Buried

I should have known better.  There was too much snow, but if i hadn’t tried the boss would have been pissed right off.  So i hoped it was just a plow berm, coasted long enough to put the truck into 4-high, chose my line and nailed it.  Everything was fine for the first 150 feet…and then everything was as far from fine as everything gets.  There was no rocking the truck back and forth.  4-low didn’t do anything either.  I opened the door to take the old look see and left a clean sweep across the snow with the bottom edge of the door.  Buried above the front bumper, with a perfect little trench from the rear differential tailing from the back of the truck.  Two guys, no shovel, and a 3/4 ton 4×4 pickup truck attached to an 18 foot flatbed trailer stuck like a Honda Civic.  And we were in the geographical dead center of the UP, i.e. butt fucking Egypt.

My cell gets five solid bars at the tree farm because the boss leases a portion of it for an AT&T cell tower, but i was loathe to call him.  Nothing he could do anyhow: i had the truck that the plow attaches to.  “Town”, which consists of a volunteer fire department barn, Mom’s McFarland Mini-Mart, and Big Bon’s was a cold half mile of dodging highway plow trucks away.  I might have bought/borrowed a shovel from Mom; she’s a nice lady who might cook some of the best food in the Central UP.  I say “might” because i’ve never eaten there when i haven’t been working like a gulag inmate…and when you’re hungry enough, i hear that even thin soup with rotten potatoes and a few fish bones tastes pretty good.  I’ve never been to Big Bon’s, which is a shame really…it’s the only strip club in the UP.  I have a feeling that the stories of the amputee stripper are probably false, but i checked out the reviews on Strip Club List (the website…i had to make sure it was the only club before i started spouting off, didn’t i?) and at least some of the people who’ve been there suggest that the story is only an exaggeration of the general state of affairs.  My dream is to stop by there after a day of pruning and request a tick check in lieu of a lap dance, but the hours are fairly restricted: weekends after 8pm, except during firearm deer season when the titties swing seven days a week.  Frank Zappa forgot high powered rifles when he wrote his ode to the good life…and having to drink the beer outside ’cause Bonnie lost her liquor license over something her boy did.  Anyway, i’m not sure that any of the staff at Big Bon’s could have helped me out of the stuck truck situation.

So after exhausting all of my stupid, but semi-literate options, i did the logical thing and went to borrow a shovel from the house across the road.  In good, Yooper fashion, he was happy to loan me the shovel that he’d been using to dig himself out of the two plus feet of overnight snow.  He said that when he made it to the barn, he’d come over with his V plow and see if he could be of assistance.  So we dug out the truck, but that didn’t make any difference.  It was the empty trailer that was stuck.  Disconnecting it might not even have been possible, but it would have been just stuck by itself and facing the wrong way anyhow.  Things looked pretty bleak since shoveling underneath the trailer would have been pretty much impossible.

You know what they say about superman swooping in just when he’s needed?  Well it didn’t happen, but Toivu (we’ll just call him that to protect everyone’s real identy and indicate that, yes, he was a UP Finlander caricature) might have been wearing tights as a base layer.

“Look pretty stuck,” cracking a smile big enough to outshine the hunter’s safety orange baseball cap.

“Yeah, pretty fucking stuck,” as i watched Toivu walk down the curving line that, if things went really well, i’d have to back the trailer out of, “But i had to try, boss wouldn’t have been happy if i hadn’t tried.  Long way to drive for just turning around.”  Toivu was enjoying something immensly, but i didn’t figure it to be the classic backwoods tragi-comedy of the stranded city slicker…though if you live in Lathrop you might be starved of tragi-comedy enough to find me funny. (McFarland is down the road.  Lathrop is like a spread your elbows suburb connected to the big city bustle of McFarland.)

“I can help yous out, i’m on my way to dig somebody else out, but i can help ya.  I’ll have to go back and hitch up the beast first.  Looks like we can plow right around you,” still savoring his shit eatin’ grin.

“Wow, thanks, we might well be screwed without some help.”

“You know who i am?”

“Nope.”

“I own the property next door,” and the grin finally broke apart into soft chuckling.  The guy who owns the property next door is something of a legend amongst the ever changing staff.  I’d heard some stories, and a couple of them came from the boss and his son.  My first day out there came with fairly explicit instructions (meaning that failure to comply might provoke gunfire) to steer at least 20 feet clear of the property line postings.  The family had been informed that if they drop a deer out there, they’d better shoot it dead.  Tracking a wounded deer across the property line was liable to turn the hunter into the hunted.  Somehow, a blood fued had developed.  Now i was, literally, stuck in the middle of it…my loyalties divided between my boss – as solid as people get – and my best chance for getting out of this mess without involving my boss who was dealing with a serious illness in the family.

“No shit?” my amazement that he would have even stopped must have been evident because it provoked laughter that rippled with self-pleasure.  Obviously i knew of the bad blood that runs through Lathrop.

“Yep, ya know what started it all?” he asked, oblivious to the fact that i might be more concerned with getting unstuck…whatever my general desire to hear what i imagined would be a pretty good story.  I didn’t have much choice but to answer in a way that would leave an opening for the story.  We’d be getting it whether we wanted it or not; his smile told the whole world that.

“See, I could have bought this property.  I own all the forties around it.  See that guy wire, where it comes down?  That’s my land.  I could cause a fuss about that wire, but I don’t.  (The wire is attached to a tower owned by a power company that my boss sold a very small slice of land to.  I was under the impression that it was leased, but Toivu set me straight.)  I don’t cause a fuss because I’ve got good relations with the company, I watch their land for ’em.  I do that a lot, I watch people’s camps for ’em too, but I don’t watch this land.  Hell, someone could come in here and steal all of them Christmas trees and I wouldn’t care.  (My boss has never expressed any fear of Christmas tree wranglers to me, but maybe that’s the sort of thing one keeps bottled up.)  One time your boss and his dad were right there on the road (two parallel ruts) loading a tractor onto a ramped trailer.  I walked right over and stood on the ramps, told ’em, ‘Not here yous don’t, get the hell off my land.’  And they left.”

Obviously, neither the guy wire nor the tractor incident were really the crux of this particular biscuit, but Toivu has probably spent a lot of time rehearsing and telling this story.  My only real part at this point was to insert the appropriate “No shit?”, “Whoa”, and/or laughter. (You, dear reader, are only getting the main points of a well stewed story, savored by the chef.)

“See, when they bought this land everything was fine between us for a while, but then I went out to my apple blind and I could just tell that somethin’ wasn’t right about it.  The deer hadn’t eaten anything off the pile and there was no sign of ’em.  I started pokin’ around and I found some stakes in the ground.  I smelled ’em: creosote.  Those bastards had put deer repellent around my blind.  I know what deer repellent smells like, smells like creosote, and I know ’cause I used to work for the DNR and we’d put that shit around cricks to keep the beavers from dammin’ ’em. (Apparently beavers and deer share olfactory repulsions.)  You can’t put god damned deer repllent around a man’s blind, that ain’t right!”

Indeed, this is the UP.  Opening day is an official holiday, Big Bon’s is open seven days a week…don’t fuck with deer hunting.  But of all the things i have a hard time picturing my boss doing, sabotoging his neighbor’s deer blind hadn’t even been considered.

“Now,” i said, “I’ve known him long enough.  I can’t say that he didn’t do it, but that don’t sound like him at all.”

“Might not have been him,” Toivu countered, “He denies doin’ it.  Mighta been one of his brothers, but that don’t matter.  It still happened and he won’t admit it.”

“Well, i don’t know the brothers that well, but i’ve heard some stories…can’t say that they wouldn’t do somethin’ like that.  But i’m pretty sure that my boss wouldn’t,”  i wavered in my defense.  I had to give him something, and i really do know that my boss wouldn’t do it…so i sacrificed his brothers to the cause of getting his truck unstuck.

“Don’t matter who did it, some bastard did it.  I know, I smelled them stakes and they smelled like Creosote.  You don’t do that to a man’s deer blind.  You can fuck my wife and I’ll forgive you, but I can’t forgive messin’ with my blind.”

My partner and i exchanged psychic looks.  The profound moment of central UP truth had descended on us and we knew it.  What’s the bastardized Finnish for unconfuted?  The story went on for a while longer, details about this or that altercation, slight or hurt feeling.  But it was all denoument from there on, and i started thinking about the truck while Toivu vented.  He eventually finished and disappeared to retrieve “the Beast”.  I’d bet that most pickup truck owners have name for their vehicle, even if they don’t use it publicly…i’ve named both of mine so far. (No, that’s between me and the trucks.)  I’d also wager that few pickup truck names are more accurate descriptions than Toivu’s.

She was a beauty, the body was mid to late 80’s GM products brought together in the kind of harmony that only brown, light blue and rust can produce.  She had the interesting bits known to dangle from underneath old trucks; the bits that make you wonder if that should be connected to something somewhere.  What was left of the interior (from what i could see) said nothing but straight business.  She might have been built for some degree of comfort, but those days had long passed her by.  The plow matched the truck and might have exceeded the age of my partner.  But everything still worked and Toivu wasn’t afraid to unleash the beast.  She roared and he beat the livin’ hell out of her…and she just roared some more.  Like all truck owners who’ve publicly admitted the name of their vehicle, he was proud of her.  No doubt he was showing off to us, but it was impressive in spite of the braggadocio.  He plowed out in front, in back, on the side…eventually clearing a lot of snow in a relatively short period of time.

Still nothing.

“Must be the trailer that’s stuck,” Toivu told us.  Yeah, no shit, we had already shoveled out enough room for the truck to move if it could have.  We contemplated unhooking the trailer and trying to move it by hand, but i wasn’t so sure that we’d be able to do that and we might not be able to get it hooked back up again.  Toivu agreed with me.  His first idea was to gently connect his plow to my trailer and push a little.  Nothing.  He pushed a little harder.  Nothing.  He gunned the Beast and sent snowy roostertails thirty feet.  Nope.  Next he said that he’d have to go home and get his tow straps.

“I’ve got chain in the back,” i told him.

“Well, I like straps better, but that’d be quicker than me goin’ home,” he opined, “We’ll try it.”

So we hooked up the chain and he informed us that we’d have to “Bunce” it.  Yeah, new word for me too.  Generally, one pulls all the slack out of a strap or chain before really pulling.  That’s not Buncing.  My partner, who was outside the truck, got the idea of what was going to happen and made a swift move to well behind the trailer.  Buncing is when you tug out the slack and the towed vehicle with a resounding jerk.  At least i know why he prefers straps: when a strap blows apart it doesn’t sent chunks of metal hurtling through space.

It worked!  The moment of freedom was somewhat lost in something more profound: my partner and i share a mutual friend who’s last name is Bunce.  We were almost doubled over in laughter at the idea of “Buncing” being to do everything really, really wrong and have it turn out ok.  You’d have to know Farmer Bunce to find this as funny as it truly is, and you still wouldn’t find it as funny as Farmer Bunce is going to when he hears about it.

But the truck and trailer were still facing the wrong direction.  It takes a little bit of room to turn an 18 foot trailer around…more room than we had.  Our next decision was whether i should back the rig out onto the highway.  I’m pretty confident with that trailer but i also wasn’t in the mood for any more mistakes that might require buncing.  We had a little room to one side and decided to try a jacknife turnaround.  A great deal of fancy trailer driving  and directing followed, but there wasn’t quite enough room to make it.  I have a feeling that Toivu lives for buncing.  He nudged up against the back corner of the trailer with his plow and unleashed the beast one more time, pushing the trailer around enough for me to pull away and swing the trailer into position.

Handshakes and Toivu’s multiple insistences that he was telling the truth about the deer blind incident followed.  My partner and i swore to speak well of him if we heard anyone saying what an evil bastard he is…and we meant it.  He might well be an evil bastard, but he did help us out of a jam. With one last swearing of his honesty, Toivu was gone like the caped crusader…there were other people stuck that needed to be saved.  Others might be able to do it, but probably with a lot less flair than Toivu and The Beast.

We returned the shovel to the guy across the street, who had finally made it to his barn and said that he’d have been over in another 20 minutes to help us out.  His eyes grew pretty wide when i told him that Toivu had helped.  He’d probably heard about the Creosote and associated adventures a few more times than he needed or wanted to.  He commented that Toivu is a good guy, but if you get on his bad side there’s no getting back.  I’d add that if he approaches his personal relationships with the same sort of vigor that he applies to plowing snow, you probably don’t want to cross onto his bad side.

No trees gave their life for a few weeks of Christmas cheer today, but that only makes more work for tomorrow and Sunday.  I did get to tell the boss this story, and his side is…well, let’s just say that they don’t match and unless i get a chance to smell the creosote i’ll never be able to say.  I also got the chance to tell the boss that, according to Toivu himself, he could have slept with Toivu’s wife and everyone would still be on speaking terms.  The boss reacted just as his two employees had earlier…there’s probably only one way to react to that statement, even if you’re a born Yooper.  My boss did ask if Toivu was wearing his sidearm.  He wasn’t, and that might have changed the general vibe of the morning’s situation from comically Yooper to disturbingly deliverence like.

What’s the point? Where’s the moral?

The point is that there are good reasons to live in the UP, and one of them is that it’s full of pretty damned good people.  The kind of people who may fantasize about shooting your boss, but will gladly help you out of a snow bank and accept nothing more than a handshake in return.  In The Great Shining Path of the Monster Trucks, there’s no such thing as beginner’s luck…but there’s solid folks willing to help you get unstuck.

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~ by Lex on November 22, 2008.

One Response to “Buried”

  1. […] cutting Christmas trees and unless something changes drastically it won’t be anything like cutting last year. I can’t remember if i published that the evening after it happened, but it was within a day […]

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