Columns

2014.02.05 Bailing out in Jackson

on . Posted in By The Way

I wasn’t supposed to be in Morenci this weekend. I should have been in Wyoming, as in just outside of Grand Rapids. 

The annual Michigan Press Association convention took place last weekend in Grand Rapids. I'm not a conventional sort of guy, but I needed to attend the luncheon Saturday to retrieve a plaque that was awarded to the Observer last fall. The awards are announced in October (Newspaper of the Year for small weekly papers); the proof of the award to hang on the wall is issued at the end of January. 

If percentages were calculated, I'm sure it would end up in the 90s: It almost always snows on the weekend of the press convention. It could be sunny in Morenci but it will be snowing in Grand Rapids.

This year it was snowing everywhere so my wife and I planned to leave early to arrive in time for the noon luncheon. Of course I was concerned about the drive. Several inches of snow were predicted and then possibly freezing rain for the trip home. That's why we made arrangements to stay with former Observer janitor/editor Jeff Johnston. Jeff and his wife Grace and their four daughters recently moved to the Grand Rapids area and it's been years since we last visited.

While Colleen was showering Saturday morning, I tied my tie and got it right—at least close enough—on the very first try. For someone who wears a tie two or three times a year, depending on our empty social calendar, that was truly amazing. What a good omen, I thought. We're going to make it on time. 

I rubbed Vaseline into my scuffed shoes to make them look decent and off we went, only a few minutes behind schedule. We traveled one block before pausing to wait for a van approaching from the south on North Street. The omen turned dark. That driver never exceeded 38 miles an hour all the way to Clayton. And didn't do much better going to Hudson. We were losing time.

Eventually we started doing calculations. If I travel this far at this speed, how long will it take me to travel 150 miles? Who says algebra is irrelevant in real life? The simple calculation indicated we could make it on time at 50 mph, just barely make it at 45 mph, miss the $40-a-ticket lunch but show up to walk to the podium at 40 mph. Actually, that last option wasn't a bad one. We could go to a good restaurant later and avoid the fancy meal with strangers.

We proceeded onward, often reaching 50 mph but occasionally being slowed when the snow closed in on the road. 

Then came the exit off I-94 toward Lansing and the vehicle off in the ditch and police directing drivers to continue west toward Kalamazoo. We went to the next exit and turned off and pulled into a gas station to do some more algebra.

That was it. We bailed out. Jeff and Grace would put on nice clothing and eat our food. Jeff would walk to the podium to grab the plaque where the presenter would say, "Year after year..." to which he could only smile and pretend that he was the one getting tired of covering basketball games. 

Colleen and I were parked near a grocery store so we bought some supplies and drove back home. I was able to remove my well-tied tie about the time Jeff and Grace were eating their salads. Early tie removal—certainly not a wasted day. About the time Jeff made his walk to the front of the room, I noticed that I was wearing fluffy gray winter socks, and wouldn't that have been attractive as I climbed the podium stairs. I never feel that I fit in well with the big-city publishers. Always the rural guy from down around the Ohio border.

Instead of the fancy meal at the Grand Amway, we settled for a fish dinner at the Legion with my parents. I wore my winter boots with the gray socks.

This story ends with an e-mail I received Sunday night from my substitute, Jeff. It was a photo of my plaque hanging on the wall of his office. He asked, “Does it look straight to you?”

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