Two recommendations

  • We hardly watch videos anymore, for a variety of reasons. And I think we woud be better off, at least somewhat, if we never watched them at all. But we still watch them occasionally, as a birthday treat for the kids or as an infrequent entertainment for the family. For Elizabeth’s birthday we rented Babe, and we were delighted to see how delighted the little ones were by that.

    One thing that has crept up on us is the declining selections at the local Blockbuster Video stores. I know pre-1965 movies pretty well, and used to be that I could always find something worthwhile in the classics section. Now I don’t think there is a classics section, and older movies are hardly available. Neither are the offbeat ones we might like to see.

    I’ve always been intrigued by the way Netflix works, but could hardly justify $20 per month to gain access to a constant stream of videos, especially since I didn’t want to be lured back into watching videos constantly. But now they’ve added some less extravagant plans, including an entry level where each month you pay $5 and get two rentals. That was just about our speed, and $2.50 apiece is a fair price, especially since we only go as far as our mailbox to pick them up and return them.

    We’ve been signed up for two months now, and so far we’ve watched two Buster Keaton films, Babe, and Fiddler on the Roof. In September we’ll be watching collections of the Fleischer Popeye cartoons, and somewhere after that we’ll check out the BBC production of Mansfield Park to see if it’s worth adding to our Jane Austen collection. Turnaround is quite fast, even out here in the country, usually two business days.

  • I do most of my HTML editing in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get context, and I don’t enjoy writing raw HTML. Usually this isn’t a problem, but when we switched our online store over to using Zen Cart open source software, I suddenly had no option but to write my book descriptions into a browser text box using raw HTML—not an environment conducive to reflection, and new book descriptions have suffered as a result.

    The other day I decided it was a problem that needed to be fixed, and so I started looking for some freeware that would let me compose my HTML visually, then paste the resulting code into Zen Cart. And I was pleased to stumble across the perfect solution, namely Xinha Here! from Hypercubed Software. Once you install this Firefox extension, right-clicking on any text box will present a menu option that opens a WYSIWYG HTML editor, displaying any HTML that was in the text box; once you’ve edited that, you can dismiss the editor and the revised raw HTML will be pasted directly into the text box.

    I know the problem I’m solving here is pretty specialized, but I think Xinha Here! might also be useful in other situations, particularly when commenting on a weblog where the software confronts you with a minimally functional (and usually tiny) text box.

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A week of driving

We are just passing through the height of the melon season, with more being hauled in from the fields than can be sold through the usual channels, so the Burkholders have asked me to haul a load of melons three times weekly to the produce auction in Crab Orchard, about fifty miles away. At the auction growers bring in their produce, divide it into lots, and take whatever price the auction can sell it for; the good news is that you will almost always sell your stuff, the bad news is that you can’t count on a good (or even predictable) price.

So Monday morning I was at 501 at 7:30am. It took about an hour to get the melons loaded, then 75 minutes to drive them to Crab Orchard, then 45 minutes until they were unloaded, and another 75 minutes home, with a stop close to home to refuel. I know all that because I took a theme book and began keeping a log of my travels. Looking over the log, I realize that there is a lot of time during a trip where I am waiting, and rather than just watching bins being loaded and unloaded I should probably redeem the time by taking reading material along.

Monday afternoon was uneventful, and at 5pm I was about to put burgers on the grill for supper when the phone rang. It was Daniel Burkholder, calling to see if I would be able to drive a load of canteloupes down to Denny Holman in Chattanooga that night. I would have said yes in any case, but I especially wanted to make it up to Denny for the problems with the last delivery, so I said I would. After I hung up, Debbie reminded me that I was supposed to be driving produce to Lexington for Jerome the next morning, but surely wouldn’t be back in time. Ooops. So I called Daniel back to tell him I needed to talk to Jerome first, and then called Jerome, who said that the delivery could happen later in the day if necessary. So I called Daniel back again and told him I was on my way.

The family scrambled to help me gather food for the trip—water bottles, triscuits, cherry tomatoes, cheese, and peanuts, all packed into an insulated lunchbag. It didn’t take me twenty minutes from the first call until I was on the road. I went to 501 Produce where they loaded two bins, and then to South Fork Produce where they filled the truck with another fourteen bins. By 7pm I was on my way to Chattanooga.

I’d say that these things tend to happen on the hottest possible days, but lately all the days have been hot, and even at 7pm the temperature was about one hundred degrees, very unusual for this part of the state. So I was watching the temperature gauge on the truck very closely. And of all the ups and downs ahead of me on the trip, the worst hill of all was the very first one, about three miles down the road. On that one I was crawling up the hill carrying 12,000 pounds of melons at 5mph, with the gauge climbing and the heat on full blast in the cab. At the top of the hill I breathed a sigh of relief, but as I drove on more level ground the engine wasn’t cooling very much, so I found a place to pull over and idle for a few minutes. Fortunately now that the cooling system is fixed the engine will cool quickly when not under load, and so I was moving again soon enough.

This time I stuck to US 27 all the way to I-40 in Tennessee, and it turned out to be a much gentler route than I-75, at least in terms of grades. There were long climbs, of course, but nothing to compare to the interstate, and since the traffic is moving more slowely in general on a two-lane highway with climbing lanes, cars weren’t as surprised to encounter a truck doing 25mph in the climbing lane and it felt much less dangerous. The engine would occasionally get hot as I climbed, but nothing dangerous, and I gradually learned more about how to drive the truck so as to minimize that. But still I kept the heat on in the cab all the way there.

The trip down turned out to be almost exactly five hours, so I pulled into the agreed-upon meeting place at midnight. Denny had other deliveries to attend to that night, so he sent a schoolteacher friend along to take me to the unloading point and unload the truck. It was a bit weird being at a vacant produce station after midnight, spending ninety minutes watching a fellow use a forklift to unload the truck with only headlights for illumination. I should have used the time to catch a nap, but the fellow was rusty in his forklift skills and needed me to be a second set of eyes. At 1:30am he finished up, gave me the cash to take back to the sellers, and I headed back north.

At this point I’m figuring four plus hours to get home, maybe by 6am if I drove straight through, something I’m in no shape to do. But as I drive along I’m not finding any good locations to pull the truck off the road for a nap, either. At 3am I stopped at a Pilot truck stop on I-40 for fuel, as well as to walk around and get an orange juice; I’m not dangerously drowsy yet, and I’m getting closer to US 27 where I’m more likely to find a place to pull over. Or so I thought, anyway; I drove for an hour on US 27 without any luck, but then suddenly found a spot where there was a very wide section of shoulder where various trucks and heavy equipment had been parked. I pulled off as well, then did my best to stretch out on the cab seat and sleep.

After an hour I had gotten what benefit I could from that, so I headed on again at 5am. The twisty mountain road was enough to keep me awake for awhile, but I was still very drowsy, and after an hour I saw another good spot to pull off and so I did. This time I just sat upright at the wheel and napped, and it turned out to be more comfortable; I’ll probably add a small pillow to the standard equipment to make that a bit easier. Only 45 minutes later I was awake again, and feeling much better. I drove on, got home at 8am, said hello, went up to the bedroom, set the alarm for 10am, and napped again; remember that I still needed to make a produce delivery to Lexington that day.

At 10am I figured I could spare the time for a shower, which is an important part of my wake-up routine. I made some coffee and a cream cheese bagel to take along, refilled my water bottle, and was headed out again at 10:30am. I stopped at 501 Produce to give them their portion of the cash, then drove on to South Fork Produce. As I paid Ammon, the fellow who runs South Fork Produce, he asked me if I would be available that afternoon to transfer a truckful of melons from 501 Produce to him, to be loaded on the Wal-Mart semi that would be arriving at 4:30pm. I told him that it would be pretty tight but possible, and I would call from Lexington to say whether I could be back in time.

After that I drove up the hill to Jerome’s to load the order for Good Foods. Usually we take our time about this, but since I was trying to get back as early as possible I was on my way again in twenty minutes. At one point I had thought I would stop for some fast food, just to quench my hunger for a few hours, but instead I decided to see how quickly I could get to Lexington if I pushed it, so I munched on crackers and cherry tomatoes and kept driving.

Turns out that I can get there in about one hour and forty-five minutes, not too bad. I could have unloaded quickly and headed back home, but I was also supposed to give Jerome’s wife a ride home from visiting her family in town, and she hadn’t arrived yet. At that point I thought it was fair to stop pushing, so I called to say I couldn’t do the afternoon run, then took my time visiting with Matt in the produce department as we unloaded the order. When Mrs. Lange arrived, she did a bit of shopping and then we left for home. On the drive home I wasn’t drowsy, but I could feel my energy ebbing away. I dropped her off at her place, stopped for fuel, and arrived back home at 5:30pm where supper was waiting. After supper I fell asleep in the living room, and when I woke up at 8pm I decided there was no point in doing anything but going up to bed, where I slept until morning about as soundly as I ever have.

Wednesday I was back in the truck at 7:30am, to take a l
oad of melons to Crab Orchard, but after Monday/Tuesday’s adventure it was a peaceful way to spend the morning. When I stopped back at 501 produce, Daniel’s sister Leah asked me if I was available to drive her and her sister-in-law to town Thursday morning for a few errands. It’s common for the Mennonites to hire a driver for such things, but it isn’t something I wanted to do on a regular basis, especially since it is a twenty-minute, twelve-mile drive from home to pick them up. But I had been wanting to at least give it a try, and I also wanted to do what favors I could for the Burkholders, so I told her that would be fine and agreed to pick them up at 6:45am Thursday.

When I arrived Thursday morning, Leah told me that her brother Joe had decided to go as well, and asked me to go get him first, giving me directions to his place about three miles away. I went there, and when Joe came out he was moving very gingerly—it turns out he had hurt his back badly and wanted to visit the chiropractor in town. We headed back to pick up Mrs. Lena Burkholder (Daniel’s wife) and her daughter, then next door to get Miss Leah Burkholder, then next door again to get Ephraim Burkholder’s son.

On the way into town we passed a couple of buggies, and the Burkholders commented on how this or that person had gotten an early start. Normally they would have made this trip in a buggy themselves, but Leah needed to get back as soon as possible to work at 501 produce. We first went to the small hospital in Liberty so that some of the women could have blood drawn (I’m not sure why, but there were lots of other folks there for the same reason). While we waited, Joe wanted to save some time by driving to whatever stores were open at 7:30am; we stopped at the IGA so he could buy some rat poison, made a note that the Dollar General didn’t open until 9am, and went and waited for the Save-A-Lot to open at 8am. By 8:05 it hadn’t opened and we needed to move on, so we headed back to the hospital, picked up the women, and drove to the chiropractor’s office. Although it didn’t open until 8:30am, someone was there and let them in to wait, while I sat in the car and read a book.

About 8:45am Joe, Ephraim’s son, Lena, and her daughter emerged, and asked me to take them to the bank while Leah was still seeing the doctor. I did, then came back and waited for Leah, who came out about 9am. We then went to the Dollar General store where everyone was to meet. Leah went in for a bit, then came out and asked me to take her to the Radio Shack, where she needed to buy a loud ringer for the telephone at the produce station. Neither of us was sure where the Radio Shack was, though, or even if there was one in Liberty. We drove up and down the (very short) strip, then stopped in at the electrical supply store to see if they had a ringer. They didn’t, but they knew where the Radio Shack was, so we drove over there and Leah bought what she needed. Then it was back to the Dollar General, and after a few more minutes everyone gathered and we were on our way back home by 9:30am. When we got back they asked me how much to pay; I told them I had no idea, but I wanted to charge them a bit less than the going rate. We finally agreed on $25, and the five of them gave me $5 apiece.

When I had seen Daniel that morning, he had asked me if I could move a truckful of canteloupes from his place to South Fork by 4pm, and I told him I could. But shortly after I got home he called and asked if I could be there by 1:30pm, since the Wal-Mart truck was running early. Again, I said I could. But as I sat down to lunch just before noon, Daniel called again and said the Wal-Mart truck was running very early, and could I come right away. I said I could, asked Maggie to save my half-assembled tomato sandwich for me, grabbed my water bottle, and headed out. When I got to 501 produce Daniel and his crew were scrambling to wash and label a bunch of melons; they loaded the truck quickly, then Daniel and two of his sons hopped in the cab with me and we drove the six miles to South Fork Produce. When we arrived at 1pm we found the loading dock already occupied by an impatient Wal-Mart truck, so we drove to the other side of the building, unloaded the bins quickly, and scooted them into the semi, which was gone a couple of minutes after the last bin was loaded.

Daniel talked for awhile with Ammon, then hopped back in the cab with his sons and asked if we could stop by Raymond Shirk’s place to pick up a piece of equipment for him to repair. (Daniel does welding—in fact, he will be repairing some metal parts of my truck this winter.) We drove the half-mile or so to Raymond’s, and figured out how to load the two unwieldy parts of a gizmo used to pull plastic mulch out of the ground once the growing is over. Then it was back to 501 produce, where it would be easier to unload the gizmo than at Daniel’s place.

After that it was up to Jerome’s place. After I got home from taking the Burkholders to Liberty, I had helped put together the Friday produce order for Good Foods, thirty pounds of acorn squash and sixteen pints of cherry tomatoes. Jerome was doing the Friday delivery so he could also visit family in Lexington, so I needed to take the stuff to him that afternoon. When I had to leave suddenly, we had tossed it all in the truck, along with a cooler with two gallons of milk, a gift for the Langes that would have otherwise been poured out on the ground (too much milk around here right now, and no pig to eat it). Jerome wasn’t around, so I left the produce and put the milk in his cooler, and finally headed back home.

Compared to all that, Friday’s work was uneventful, just another trip to Crab Orchard to deliver melons. The waits for loading and unloading were a bit longer than usual, and I was really wishing I had remembered to bring a book along. There was a very small chance that Denny Holman in Chattanooga would want a load of melons delivered today, but that never materialized and it was fine with me. I will probably be taking him a couple of loads over the next couple of weeks, at which point melon season will screech to a sudden halt and I’ll be out of the trucking business for awhile.

Ridgewood Boys at the Carter Family Fold

Well, it seems to be official now. On Sunday, September 23 at 3pm Chris and I will be playing at the Carter Family Fold. This is one of the concerts to support the release of the Music of Coal 2-CD set. We are there primarly to supply backup for Ron Short and others who appear on the CD, but we will also be performing three or four songs from the CD ourselves.

It is quite a treat for us to play at the Carter Fold in any capacity. And this show will be especially special, because Darrell Scott, who has one of the the finest songs on the CD set (“Never Leave Harlan Alive”) has agreed to appear as the headliner. There is also a chance that Darrell’s dad Wayne Scott will appear as well; we’re excited to meet Wayne if that happens, since he lives in London, not too far from here.

Tickets aren’t cheap ($15 in advance, $18 at the door) but it’s for a good cause and should be a great show. We encourage everyone in the area to think about coming.

Delivering apples

On Wednesday Jerome drove me down to Knoxville to collect the refrigerator truck from the dealer. He volunteered not only because he is a nice guy, but because he had just bought a 1989 Toyota pickup to replace the Nissan truck that died earlier this year and he wanted a chance to try it out. So we left about 2pm, got in a lot of talking on the drive, ate at a decent Vietnamese restaurant, and then went to the dealer to pay the bill and get my truck.

The bill was heart-stopping, but they had replaced the cooling system, changed the oil and all filters, and done a thorough inspection, so it counts as an investment. After waiting to be sure the truck would start (!) Jerome headed back home, since he could make much better time on his own and I wasn’t much concerned about further trouble. And there wasn’t any, if you don’t count the side-trip I had to make to the Vietnamese restaurant to pick up the credit card I had left there.

I drove home on US 27, a back way that was probably a primary route before the interstates arrived. Unlike the trip down on the interstate, where I was quite intimidated by the endless stream of semis passing me at high speeds, the drive home was almost peaceful with very few trucks or cars out that night. The grades on US 27 were actually milder than those on the interstate, and with so little traffic I was able to spend some time learning how best to drive the truck up and down hills. The trip down took about 3 1/2 hours, while driving back took a little more than four hours.

Thursday I got a call from Ephraim Burkholder, who works with his brother Daniel and sisters Leah and Rachel running the 501 Produce Station, asking me if I’d be available to transport some produce for them on Friday. I like Ephraim a lot; before moving to this old order Mennonite community he drove a truck for sixteen years, and he has been very helpful explaining to me about how to charge for my services. I told him I’d be glad to do it.

The main business of the day at 501 Produce on Friday was dealing with a semi load of apples from Maryland. Like many other places in the south, we were hit hard by the cold weather this spring and there has been almost no local fruit to be had. 501 Produce deals mainly in local melons, and they needed to make room for the apples, so the first job was to take a truckload of melons to be sold at the produce auction in Crab Orchard, about fifty miles away. I arrived at 7am, and they loaded the truck full of cardboard bins on wooden pallets stacked two deep, probably 11,000 pounds of watermelons. The drive up was uneventful, taking about 75 minutes, and I arrived early enough that the folks at the auction were able to unload me right away.

Back at 501 Produce Station, they loaded up ten bins of apples for me to take to South Fork Produce Station, only six miles away. The drive was short, but I had to wait around awhile as some confusion was straightened out—they thought they were receiving five bins each of two different varieties, not the ten bins of Golden Delicious I had brought. Finally they unloaded five of the bins, and I took the other five back.

The third and longest job came next, taking twelve bins of the apples to another Burkholder brother, Leroy, who farms in Christian County, about 150 miles away. They loaded me up with another seven bins of apples, and by 1pm I was on my way west.

It was a hot, hot day on Friday, not as hot as the 104 degree day we had when I picked up the truck in Knoxville, but still enough to keep my eyes glued to the temperature gauge. There is a gradual overall climb from Casey County to Christian County, and lots of grades along the way, although nothing like the trip across the mountains to Tennessee. It ended up being a good test. On the longer grades I usually had to turn on the heat in the cab to keep the engine cooler, but otherwise the truck ran fine; if the outside temperature had been about ten degrees cooler I doubt I would have had to use that particular trick. On more level stretches I was able to drive at a pretty good clip. And the truck rides more smoothly fully loaded than it does empty.

I arrived at Leroy Burkholder’s farm around 4:45pm. He lives next to the Jefferson Davis monument in Fairview, Kentucky—literally in its shadow. He was expecting me, and spent the next hour using a Bobcat-like gizmo with a loading fork attachment and the help of his two young sons to transfer the pallets from the trucks to some horse wagons. (The Bobcat had steel wheels, as did his tractor.) I stayed out of their way, watching, and making friends with Leroy’s little girl, maybe four years old; that was easy enough in the beginning as she spoke to me in English, but as she got friendlier she switched to Dutch (without realizing it, I’m sure) and all I could do was smile and say, “I don’t understand.”

At 5:45 I was headed back east again. Since it was cooler and there was more downhill than uphill, I didn’t worry much about the engine anymore. With a brief stop for fuel, I was home again around 9pm.

As travel becomes a regular part of the routine, I’ve been trying to find ways to avoid buying food on the road. Friday I did pretty good. I packed a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, along with sandwich bags of cubed cheese, club crackers, and cherry tomatoes, and a cupful of dry roasted peanuts. I had planned to pack an apple as well, but forgot. I had stuck a quart canteen of water in the refrigerator the night before, and took that as well as a 20 oz travel mug full of coffee. And that did me for the day, almost. At the gas station on the way home I bought a 20 oz bottle of water and a pint of orange juice; the food was gone and I might have bought something to eat, but Debbie told me when I called that there was homemade pizza waiting for me when I arrived. For the next such trip I would definitely pack more water, possibly two more quarts, and maybe take along some orange juice from home. A bit of meat would have been good, too, though I’m not sure what would have been convenient.

For those of you keeping score, it was a decent day financially. I was paid for the three jobs separately, $80 for the 100-mile round trip to Crab Orchard, $20 for the 12-mile round trip to South Fork Produce Station, and $216 for the round trip to Christian County. To say “round trip” is misleading, I guess; one thing I learned is that you are generally paid for the delivery, not for the trip back—and if you can arrange for a separate paid load on the return trip, more power to you.

In the same vein, you charge for what you carry, even if the load is a partial one. This is how we settled on the $216 for the Christian County delivery. The Crab Orchard trip was a full load, and at $1.60 per loaded mile it was probably on the low side—which is where I wanted it, since I am just getting started and want my customers to know I appreciate their business. Taking ten bins six miles was harder to calculate; I ended up suggesting $15, especially since they had arranged for three jobs that day, but they decided to pay $20. Ephraim told me that Leroy would expect to pay about $240, which was $1.60 per loaded mile, but that seemed a bit much since it was a partial load (twelve bins of the sixteen I could carry). So we figured there were 216 bushels of apples in the 12 bins, and $1 per bushel seemed a good price, so it ended up $216.

The truck has been averaging about 10 miles per gallon, although I haven’t calculated the actual mileage for this trip yet. So we can call it ten gallons to Crab Orchard, one gallon to South Fork produce, and thirty gallons to Christian County—maybe $115 total for fuel. Things like depreciation, maintenance, and incidentals need to come out of the remaining $201, but even so I felt like I made a bit of money performing a useful service. It’s not the way I want to earn a living, but given that I have a truck and the time it turns out to be a good way to supplement our
income.

Daily links

Often I run across items in my internet reading that aren’t enough to write about, yet taught me something and are worth pointing out as good reading. So I’ve set up my account at del.icio.us to make a daily weblog post for me, listing pages I’ve noted there. The previous post is the first example of this.

Delivering cantaloupes

The Mennonites in the South Fork area specialize in growing cantaloupes and watermelons; when the season comes, lots of roadside stands will put up signs announcing that Casey County melons are in. Daniel Burkholder and some neighbors started a produce station this year, a sort of co-op that brokers the melons for local farmers. Since I bought the refrigerated truck he has asked a couple of times if I would be available to transport melons for him, which I was glad to do, but then one thing or another came up and it didn’t happen.

Wednesday night Daniel called and asked if I could transport a load of melons to just north of Chattanooga, about 200 miles away. During the melon season there is a fellow named Denny who lives and teaches school in northern Alabama who also gets melons from here and resells them in the Chattanooga area. Usually he fetches them himself in a rented truck, but this year school started earlier than ever, and he needed to hire someone to bring him a load. I said I’d be glad to do it.

We’re in the middle of a heat wave, and Thursday was the hottest day so far, hitting 100 degrees. But it wasn’t especially unpleasant, and so at 4:30pm I was at the produce station. Denny wasn’t able to take delivery until late in the evening, so it was going to be a late night and there was no rush to get started. They sent me to a second location to pick up a couple of 700 pound bins of melons, and when I got back they began to load the other fourteen bins while I watched. I left about 6:15pm.

The road out is not particularly hilly, just a few small stretches, but by the time I got to the parkway I noticed that the temperature gauge was running awfully high. I figured it was because the temperature was still in the high 90s, and so I pulled off the road and waited about fifteen minutes for the engine to cool. When I started again the engine was a bit cooler but still needed watching, especially when climbing hills.

In a car I probably would have driven straight west to I-75 and then taken that south through Knoxville to Chattanooga. But I knew there was a truck weigh station on I-75 between Corbin and London, and even though I wasn’t doing anything illegal it would be the first time for me at a truck station, an experience I would just as soon save for another night. So at Somerset I headed south on US 27, which is a lesser but perfectly fine highway. All the way I was easing up hills and watching the temperature gauge.

By the time I got to Stearns, within ten miles of the Tennessee border, I was getting nervous; not about the current state of the truck, but about the steep hills I assumed were ahead—I knew from driving the interstate that there was a high range between me and Knoxville, and I was concerned about climbing it on roads which allowed steeper grades than the interstates allow. So seeing a sign pointing east towards I-75, I decided to be prudent and cut across to there for the rest of the trip.

It turns out that Stearns at 1450 feet is about as high as US 27 goes, whereas I-75 climbs to about 1800 feet, and although the grades are not super steep they are very, very long, which is why they stuck in my memory. But I didn’t know that at the time.

I also didn’t know that Hwy 92, which cut across to the interstate, was narrow and twisty and up and down, with one very steep climb of its own. I made it to the top of that hill around 9pm and had to stop, since the temperature gauge was nearly pegged at the high end. I opened the hood and saw steam coming out of the coolant reservoir cap, and no visible indication of any liquid inside the reservoir.

After letting the truck cool for 30 minutes, I started again. Fortunately it was almost all downhill from there to the freeway, and since I coasted whenever possible the engine continued to cool as I rode. I stopped at a Pilot truck stop, bought the four gallons of pre-mixed coolant they had, and poured it in. This cooled the engine further, and so I hoped that doing that had fixed the problem.

At this point it was about 10pm, and Denny called me to see how things were going, and to tell me that because there had been an accident at the exit where we had originally planned to meet we would have to meet elsewhere. I told him about the evening so far, apologized for running so late, and told him that if things ran smoothly from then on I would probably see him in a couple of hours.

Adding the coolant did not fix the problem. As I started on those very long grades towards Knoxville, the truck ran very slow and very hot. Suddenly the “Stop Engine” light came on, which means you’ve gone as hot as you can go without doing serious damage. So I stopped by the side of the road. And waited. And eventually, when the engine had cooled to the point where it would start again, I continued crawling up the hill until the “Stop Engine” light came on again, at which point I would stop by the side of the road and wait. As this went on, I could drive slowly for maybe fifteen minutes, then have to wait for forty-five.

Periodically I would get calls from Denny, who was surprisingly gracious as this continued on. I suppose if you’re in the produce business you have to get used to plans being frustrated by malfunctioning equipment. Our plans were slowly pared away as the night dragged on; first he had to send home some men he had hired to help unload, then he had to give up on getting the melons in time to be loaded onto other trucks that would be leaving to make deliveries, and finally he had to give up on meeting me at all, since he had to drive 90 minutes home and then on to the school where he was teaching.

The last time I talked to Denny, he gave me directions to a place where they would unload the melons and keep them for him until he could arrange to have them picked up. At that point it was 5am, and I had pulled into a Pilot truck stop in Knoxville in search of more coolant in case it might help. The road was much more level at this point, but I had no idea how long it would take me to drive the final fifty miles and so I told him I would just continue on as best I could.

Turns out that not all Pilot stores are truck stops these days, and this one was just a glorified convenience store with no automotive supplies at all. But luckily at the store across the street they had one gallon of concentrated coolant. I bought it, poured it into the reservoir, then went back and asked the clerk to fill the jug with water, which I then poured into the reservoir. And headed on.

At this point I remembered that one trick for cooling down an overheating engine is to run the inside heat full blast, so I turned the heat on, and that managed to keep the engine just cool enough that I was able to drive continuously the rest of the way, still very slow on grades but without the “Stop Engine” light coming on again. I found my exit, followed Denny’s directions to the end of a long and very narrow road where farm workers were unloading trucks full of produce. It was 7am by now. When I got it across to them who the melons were for, they unloaded them right away and I was soon on my way again.

Fortunately Denny had told me about a truck repair place not too far from the melon drop point, one that opened early, so I headed over there and talked to the guy who owned it about how the truck had been behaving. Without even turning off the engine, he opened the hood, stuck a water hose into the coolant reservoir, filled it until it overflowed, then pulled out the hose and watched. He had me rev the engine and watched some more. Finally he hopped down and told me that my radiator was leaking, and that I would have to take it to the International Truck dealer in Knoxville to get it fixed. He wouldn’t take anything for his time, so I thanked him and headed for Knoxville.

Strangely enough, filling the reservoir with water did more to help than any of my earlier ministrations; the truck ran at almost normal temperatures for more than half the way and only began to
get hot near the end of the drive. That was the good news. The less welcome news was that I had to pass a weigh station going into Knoxville. But since I was empty (and I guess they can tell somehow) they just passed me through.

I arrived at the International dealer at 10am, told them about the trouble and what the mechanic had told me, and asked them to look at a few other things while I was there. It’s a very busy place which runs 24 hours during the week, and they told me the radiator guy wouldn’t be in until 4pm so there would be a wait. So I waited. I wandered over to the Shoney’s across the freeway for an early lunch, sat in the waiting lounge watching the Sci-Fi channel for hours, had my ear bent extensively by a fellow waiter who would rather talk than watch the Sci-Fi channel, and did whatever else I could think of to pass the time.

Finally around 4:30pm the radiator guy came to the lounge and told me that, yes, my radiator was completely rotten and they would need to order one to replace it, one that wouldn’t be there before Monday. So I got on the phone and called Debbie to come pick me up, and settled in for another bout of waiting. All this time my waiting room buddy is also there, and when I figured out that we could actually have an interesting conversation once I got him off the topic of how badly his company was treating him, we passed the time pleasantly enough. Debbie arrived around 9pm to fetch me, and we made it back home at about 12:15am.

No doubt there are plenty of lessons to take away from this, but the one that stands out for me is that things looked much bleaker at the time than they do in retrospect. I have a high threshold for frustration, but in the wee hours when I was pulling off the road yet again with an overheated engine, not knowing how I was going to deliver the melons that someone was waiting fore, there was surely the temptation to despair. But actually falling into despair would have been far worse than the things that were unfolding. In the end I got the melons there, the truck to the dealer, and myself back home, tired but not much the worse for wear.

Simple living

Over two years ago I wrote a series of posts about simple living, which disappeared along with the rest of my archives. After resurrecting most of my old posts, Herrick Kimball asked me if the simple living series had been recovered. Yes, they have. I’ll be reading through them myself and thinking about how well the past two years of reality have matched up with these fairly speculative thoughts; you are welcome to do the same, and to point up any apparent inconsistencies.

Here are links to the posts in the series, in chronological order:

Simple living: in pursuit of the simple life
Simple living: stay home
Simple living: do it yourself

Simple living: avoid mass media
Simple living: avoid busyness
Simple living: avoid efficiency
Simple living: do what you can
Simple living: build a family economy
Simple living: wrestle boredom to the ground
Simple living: cultivate simple tastes
Simple living: do it for the kids
Simple living: think again

Simple living: be skeptical of the benefits of technology
Simple living: beware of chronological snobbery
Simple living: treat causes, not symptoms
Simple living: tend your own garden

Simple living: the ecological nature of life