Columns

2006.11.15 Solitary entertainment

on . Posted in Standard Deviant

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 

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