Archives For Indianapolis

 

I think Americans are conflicted. About 18-wheelers, in particular.

Folks get frustrated, annoyed, and downright angry that they have to share the crowded roadways with these behemoths. They wish they could somehow ban them from the roads. And yet…

We want, and even expect, that our every creature comfort be stocked and ready to go, 24/7. We’ve been grown attached to, and even dependent upon, all this stuff that gets transported from its point of origin by truck.

Methinks there’ssome dissonance here.

I know there are rude truck drivers. And some drive dangerously. But I like to remind myself whenever I get frustrated by a trucker (who, let’s say, decides to pass another truck and ties up both lanes of the interstate for several miles) that they’re just making a living while performing a demanding job that ultimately brings my stuff where I want it to be, and he likely just wants to get home in time for his kid’s birthday party.

And yeah, I’m biased.

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My dad drove a truck from 1970 until he retired, all across the interstates of America from the East Coast to the Rockies, and from the northernmost states down to the Gulf. He logged some serious miles, wore out a bunch of Rand McNally road atlases (pre-GPS), and slammed down enough coffee to fill a lake, I’m sure.

His excellent safety record would occasionally be marred by making split-second decisions like jack-knifing a rig rather than plow into a VW Beetle that pulled in front of him and then stopped on a dime. Another time, he had a right front tire blow out when he was carrying air compressors. He was unable to maintain control of the vehicle, and it veered off the roadway and into a field. He later said, “When it rolled, compressors came shooting out of the top of that trailer like bowling balls out of a paper bag!” The cab came to rest upside down, with him dangling from his seatbelt. He made another unpleasant decision – to unlatch the buckle, meaning he would land on his head. He considered himself blessed to have walked away from that incident without harm to himself or any other motorists. Nevertheless, his safety record got dinged again.

I got to ride with him once. I was home from college during summer break and he was making a run somewhere out east. I had been hankering to see my cousins and since his route would take him right through Indianapolis, he suggested he drop me off after the first leg of the trip, then about a day and a half later, he’d pick me up. Sounded like a winner to me.

indy trip

[Me and Dad in Indianapolis, about to head back home (with  my brother); cousins on the right.]

Well let me tell you right here and now, the right seat in the cab – at least back in the day – will jiggle your liver loose. Meanwhile, the driver’s hydraulic seat floats blissfully down the highway. And the noise. So much noise. I discovered a new kind of violence that could be perpetrated on the hair cells of one’s inner ears. However, despite these discomforts, there was a major compensation.

Truck stops.

I can’t remember ever having a more delicious breakfast than the one I ate with Dad at about 1:30 a.m. (somewhere in Illinois – I was pretty groggy when we stopped). I think we ordered eggs, hash browns, pancakes, and the best chipped beef gravy on toast ever – and washed it all down with the quintessential brew, no cream. As I gushed about how wonderful it all tasted, he informed me it was actually pretty typical, because truck stops that don’t dish up good food, don’t stay in business. Made sense.

But as good as the meal was, the conversation at that truck stop was much, much better. The satiating of our taste buds, the unusual hour for communing, just the two of us travelling together… it all converged to create a powerful bonding moment between us. That trip was both memorable and sweet. (My jostled innards settled down eventually, too.)

Quite a few years later, after Dad had retired, I was visiting at my parents’ with my two little ones in tow. As I gathered our stuff and headed for our van, Dad asked me if I wouldn’t rather just spend the night, since it had gotten so late.

“Dad, it’s only 10:30 – I’ll be home well before 1:00 in the morning. You know what a night owl I am. I rarely get sleepy driving at night.”

“Are you sure? What if you have car trouble and some sicko comes along? A lot of bad stuff goes on out there, you know. Why don’t you just sleep here.”

Dad. What makes you think the first person I’d encounter would be a slasher and not some family man driving a truck?”

Heh heh, I had gotten him where he lived, as they say.

“Besides, whoever comes at me has to get past my Protector first! And if He lets them through, then the next thing I’ll know I’ll be on the Other Side. And I’m okay with that!”

“Doesn’t sound like I can talk you into staying.” Parents are often unsatisfied with their adult children’s decisions.

“I’ll be okay. Really.”

“All right. But call me when you get home, okay?” (Pre-Nokia.)

As expected, the van didn’t even hiccup, so I would neither be able to confirm nor deny the presence of slashers trolling I-70 that night. The promised phone call was brief.

About six months later, my parents came over for a jazz concert in which my two older kids were playing. As we piled into two vehicles to come back to the house, the guys were in the car ahead, and Mom and I took the van, with the two little ones in the back seat.

I meant to stop at the gas station earlier that afternoon. Really, I did. But they were temporarily closed to install new underground tanks. (Note to self: stop for gas at another station further down the road, after your next errand.) As fate, and my attention deficit, would have it, I never actually made it to the gas station that day. It became an issue on the way home from the concert that night, about a mile and a half from our house.

When the van sputtered I knew immediately I was toast. It came to rest within a couple hundred yards of the exit ramp we would have taken. I was glad I had on flats, since I’d be walking to the convenience store, less than a mile away. I put on my flashers and opened the side door of the van so I could let the kids out of their car seats. Grandma would watch them.

It was dusk, but the lights that pulled up behind us nearly blinded me.

“Need some help?” he asked as he approached.

[Now, lest you think I’m making this up, I promise that what I am about to share is indeed truth.]

This Good Samaritan got out of a truck.

That’s right. He pulled his semi onto the shoulder to see if a woman in a minivan needed help.

I said I’d be fine, since there was a phone just a little ways down the road, on that exit ahead. He offered to make the call for me.

“But you’d have to get off the highway to get to a phone (and get behind schedule). You don’t need to do that. Really, I’ll be fine. My mom’s right here with the kids.”

“No, let me do it,” he insisted.

So I handed him a slip of paper with our phone number, thanked him profusely, and he drove off. About ten minutes later, my husband showed up with some gas. Crisis completely averted.

Now, the humor in this scenario wasn’t lost on me or Dad.

We would smile about that one for years to come.

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[Dad, beside second cab.]

Neighborliness 101

October 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

My husband and I rented a split foyer house in New Jersey during the late 80’s and early 90’s. One day I answered a knock at the door. There on the stoop was a young couple I’d never seen before. They were dressed in very casual summer attire, so this obviously wasn’t a business call. I was definitely curious.

“Hello. You don’t know me,” the young woman began, “but I grew up in this house. We’ve been here in Jersey on vacation, visiting relatives, and I just wanted to show my new husband the house I lived in when I was a little girl before we head back to Florida. I was just wondering who lived here now.”

“Would you like to come in?” I asked.

“Oh, yes! Could we? I didn’t want to be forward, but I was hoping you would ask,” she responded with glee.

I said they were to just feel at home and explore whichever rooms they liked, but that I wasn’t going to apologize for the state of the housekeeping. As they went from room to room, she described the house’s features and original furnishings to her husband, with much animation. I vicariously enjoyed their little adventure, and I might have been just a teensy weensy bit jealous that she had “gone home” again.

When they got to the end of the hall she asked him to guess which bedroom was hers. “Remember, I was the little sister,” she hinted. Then they turned left and entered the smallest bedroom in the house. “Oh, my,” she exclaimed, “I remembered it being much bigger than this!”

Their visit inspired me. The next time we took vacation and drove through Indianapolis on our way to back to the Midwest to visit our families, we got off I-70 and drove by the house of my childhood. (I didn’t have the nerve to knock on the door.) The yards, the houses, and even the entire block, all appeared much smaller than I had remembered.

Given these close quarters and the fact that everyone spent a fair amount of time on our front porches, it was pretty easy to get acquainted with our neighbors growing up. One of my very favorite neighbors showed up in this old photograph my mom shared with me recently.

Copy of Aug 1957 Evelyn pipe Ella porch

In the foreground is our next door neighbor, Evelyn. She was mugging for the camera with one of either my dad’s or her husband’s pipes. Beside her is the youngest of her four sons. Standing on the next porch over: my older brother, me, and Ella Chambers.

Ella lived alone, in very close proximity to a whole slew of little kids — most of them in our duplex, to the one side of her bungalo, and one more little kid on the opposite side. As noisy, boisterous, mad cap and full of mischief as we could be, this woman never, ever said one cross word to us. (She even let us come into her yard to fetch foul balls, and out of respect, we were very careful not to trample anything in the process.) I mean, if you type “define kindness” into a Google search box, the first result would be: Ella. To say that I loved this lady wouldn’t adequately convey my full range of feelings for her.

My most favorite thing about Ella Chambers, besides her incredible patience and gentleness with us kids, was how generous she was with her wealth: the woman’s fenced back yard was a veritable botanical garden. And every once in a while — but not so often as to become something we’d take for granted — she’d invite us into her yard to pick bouquets to give to our mothers. Well poke me with a fork, I was done.

As she’d open the gate, garden shears in hand and wearing an apron, I always felt as if I were entering a parallel universe of some kind, despite the fact that we lived right next door. Along both sides of the walkway were endless flowers in a stunning array of colors and varieties.

“These are snap dragons,” she’d say, supplying all the names of the various sections in her symphony of fragrance and loveliness. “Those over there are irises. They’d be nice in a bouquet — they’ll stay fresh for a long time.” She would take time to demonstrate how to snip long stems, for vases, rather than just plucking blooms off their stems, as kids are wont to do.

Although I never let on, I always wished I could have at least one of every flower she had. However, I figured that saying so would seem greedy, and I never wanted to do anything that might jeopardize future forays into Eden. So mostly I just let Ella suggest and select, nodding my assent whenever she asked if I liked a particular flower. Of course I like that one — I like ALL of them!

Before long, she would have amassed a plump bouquet of assorted blossoms, at which point she would wrap several layers of moist paper towels around the stems and carefully place the bunch in my hands. I was instructed to carry it right home so my mother could get it into some water as soon as possible. After I left, she’d go about getting the boys’ bouquets “presentation ready”.

Striding into our house bearing one of Ella’s gorgeous bouquets, for the sole purpose of presenting the gift in royal tribute to the lady of the house, always made me feel like a regular little duchess. This wonderful neighbor’s open-heartedness made quite an impression on my young heart. I believe I would have walked over hot coals for this woman.

Ella Chambers: advocate of young children, cheerer of busy young moms, admirer and cultivator of beautiful floral gardens, benevolent neighborhood purveyor of love and well-being.

In 1960 my parents bought a lot on the outskirts of Indianapolis and had a little brick house built. They did much of the finish work themselves and I enjoyed playing at the new house while they put up drywall, installed fixtures, hung doors or laid hardwood floors. I loved the fact that the lot was surrounded by undeveloped land which by contrast made the yard surrounding our duplex in the city seem tiny.

It wasn’t long before the house was finished. We moved in, and I entered third grade. This was the first time I was the new kid in the class and I didn’t like being the object of so much scrutiny. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I made a few friends, one of whom lived a short distance from our new house. In fact, our school bus stop was right in front of her house, on the main road.

My parents had their hands full attending to and keeping track of what was by now a family of four. One Sunday afternoon their focus must have been fixed on one of my siblings because I couldn’t seem to get their attention despite earnest (and perhaps petulant) pleas. My recollection suggests the actual issue centered on some particular injustice in my world. I felt it demanded redressing, and I just couldn’t get an audience with the powers that be. Impatience would spawn an impulse.

I’ll show them… I’ll just leave. A radical act of such magnitude will surely impress upon them the preeminence of my needs. I was not one to trifle with.

Being careful not to tip my hand, I nonchalantly walked out the door empty-handed, as if heading out to play. No little suitcase for me, no siree, I was traveling light. I glanced over my shoulder several times to make sure no one was watching, and at the end of the driveway made a right turn and continued past several corn fields. Walking down the gravel road, my pulse quickened. Here I was: a woman of world, striking out on my own, prepared to make my mark. In another few minutes I found myself at the main road, standing in front of my new friend’s house. I paused to gather my wits before knocking, anticipating questions as to my purpose for being there. Secretly, I hoped they would magically see the desperate actions of a wronged child and offer sanctuary, because I was loath to spell it out.

My friend’s father greeted me. “Come in. My daughter isn’t home yet, but you can have a seat and wait for her if you want.” Hmmm. He had assumed I was merely there to play. Couldn’t he see the urgency of my situation? Suddenly I wasn’t sure this whole thing was going to play out as I’d planned. An Andy Williams special was on the television and I took a seat. I pasted myself against the arm of the sofa, trying to take up as little space as possible. If they considered me a presumptuous little guest I could get turned out onto the streets at nightfall.

I sat there for what seemed like a long time. My friend’s mother entered the kitchen making comments about needing to get dinner on the table and that I was welcome to stay. Then she stepped out the back door, and apparently grabbed a chicken and whacked off its head on a tree stump. She came back into the house and, to my horror, actually asked if I’d like to come watch the chicken running around the yard without its head!. I meekly and somewhat nauseously declined, realizing that any hope for sanctuary had just evaporated. I just couldn’t reside with chicken slayers.

I rose from the sofa and stated that I probably should be going now and that I could always come back later to see if my friend had returned. And without further ado, I exited the only place I knew of to go. I passed the same cornfields on my return home, and feverishly scrambled to come up with an explanation for my unannounced absence. I was hoping to have been missing long enough for them to be quite worried about me, and command the attention of the entire family. But the premature aborting of the original plan had most likely cancelled that prospect. ‘What were you thinking, young lady?!’ was more likely to trip off their lips. I braced myself and opened the door.

What happened next completely took the wind out of my sails. They neither fawned over me nor scolded. It was worse. When I walked in the front door they were still engrossed in whatever had gripped their attention when I left. My absence hadn’t even been noticed. I was crestfallen. What did a girl have to do to place herself in the center of everyone’s attention, anyway?! Sheesh. I decided not to say a word. To do so might have incurred consequences that, at this point, appeared to not be coming my way. Better to leave well enough alone, so I slunk off to my bedroom and laid low.

Did I learn a lesson? Perhaps. I think I began to realize that, 1) I wasn’t the center of the universe and that, 2) as one of four children, I could do myself a favor by waiting more patiently for my turn to receive parental attention, and that 3) I never wanted to accept a dinner invitation from my friend if fried chicken was on the menu.

Poor birds.

Ramona Drive