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As I See It

Livin’ a country music song gets old after 700 miles

“Seven Hundred Miles in Third Gear” sounds like a great country music song title, but let me tell you that it isn’t the most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday.

For those of you who’ve managed to avoid the call of the wild, hunting clubs have workdays during the off season. A couple of weekends ago, our club in Texas came together to get a few things done. The camp is in the beautiful Hill Country, not far from the lovely and historic town of Fredericksburg but 700 miles from my house.

There are plenty of days when I wonder about the sanity of going so far to hunt deer, but this is my seventh year in the club — I must find it worth the effort. I suspect camaraderie has as much to do with it as the actual deer hunting.

Did you hear that?

This most recent trip out West was uneventful until Saturday morning. I had driven my truck up the mountain with a load of corn for the deer feeders.

We legally — and unashamedly — feed corn to our Texas deer year ‘round. Unlike many Mississippi hunters who hide behind the façade that the oats and wheat they plant to bait deer actually have an agricultural purpose, we put out corn and protein pellets for the deer and milo seed for the turkeys.

Gertrude Stein would likely have said, “Baiting is baiting is baiting is baiting.” The only difference that I can see, corn is yellow and wheat is green. Both serve the same purpose.

Anyway, when I backed the truck up to the feeder I heard a disturbing “ping” sound. I suspected this was not a good thing and I was right. I no longer had the reverse gear.

Here I was — far from home, on top of a steep mountain and no reverse. I don’t think a tow truck could have gotten up there to haul me down. Fortunately, my forward gears worked, so I carefully crawled down the mountain and back to camp. It could have been much worse — if I’d lost the forward gears, I’d have been forced to back down the mountain.

Slipping into gear and heading home

Being severely mechanically challenged, I didn’t know if the reverse gear was directly related to the forward gears. However, I was optimistic that they were sufficiently unrelated and that maybe, just maybe, I could make it home. That optimism was dampened when I lost the drive gear heading out. Now, I still had first, second and third gear, but no drive and no overdrive, and, of course, no reverse. If I kept losing gears, I knew I’d end up on the side of the road waiting for the highway patrol to rescue me.

I had several strategies in mind when I left for home at five o’clock Sunday morning. If I could make it to the nearest town of Boerne, roughly 15 miles away, then, worse case, I could get a motel room and have the truck towed to a GM dealership Monday morning. Beyond Boerne I’d be on the interstate and was counting on help coming along.

Pushing east

After making it to Boerne just fine and deciding to go for broke on Interstate 10, I asked myself how hard I should push it.

The accountant’s mentality told me that I probably wouldn’t get run-over if I stayed in the slow lane and went at least 65 miles per hour. I settled on 63 and set the cruise control. Actually, faster moving traffic was kinder to me than I expected and for that I am grateful.

In addition to the handicap of not being able to back up, I identified several challenges in my path. Houston is an awful place to drive even under the best of circumstances. Have you ever noticed how so many drivers in Houston are stupid and arrogant? That’s a really bad combination. Plus, there’s no road shoulder to pull off the road in Houston.

The next challenge on my obstacle course home was the Atchafalaya bridge between Lafayette and Baton Rouge. The bridge, which spans the Atchafalaya swamp, is about 25 miles long with no road shoulder.

My first gas stop was nerve-racking. I decided to stop at truck stops and large gas stations with plenty room to maneuver. I didn’t pull up behind anyone since if they didn’t move, I couldn’t move either. I figured that I’d be making a lot of gas stops since I was turning 2,500 RPMs rather than my customary 2,000, and I was right.

Incidentally, gasoline seems to be about 10¢ to 15¢ higher in Texas than it is here. I remember paying $2.62 a gallon for the cheapest grade of regular.

Once I passed Baton Rouge, I felt home free. Now, if a worst-case scenario developed, I could ask my nephew to drive down and pick me up with his gooseneck trailer — and haul me back home.

Fortunately, the worst case never came to be.
I actually made the trip in about the same time as it usually takes — just over 12 hours.

Good plan — and good luck

While I was at the ranch, a roadrunner crossed the trail in front of me. Texans say that is a sign of good luck. With a wounded truck to drive home, I needed the luck of the roadrunner and he didn’t let me down.

Having nerves of steel is helpful when difficulty arises. Realizing that the current problem is not life threatening is a good place to start. Developing alternative plans and strategies also plays an important role. I am convinced that even a bad plan is far superior to no plan at all.

I don’t think there’s any way to check for transmission problems before they happen. They just go “ping” and don’t work anymore. That’s reason enough not to go anywhere you have no business being. You just never know when that “ping” is going to stop you in your tracks on top of a hot Texas mountain.

Thought for the Moment

A change of fortune hurts a wise man no more than a change of the moon. — Benjamin Franklin

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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