Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thoughts of Irene

            The thunder rolls and the rain is pounding the roof as I write this.  The day has been filled with bands of thunderstorms separated by spans of partially-sunny humidity.  It reminds me of the hurricane that crippled many parts of this region not too long ago.  The flood waters have receded and the damage assessed.  Many people have returned to their regular schedules.  The world, for the most part, has returned to normal, except for the people left homeless or lifeless.  Those stories are no longer newsworthy and so they are passed over.  If it's not on my TV does it truly exist?
            I wonder about the folks I helped out during the storm and its aftermath.  Without power, several homes quickly filled with water, food in refrigerators spoiled, and lines of communication disabled.  My generator was already outside prepped for the worst, the bathtub filled, and the proper food storage strategies employed.  Some family members in the house laughed at my "over-preparedness" as they reluctantly helped move the generator into position.  They giggled as I made sure the gas cans were heavy and the shed filled with emergency roof repair materials.  And then they smiled as they loaded the generator into a pick-up and scurried over to rescue a friend in need.  My preparedness was their preparedness and they were off with chest puffed proudly, the "hero" of the day.
            This experience has confirmed many of my suspicions.  The foremost being that we have evolved into a weak and whiny society of crybabies looking for shoulders to carry us over the waters of trouble.  Men have transformed calloused hands into lotion-covered mittens unable to fend for themselves, never mind provide for a family.  Women look to outside the home to feed the family and raise the children.  The government will provide for everything, hand-outs, money, food, shelter.  If my home is destroyed someone else will rebuild it.  If the power goes out I will sit helpless until someone else turns it on.  If the food spoils I will go hungry until someone hands me more.  If my country is threatened I will pray for the other people that defend me.  If my freedoms are taken I will still wander like a sheep in the pasture.
           Each home we visited swore to make preparations in the future and to invest in some sort of preparedness and emergency strategy.  And, as the thunder rolls and I watch the clouds unfold, I wonder if it was merely talk or a true wake-up call.   As the rain slowly peters out, I must dress for work.  These thoughts will be revisited, as surely as the waters will yet again rise but for now the story is not newsworthy and will shortly be forgotten.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of Love and Dirt

            If my road is bumpy then my wife's is a rutted out tractor path through a muddy pasture strewn with cow-pies.  She has seen her fair share of bumps, dips, and potholes.  But that's her story to tell not mine (and would need a whole other blog).  However, in that pasture wandering on a game trail, she came across a mean, ornery boar, thick of hide and hard of head.  That boar was making a big ol' mess of the place, tearing up everything he came across.  Now, instead of running that boar out of the pasture, she walked right up and greeted that stubborn oaf.  She befriended the muddy, cranky boar and eventually married him.
             Which brings me to the point of the matter, love.  Some use the words soul mate, destiny, and romance.  They put forth this idea of "true love" and fairy tales.  They build it into this pretty, delicate thing of magic and wonder.  Yet, in truth, it is none of these things.  Love is a dirty, gritty endeavor.  It is seeing the shortcomings and embracing them.  Love is smelly and grumpy, like the diapers at two in the morning, or the baby vomit on the shoulder of your dress shirt (No magic or wonder here).  Love is morning breath and sweaty laundry (Still no magic, though some wonder as to where all this laundry came from).  It is childish and foolish, like drunken antics while trying to recapture your youth (this may qualify for embarrassing and painful too).  Love is hardship, like the daily sacrifices each person makes for family and loved ones, sleepless nights and worry (The magic would be finding the time to sleep).  It is easy to love the nice things and the good times but it is rare to find someone that cherishes the tough times and the hard work.
                Happiness isn't tiaras and pixie dust, it's bristly hair and warts.  And anyone who tells you any different has never really been in love.  And so my wife looked out across the cow pies and mud at the nasty boar.  She hiked up her muck boots, walked through the slop and hit that big pig over his thick skull with a big stick.  She chased that mean beast right back into the barn, slamming the door behind him.  Then she shook her head and went back in the house.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Road

            I have always taken the road less traveled.  I walked on the dirt trail long before I could navigate the bumps of a gravel road.  For the most part it is a solitary endeavor.  Not many people want to take the harder path or the longer route.  Nowadays it is the highway, the fastest way from point A to point B.  The quickest shortcut, the easiest path, instant gratification.  Some would pay any price to get there ahead of everyone, the tolls on that road are high, the soul and conscience usually empty.
             However, when you find a traveler along the bumpy road, they usually are like-minded.  Some will travel with you for a while and share both their knowledge of the road and their company.  They will not be put off when the paths split and will still keep in touch, for they know the value of good company.  Others you will meet stay the course and will travel with you for the rest of the journey.  They are not afraid of bumps and rocks, dips and mires.  They are usually hardened travelers themselves that followed different trails to this road.
              When the easy way and the bumpy path cross, the travelers on the paved road look down the intersection and see tough going on either side.  They give a brief greeting and try to get back on the easy track as quickly as possible.  They have no time to slow down, to see the crossing for what it is, a chance to experience more than a blur in the periphery.  Roadside america is disappearing.  The small destinations that are the foundation of this country, of our history, embedded in our culture, that shaped our world, are fading.  Not many have the time or inclination to stop and see them anymore and so they turn to dust.  The history of this great land is slowly fading.  The ink within the history books can not hold the same experience that is disappearing from our landscape.  I have witnessed as the "Greatest Generation" was quietly laid to rest and the survivors of the "Vietnam era" have grown tired and crooked.  History will repeat itself but will it truly be history if no one remembers it.
                Most of what's left outside the highways is almost gone.  Some of us still take the long way home and stop to see what is left.  Bad roads, for the most part, bring good people, people looking for the past, holding on to the simple things.  Travelers, all, willing to risk a few bumps to find the magic that once filled a country of wonder, a land outside the window & the TV screen.  This is the story of my journey down the gravel road and the things I've found along the way.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A little background

      I grew up in what used to be a small town lying in the shadow of Manhattan.  It was pig farms and blue-collar before it became a commuter's heaven of train stations and bus stops.  The slaughter houses and most of the people that shared that history are gone.  If you didn't work in pigs and the industry that grew up around them then you worked in the "embroidery capital of the world" sewing or working the machines.  The trucking industry revolved around these businesses until they disappeared and then the truckers dealt in other freight to pay the bills.  The children of these hard workers still populate the town but they too are slowly dwindling.  We know who each of us are and we shake our heads as more and more of us move away.  The tide of unrooted commuters and immigrants looking for the American dream and not confined by the Hudson River are crashing against the remnants of a small town in the meadows.
        I used to know everyone's name, on my block, in the schoolyard, in politics, in town sports, in my life.  Those times have changed, alot of the names have changed, but I hold onto the history.  It built me.  You need to remember from where you came in order to know where it is you need to be.  I played in the "big city" with the PATH train only a skip away.  The tunnels led to a whole other world of food, sights, smells, and experiences.  I lived in the meadowlands, a mysterious wasteland where gangsters went to die.  And I vacationed in the Poconos, the remote outback of Pennsylvania that has grown, along with my hometown, from wooded trails and bed &breakfasts to booming outlets and sprawling lake communities filled with NYC retirees.
         The gravel road has led into the mountains but began at the mouth of a tunnel.  It started right outside Metropolis and it winds it's way to the horizon.  It does not end, but it doesn't really have to.  For it is the roadside attractions that make up a lifetime of memories.  And, in case you forget, you can always follow the road back to the beginning but the scenery may not be the same.  The shadows that used to fall across my home were of two sky-scraping giants but they fell years ago and left nothing but a hole in the ground.  The shadow of that hole may be bigger than the one from those two towers.  To dwell in that shadow would only lead to withering.  The sun needs to feed a soul and the gravel road beckons away.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I'm John, truck driver/warehouseman by trade, a Teamster (for what it's worth nowadays) and husband & father.  I have two daughters and a caring, loving wife.  I sacrifice daylight and normal routines in order to work nights to allow for a wife with a career, a family with dual incomes to make ends meet, and a self-reliance, free of daycare worries and after school programs.  I walk my kids to school and I am there in the afternoon to pick them up.  I know their teachers and friends and friends' parents.  My role is active with homework and parental presence.  I may give up some things in the evening and extra-curricular activities, but the family's work schedule allows my wife to take up the after-work schedule and make sure there is a family presence later in the day. 

             I say all this to lay a foundation of understanding.  The understanding that I am "plugged-in" to the schoolyard, the opinions of parents and teachers, and the thoughts that so eagerly jump from the tongues of children.  I do not share alot of these opinions.  I can not tell you where alot of these thoughts come from.  I quietly listen to the words spoken on the playgrounds.  I read the increasingly large pile of ramblings and rants of anyone with a computer (I'm included in that list).  Yet, there are very few forums in which straight-forward is spoken.  Where is the place that niches meet?  The "backward" and the "metropolitan", the "cookie-cutter" and the "eccentric".  I realize the stories and opinions I put forth will polarize many.  I'm sure many will be put off or bored by some of what I entertain as important.  I know the road will have its bumps.  Hence, The Gravel Road.

            But, also, just like simpler life on a gravel road, there is an honesty, an openness.  If you'd like to leave a note or an opinion or a thought please let it be an honest one.