The patch truck
A little north of Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, the ground freezes hard during the winter. This allows the roads to expand and contract one, or possible two times during the winter. In Indiana the roads freeze and unfreeze over and over again. This creates the first flower of Indiana’s spring, the pot hole. I remember my dad cursing the Indiana winter was he would attempt to navigate the many potholes that dotted the road from the house to the market.
It was a rite of spring.
That was soon followed by the patch truck. Patching the roads was an intriguing process that kept us engaged for roughly 20 minutes (ok mom booted us out of the house (and the air conditioning) and made us go outside). They would dump a load of the asphalt. Then the person would jump off the back of the truck and shovel the patch into the hole. Sometimes they would whistle (which we thought was really cool) and the truck would back up and give them some more asphalt. Once they had the hole filled (we were always fascinated by holes in Lake Architectless) they would have the leveler roll through and flatten the hole.
We of course would laugh because within two years of being laid originally our roads all looked like poorly designed patchwork quilts. There were a lot of holes and patches and not a lot to drive on for the cars of the town.
Small town Indiana life
The corn fields butt right up against the houses. Horses lean into the backyard during Bar-B-Q’s and comment on both the grilling and the food being served. Dogs wander around town like they own the place, which in many cases they probably do. Chickens wander onto the street frequently and you see all sorts of wildlife right up to the very edge of civilization (deer, foxes, beavers). It is a different world than the one settled 200 years ago, but not by much.
None of the animals seemed to care about one way streets or stop signs. They went about their business as if there were no interference from the course of man.
The big hobby which I’ve discussed before was caving. But the other hobby that we all shared that summer and many others was star gazing. It all started for my dad with NASA in the 60’s. He got hooked and ended up getting me hooked as well. We were space junkies. We watched for everything we could see and of course a few things we couldn’t see.
This was the summer of watching for the space shuttle and wondering where it would appear in the night sky. Each of us had built our own telescopes and we often argued over whose was the best one. There are a number of types of telescopes you can build and of course depending upon how much money you want to spend the quality and size of the lenses is the real issue. There are a number of options you can consider (including I hear attaching a 35mm slr to your telescope and taking pictures of the night sky). All in all it was a great way to spend a summer evening.
Our town, population 2893 was featured in the US Census guide in 1980 as the only town in America that reached 100% census submission. Had the census known that the only way you got to keep your personal stop sign in 1980 was to take your completed and sealed census to the general store/town hall and sign in, they probably wouldn’t have mentioned our achievement – but none the less we got that award and had it displayed in the Town Hall/General store. The town would have preferred a sectional basketball trophy but you take what you can get.
Basketball is king in Indiana.
The census was not as important – but at the time we were seeking any accolade we could get. That is why at the end of the last mayor’s trial that trophy was brought out of the back room and put back in a place of prominence. Our town was proud of being a 100% city in the 1980 Census. It wasn’t much but when you have nothing, something seems like an infinite amount of anything.
A mayor who disappeared and reappeared (dead) 20 years later, a mayor who appeared, then disappeared with a dead wife, and a lot of dead fish ending up in a growing sinkhole left our town devastated. It was the year to forget.
Four left turns or four right turns gets you back to the same place. Except of course in Lake Architectless where two right or two left turns will have you facing a one way street. Or if you are really lucky and in the “wrong” part of town you could face two one way streets which of course would lead you nowhere or worse, somewhere that was nowhere.
The Davis family had 23 turns to get from the general store to their house. Or they could simply walk or ride bikes and be there in about 7 minutes via the sidewalk. Mr. Davis was a huge fan of the singer “Neil Young” and so he put a sign on his porch that said “This is Nowhere” in honor of the singer and the number of turns to get to his house.
People tended now instead of using landmarks to give people directions with the total number of turns required (17 lefts, 23 rights). Of course this was confusing and people stopped doing that pretty quickly because the value was in the order not the turns. People start giving directions at that point in an interesting shorthand (1L2R1L1R3L1R3L2R) rather than just saying left, right, right etc. It was proposed at one point at the Town Council that we should change the names and addresses of everyone in town rather than fix the one way street issue. Luckily the postal representatively from Fort Wayne said that USPS would not allow that change.
In a land without planning, the planner is king.
A plan Stan (with apologies to Paul Simon)
“God has a plan for Lake Architectless.” The right reverend Father Gary Thompkins
said in his Sunday morning greeting to the congregation. “It is a grand plan.” He continued. “Grander than anything the project management van could produce. Grander in fact that anything we could ask for or even dream of for the lord’s plan is Life, Eternal.”
“We need no other plan, than what God will give us.” And that went on for another 55 minutes. It was a new record for length of Sunday morning sermon. The town was abuzz now with two separate camps. There were those that wanted things to be as they had always been, unplanned and left to god and those who sought a plan for everything except what was God’s.
The coffee and floral arrangement shop was abuzz with conversations.
“Render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” the planning side took.
“Perhaps God is testing us, to see if we will listen.”
The good father was sitting in the back of the coffee and floral arrangement shop smiling for this was the message he sought to send and the conversation he sought to drive. Sundays were his day to stir the pot so that only the message he was sending stuck to the bottom.
The enterprise project management trust us truck
Late on the afternoon of the day after my last day of being grounded for my various adventures but mostly grounded for going into the cave without proper permission, the Enterprise Project Management “trust us with your projects” campaign truck arrived.
The side of the truck was decorated with a huge project plan that they must have had custom painted on the side of the truck. The rest of the truck was filled with personal computers and project managers. Apparently the “mega software & Buck” company had told the project management company that we were going to be doing a huge project soon and the project guys wanted to get a jump on the action. They had cut short their Fort Wayne visit to spend a little time with us.
That evening the project management team promised an exciting show on “how to plan and deliver your projects on time and under budget” news of this spread through town like wildfire. Everyone and their project planned on being at the meeting.
“Come one, come all. See how you make help your projects come to arrive on time, under budget and with just a little nudge higher customer satisfaction.”
It was a body. It wasn’t like the bodies we found in Dead Man’s cave, that had been in the cave for over 100 years and were little more than bones when we found them. This body was probably 10-20 years but in an environment (a cave) where cool temperatures (58 degrees year round) and moisture preserved the body in a odd form of mummification.
We talked about what we should do, deciding to risk getting dragged out of the cave by sending two folks up the surface to tell the authorities that we had another “dead body” in town. For a town that hadn’t had a murder ever, it was disturbing to realize that we had in fact had murders, they were just covered up really well.
The rest of us carefully headed further into the cave. There were signs that humans had found this cave a couple of times in the past. There were lanterns that included candles from 100 years ago as well as torches made with straw that were frequently used by Native Americans to explore caves. They, native Americans often used caves to store meat and vegetables for the winter.
But our exploration was cut short when we heard shouting. People wanted us to come back up to the surface which, sadly when you are a teenaged boy is never a good situation…
What happened next will be debated for all time. As we moved away from the opening and towards the far end of the cave there was something on the wall.
Now, if you looked at it from the right angle it would have seemed to have been put there by a human being. It in fact was a natural cave formation that appears to be milk. Well it appears to be a large number of gallons of milk spilling over the edge of a ledge in undulating waves.
At first of course we thought it was man made. We rushed over to examine the “formation” but found it was of course the milk style formation we had seen in other caves. That however, was when we noticed the smell.
It wasn’t an overpowering smell.
It wasn’t a get me out of here smell.
It was a sickly sweet smell that made you feel uncomfortable. We started following that smell deeper into the cave.
The opening to the cave, or the “hole” in the sink hole, was small enough that it was a squeeze for any one of us to make it into the opening.
Caves are often funny that way. You can enter the cave and it suddenly expands into a giant cavern. Or you can crawl on your belly for a 1000 yards only to find that you can’t stand up, you still have to crawl for another 1000 yards. Or, anything in between those extremes you just never know until you actually go into the cave.
Squeezing through the opening was the initial hard part. Beyond the opening the cave widened into a cavern that was fairly large and you could clearly see the where the ceiling of the cave had collapsed causing the sinkhole. The cavern itself was much wider than the sink hole and appeared to stretch out quite a ways. We spent the first ½ hour or so exploring that cavern. The goal for this was to report back to the adults about the stability of the town hall building.
At the far end of the cavern was a stream. It had a small amount of water flowing through it, and you could see where the water would go during rain storms. You could see where the erosion had slowly but surely carved out the cavern. There were “entrances” to additional cave at either end of the large cavern. We decided to head away from Town Hall to see where the cave would take us…
Tell someone, plan, double your supplies and oh yeah TELL SOMEONE what you plan to do!!!
The first, non-negotiable rule about caving is tell someone. However, we were in a bit of a pickle as any adult we told would say “no.”
So who do you tell? Each of us left a letter on our kitchen tables (figuring in that manner we were telling someone) and packed our stuff.
The opening to the cave was small – most adults would not fit through but for us, not an issue. We carefully slid through the opening and checked our flashlights. Each of us had two flashlights and of course double the required batteries for each flashlight.
We had checked the weather forecast carefully (this planning bug had really bitten us) to ensure there would be no rain. Caves are formed by running water over thousands or even millions of years so rain would increase the “wetness” of the cave. Since many caves are simply rivers that didn’t want to get a sunburn and went underground, you don’t want to enter a cave in the rain.
No rain, lots of batteries, ropes and food, we were all set to enter the future…