Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Civility

"Civility costs nothing, and buys everything."

Mary Wortley Montagu

I had a pleasant reminder Sunday of why I love living in the DeKalb/Sycamore area. A lingering sense of small town values still presides in these communities. Case in point: My family and I were playing a round of disc golf at Prairie Park in DeKalb, and two teenage boys were playing in front of us. On the fifth pin, we waited and waited for them to step away from the basket before we tee'd off. This waiting tee'd me off. A bit of disc golf etiquette is that if someone is waiting at the tee, take only the necessary shots on the basket and then move on so that others can continue their game. These rules are not written down anywhere, but are understood by those who play with courtesy towards their fellow disc golfers.

On the sixth tee, these young boys lost one of their discs in brush near the river. Once again, we waited. Another unwritten rule of disc golf is that if you lose your disc, motion those waiting at the tee to play through, and stop your search to look out so you don't get hit. These boys were unaware of yet another breach of etiquette. I broke etiquette by playing first. The rest of my family can't make long throws, so the boys were in no danger of getting hit.

But when the boys lingered again at the basket, I'd had enough. I yelled, "Come on!" and spread my arms out wide, feeling the maximum of my Sicilian ire rising to the surface. The boys perked up in the distance, and when they retrieved their discs walked our way.

I expected cursing, "An 'F You, man,' or 'what's the big deal?'" Some kind of confrontation. Instead, one of the boys looked me in the eye and said, "Sorry, sir." This remark cut me to the quick. My ire subsided. I felt chastened. "It's no big deal," I blurted out. "If you see people waiting to take a shot, it's a good idea to not dilly dally at the basket." Yeah. I said "dilly dally."

Later, recalling this incident and laughing at my "dilly dally" remark, which instantly made a curmudgeon of me, I thought about how the boy's reaction made me feel bad about my impatient and confrontational, "Come on!" Sure, I had every right to yell out, though I didn't need to exercise that right. And if the boys had been typically confrontational as well, I would have felt justified in my remark. But "I'm sorry, sir," left me feeling embarrassed, like I was the uncivil one. Which I guess I was.

The reaction of these boys also reminded me of why I want to raise my child in this community. The area is small enough that whenever I go out, I will see someone I know, someone I know well enough to engage in small talk about their lives. When I was a university student here, I never felt that. It takes a few years to build those bonds, something the college crowd doesn't have time for en route to careers and weekends back home in the comparatively soulless suburbs.

For us townies, the community is small enough that one feels a sense of accountability to his or her neighbor. If you are rude or discourteous, somehow, some way, through the Byzantine networks of karma, it will come back to bite you in the butt. But the area is large enough that I do not feel claustrophic, as if every move I made was being watched and recorded behind closed curtains. I felt that way years ago when I lived in a small town.
There is only a few miles of cornfields separating DeKalb/Sycamore from the encroaching suburban sprawl. Its crime is already seeping in. Let's not paint a too rosy picture. But there still prevails a civility here that is absent in the relative anonymity of suburbia and the city. For my sake, and the sake of my son, I hope it never goes away.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Of ghosts, consciousness, Genesis, and the DOT

Saturday morning, five a.m. Pink skies, cool, low insect murmur. Hopped up on Red Bull, ingested to keep the lane drift, head bob in and out of consciousness at bay. To enter the nether region between dream and reality is to walk the shores of the river Styx. Many truckers have crossed over. I've seen the cherries from miles away. A turned over semi on a straight stretch of road. No skid marks on the highway. Dreamtime, baby.

Yesterday I woke up in the sleeper berth at my drop off point in Appleton to the sound of heavy rain. I turned the key on to get power for the windows, but it was too late. My seat was soaked. But I awoke just in time to hear "Home By the Sea," by Genesis, one of the better tracks from their mostly mediocre eighties output. It's a song sung from the perspective of ghosts. Creepy, wistful lyrics and majestic instrumentation, especially the keyboard work of Tony Banks.

This song inspired me to write a ghost song, "Ghost of Zebulon," except I tell it from the perspective of one entranced by a ghost. As soon as I record it, I will post it here with lyrics. That song was inspired by a drive I took last fall through North Carolina Swampland near the town of Zebulon. My title is confusing, because Zebulon is a man's name, and the ghost in my song is a woman who happens to haunt the swampland of Zebulon. Or, Zebulon could be the narrator's name, because he joins the spirit world with his ghost lover at the end of the song. It's fun to mix things up with multiple possibilities for interpretation.

Back to reality, I underwent a level 2 Department of Transportation inspection yesterday. I pulled into a weigh station and was instructed to pull over to a parking area. I was worried at first that an officer saw a ticketable offense, such as a non - working light, as I pulled on the scale. My trailer was empty. I was deadheading home, so there was no chance I was overweight. Although I knew I was DOT compliant, it's always a little nerve-racking to have a police officer climb. into the cab. He checked my log books and even opened and sniffed my glass water bottle for alcohol, checked all the lights on my tractor and trailer, and my air brakes, including the emergency low air indicator. I passed the inspection with no violations.

It's the third DOT inspection I've passed in a little over a year of driving. The previous two inspections I was hauling hazardous materials loads across country. Those kinds of loads draw special attention in this age of paranoia. Passing a DOT inspection goes on my driving record and makes my company's safety scores go up, which means greater job security in an already secure market. It pays to actually do pre and post trip inspections. I'm still a newbie and haven't been driving long enough to develop bad habits. You can't take short cuts if you want to stick it out for the long haul. And keep plenty of Red Bull in your cooler. Sugar free, of course.

Post-script: While I was undergoing the DOT inspection, a driver in the next lane was trying to adjust his fifth wheel with a block of wood. I think it wouldn't slide and he was trying to get it to move. The driver got into his tractor and, with extra speed, most likely to dislodge the fifth wheel, slammed the tractor back. The fifth wheel disengaged... and how. The tractor slammed into the reefer unit on his trailer, smashing his rear flood lights, bending in his air foils, and pieces of the reefer unit also fell to the ground.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

mass hysteria

I heard a piece on the radio recently about the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, and it reminded me of an incident in my own life that happened in childhood. In 1933 in Virginia and in 1944 in Illinois, two towns were gripped by a phantom terror known as the Mad Gasser. Sometimes described as a male, other times a female, the gasser would be seen with a funnel pumping a foul-smelling gas into people's homes. This has been ascribed as an incident of mass hysteria because no gasser was ever caught and evidence of a gasser was circumstantial at best.

Is the story of the Mad Gasser a product of its times? The incidents in 1933 were soon enough after World War I, in which gas warfare first came into public consciousness, that it could have had an effect on the public psyche of a small town. And did the residents of Mattoon, IL, know about the gassing genocide of the Jews occurring in Nazi Germany at the time of their hysteria? Both times, 1933 and 1944, were crisis eras in American history. The first incident of the Mad Gasser our country was in the throes of the Great Depression. In the second incident we were involved in World War II.

But mass hysteria is evident in all times and eras. As recent as last year, 12 teenage girls in Buffalo, New York exhibited similar Tourette's like symptoms, including vocal tics and involuntary jerking of their heads. No known attributable cause has been found for the incident.

Could this form of mass hysteria be a reflection of our current culture's interest in mental health maladies, including increasing awareness of autism and Tourette's? Or could it just be teenagers trying to get attention? This phenomena exists in all ages and times.

For more information about the Buffalo case, see: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57362197-10391704/mass-hysteria-outbreak-reported-in-n.y-town-what-does-it-mean/

The Mad Gasser: http://www.damninteresting.com/the-mad-gasser-of-mattoon/


When I was a kid, I came home from school one Friday and when I walked in the house I smelled a sweet, but foul smell so putrid and cloying I couldn't stay in the house without getting sick. I could even smell it in the garage, but it was faint enough there to be tolerable. My parents couldn't smell it and thought I was making up the smell to get attention. I pleaded with them not to make me stay in the house, and I spent the night in the garage. The next morning all traces of the mysterious smell were gone. I've never smelled anything like it, before or since. The only way I can describe it is a cross between rotten flesh and a mosquito repellent the city used to spray from huge vats off the back of trucks. I have many theories about the smell, from some type of residue from the mosquito sprayings to a demonic presence only the childhood me could detect. I never did figure out why my parents smelled no trace of the odor.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

10 years after

Today is the 10th anniversary of this blog. When I started it, I was living in Rockford, Il, employed as a newspaper reporter for the Beloit Daily News, and had a computer with 8 GB memory across three drives. Internet connection was with Netzero and connected to a phone Jack in the wall. Fast forward 10 years... I live in Sycamore, Il, and am the father of a precocious 6-year-old son. I work as an over the road truck driver with a regular route to Appleton, WI. My annual income is more than $15k than 10 years ago, though I feel no richer with inflation and increased life expenses. The device I use to access the Internet is a smartphone with 12 GB memory. I don't even know if it has a "drive." And the means of access are the 3G wireless network that is part of my phone plan. Too bad I cannot do paragraph separations with the phone. That is one notable drawback to my current situation. (which I've corrected at the public library) What is the purpose of this blog? Then as now, it is a mere repository of whatever I find interesting in life and on the net. Over the years, my interest in the blog has ebbed and flowed. This has been a slow year for it, but I'd like to increase the number of entries. This blog gets about 30 views a day. I've angered people and made enemies with some entries. With others I've helped researchers around the world and job seekers in Illinois. I don't think this blog will ever be too popular. It's not meant to be. But if you take the time to read through what I've posted these past 10 years, no doubt you'll find something interesting and learn a few things along the way. And if you're entertained, that's an extra bonus. Here's to 10 more years of happy blogging!