Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Packing Materials and Flashbacks.

I don't think I had a "traditional college experience." I did a little bit of partying, but my well-planned-out weekends were probably nothing; I say "well-planned-out" because I always made sure my car was safely out of the street and I stayed put 'til noon the next day. I only got truly drunk once, all those other times, I still stayed put 'cause I just stayed put. I never showed up at school under the influence, I never skipped classes, I always did my best to not be late…

I still couldn't fit the mold. My Mom still pokes at me about why the hell I didn't get the degree, and I know she'd never understand, so I don't try to explain. I guess they're a tight group that won't let just anybody in; I mean, really, they all loaded up to go to the lake 'cause somebody had a lake house and a sailboat, they all loaded up and went to some bar 'cause somebody played in a band. Nobody wanted to load up and come to the races when I bought my first Outlaw Stock. I just didn't fit the mold. The girl who had the highest grade in the whole program used to have all the parties and mix all the drinks and let us all sleep at her house afterward, she quit, just got sick of it all and quit. The girl who was always falling asleep in classes, she got a degree. The girl who always had gloves on because she was afraid to touch people, she got a degree. I, the girl who brought rollbar padding and zip-ties to a clinical rotation to save a patient's legs from the sharp parts of a power wheelchair, I did not make it outta there with a degree.

I didn't manage to fit the mold. I'm alright with that, except when My Mom brings it up over and over again. I have fun with what I do, I make enough money to pay my bills and I'm not stressed-out all the time, it's good enough for me.

Every now and then, I still think about the professor who "broke the news" to me that I wasn't good enough, because "not good enough" ended up being something I struggled with off and on through my twenties. She had to have a third party present in our meeting that day; the program director couldn't be there supposedly due to having to take her dog to the Vet. She wore a denim vest with worn places under her elbows; the white threads dirty and brown like she didn't realize it needed to be washed every once in a while. She told us about how we needed to "be adult learners," but she almost never made it to any class meeting on-time. One of the people who told me I wasn't good enough didn't even know enough to keep her own clothes clean -- that always helps me remember that good enough for me is good enough; I do have high standards for myself, I am good enough.

I do vividly remember one particular experience with that professor, I had a little flashback to it earlier this week.

After a string of break-in's around here, we ordered a motion-activated camera, which came in the mail. The cardboard box was just big enough to have lots of room, just small enough I could bring it back from the post office on my bike. Inside, the camera and matching memory card were cushioned with those "air pillow" strips of inflated plastic bags, the kind that always remind me of my one shining moment with that professor.

She had unpacked some sort of shipment in the lab office, and reused the box for something else, so she'd stuffed a bunch of those packing pillows into the wastebasket beside the office door. She kept trying to poke them into the half-full waste paper basket, and they kept squishing out because there were so many of them. Their fluffiness made them excellent for protecting things in shipping boxes, but it also made them very difficult to cram into a little trash can. She kept trying though, this supposedly educated silvery-haired adult just couldn't seem to figure out that every time she crammed some in, more spilled over the edge of the container. I watched for a little while, I have no idea how long I sat there and wondered just how much a degree meant, the kind of degree where you get to sign your name with letters after it, just how much could it mean if you have that much trouble with simple problem-solving?

The first pair of scissors my eyes landed on were the kind for cutting bandages, all chrome, thin loop handles, short little blades, with a safety knob on the bottom side. I quietly stepped over toward the trashcan and corresponding pile of packing pillows, and silently snipped a hole in each little pillow, allowing them to deflate and sink into the wastebasket, where they now took up almost no noticeable space.

She looked a little shocked; I'm not sure if it was at the simplicity of the solution to the problem, or the fact that I, a lowly student, had been the one to discover it.

I didn't get a degree, but I learned a lot about how people work.

I don't have nightmares anymore, but I do still remember her every time I unpack a box and find those air pillows.

I don't get to sign my name with letters after it, but I still manage to get things done.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

From A Trailer.

Get away from Go0gle Reader and go write something once in a while!"

There's a lot to be said for the experience of owning a trailer… Not the kind you have to run away from when a storm comes; the kind you can hook onto the back of a truck and haul a car with.

As a kid, I lived in the kind you have to run from when a storm comes, and I can't seem to come up with any desire to do it again -- especially not one on top of a big hill, where running for cover involves getting in a 4x4 Toyota with a roll bar (like that would save anybody from tornado debris?) and rushing down the hill in the rain and the wind and the dark and oh God, please no, never again.

I remember when I was in middle school or junior high, well before I had a driver's license, my folks had a big ol' deck boat. I can't really say we were "boat people," I think it was just one of those things Dad got a steal-of-a-deal on and brought home to fix up a bit and sell off later. One of my little "things" with my Dad was that when we headed home from somewhere, if it was just Dad and Me, he'd stop at the same spot on the way into the neighborhood and let me drive home. My Mom was not a fan, she didn't willingly ride in anything with me until well into my twenties, but Dad would pull over and stop at that same corner in whatever he was driving and switch me places, as early as fourth or fifth grade -- his truck, Mom's car, lot cars, the wrecker, and one time, I even got to drive the GMC and pull that enormous boat to the house.

Until I bought my first race car, that was the extent of my trailer experience.

For the first few nights of that first season, David drove the truck and pulled the trailer and parked it in his space so that I could unload the car he'd raced the previous season and sold to me. The first time he had to work late, he would be to the track in time for the actual races, but I can't stand having to rush and hurry and take chances on messing things up -- I need to take my time getting ready and know that I've done everything that needs to be done. So, that night was my first time alone with the truck and the trailer; and I wasn't nearly as worried as My Mom. I still maintain my belief of what I told her that afternoon when I left, "The truck does the hard part." The truck takes care of most of the hard work, but I still had a lot to learn.

I drove to the race track, bought my pit pass, and pulled in to head for my spot. I made a wide circle and eased it into the spot we always used; a truck to my left and a crooked patch of concrete to my right. I was in there smooth and easy, and before I could put the truck in park and take the key out, there was a knock on my window. I put a smile on and reached for the window crank; then I realized, it's that guy who tapes his foot on with ducktape every week. It's possible he could've been attempting to stabilize a weak ankle, but seriously, he would put layer after layer of ducktape over his pants leg and his shoe, not like when the football coach tapes up an ankle, more like if you tried to fix a gate hinge with ducktape instead of bolts. All that tape, when we're three miles from a Walgreen's where you can buy a well-made brace with laces and not have to pick all that glue out of the pants and the shoe! He was also the same guy who watched me back the car off the trailer a few weeks before and asked Dave, "Are you gonna let her drive it forward too?" That guy. Ugh. Oh well, I already smiled, at least I'm a friendly girl.

"You can't park there."

Uhm, what?

"You can't park there, that's Dave's spot, you gotta move."

Dave'll be here in a little bit, c'mon, don't you remember me?

"Back it on out."

I tried everything and he wouldn't' listen to me -- there I was, in the same white Ford truck, with the same black trailer with the same blue-green Camaro with the same white 20 on it, the same girl who always shows up with David every Friday, but noooooo…

Looking back, it's one of those moments I wish I'd stood my ground better -- hey, I'm ten years older now, I'd do it differently if it happened again, but at that moment, I was just trying to get it over with. "Back it on out, I'll help ya," he said. He stood in front of the left headlight of my truck and pointed at me, or at the area behind the truck, whichever. I started it up and let the park brake go, and put the ol' white Ford in reverse. As I let my foot off the brake, the truck started to roll backward and the trailer pushed sideways, headed for this guy's car that he'd unloaded behind his trailer. He put his other hand up and made a circular motion, apparently like the steering wheel of the truck; if you're familiar with Sign Language and/or the Manual Alphabet, you can picture that hand like the letter "e" with the thumb sticking out instead of folded near the fingertips.

I knew that backing the trailer was not an easy task, and I knew that I had noooo experience with such task. I'd left work that afternoon with every intention of carefully planning where I left the truck and trailer so that I would not have to back up, but there I was with him pointing and yelling and angrily circling that "e" at me. It was not working, it was just not working, probably partly because he was facing me and making the motions, probably mostly because the longer it wore on, the more frustrated he got and the more stressed-out I got. I lost count of how many times I pulled forward and backed up and pulled forward and backed up, trailer twisting as it pleased, but somewhere along in there, the frustration got the best of me and I put the truck in park and put my arm out the window. I signed for the guy with the taped-on foot to come closer. When he got to the driver's door of the truck, I pulled the handle and popped the door open. Without breaking eye contact, I slid my ass over into the middle of the truck seat -- "Here," I said, patting the seat beside me, "This whole arm-motion business is NOT working, so you just climb right in here and YOU put this truck wherever you want it to be."

He sighed an exasperated sigh I'll never forget, his shoulders dropped, and he waved a hand across in front of him, making the internationally recognized sign for "Oh, screw it!" as he turned to walk away, back toward his own truck. I put the ol' six-cylinder Ford into drive and pulled forward, back to almost exactly the same spot where I'd put it in park the first time I pulled in. I got my ramps out and unloaded my Camaro, got the tools out and ready, and was calmly waiting to go race when Dave got there. Mister Ducktape never made eye contact with me again after that -- I'm sure he has no idea that I'm thinkin' about him almost every time I end up having to back a trailer. Heh. Thinkin' about mowin' him down. Muwaahaahaa, just kidding.

Since then, that ol' trailer been hitched to several different trucks and has hauled several different race cars, auction cars, breakdowns, horse traders, and furniture. The first time I saw Colorado was with that trailer, loaded down with both four-wheelers and a freezer, in hopes of bringing home a dead elk. The first time I hitched it onto my nearly-new black & silver big block Ford, I'd backed the ball right under the tongue perfectly on the first try and I was so proud; in my excitement, I forgot to latch the hitch, and when we pulled the Camaro up the ramps, the tailgate caught the full brunt of the launch just before the safety chains ran out of slack. The first time I fell asleep at a race track, I was sitting on the side of that trailer, feet square on the ground in front of me, hands in my lap, and fully asleep with a Modified B-Feature on the track -- it was past one AM then, it was well past 2:30 when I finally made it to the track in my Pure Stock. The second weekend after David died, I came down to the barn by myself to load up my stuff and go back to the races, I climbed up onto this trailer and sat down, cross-legged, right in the middle of the wood, just to think about how things had been and wonder how things were going to be from here on out.

Over the years of racing, I figured out a thing or two about myself and trailers; like if I can't look in the mirrors and back the ball under the tongue in one try, I can get out and go look at it, then figure out where I need to put my foot to get it right. If I have a truck that doesn't sit too high and doesn't have a manual transmission, I can put myself halfway in the seat with one foot on the ground and back the truck to where it needs to be. The professor who covered "Proprioception" didn't really appreciate that little bit of information, but I still use it anyway.

Even with that skill under my belt, I still struggled a lot with that whole backing the trailer thing. My Dad can put a 20-foot trailer into a ninety degree parking place between two cars just like at Wal-Mart. One night I watched him back it into a garage door, race car, ATV, tools, tire rack and all, through a garage door with less than two fingers worth of spare space on either side. I ain't even tryin' that. One of my girls on (Coffeyville's only) "All-Girl Pit Crew" had experience with fishing tournaments and could get the trailer anywhere backwards and lightning-freakin'-fast from having to outrun "those other guys" and get the trailer into the water to get the boat out quick. From my spot in the shotgun seat, with or without anybody in the middle, she was so fast and made it look so damn easy, it was like a magic trick and I didn't stand a chance of figuring it out by watching 'cause it happened so quick.

Seems like nobody really teaches that whole "how to back a trailer" thing, no matter how valuable of a skill it can be.

Through several little moments; in the pits of race tracks, on city streets, in driveways, in parking lots, in the back yard (or the front yard), I took on the task of figuring it out myself. I'm not ashamed to admit, it took me a while. Every now and then, I'd strike it real lucky and manage to back it right into the driveway; then there'd be other nights that I'd spend an hour out there, barely miss the neighbors' mailbox, and end up turned completely around just trying to get it out of the street. Just like that night with Mr. Ducktape, I knew that if I tried to rush it, I was screwed. I always end up with better luck if I have the time to stop, sit still, and look things over -- look around and think it through, look in the mirrors, look at what's close by that couldn't take a hit from a trailer (or a truck), and forget about whether or not anybody can see me. The stop sign at 106th & Peoria barely survived a hit from a trailer (my apologies to the county highway department), I'm still pretty sure it's all 'cause some dip crowded me off the bridge, and I was trying to hurry so he wouldn't hit the front of my truck.

It takes a minute or two to look at where I want to get the trailer to go, and then think about how to go about it. Turning the wheel to the right makes the front of the truck ease to the left, which pushes the back of the truck to the right, which pushes the front of the trailer to the right, which pushes the back of the trailer to the left. Oh man, that's the first time I've ever typed that all out, and it makes even more sense now! Even when anybody would try to give me tips, like "turning the opposite way," I couldn't get it to make sense in my head. While I was trying to figure out what to do about the button on the E4OD transmission, I found a little bit in the truck's owner's manual about backing the trailer, and it said to "put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and push the way you want the trailer to go." That really turned a light on, but I still try my best to process it through my own thick head. When I can take the time, I (mostly) do just fine… I can look in the mirrors and see what the trailer is doing in relation to what my hands and feet are doing, and I can make it go where I want it. I'm still not going to do it real fast, and I'm still going to avoid the really tight spots.

Last night, I backed the ball under the tongue on the first try and hung that trailer on the back of the diesel extended-cab and picked up Clay at his house. I was kinda proud of myself for bein' able to turn around at the end of the block; something I only tried because there were absolutely no cars parked in the street at all. We headed on over to South Tulsa to pick up Clay's newest Camaro at an auction company. An auction company that really doesn't specialize in cars… In the back lot of an auction company that really doesn't specialize in cars. I had to make a left across three lanes of after-work rush-hour traffic, into a parking lot at a near u-turn, then make a right through two gates. I made it through the gates, nervously, past the Camaro like oncoming traffic, to turn around and get the trailer ready to load it, then I saw that the back lot was full-up with trucks and trailers and trailers and trailers -- there was not a big empty patch of gravel to make a big circle like on Go0gle Maps.

It was an undeniable "oh shit" moment.

I tried to look around and see what I was getting into, and I went through the two gates as straight as I possibly could just in case I ended up in a full-on panic and calling for help to let someone else get it back outta there.

The thought process may or may not have involved something like "Sweet lil eight-pound Baby Jesus, please just pick this truck up and point it back toward the street for me."

I went on in, past a semi trailer and made a right. I pulled straight forward 'til the trailer was straight, then I backed it very slightly around to the right and up to the fence. I turned right again, into a space between two semi trailers and up toward the loading dock until the trailer was straight. I backed out from between the trailers and up close to a truck so that I could pull out past the Camaro, pointing the same direction so I could back up to the front of the car to load it.

Each time I pulled up and backed up, I did it in one try, and I was stunned. So stunned, I barely noticed the guy on the loading dock who had been carrying boxes but stopped for a second to see what was going on. When I put the truck in park to get out and put the ramps down, he said I was awesome.

I would so love to be able to make it that awesome every time…

Like everything else, it is what you make of it -- so, along with my own trailer experience, I salute Miss Britt and the fantastic journey she's leaving on, click on over and follow her as she takes her family to see the whole country!

One more thing -- since Dave made an appearance or two in this post, I'll also mention that if we'd had that wedding, today would've been our ninth anniversary… Happy Anniversary, David Paul, you wouldn't believe the crazy things that have happened around here!


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