The Amazing Dick Bass was a tenured professor of electrical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. I knew him as a graduate student at the University of Illinois. While sittin’ on his front porch pickin’ “Shady Grove” on his banjo, he was prone to leaping from his stool and chasing an occasional car down 4th street. Toyota or Plymouth, he seemed to have little preference.
As nerds go, he was relatively fleet of foot, but without fail, the car would get away. Back on the porch he’d situate the oft maligned Sears and Roebuck bluegrass tool back on his lap. Eventually he’d catch his breath, shrug, and giggle, “You know, Billy Stork, some days they just ain’t much to do down in Blackshear (Georgia). Don’t rightly know what I’d do if I ever caught one.”
In a recent series of the comic strip “Pooch Café,” Poncho and Boomer were chasing a mail truck, and caught it.
My daughter has found herself in a similar pickle.
Paige was a semester away from graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in Environmental Engineering. Burlington is bordered by Lake Champlain, Canada, and the Green Mountains to the East. On weekends the gravitational pull of the mountains draws people to hike, camp, and ski. She had been teaching ski lessons to three-year-olds at Stowe Mountain. (A Vail Resorts property, free valet parking, string quartet in the lodge, and chocolate chip cookies on the lifts.) She calls it paid birth control, which dad is fine with. I’m still in denial over astigmatism, statins, and child-bearing clients who weren’t born when I palpated my first cow. Being called Grandpa would send me rolling down the embankment. And, she was making good money.
After delivering a defeatist pre-K from Jersey who’d spent the day rolling on his back with his skis in the air pounding the snow and crying, back to his parents, she was looking to taking cleansing solo run down the mountain before returning to the land of Bernie. She hopped a lift beside a ski patrol.
Ski patrol is a noble fraternity. They are on the hill hours before first-lift, scouring the mountain for exposed rocks, outcrops and down trees, and closing trails that would cost a skier plates, pins and titanium screws in his tibia/fibula, and the resort a lawsuit. The iconic red down jacket, white cross on the chest and two-way radio over their shoulder is a presence. Like the friendly neighborhood cop on snow skis, they police the hills to prevent “Yo dudes, check this out…” from being the last words of a GoPro snowboarder jacked up on Red Bull. In the event of the inevitable torqued knee or T-boned tree, they stabilize, mobilize, and calm the fallen skier until the toboggan arrives.
Ski Patrol saved our friend Leann’s life.
After making small talk, Paige asked the gentleman, “What’s it take to earn one of those jackets?”
A seasoned patrol, he’d already seen her ski. Assuming she’d had basic mountain First Aid, he responded with the classic volunteer firefighter’s qualification, “A driver’s license and a pulse. We’re short-handed, can you start tomorrow?”
Pause for an oh-shit moment.
Ski Patrol is on the hill at sunup. The mountain is an hour away from Burlington.
Paige’s text: So Dad, any tips on getting up at 4:30?
Dad’s response: Does Clapton have any tips on how to strum a “G” chord?
First of all Paige, you’ve got forty-six chromosomes. Twenty-three of which will account for your intelligence and athleticism. If nothing else, the other half oughta get you out of bed well before sun-up.
Your great-grandpa was a millwright at AE Staley’s and Company in Decatur, Illinois. He’d be out of bed by 4:30 (which saved his life on July 19th,1974). He dropped Grandma off at Elmer’s Tavern by 6:00 so she’d be ready to serve fried eggs, hash browns and 8oz Schlitz drafts to the third-shifters. That’d give him enough time to catch and clean a basket full of crappie, shoot a handful of rats in the rip-rap, and on one occasion piss off (literally) an early morning water skier who thought it’d be hilarious to buzz the old guy in the bib overalls.
Your grandpa was an Operating Engineer, Local 965. He’s pushed dirt, set steel, and poured concrete on projects from sidewalks, gymnasiums and libraries; to a nuclear power plant.
Son, if you’re going to collect union wages and benefits; you (darn) well better show up a little earlier, work harder, work smarter, and build a better bridge.
You just never know when you’re gonna have a flat tire, get stuck, or blow a head gasket on the way to work. When he didn’t, he’d sit in the parking lot drinking coffee and reading Louis L’Amour cowboy novels waiting for nature to strike. Whether he was running a Bobcat or a 500-ton Manitowoc tower crane, by the time the foreman and laborers showed up, his machine was oiled, greased, and full of fuel. The Detroit diesel would be warmed up and blowing clean. He’d have his left boot on the clutch ready to make the first pick.
So Paige, if I recall, college life challenges the “early to bed, early to rise” adage. In the event your a.m. alleles have been diluted, I’ve assembled some compensatory measures that could help you out.
Rick Schultz is the herdsman at the Tag Lane Dairy. He’s elbow-deep installing straws of a bull named Broker in twenty-five synchronized heifers by 5:00 Monday morning. He shrugs, “You just get used to it.”
To snooze, or not to snooze.
The Khemani code dictates, “You gotta get up mighty early if you want to have time to take a nap.”
Ryan Haack is a disciple. He racks out at 4:00, hits the button on the coffee maker, then goes back to bed for a half-an-hour.
Dad says, “Hit the floor, not the snooze.” Avoid the full-bladder-blind-naked-zombie-stagger, have your clothes laid out, in the order you put them on. I also find it helps to recycle the advertisements so the headlines are showing and have The Journal next to my favorite hand-thrown cereal bowl.
Induction into the early-riser’s club can be by choice, or necessity. What appears to be uniform, is purpose. (I did see a Memphis business man sprint into a Mississippi casino to play twenty-minutes of Black Jack at 5:00 am, but that is an illness.) Rick Schultz is breeding cows, Steve Jr. Sterwald is either pulling a poor commuter out of a ditch or leaned over his Snap-On tool shed scouring the internet researching a wiring issue on an SUV. Paul Kruse is walking Maddie (Rocky II) down Main Street, Steve Jensen is designing duct work for a massive remodel on St. Coletta’s, and Jon Laundrie has the Flavor of the Day on the Culvers marquis four hours before the first Butter Burger.
I’ve never seen Everett and Louie the Vietnam Vets whip out a selfie stick to get a shot of their corned beef hash and coffee down at the The Family Restaurant.
During REM, synapses redirect. Open your eyes, well before sunrise. Inputs and encounters are of your choosing. The thoughts in your head, are your own, un-swayed by cable news or images on a liquid crystal screen. Sunday morning you’ll find clarity, where Saturday night there was confusion. Rest repairs rents in myofibrils and myocardium. You’ll wake up stronger than you lay down.
When we had to plow snow or go crappie fishing, Dad would crack open my bedroom door and ‘sing’, “Good morning merry sunshine, why are you here so soon, you chased away the little stars... and you chased away the moon.”
If you’re still having trouble, give me a call.
If you are my favorite associate Dr. Deanna Clark, I offer a drastic approach. Pat Wynes’ parents could sleep through the demolition of Yankee Stadium if they were using home plate as a pillow. They installed terra cotta tile under their dresser. On the bureau was a cast-iron skillet, hanging 1/3 over the edge.
Under the high side of the skillet was a small wedge, and in it was an old-time alarm clock. At 6:00AM between the ticks would come a click as the mechanism tripped the release of the little brass hammer that would maniacally pound the pair of bells on top.
In doing so, the 2lb antique would skate to the bottom of the skillet, and send it careening toward the tile. In time Pat’s dad became conditioned, and could catch the cast-iron, and the clock, before it hit the ground.
And, finally, in the you didn’t hear it from me file, my friends Ned and Sarah found a wristwatch that gives a jolt of electricity so mom doesn’t have to go downstairs every morning with a pitcher of cold water.