Saturday, August 25, 2007

Coming Home from Foxwoods

NOTE: This is not a trip report so if you just want to read about poker, skip this one.

Just a few minutes ahead of our returning Yankee Trails bus tonight some fast driving young person caused this accident:

The Glastonbury accident, at 7:30 p.m. Friday,
involved just one car.
Police said a 1994 Ford Explorer was heading west
when the driver
apparently lost control and swerved across the
highway from the left
shoulder to the right shoulder and then back to
the right lane.
The car rolled over several times, ejecting two
people and partially
ejecting the third, before stopping upside down,
witnesses told police.
Two of the three passengers were taken to
Hartford Hospital by Life Star
helicopter, and the third was taken there by

Word was that some had died, but I can't confirm that.
This has been a tough week for Connecticut. The night before 4 teens had died in a crash in Bristol and just a little while before there was an accident on Route 2 that killed two women.

Our bus stopped.

Rushing by us came a half dozen rescue vehicles, ambulances, the red and blue probing lights flashing along the length of our bus. Fellow passengers rose to watch the scene, strained to see what the two helicopters overhead were doing, wondered out loud what exactly had happened and how long it would take to get us back on the road.

After a while, we got out of the bus into the humid August air to stretch out legs and stand around talking and waiting. Bits of news trickled in from our sister bus ahead of us and directly behind the wrecked car. People left their cars, walked up to see, and returned to report back the details.

A woman in the vehicle behind me had been returning from the beach in her SUV with four children. She was happy that the youngest girl had urged them to stop back at the last rest stop bathroom. That stop had delayed them long enough so that they had missed any chance of being rear ended. She worried that next year her 15 year old daughter, who now sat on the guardrail sucking a summer lollipop and talking to her girlfriend, would be old enough to learn to drive.

“So many accidents are recorded for young drivers in the first year of their license,” she said. “80% of new drivers have some sort of mishap the first year.” Those seemed tough odds to buck.

Back on the bus again we bus people worried that we'd be late and our home people would worry. We fretted over the inconvenience of such a long delay. We were tired.

We lived in our small world of bus people. Ahead in the larger world people were dead and sometimes we knew that, but other times we better knew the delay was going to be long, and we knew it was hot. and we knew we were weary, and we wanted them to be quicker about clearing out the bodies of those people and cars, so we would not have to wait.

We complained that our bus had a broken electronic system. Our sister buses were playing movies as we waited. We had seen them while we were walking by, all those tiny screens lit with interesting diversion.

We had not been lucky enough to have a movie; our tiny screens were black. To give an announcement the bus driver had to walk half way down the length of the bus to be heard. He had no working speaker system.

One woman told us that everything electronic was broken on our bus, bus number 248, and had been broken for over a year. She said she had complained to Yankee Trails but to no avail. We felt cheated. Randomly we had been assigned this defective bus, and we thought it was unfair. Number 248, the unlucky bus.

A woman across the isle gleefully celebrated our luck in having our own bathroom right on the bus unlike those in private vehicles parked around us. I imagine such feelings of good fortune are rare for anyone who has actually ridden that bucking bronco bathroom toilet, and then looked in vain afterward for a place to wash.

Some of us had been unlucky losers at the casino. Some had not. Such a small way to play with fate, to put a few dollars in an entertaining machine or into chips to bet the cards. It was not like weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds on a humid August night. Some of us had been overly reckless at the casino, but we were old people, and we only risked the symbolic stuff of life, not life's real stuff. And we were also bus people who had avoided being rear ended.

The fellow across the isle told me how he was taken into the army in 1952 and because a certain vaccination had not worked right in his body, he was sent to be a meat cutter in Munich, Germany instead of to war in Korea. He helped to entertain officers and their wives in a plush military club. It was good duty. Off duty He drank some beer. Many of the successfully vaccinated in his group went on to die in Korea. He had not liked the dark, thick beer. But he had liked Munich.

I told him how I had been destined to go to Vietnam until I discovered that for a single month I could gamble on getting an assignment in Europe by putting in a volunteer statement. I won two and a half years in Spain. Others went on to fight in the Vietnamese jungles and died. I was sent to eat chorizo and manchego and to father a son who as a young man would drive safely enough and luckily avoid being rear ended, so that he could one day become a lawyer.

Just about every August day I buy Silver Queen sweet corn from Willie down the road. It is the same small kernel white corn I bought from Willie's father 30 years ago. Willie took a break from the family farm to fight in Vietnam and managed to survive many risky, hard fought battles that had left the enemy dead but luckily left Willie unwounded. The first summer back on the farm Willie lost his left hand when it was caught in a corn cutter.

Wille's brother had been a gambler in the days when that meant making illegal bets with unsavory characters. Like the brother in “A River Runs Through It,” he often had trouble paying off his gambling debts. One day he just disappeared. No one knows where.

My childhood friend Dick left his family dairy farm to join the Navy during Vietnam, but before he even finished his basic training, the Navy discharged him and sent him home, due to a back injury that they had not found in his initial physical. Dick figured he'd lucked out of going to war because the Navy did not want to pay for the injury or the mistake. After he came home, he spent many long hours over many years driving tractors and heavy earth moving equipment, using all sorts of carpenter's tools to turn his father's dairy farm into a campground and then into a historical Canal Town with over 40 historically representative buildings filled with locally collected antiques.

When Canal Town went bankrupt, the antiques were sold off in Georgia and Dick helped raze the buildings to lower the land taxes.

The campground went along pretty well and eventually became Dick's full time responsibility. He decided to add portable cabins and had one up on cinder blocks while he installed plumbing. Then, as his wife told it, “Something went wrong; the house slipped off the blocks.” I remember his casket draped with his carpenters belt and workboots. Dick's brother-in-law said that by going under the house Dick had taken a risk that he would have advised others against.

I don't think Dick ever visited a casino, but his father would take trips similar to my Foxwoods trip. I don't think he gambled his own money much, just went for the free play promtionals and free buffet with friends. He told me at at Dick's funeral that he had lost money so quickly on his last trip that after it was gone, he had kicked the machine.

We were telling such stories yesterday to pass the waiting time until a way for us could be cleared through the wreckage, and we could finally go home.

And then, finally, we were moving past the overturned wreck and on our journey once again. The woman next to me said the sight of the crushed wreck we passed made her a bit nauseous, and then we hit the open road and and the bus people applauded our luck.

When I got home, I took my fine new promotional Foxwoods T-shirt the bus company had given each of us today. I hung it on a hook in my closet, thinking I would wear it on some future gamble, and wondering if somewhere there was someone picking appropriate funeral clothes from an unfortunate person's closet.

I also took down my swim suit. The icy Burden Lake water washed me clean of the day's sticky humidity. Suspended by a noodle, I floated and watched the moon between the branches of the tall trees and heard the light clanking of pans in the pizza kitchen at Kay's.

The poker had been fine. I had won all day, morning and afternoon. I had lost a hand or two in the first few minutes, and then won that money back and never again been behind more than a few dollars. I had sipped four iced glasses of Myer's rum and lime and watched Justine's sensual facial expressions as she dealt hand after hand of cards I tossed away. I had won $20 in my matchplay gamble, won $5 on free Keno bets and come home to icy lake water ahead $155 and full of prime rib, chili, battered cod, and ice cream covered brownie with rich vanilla sauce.

On Monday I'm going back to Foxwoods to gamble once again. Bill is going with me. I hope the bus has a clear route to the gambling and home again.

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