When my lovely bride and I first purchased our home, we made the conscious decision to live in a small town away from the city. Granted, we were about 14 miles from an urban center, but it was a remote 12 to 14 miles near a large lake. When we arrived, we had plenty of trees, space, and things were peaceful and quiet. It was a longer commute than many like, but at least it was a restful commute. Unfortunately, it appears that we didn’t get “far” enough out! Over the last 15 years, what was once a small town near an urban center, became a suburban enclave, inside an urban center that was growing like a hydra. No question, the “Urban Sprawl” is killing us, and what makes it especially bad is that, with the sprawl came a complete absence of any real improvement to the local infrastructure. (This includes the power grid, which is second only to Venezuela or Uganda for being really horrible.)
My bride and I were obviously ahead of the curve when it came to our home selection. What was once a quiet location, is now subjected to the constant sirens of ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars. What was once a remote and peaceful drive, is now choked with our new “neighbors” as they commute from the “city.” What was once a farmer’s field, is now a “Super Wally World” or “Target” or whatever sort of commercial operation that requires about a zillion square feet of concrete or asphalt. In other words, we are now part of the dreaded suburban population, along with all the madness that accompanies that notion, especially at this time of year. At certain times of the day, usually from 7:00 a.m. until sometime around 8:00 p.m., you will enter this massive traffic flow at your own risk. The two lane roads existing when we moved here, are now four lanes that still can’t keep up with the sheer volume of traffic. Where before there were only a half dozen traffic lights within a 5 mile radius of the town center, there are now too many traffic lights to count. Yet, nestled within this bustling and overflowing town is a man who refuses to let go of the small town or to accept the new reality.
No, it isn’t me, although that would be a good guess. Nope, instead it is this fine old gentleman who is an ancient farmer and more than a local “institution.” He is an “old school” stand alone kind of man, mainly because everyone is terrified to get near him. I must admit that this terror also appears to include the local constabulary, who overlook a lot of things when it comes to him. Regardless, he is my personal hero, mainly because he is as cagy as a fox. For the purposes of this Blog, he will remain nameless, but he is truly a sight to behold in our town. Personally, I love seeing him, mainly because of what he represents. This individual, clad in his bibbed overalls, long sleeve shirt, and ratty old ball cap, usually will be operating an ancient tractor through the middle of “rush hour” traffic. Using only the turning lane, between the onrushing and outflowing traffic, he will cruise along at a bustling 5 mph, making odd turns while often times drinking a beer (Busch beer is his brand of choice). These sojourns all take place at the height of rush hour, otherwise, why would he go anywhere at all. Does he frustrate me? Sure, a little, but never as much as he frustrates the hordes of “Young Urban Professionals” who will yell, scream, blow horns, and drive off the road to avoid him.
You ask, well isn’t he a hazard to himself and others? Probably. Was he here before they even paved that road, which is now four lanes wide and packed with commuters? Damn right he was there, and in fact, he owned the property before they built the road. He also owned the land where they stuck the “Target,” “Wally World,” and at least another couple dozen business sites. Does the tractor belong in a museum? Yes it does, and I even know where a tractor museum is located in Virgina, but this thing actually runs, well, at least most of the time. When it isn’t running, he will stand by the road and just wave at people flying by him at Mach 5, as he sips on the ever present beer. (I have actually seen him with a beer in his hand as early as the 7:30 a.m. commute!)
Personally, I admire him. He reminds us about what is important in our lives, and about how things used to be, before the sprawl ate up the personality of our home. (There is also the argument that perhaps I admire him for annoying the hell out of these “newbies,” that run everyone off the road whenever given half a chance. Okay, maybe a little.) That aside, I also admire him for being completely unchanged by events around him, especially in his own life. Does he drive a fancy car, wear nice clothes, or have a lot of stuff? The answer here is a clear, nope! Despite his financial wealth, this man is still quite simple in both his living and his outlook. As he cruises down the road on the old beat up tractor, past his sign that says, “Chiken Comp 4 sail 4 UR flours,” he can be found sipping on his beer and waving at anyone who dares make eye contact. He is my hero because he is a reminder of another time and another age. I won’t apologize for it either, because it is always hard not to admire a man who can live like this, especially at this time of year. Besides, if I apologized, I’m pretty sure the old guy would probably hunt me down and kick my teeth in....... ~ Michael S. Pauley