Friday, March 29, 2019

The wages of fear

Once again I'm wondering exactly when we Americans turned into a nation of sniveling cowards. Way too many people seem to be wandering around scared silly of their own shadows.

I keep seeing announcements for concealed carry permit classes being offered locally. Ads come up on the local sales and discussion page on a regular basis. There is also a vehicle running around that has ads on it. I must confess that every time I see the pickup with the wraps advertising such classes I have to fight the temptation to either (a) congratulate the guy on his ability to make a living off other people's stupidity; or (b) express surprise there are enough dudes running around with micro-dicks to support his entrepreneurial endeavors.

The local appeal for concealed carry kind of baffles me. This is a rural area where lots of people hunt. It's just kind of a given that most households are going to have what to urbanites qualifies as an arsenal: a deer rifle or two, a couple of different gauge shotguns, a varmint gun or two (you don't use a deer rifle to blow away the raccoons digging in the trash), maybe a handgun or two for plinking at beer cans. You know, this is not an area where evil-doers could casually pull off home invasions without worrying about having some pissed off old lady blowing them away. Gun ownership in general locally is no mystery.

Concealed carry, on the other hand. . . does anyone living in Baraga County actually need to carry a concealed weapon to go grocery shopping at Larry's? Or even go up to Houghton to hit the Evil Empire for cheap toilet paper and maybe indulge in lunch at the Suomi Restaurant? It's bizarre. The NRA and Faux News have done a really nice job of sowing fear.

The hard truth, the one most people aren't willing to believe, is that guns do not make you safer. When you see the totals for deaths from gunshots in this country, what's often missing from that statistic is the fact about two-thirds of the total are from accidents -- "Gun discharges in man's pocket" "Toddler shoots Mom" -- or suicides. Any time guns are easy to find, the suicide rate climbs. Also missing from the statistics is the fact that of the people who are homicide victims, something like 80 percent (4 out of 5) of the victims knew the person who shot them. You know, "Man shoots wife and kids;" "Disgruntled co-worker shoots boss."

Other uncomfortable facts include the reality that the more concealed carry permits a state issues, the higher the murder rate climbs. The easier you make it for anyone and everyone to exercise their right to carry a weapon, the more likely it is that people who shouldn't be allowed to use crayons unsupervised are going to end up with a gun in their hands. Ditto gun ownership in general. The states with the loosest gun laws and the highest percentage of gun ownership also have the highest death rates from guns, with one exception. Wyoming has more guns per capita than any other state but its gun death rate is fairly low. Then again, considering that Wyoming has more pronghorn than people, that's not surprising.

I've written about this before. Not sure what inspired me this morning other than a couple discussion threads in the RV-ing group I belong to on Facebook. Lots of people obsessing about protecting their stuff, including worrying about someone possibly stealing their nasty little dropkick dogs. I guess it's nice for the psychotic little ankle biters that their owners think someone would actually want to steal them, but if you think you need a Glock to protect your rat on a string, maybe you should think about getting a real dog that can protect itself. Shelters are full of pit bull mixes that no one is going to snatch because they're so cute. (No insult to pit bulls intended, but they do tend to scare people.)

My overall reaction to the discussion about people being willing to fire off multiple rounds in a campground or RV park to protect their stuff was, "Holy wah! What a great argument for boondocking!" No way would I want to be in an RV park when some moron several motorhomes or trailers away decided to shoot at someone because he or she saw someone carrying off a lawn chair. Just how many aluminum or fiberglas walls would a 9 mm bullet pass through before stopping in a person?

The stupid, it burns.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A new favorite insult

Not long ago I was chastised for referring to someone as an asshat. I was told, in essence, that calling someone by that particular epithet was not ladylike. It didn't behoove a woman of my advanced years to describe someone in that fashion.

It just hit me. There are indeed better terms. In fact, I used one in a recent post. Shit weasel. It rolls off the tongue. Shit weasel definitely has more resonance, more weight than the relatively mild asshat did. I am now looking forward to horrifying patronizing old dudes with the term.

Life is good.

Monday, March 25, 2019


I should be cleaning my home office area before the piles of unsorted stuff climb to life-threatening levels, but as usual I'm procrastinating. The stacks of stuff don't put me into the same class as the Collyer brothers yet, but my typewriter has disappeared. There's a definite limit as to how much I can stack on top of it before there's spillage to the sides.

And, yes, I still have a typewriter. Legacy technology. I even use it occasionally. I have days that fall between going truly retro (hand writing a letter) and using the computer. The typewriter fits that middle ground. Typing can be nice. It slows a person down a little, makes one stop and think a bit before committing words to paper. Writing out a whole sentence is not fun. Even worse is crumpling a whole page and starting over.

Plus, of course, typing on a manual typewriter, an old office-size Royal, requires more physical effort than typing on a keyboard. I'm burning double the calories and maintaining finger strength. When I see the doctor for the annual wellness exam I can say with a straight face I do exercise occasionally. He doesn't need to know the exercise basically stops at the wrists.

Besides the general desire to clean up the clutter, there's also the need to find all the museum-related stuff I've hauled home to work on while it's been too cold in the museum itself. I've been scanning and cataloging documents and photographs here at home because I figured out I wasn't real good at doing those tasks while wearing mittens. I even brought the museum computer home (it's a desktop but one without a tower; it's an all-in-one and thus remarkably portable despite having a large display screen and a standard keyboard) because it's where the PastPerfect database lives and it was easier to do updates here than in a walk-in refrigerator. With the snowbank in front of the building steadily shrinking -- as of Saturday the snow was maybe barely 2 feet deep and there must have been a whole four feet of sidewalk exposed on the parking lot side -- fairly soon I'll be able to carry it back and get the museum office restored to what passes for normalcy there.

It just struck me, though, that the sun is shining and temperatures are not horrible. If I'm going to avoid cleaning for awhile, there are better ways to procrastinate than wandering around the Intertubes or doodling with words on a blogpost. I do believe the Woman Cave is calling my name. Time to go cut some quilt pieces.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Helpful hint for authors: don't name characters after gum disease

I've never been much of a Terry Brooks fan, but the S.O. and I have been watching "The Shannara Chronicles" on Netflix anyway. It has, if nothing else, decent production values. You know, the costumes and make-up are decent and the scenery where they film is nice. It's pretty to look at even if the plot lines, dialogue, and various other aspects are definitely howlers.

For those of you not familiar with Terry Brooks, he's an American author who's carved out a niche writing fantasy set in a distant future where civilization as we know it has crumbled and humanity has evolved/split into different races: elves, humans, gnomes, trolls, whatever. Magic is real; there are demons. The land is roughly divided into different regions where one race or another dominates. The first book in the series, Sword of Shannara, came out in 1977. I read it way back then, thought, well, that was mildly entertaining. Having been ruined by reading good writing, however, I don't think I ever sought out a Terry Brooks novel again. I have read excerpts in bookstores over the years, but never saw anything that inspired me to want to read a whole book again.

As to why I'm not impressed by Brooks, it comes down to me thinking his books should be shelved with the young adult material and not marketed to adults. Calling them simplistic is being kind.

But back to the television series. It's provided plenty of unintentional howlers, like in the most recent episode we watched a farmer is shown living in what bears a strong resemblance to an Apache wickiup, a kind of brush hut that looks like it was thrown together out of loose limbs as a temporary shelter. When danger approaches, however, he suggests they take shelter in a barn that looks exactly like any barn you'd find on a farm in Washington or Oregon now. You know, sturdily built from milled lumber. That's just a tad incongruous.

I also love the costuming, the beautiful elaborate leather work. Things have supposedly reverted to a pre-industrial society, but none of the clothing looks like it's being hand-stitched by peasants in a garret in the castle. Maybe it's made by gnomes in underground factories?

There is also the fact that the only transportation is by horseback but everyone and everything is apparently within a day's ride of everything else. In Season One there were some episodes where distances were sufficiently long that camping overnight a couple times was necessary, but they were the exception. Usually it's just jump on a horse (or walk really fast) and, wow, an hour or two later you're where you wanted to be. This season started off with the elf king going to visit the ruler of the human kingdom. Did his little caravan of retainers include any servants with pack horses and tents? Where was the luggage if they planned to be guests at the castle? Nothing. No baggage. Just a group of knights trotting along without even saddle bags or a blanket roll.

Stuff like that, incidentally, is why I bother watching. After viewing a crime show like "Bosch" or even just listening to the evening news, indulging in some totally unrealistic laughable fluff is good for a person's mental health.

The best part, though, may not be all the logical inconsistencies and the script writers' tendency to end every episode with multiple cliff hangers (will Allanon escape the Crimson? can King Ander grow a brain and recognize the traitors in his own entourage?). It's the names. It is hard to keep a straight face when there are characters named after gum disease (Pyorrhea, although in the show it's spelled Pyria), a country in Africa (Eritrea), and, of course, the friend of Bill, Ala-Non (Allanon). I know it can be tough to come up with good names for characters, but, dude, when in doubt reach for a Bible instead of a Dorland's Medical Dictionary or Rand McNally World Atlas. The Old Testament is loaded with archaic but not bizarre names.

Too late now, of course. Brooks has written about two dozen books all set in the Shannara universe.

Which makes me wonder: did Pyria have any sisters? You know, think of the possibilities. Menorrhea. Diarrhea. Gonorrhea. The mind boggles.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Pulitzer Project: Foreign Affairs

Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1985. It doesn't quite live up to some of the cover hype -- it is not wildly comedic -- but it is gently amusing. One biography of Lurie described her writing as "social satire," which is probably accurate. It's also probably the reason I wouldn't describe the book as comedic. Comedic novels are laugh out loud funny. Foreign Affairs elicit some smiles, but you don't have to worry about spraying coffee across the room.

The novel as a whole is satirical with its jabs at English upper class society, academic culture, and tourism, but it doesn't feel quite right on the level of individual characters. Satire involves making fun of people, laughing at them, and Lurie's characters are too sympathetic. It's hard to laugh at people you like. If anything, you find yourself wincing in sympathy as young Fred Turner misreads English social cues in his romantic pursuit of an actress, and you hope nothing horrible happens to Vinnie Miner when she's doing research in a questionable neighborhood.

The plot of Foreign Affairs follows two American university professors who are both in London for six months for research purposes. Virginia ("Vinnie") Miner is tenured faculty, a full professor in the English Department at a New England university. Her area of expertise is children's literature; her personal focus is traditional rhymes and their origins in historic events. A petite, quiet person, she's in her 50's and fits the classic image of a spinster English professor. Fred Turner, in contrast, is young. His academic career is just beginning; he's still at the stage of having to worry about tenure and the need to publish or perish. He's in London to work on a book about John Gay, the 18th century author of "The Beggar's Opera."

Turner and Miner teach at the same school but scarcely know each other other. Miner's opinion of Turner is probably higher than his is of her. Miner knows that Turner is regarded favorably in the department, but of course will never tell him that. Young assistant professors are supposed to stress about tenure. Turner, on the other hand, tends to be a bit dismissive of Miner. She's part of the old guard, the dinosaurs in the department. Neither had anticipated seeing the other in England, but as it turns out, their paths do cross occasionally. They're both using resources at the British Museum, and they also see each other at parties hosted by mutual friends.

As a divorcee whose marriage ended in bitter disappointment, Miner has no illusions about romance. She is resigned to being alone. She is not looking for a lover when she arrives in London, although she admits to enjoying sex so would not object to a brief liaison with a fellow scholar. She does find love, but in a most unexpected place.

Turner is married but quarreled nastily with his wife just before leaving on his sabbatical. He is sure he will be divorced soon, the marriage is irreparably damaged. He spends his first few weeks in London sulking, sunk into a morose mood, and neglecting his research. Then he meets an English actress, a classic English beauty who is also a member of the aristocracy, and he's instantly smitten. He pursues the actress and succeeds, although he never does realize that the two of them are speaking different languages.

Both affairs end, Miner's through a cruel twist of fate and Turner's when he tells the actress he has to go back to the States because he's obligated to teach summer classes. Her ensuing melt-down makes Turner recognize that he never really knew her. When was she acting and when was the relationship real? He doesn't know. He'll never know, but suddenly his estranged wife is looking really sane and remarkably attractive.

As usual, after I finished the book I did some Googling. I kept thinking it read a lot like a Hugh Grant film. I can see where as a film there could be some obvious humor, even slapstick, that the book lacks. It was a made-for-television movie in 1993 starring Joanne Woodward and Brian Dennehy as (I assume) Vinnie Miner and her improbable love interest. I probably won't go looking for it. I liked the book but not so much that I want to see a film treatment, too.

Would I recommend this book to other readers? Yes. Lurie can write. It's was also nice to read a book that was essentially fluff. No serious issues, no inside glimpses of the life of a down--and-out alcoholic (Ironweed) or the mental weirdness of a skeezy middle-aged car salesmen's dick (Rabbit is Rich). On my usual scale with 10 being the best, I'd stick Foreign Affairs over on the high side. It's not quite a 10, maybe not even a 9, but for sure an 8+.

Next up: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I was surprised I had to do this as an Interlibrary Loan request. It was so popular when it came out I was sure the L'Anse library would have it. Nope. The librarian was surprised too. We speculated that one of two things happened: The copy they had wore out and wasn't replaced or, more likely, someone checked it out and kept it. (We have Lonesome Dove on VHS, but I guess it would be cheating to go see if the tv with the built-in tape player still works.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Be afraid, ladies. Be very afraid.

This morning a friend shared one of those damsel in distress stories that pop up on Facebook every so often. They're always in the first person and are ostensibly meant to serve as a warning to women, young and old, about the possible existence of a criminal or pervert, some sleazoid who had stalked the narrator.

I tend to turn very skeptical when I hear these stories, usually because they always end with a rather breathless equivalent of "thank goodness I'm okay but what a narrow escape it was!!" There's always a lack of specificity. You know, a generic older man instead of "a fat guy with a plaid Kromer and Carhartt jacket." No matter how traumatized you may feel, if something disturbing happens to you there's going to be some specific detail that will narrow the suspect pool down from just "men."

They're also generally highly illogical.  One circulated last fall where a woman was supposedly stalked by a guy in car from Munising to Harvey, a fairly lengthy stretch of road. It is not a densely populated stretch of highway, but it's also not totally empty. Supposedly this person could see into the dude's car with her rear view mirror. She could tell it was a man she had seen at a gas station just before she got back on the highway. Here's a challenge: try seeing how much you can tell about someone driving a car behind you if they're more than a car length or two back. Answer: not much.

Now here's another challenge. See how much you can tell about the driver of a car if you're in a vehicle behind them. Part of her "I was so terrified" post was speculation that he could tell from seeing her car from behind that she was (a) female, (b) young, and (c) alone. Because I'm moderately curious, after seeing that post I tried doing it. You know what you can see in most cars when you're behind them? The backs of headrests. Unless someone is exceptionally tall, at most you might get a vague impression someone is wearing a hat. Gender? Total mystery unless you pull up right alongside the car. How many people in the car? Also a mystery unless you pull up alongside them.

In any case, whether or not the story was believable, she supposedly first noticed the car before she got to Christmas but it never occurred to her to pull into any of the numerous businesses in Christmas (casino, gas station, a couple of restaurants, a flea market). The one piece of advice that gets given to anyone who thinks someone in a car is stalking them is to go to the first place you see that has lots of people around and call the police from there. Our heroine, the narrator, instead stays in her car and continues driving for another 40+ miles. Holy wah. Did she not have even two brain cells to rub together?

This morning's damsel in distress story was similar, but on a smaller stage. Instead of miles of M-28, it's hundreds of feet of aisles at a Walmart. She'd gone to Walmart to pick up a prescription for her mother, went to use the restroom at the back of the store because the one right in front was busy, and then after emerging from the restroom noticed a man who appeared to be following her. So instead of marching straight up to the service desk and asking for a manager she does a bizarre jogging through the store, switching up and down different aisles and still seeing the guy. Finally, she spoke to an associate. She described the guy, police were called, surveillance tape examined, and no one appeared on the tape who was dressed the way she described. There was a man who did appear in the same area of the store as her a few times, but she wasn't sure it was him.

Okay, ladies, first the stupid it burns part. She had already said the store was busy, so why was she so paranoid and fearful? If the rest room up front had a line, you know the store is full of customers. Even if the guy was a creeper what was he going to do with hundreds of shoppers in the building? What was the point of dashing around the store like she was playing Spy vs. Spy? Did she think he was going to try to have his way with her on one of those hideously uncomfortable metal benches salted through the store? Did she believe he was just waiting for the right moment to cop a feel? Or was he eyeballing her purse and waiting for her to do something dumb like leave it in her cart and then turn her back so he could snatch it? So why not just bluntly ask the dude why he's following her? Do it loudly to ensure other people turn and look so there are multiple witnesses. Worst case scenario?  Mild embarrassment, but you know the guy is now going to take his cart and amble as far away as he can for the rest of his Walmart experience.

This is, incidentally, the advice people who deal with issues like creepers on a regular basis give and too often we women ignore. Make a scene. We women are socially conditioned to be nice, to be quiet, to just let men get away with their bad behavior. Creepers and other sleazoids don't expect us to speak up when they play grab ass in the workplace or at parties, they still think that no matter how skeezy their behavior is we'll just smile, try to edge discreetly away, and let the shit weasel continue being a shit weasel. When someone keeps slithering up to you in a public place and making you nervous, just tell the wank nozzle to go spread his slime trail someplace else. You may get called a cunt or a bitch or some other supposedly derogatory term, but that's better than being made so nervous that you panic and reach for the pepper spray.

Granted, some of the shit weasels probably deserve to be pepper sprayed but why bother if words will work?

For what it's worth, there must be some sort of collective angst about shopping at Walmart because an Internet search turned up a lot of stories similar to this one. In every case where the police were actually called, authorities found no evidence of any nefarious intent. Stores are laid out to encourage shoppers to travel in certain directions so seeing the same people repeatedly in different parts of the store is totally normal. Personally, if I had suspicions about some dude at Walmart I wouldn't head into hardware; I'd aim for needle crafts or ladies' lingerie, areas where men normally do not venture. If the creeper turns up in the women's panties aisle then, yep, maybe he really is up to no good.

Also for what it's worth, occasionally there are legitimate warnings on social media. A local page had a post the other day about a possible shit weasel to watch out for. A man hired to shovel snow off roofs appeared to be scoping out other houses in the neighborhood and was using the old "can I make a phone call?" ploy to try to get a look inside people's homes. In that case, the poster gave very specific details including a name and photo. She had checked with the man the sketchy guy said he worked for, then Googled the dude's name and found his mug shot. Turned out the dude had recently been released from jail after serving time for burglary, so, yes, that was definitely a neighborhood watch type of posting worth passing along.

Friday, March 8, 2019

I gave up on playing nice a long time ago

Got treated to a rather sexist and cliched speech yesterday in which I was told it's a lot easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.

No, actually it's easier to catch flies with chunks of dead meat, but who cares? We folk who present as female, we women, have been getting told to play nice forever. And you know what playing nice usually gets you? A label on your forehead that screams DOOR MAT and your questions or problems ignored.

Actually, I shouldn't suggest the being ignored is tied solely to gender. It happens to dudes, too. We had problems with our internet service provider (ISP) for months. The S.O. called the company multiple times, left numerous messages, and never got any call backs or an on-site visit. So then I made an in-person visit to the ISP's office. What do you know? Apparently it takes a blue hair getting truly bitchy to get people to pay attention. After a couple months of "someone will call you back" and not ever getting a call back, we suddenly had multiple trucks parked in the yard as the internet specialist and phone company linemen tried to figure out just what was causing the poor connections.

They never did figure it out except to conclude the line is obsolete, but at least they came up and tried. Would they have ever done that if we'd stuck to the polite phone calls? Somehow I doubt it.

I did kind of a verbal NDA at yesterday's tribal council meeting so it wouldn't be ethical to go into any specific details other than to say a major issue appears to be on its way to a solution. I will, however, say that if one more person locally tells me that a person I characterized as an asshat (and, yes, I know, it's not particularly dignified for an old lady to use the same descriptors as a character on "South Park") is actually a really, really nice guy I'm going to turn hyperbolic and remind them that's what Ann Rule once said about Ted Bundy. Or, for that matter, to use a local example, what the people who attended church in South Range said about David Goodreau before they found out he'd murdered two women and was caught while targeting a third victim. None of us has any way of knowing if the people we know behave the same way when you're not around that they do when you're right in front of them. They may not all be serial killers, but they can sure as heck be asshats occasionally.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Defining nice

In the recent kerfuffle over the creation of Mount FOAD at the end of the county road, what I kept hearing from various people were variations on the "But he's such a nice guy!" You know, "But he'd never do that! I know the guy. He's a nice person." "He plays the organ at church." "He has a lovely family." I had an older guy tell me yesterday that he'd known the dude his whole life and "He's a nice kid." No one wanted to believe that the guy they knew personally could be a total jerk when he was operating a snowplow.

Without wading too far into the weeds, "But he's such a nice guy!" is the classic line that gets trotted out almost every time something happens that doesn't match up with how people close to the person in question see that person. Best sellers have been written about that disconnect.

The self people present depends a great deal on where they are and who they're interacting with. The guy who plays the organ every Sunday in church can be one person when he's socializing with other members of the congregation and completely different in a setting with people he does not know and sees no reason to be "nice" to. The fact one of your acquaintances is nice to you personally does not  mean he is equally nice to everyone he meets or has to deal with.

We all do it. When I'm volunteering at the museum I'm a whole lot friendlier when it's not noon yet and I'm actively hoping for visitors. Step into the museum right around the time we close, though, it's a crap shoot. I might not care that I'd just taken down the Open flag, but if it's been a tiring afternoon I could just as easily turn really cold in telling people we're closed for the day. One set of visitors, the ones I manage to put on the happy face for, are going to describe me as nice; the ones I turn away because it's 10 minutes after we've officially closed will probably have a different impression.

I've never been real keen on describing anyone as "nice" to begin with. What exactly does it mean? He's never kicked any puppies in your presence? He's willing to be a church usher? He's a Scout leader? Doesn't hold wild parties? Visits his elderly mother on a regular basis? Polite when spoken to? What "nice" usually turns out to mean is "he's nice to me." Could be an embezzler, a pervert, a drunk, whatever, but as long as he's nice when you're around, he's a nice guy.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Prepping for Tribal Council

This Thursday I'm going to the County Road Commission meeting. I've been busy printing maps and photos to be sure I have them when I need them. If I wait, I might forget.

I had originally intended to just be there to request they put the long-deferred maintenance on our road on to their project list for this coming summer, but things changed a bit when we got hit with a blizzard exactly one week ago. That's when the asshat who operates the snowplow for our road decided to prove he's not just incompetent, he's a prick.

The dude has been remarkably annoying all winter. The first couple times it snowed he didn't bother plowing to the end of our road; he turned around by the neighbor's driveway. Okay, I thought, like just about every other person in Baraga County he's not familiar with our road and he thinks that's where it ends. I called the County Road Commission office; that didn't help -- next time it snowed, once again he did not plow to the end.

So I went in to the office, laid it on thick with the office administrator about the road not ending where the operator apparently thought it ended, and she said she'd talk with the foreman or the engineer. They'd make sure the operator got the message. At the time, I also told her (as we've been telling people for years) that because the road hasn't been properly maintained, it's real easy to not realize it is indeed county road. It doesn't get graded in the summer, the right of way hasn't been brushed in so long there are trees growing in it that are practically saw timber size. You know, you shouldn't look at a tree that's growing on what is technically the shoulder of a road and start wondering just how many board feet a person could get out of it. About once every other year or so, usually after I've called to complain that we're going to have to buy an Amphicar to get through the giant puddle that never goes away, they'll do a load or two of gravel.

The puddle never goes away because there's a spring about 50 feet up the road and no ditch on that side so there's water running or seeping from late March into November. Permanent puddle.

Anyway, as the result of two things, one being the close to complete lack of maintenance and the rather odd fact the neighbor's driveway looks like real road (and not the goat trail of my childhood), it can be difficult to comprehend that the road swings to the left to go around the hill and not to the right. The latter is the result of the road commission buying fill dirt from my uncle in the 1980's. Back when I was a little barracuda and we lived on what had been my grandfather's farm, the driveway was indeed a goat trail. Rocky, rutted, and generally better suited for horses than for cars. There was a rock outcropping that meant people had to be careful driving in or out or risk losing a muffler.

My old man got disgusted enough with the condition of the driveway that he spent real money on a contractor who used dynamite and a bulldozer to make it less of a hazard. Then when the county bought the fill dirt, they built the driveway up more so it could handle heavy truck traffic. That was around 30 years ago, but they did such a good job that it still looks like a road, unlike the actual road that terminates at our property line. People get lost all the time trying to find our place because the road doesn't look like a road. Every new UPS or FedEx driver wants to deliver to the neighbor instead of us because they don't believe there's a road here, and even people who live up here have trouble finding it.

The silver lining, of course, is that it's probably been 30 years since we had Jehovah's Witness knock on the front door.

In any case, after the phone call, a visit to the office, and more phone calls the dude did start plowing all the way to the end of the road. Sort of. It is a short section, probably less than the length of a football field, but it's barely one lane wide, has a nasty sharp curve, and there is no turn around where it ends. There used to be one, the county put it in, but they then forgot about it, did not maintain it, and the swamp reclaimed it. The operator realized that no matter which way he came in, front end first or by reversing, there was going to be backing up involved. It then became clear to me that the poor sap had minimal experience in driving a dump truck in reverse, at least not when it required more than just backing in a straight line or doing a nice neat T-turn. His tracks had enough wandering in them that you'd have thought he'd never had to back a truck up before. The S.O. did a fair amount of muttering about people who can't use mirrors to reverse. (The S.O. did over-the-road for awhile and has alley docked semis in New Orleans. He doesn't have much respect for truck drivers who don't know how to use their mirrors.)

 Maybe it was because of the backing problem, but whether or not our little short section got plowed continued to be more a matter of random chance than anything else. Time after time I'd drive out pushing snow with the bumper of my Focus, get to the end of the neighbor's driveway, and discover that once again that's where the plow turned around. More phone calls to the Road Commission, a slight improvement for a week or two, and then back to the same shit performance. The truly weird part was if it hasn't snowed much at all, he'd plow. If we got ten inches? Nope. That's when I'd have to make another phone call.

The last time I got annoyed on my way to town, which was a little over a week ago, I decided, okay, time for another in person visit. This was just a couple days before the blizzard. I stopped at the Road Commission office, talked with the secretary/office administrator/whatever she is and asked when the Road Commission met next. I wasn't actually planning to bitch about the specific driver; I just wanted to ask them to do some basic maintenance on our little short piece of road, maybe get it up to where it would at least meet the DNR standards for an ATV trail. My reasoning was (and still is) if that short section of road actually looked like county road and the first curve was more clearly defined, two things might happen. One is that the guys out operating the equipment would know for sure what was road and what was not. The other is that by widening the final 300 feet a bit, it would be easier for the snow plow operator to do his job in the winter.

Then the blizzard hit. Of course, on Sunday morning we didn't know yet it was going to an actual true blizzard. The weather forecast was for a lot of snow and horrible driving conditions, but the snowfall totals in the forecasts are notoriously inaccurate. Fairly early in the morning the S.O. was on the phone with a friend who also lives at the end of a dead end road. During the course of their conversation the friend tells him, "yes, the plows are out. The snowplow just turned around in my yard a little while ago." Okay, the plows are out. So the S.O. decides to work on clearing our driveway even though it's still snowing. His reasoning is that if a lot is going to fall, get rid of what's fallen so far so it will be easier to get rid of the rest later. He gets out to the end of our driveway -- absolutely no sign of the snowplow. Once again the asshat had seen fit to plow all the way into someone else's front yard but could not be bothered to plow actual county road.

I'd had it. Final straw. We'd been putting up with crap service all winter. I vented on Facebook in a local sales and discussion group. Got a lot of shit comments from people who seemed to think I was expecting the guy to do more than his actual job, but that's par for the course with Facebook. It brings out the idiot in people.

Monday morning the sky is clear blue, not a cloud in sight, and the wind is gone. It's a lovely winter day. I call the county to suggest to them they might want to send the front end loader up to open our little bit of road -- that curve makes it tricky, and if there'd be a lot of drifting the regular plow, either truck or grader, might get stuck. After lunch the S.O. fires up the snowthrower and heads out to clear the driveway. He comes back from his first pass absolutely furious. He's so pissed I'm worried he's going to have what used to be referred to as an apoplectic fit. Why is he furious? See photo below.

Asshat snowplow driver had made one pass, came straight in pushing snow ahead of him, and then backed out, leaving a humongous pile sitting at the end of the county road. And, because he truly is an ass who never did figure out just where the county road ends and our driveway begins, he left the whole mess several feet over on the county's side of the line.

This is when, as the saying does, the fecal matter began to hit the air distribution system. The shit flinging wasn't in full force until after I called the Road Commission office to ask when they were going to be back to finish clearing the road. That's when the secretary (or whatever she is) said, in essence, "Oh, he's done up there. He said he went in with the grader and he's done." Lots of questions from me along the lines of "It's going to take a loader to move that pile! What are we supposed to do?" with the secretary responding with the polite version of "Fuck off and die. Not the county's problem." Some polite blithering about how he couldn't do any better because he had the grader.

Okay. First a long email to the county engineer, who from what I could gather later was pretty much unaware there was an ongoing issue (I should have contacted him months ago but made the rather foolish mistake of assuming the secretary was passing on my messages. So much for that fantasy.) The email to the engineer had two attachments: a formal letter of complaint about the snowplow operator (and, yes, I'm doing hard copies, too, one through the postal service and one being hand carried in this Thursday) and a copy of the photo of Mount FOAD. That was followed by another vent on the local sales and discussion group, which once again elicited the usual flurry of totally shit comments from idiots -- I loved the people who advised us to get some snow removal equipment (note photo above where our cleared driveway ends a few feet before Mount FOAD) or told us "You shouldn't have moved here if you didn't want to deal with snow." It's a little late for that advice considering the S.O. was born in a house that used to stand close to where the Woman Cave is now. This farm has been in his family for over 100 years.

However, mixed in with those comments was one from a woman who said "My husband is the snowplow operator in Herman. He would never have done that!" News flash, lady. Your husband is a dick. One does wonder just what the dude got to hear once he got home and his wife asked him if he'd really deliberately blocked access to the county road for two senior citizens. If the dude disliked us before for sure we're on his shit list now. C'est la vie.

Communicating with the engineer got results. The grader was back Tuesday morning. The road was cleared. He did it the same way it could easily have been done on Monday, through coming straight in and back blading Mount FOAD out of the road. One of the reasons both the S.O. and I were so pissed about that mountain is that we both knew perfectly well it was a "fuck you" from the operator because we'd complained about him in the past. The secretary may be technologically illiterate enough to believe that the front plow on a grader is fixed in place so back blading wouldn't be an option. The photo at the top is pretty compelling evidence that's not true.

Would the road have gotten cleared if I hadn't complained so vigorously? Probably not. The one pass in and an immediate out sends a pretty clear message that he had done all he planned to do, especially when he did it before noon. He made the rather stupid assumption that we'd get out the shovels and take care of his mess ourselves. He was wrong, and he royally pissed us off. He was supposed to be opening roads. Instead, he chose to block us, something that no other equipment operator has ever done in the S.O.'s lifetime. The one thing we could always count on was that if we could our car to the road, the road would be open.

Because Facebook does this odd thing where you get notified if a friend is tagged in other posts, quite a few people who do not live in Baraga County now know for sure that a lot of the stereotypes about rural areas are true. A couple told me they kind of got sucked into reading the whole comment thread, especially after the S.O. jumped into it. Like me, they thought it was pretty funny we were being advised to go back to where we came from. Ignorance is apparently bliss for way too many people. What's the equivalent of "Paddle faster. I hear banjos" when the snow is four feet deep? The woods up here really are full of dumb fucks.

One of those non-local friends, a fellow "Survivor" fan, has teased me about the Road Commission meeting and wants to know if I can do a live feed from "Tribal Council." Tempting though it is, I think I'll pass.