2006.11.15 Solitary entertainment

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

As a 20-something living by my lonesome in a small city, there’s not much to keep me entertained on weekends around here, so I usually hit the road shortly after the office closes up Friday evening or Saturday at noon.

The problem is that all of my friends and family live about two hours away, and since I started my work here, it has become increasingly difficult to keep myself entertained during these car rides. Compounding my dilemma, especially at this time of the year, is how early it gets dark and how active the area wild life is.

Plumb in the middle of their mating season, deer of both sexes are going bananas. Squirrels and rabbits are scrambling to pile up rations for the cold. Opossums and raccoons are acting bizarre and absurd as they normally do. Bears, Michigan’s fiercest—and most cumbersome—predators, are gorging themselves before belching tastily and settling to sleep until next year.

In this part of the state, chances are pretty remote that a black bear will lumber into the path of my dinky Saturn, but judging by the harrowing amount of roadkill splattered along Ridge Highway, it’s not terribly unlikely that I, and my Saturn, encounter the more common area fauna during one of my trips to or from Morenci.

Drivers of colossal Mack trucks and F-150s with stiff steel deer deflectors (brush guards? Please.) speed over the landscape with much more vigor than I do, understandably. Any wildlife that impedes them would be inescapably and instantaneously transformed into chopped liver, then forgotten. However, they don’t seem to understand that my car’s fiberglass constitution and its lowness to the ground make things much more likely to crumble or blow out if a similar mishap befalls me.

Or maybe they do understand this, and ride up on me with their blinding headlights simply because they are unsympathetic. Whichever’s the case, my reaction is the same—I cling to the steering wheel with white knuckles, grind my teeth and curse until the numbskull tailgating me realizes that I’m going 40 because I want him to pass. And yes, it is always a him.

Then I drop back into boredom. Maybe six months ago, the local NPR station decided to do away with “The Next Big Thing,” a mostly entertaining variety show, in favor of “Living on Earth,” a show about environmental issues. At least, that’s the change they made to the 7 p.m Sunday slot.

Normally, I’m all for informative, environmentally conscious public radio. Unfortunately, “Living on Earth” is ridiculously boring. Ridiculously. So I’ve been tuning into a metro Detroit sports talk show that conveniently curdles to static right about the time I hit Milan.

It’s probably for the best—I should be devoting all of my attention to weaving away from extant dead animals and avoiding making new ones. Of course, I never do. I’m always concerned about the Monday workload surprises in store, or having the news stories I already produced returned with a long list of questions I hadn’t thought of or even thought of thinking of. Or anything else startling and horrifying that could happen in the next 40 hours or however long it takes to get the newspaper out.

The result is that I re-arrive in Morenci thoroughly stressed out, grumpy, frustrated, irritated, trembling, constipated and exhausted—so much so that the task of carrying my overburdened laundry basket up the stairs to my apartment is often just much, much too much.

Yesterday, feeling particularly not up to the drive back to Morenci, I took a gamble and bought a book on CD—“The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson. It was a good choice. I never realized how much radio shows, even NPR programs, pause to hawk things for their sponsors. And I never realized how cranky it makes me when people try to sell me things.

Listening to Bryson’s amusing tales of life growing up in 1950s Des Moines in his un-homogenized midwestern accent—humble, unassuming, genuine—it was enough to keep me from going completely bonkers, even though last night’s trip through the starless, moonless, ink-black night was fantastically terrifying and riddled with dunderhead motorists—among them, myself.

Still, I managed to carry my basket upstairs and even change into my PJs before going to bed, so maybe I’ll check out another book on CD from the library before I leave next week.

    - Nov. 15, 2006 
  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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