be boiling and anxious at the pure frustration of it all, while being unwilling to force herself into deciding to get out and walking to wherever she had been headed. The night was cold, and she was alone, and obviously her beloved cellphone wasn't working, or the reception was bad there, as it very easily could have been. Or she could've just chucked it out the window in anger before she realized what she was doing and now the best she could do was just to do all that she knew how to do and that was to put her pretty little foot to the gas and try yet again, in the hope that the wheels would finally come to their senses and would decide to do their job after all.

Meanwhile she was just waiting for someone to happen by and get her out of that pickle, and to help that occasion along she kept blinking her headlights on and off and thereby only lighting a long, narrow stretch of some singularly uncaring woods, and once or twice she even honked her horn a few times, as if expecting someone in the nearby uniformly dark houses, actually just mine, the only one she could've seen and by far the closest, to come running out to her rescue. But I was determined to keep the house dark, for fear that the person would come to my door and talk me into going out there.

Just recently I had already endured one nighttime visit, by a totally drunken friend, and that had been more than enough for this year, or even this decade. In fact I even thought that that might be him out there, juiced out of his mind yet again. But even at his most helpless, N. would've been a lot more enterprising about attacking this problem than this unknown person had been. N. had probably had this same kind of thing to happen to him a dozen times already.

Another time, during an even colder New Year's season many years ago, with ice and snow on the ground and in the air, a small group of young white people of obviously very humble means had done just that, knocking on my door, getting me to leave my then small son and wife to go out there and try to help them pull their car out of a big snowbank with my big come-along, which in those days worked much better than it does now, but that didn't help, and I ended up inviting them inside my house because among them was a woman with a baby, and they came in with one man toting a shotgun, and later I had to drive them in my car through the darkness over snow and ice on the roads ten miles into town, and my memory is that they weren't all that grateful about me doing that either.

Meanwhile don't get me wrong. At the risk of having all my teeth jerked out of my gums with a pair of rusty pliers, which works for me because they are now the demountable kind, I have to confess that I like white women, not least because they bear a quite startling physical resemblance to the person who is most responsible for my having arrived on the planet and also for my having survived babyhood and childhood,which, as you may or may not know (most likely the latter) can be trying times in the rainbow world, especially if you have a Great Depression in full swing to boot. In fact my mother could've easily passed for "white," as her brother did for years, but she chose to go in the opposite direction as much as she could, most likely because of painful and maybe even unbearable memories from having been the last child of an interracial marriage in race riot-racked New Orleans just as the especially violent 20th Century was getting underway.

In addition, during my adult stage, which has now stretched to more than 60 years all told, for a rainbow ("black") guy of no particular distinction in any direction and without trying in any way, I've still somehow become acquainted with a surprisingly large number of white women, to widely varying degrees and in a huge variety of situations, and their record with me is uniformly good. Except for one isolated instance, they have always been exceptionally nice to me, and even that one had acted the same way toward me for quite a while before, given her character, the volcano had inevitably erupted. In fact because of that record I may like them more as a group than is good for me, if that ever became known.

But the fact remains that, of all the settings in which I have ever been, I have seen more truly wacko, crazy white women here in rural Virginia than anywhere else. I can think of no reason why that should be, unless it's something about me, or maybe it's something about language or culture. But there it is. It's true. I'm not kidding. And it doesn't take anything away from the many sane ones. As for rainbow ("black") women, I haven't seen that many crazy ones, actually almost none, because of the simple fact that there aren't nearly as many rainbow women around here, period. And the ones that are here seem to find it necessary to be sane at all times, whereas their European-derived sisters, being part of the majority, or because of their men, might find insanity to be a useful tool of sorts.

Eventually, after about two hours of that incessant spinning of wheels and the shining of car lights deep into the woods and even into my house, another driver came along and he stopped and got out and looked at the situation, and he briefly talked to whoever the stalled driver had been, and soon he got back into his car and left, after having obviously promised to get help, while that hapless driver got back in his or her vehicle and again tried stepping on the gas for another interminable period, during which I may have actually fallen asleep for a few minutes.

It wasn't till around 5:30, more than four hours after this ordeal had started, when on my umpteenth time of looking out the window, I saw more car lights outside (praise the Lord!), and with two and possibly more people standing there talking. And eventually one of the persons with the new vehicles attached a chain to the back of the beached car and pulled it out, though just a few feet, all that was necessary. More palaver followed, before, to my surprise, because I thought that by that time the person's front tires couldn't have much rubber left, the afflicted car finally set off down the road, very slowly, like a badly wounded creature, in the direction it had been going, though the tow truck, or whatever it had been -- it had a yellow light on top -- waited, until what looked like the same set of lights came back up the road and past, still moving at little more than a snail's pace, at which time both vehicles disappeared in that direction, and a few minutes later, what looked like the lights of the same formerly stranded car drifted past yet again, in the direction it had originally taken before paying us an unscheduled and, by him or her, deeply resented visit, and at last, finally, it was all over.

With daylight I went out to see what had happened, though it was just what, after the fact, I had figured.

At that spot the highway department had dumped or pushed off a lot of gravel to one side, our side, the slightly lower side, with my memory of that offset being only two or three feet wide. Actually it was 8 or 10 feet wide, and in effect they had widened the road just at that one spot enough for someone to mistake it for being part of the road -- if they had been drinking and had been looking to see where they were going no farther ahead than about three feet past their headlights, and this person had ended up with his or her vehicle sitting right on top of the now partially flattened gravel pile, which had been white but had been turned a dark umber by the person's nightlong love affair with his or her gas pedal. If the person had been carrying a shovel he could've dug himself out of there in just a few minutes, or I could've brought him one, if only I--

But too many people are carrying guns these days, and, going by current events, "white" or "black" or any hue between, they seem to have permission to shoot any so-called "black" people they see outside in the night, especially if these people are wearing "hoodies." I don't wear a hoodie, but I am still and will forever be the color that it has always been the preference to shoot if you see them coming up on you from out of the night, even it's only to help. And I have too many things left that I still want to do before I go.

Meanwhile another tactic that that mysterious driver with the inexplicable behavior could've tried right away would've been to get out the old tire jack, provided that cars still come with them, and provided that the driver knows where it is, and provided that he has bothered to learn how to use one. As cumbersome as it would have been, on rough ground in the dark just a few degrees above freezing, it would've still been relatively quick and easy to jack up maybe just the left front wheel, which from the tracks left behind seems to have been the main offender, until he could shove under the tire a large rock, a piece of a log, or even just some of the gravel that was already there in abundance, so that after he let the tire back down, the car would've been high enough off the loose gravel to be backed right out of there, to the intense relief of two people -- that driver and another person watching closely from inside the weirdo dark house with the shed roof nearby.

Maybe these little unexpected roadside visits are a big reason why many of my neighbors, probably the more far-seeing ones, preferred to set their houses as far back off the road as they possibly could. I would've considered that, but the lie of my land, mostly steep and north-facing, didn't allow it. And so it seems that, unless the highway department can come up with enough funds to reconfigure the road -- some of the neighbors have fought hard to keep our quaint gravel thoroughfare just the way it is -- our property is doomed to experience these kinds of short vehicular incursions on an average of about one every eight years.

I guess that's actually not much, when I remember that so far, as far as I know, no one has ever been even so much as just a little hurt during these mishaps, though one guy turned his car completely over during a bad snowstorm somewhere along our stretch of the road. But he was able to get out and walk away from it, unharmed. I think he said that at the time he had been thoroughly tanked up, too.

I wasn't here for that one and knew nothing of it till years later, when at a party he spoke of that incident as if it had been only a moment of high comedy. I have trouble thinking that it was.


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