Archive for August, 2003

Mother Nature is a Badass

Mother Nature and I do not interact often, but I throw myself into her arms every summer when I float down the Saco River in a canoe.  The trip, organized by a friend I’ll call The Captain, usually features a Saturday full of floating on the scenic river, drinking beer and listening to music in the beautiful sunshine.  We find a beach and set up camp on Saturday night, then wake up and canoe to the take-out point on Sunday.  It sounds very peaceful, but there are a couple of incidents every year that make the trip memorable.

A couple of years ago, my friend Dan and I agreed, at the suggestion of our wives, to share a canoe on the trip.  Our wives had recently told us that, unless there was a major construction of bathroom facilities in the woods surrounding the Saco River, they would never again join us on the river.  Dan and I saw that they weren’t kidding and set out for Maine on our own.

One of the first people we met when we showed up at the canoe rental shop was a girl actually named Juice.  Really.  Juice.  She marched up to us and said, “Hi, I’m Juice.  I’m a friend of The Captain’s.”  I noticed that Juice didn’t seem to have packed anything, but thought nothing of it.

We were standing outside the canoe rental shop with Juice when some desperate looking guy, not with our group, sidled up to me.  “Hey,” he asked in a sweaty, fidgety half-whisper, “do you have any toilet paper I can use?”

I wanted to say no.  I really did.  If I were smart, I would have said, “How about a dollar a sheet?”  Instead, I watched a stranger disappear into the woods with my only roll of toilet paper.  He had just disappeared behind a tree when it occurred to me that he might never come back.  He was gone for a very long 15 minutes, and when he finally did return I vowed to never again loan TP on the canoe trip. 

Speaking of rules, there is another important rule about the trip.  This may be The Captain’s trip, but under no circumstances will I ever allow him to “take care of the food.”  The one time I agreed to that, The Captain had me eating cold, sandy spaghetti out of a Ziploc bag.  The Captain is a great guy, but it’s important to remember what he can be in charge of.

The first day on the river was fun and relatively uneventful.  Our canoes were tied together in small groups of three or four and we floated along, sipping our drinks and generally enjoying the sunshine.  We eventually stopped at a beach, set up camp, and began to cook dinner.

Midway through dinner, Juice approached two of my friends and began to stare at them while they ate.  Even though they weren’t finished eating, one friend finally got uncomfortable.  He stopped in mid-bite, gestured towards the leftover food on the grill, and asked Juice if she might want something to eat.

Juice eagerly said yes.  She then proceeded to take every scrap of food, including the food that was still on their plates, and put it on her plate.  Once she had scraped up every morsel, she walked away without even a thank you.  My friends could only sit and watch her, their mouths hanging open in shock, or perhaps fear.

On the second day, Dan and I got up early and got ready to board the canoe.  Dan, taking note of the hot sun, liberally applied suntan lotion to his arms, legs, neck, and face.  I decided against sun block, despite my Irish heritage.

It turned out that Dan’s sun block not only offered protection from the sun, it was also apparently a leading insect aphrodisiac.

Every bug in the State of Maine paid Dan a visit during the remaining mile and a half of our trip.  The canoe was rocking as he waved his hat, the paddle, and anything else he could find, in an attempt to ward away his attackers.  The pests would not be deterred and they continued, in wave after wave, to have their way with Dan.

While Dan shouted and flailed, I sat, bug free and laughing, in the back of the canoe.

Mother Nature would not allow me to escape unscathed, however.  At the takeout point, I tried to get out of the canoe my left leg got caught and I fell, face first, into the river with a splash.  I got a fair amount of water up my nose.  Dan would have enjoyed the spectacle, but he was already sprinting up the beach towards the car with a squadron of amorous insects in hot pursuit.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 10 Aug 2003 No Comments

Out of Gas?

I was on my way to work one morning when I still lived in South Boston.  Along the way, I drove past a gas station (no great shock, as I drove past the same gas station every day on my way to work). I briefly considered stopping for gas, checked the gas gauge and saw that there was 1/8 of a tank in the RB (my now defunct, malevolent red Jeep).  Getting gas would have involved cutting through heavy traffic to take a left into the station, so I made a command decision to wait and get gas on my commute home (when the gas station would be on the right).

This was not an uninformed decision.  I had run out of gas in the RB before, so I knew that 1/8 of a tank was plenty of gas for the trip to and from work (8 miles each way).  Running out of gas once helps to make a person intimately familiar with the reading on their gas gauge. With that settled, I began trying to find a radio station that was not playing ads (no small feat during the morning commute).

The gas issue came back to the forefront of my mind about 5 minutes later.  I was traveling west on the Mass Pike Extension, happily listening to music, when the RB began to buck and stall.  The RB had a unique ability to ruin my good moods.

I tried to downshift and moved into the right-hand lane, but the RB continued with its allergy to forward motion. Eventually the Jeep stopped moving altogether in the right hand lane.  It was then that I realized that many sections of the Pike extension are not equipped with a breakdown lane (I would like 10 minutes alone with the person who made that decision). I looked at the gas gauge, and it still said 1/8 of a tank. Lovely.  Since it clearly wasn’t a fuel problem, I began to think about what else could be wrong that would cause the Jeep to stall in this very convenient location. Some bad words may or may not have been spoken aloud.

It is at times like these that I can never find the hazard lights on my car. Nervously staring in the rearview mirror for approaching traffic did not help my frantic search, but I eventually did locate the switch.  Once the hazards were finally found and set, I got out of the car and stood on the side of the road behind it, waving sleepy commuters out of my lane. I was terrified that someone would go into the right lane to pass (maybe come out from behind one of those wonderfully large buses) and smash into my Jeep. You are probably assuming that while I was waving traffic away, I was also calling the police on my cell phone, and believe me that I would have been; had I owned a cell phone (this incident was the impetus for me to actually acquire the ability to communicate in a cellular manner).

Eventually, after what seemed like months but was probably only a few hours, an unmarked police SUV showed up.  The SUV parked behind me with its lights flashing and protected me from the morning commuters.  When I walked up to the SUV’s passenger window, the officer asked me, “Out of gas?”

I replied that I didn’t think so, because the gauge read 1/8 of a tank.  I told him that the Jeep was breaking down constantly, so it was probably something other than an empty gas tank. He nodded his head knowingly and told me that a state police SUV would be along shortly.

When the state police SUV showed up, that officer asked me, “Out of gas?” I told him that I didn’t think so, because the gauge said 1/8 of a tank and this Jeep has had all sorts of problems and…he cut me off and instructed me to get into the Jeep so that he could use his SUV to push me to a section of the highway where a breakdown lane had been thoughtfully included.

Once I was safely in a breakdown lane, the cop took off and a wrecker showed up. The driver, a Richard Mulligan look-alike (obscure reference to the late actor from Soap), ambled over to me and asked, “Out of gas?” I replied, slightly less sure this time, that well, the gauge said there was 1/8 of a tank.

The wise old mechanic nodded and shuffled to the back of his truck. He returned with a gas can and dumped two gallons into my tank (Actually he probably put about 1.5 gallons in. The other half gallon was sprinkled liberally onto my shoes). He then instructed me to try to start the car. I did, and it didn’t start. I got out of the Jeep and was in the middle of explaining to the guy that I’ve had all kinds of problems with this Jeep and that it probably wasn’t the gas because the gauge read 1/8 of a tank, but he just nodded his head and shuffled past me with jumper cables in his hands.

Mulligan hooked up the jumper cables up to the Jeep’s battery and instructed me to start the car. I did as I was told, and it started right up. The ever-resourceful RB had found a way to risk my life, inconvenience me, and make me look like an idiot, all at the same time. I have to admit, the whole situation was well played by my old foe.  I hadn’t considered that the Jeep would change which location on the gas gauge meant “empty”.

Red-faced, I turned to Richard Mulligan as he was packing away the jumper cables, “I’ll bet you can’t believe how many idiots run out of gas on the Pike, eh?”

He smiled at me and said, “It’s people like you that keep me employed…”

The RB Tim 03 Aug 2003 No Comments