31 January, 2009

Impaired judgment and unmanned vehicles

or, life imitates "DeRiRoCut". I don't think this post violates the "no-minutiae" rule. Sometimes you do things that are at once too brilliant and too incredibly dumb not to share.

A friend who teaches 8th-grade English once remarked she made decisions based on "whatever would make a better story later". Well, there are bad decisions that you pay dearly for, and others which by some grace you escape with just a tale. And i wouldn't say that making bad decisions is something i rarely do; it's just that making bad decisions which also make decent stories is more of a rarity. Traveling while ill and not getting sufficient rest, for example, can leave you with a lovely ear and sinus infection. That in itself is not a tale.

Our driveway here at 88 is three cars wide, and one car long. It's a nightmare to shovel, thanks to the massive triple-width wall of snow the plows leave, and a brilliantly placed crabapple tree in the path of snow removal. Tired from the lingering cold, i had thrown in the towel early on our last round of shoveling. So yesterday, when i walked back from campus, looked at my watch halfway through a piece of toast, and had twenty minutes to make it to the doctor's office - the car got stuck. Rocking forward and reverse a bit took care of that. Sans lenses, i swept right past the doctor's office, and nearly missed the appointment.

Later, prescription in hand, i pulled back into the driveway, maneuvering to avoid the problem patch of snow. Too far toward the garage, and the front wheels slipped over the railroad-tie edging into a soft white neverland. Stuck again. I made dinner, took medicine, ready to settle in - but it wasn't even 7 o'clock, and there were friends i'd been hankering to see for two weeks. Sure enough, Nick called. I was determined to get over there. For the sake of recuperation, i nixed walking. Nor did i want to be the needy one and ask for a ride. Commit a rather odd faux-pas - calling a friend to say, 'hey, will you help me get my car unstuck so i can go hang with...other people?'. No. The situation left me with one and only one course of acceptable action: to get the car unstuck alone.

Mixed feelings surround what follows. I am rather proud of the resourcefulness and determination it demonstrates, and hope to pass off the poor judgment on being ill. Mostly thankful that the nearest telephone pole was not twenty feet farther north.

Try as i might, i couldn't push the car up and over the railroad ties alone. I braced my feet against the garage to no avail. Rocked between forward and reverse. The only thing that accomplished was heating up the engine. What if, i mused, what if there were a way to give the car some gas in reverse, and push at the same time. Yes, that's when questionable logic began to dominate. I remembered there were 25-lb. dumbbells in the dining room, and it seemed like a brilliant idea.

I slid a dumbbell against the gas pedal until there was just enough force to perhaps gain traction. With the door open, i resumed the awkward pose with one foot on the garage and both hands grasping beneath the front bumper. A mighty lift and, like magic, the Prizm reared backwards. Straight back, out of the driveway, and across the street. It really wasn't until that moment that i realized just how many ways this could end badly.

The car punched through one snowbank, across the sidewalk, and landed bumper-deep in another, larger bank. The impact was soft, but enough to knock the dumbbell away from the gas pedal. I climbed in and nosed out into the street, still a little too drunk by success to think about what might have gone wrong. Hey, the car was loose, nobody got hurt, and i was on my way. Sometimes you pay dearly, and other times life has a sense of humor.

With friends, i kicked back and watched Dead River Rough Cut, a documentary about two men in the wilds of northwestern Maine. It's equal parts woods philosophy, crusty commentary, and complaints about women from the two subjects who spend their days trapping beaver and skidding logs with a team of oxen. A cult favorite among our circle of young Mainers, it's an interesting bit of nostalgia about rural life, and there are plenty of examples of bad, but rather practical, decisions - like a firebox on the back of a snowmobile, for warming hands on the trapline. Couldn't help but think how sometimes life imitates art, and what an obstinate old Mainer i might already be. Didn't drink much of anything, as usual - besides being sick, i'd say my judgment was impaired enough for one night. (Image from the film.)