Alfred Barnes and the Hoosick Street Crow
| Alfred Barnes came flooding into my memory this morning. It was at the precise moment I realized I could not pull out onto Route 203 because a cement truck was barreling down on the tee formed by the route and Pinto Ranch Road, where my car sat waiting to turn left.
To my left the 55 miles per hour State highway goes over a small hill not more than fifty yards onward, meaning that vision to that side is very limited. To the right, the road stretches away into a series of curves. In any time but summer, when the long grass in the fields obscures the view, the driver turning from Pinto Ranch has a fine view of traffic in that direction.
I qualify that last sentence: Any driver who doesn't have a ninety-five pound sheep dog standing half in the front seat and half in the back. As I neared the stop sign, I could see nothing coming to the right. I pulled to a stop, looked to the left, tried to look right again but only saw gray hair. I could hear him coming though, this tank car which had gone off the tracks and was now being propelled by an internal combustion engine.
As the hulk roared on over the top of the hill and down the road toward Valatie, Barnes, or rather his photo flashed into my consciousness. He was the older, opinionated, cantankerous Barnes in that picture; the man who in 1951 drove through a stop sign, or was it a red light, in what was then bucolic King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. His effort to enforce his rules of traffic failed when a truck smashed into his car, killing him instantly.
Chance encounters. WORD* says that is a fragment, but how else to say it. I make that turn every day. Last week in the heat, I made it while taking my wife to the doctor's office in Troy. This morning, after making the turn, a crow intruded in my brain. The bird lived on Hoosick Street, the name for Route 7 in Troy. As I sat at a light that morning, on the opposite side of the interesection was a small mammal, flattened by a chance encounter with a truck or car.
The crow of Hoosick Street would swoop down, pick a little at the carrion, and beat a hasty retreat as cars and trucks hurtled down the road toward his meal. What a hard way to make a living. Surely it is a jungle out there, but if asked why he took up working such a beat, I am sure he would reply, "Location, location, location." I looked on the way home to see if the crow had joined his meal.
The speed limit drops as 203 makes a grand right turn and heads into Valatie. The feeling of dread leaves me, and I accomplish my banking and the walking of the dog. On the way home, I notice that the great mound of grass and dirt at the truck repair place is empty. What fun I had last Fall imagining myself driving that gazillion wheel dump truck that sat up there, with "Sale" painted on its windshield.
For an instant I wonder who bought the truck, but that thought slips away, bringing today into focus. Rather than turn right onto Pinto Ranch Road, I follow 203 to where my road intersects. This is the long way, but it passes the two perfect trees, as my wife calls them, the barn where many board horses, the vegetable stand which will not open until June and the cow barn, whose cows graze in the fields. Today I see a calf.
The dog barks at them all. She believes in equal opportunity. No person, place or thing can pass without her registering an opinion. By the time the car has climbed the great hill up from Route 203 she is barked out. I pull in the driveway; she races out of the car to her water bowl. I attach her to her chain so she can sit out and watch the world go by, and I go inside.
The house is quiet. My wife is back in the hospital, having the fluid drained from her legs and feet. Her mind is more confused every day. Her chance encounters are with events of the past, which she twists and turns into events of today, and with different endings. She is my wife but I am her caretaker now. I feed her, help her to bed and keep her medicines straight, but I cannot prevent fluid build up.
I check my answer machine. No one has called. I turn on my computer and go on line to see who might have written. More chance meetings on the screen, some promising work to keep me busy, some sending jokes to make me smile, and then there are encounters with a few, those few, those valiant few who participate with me in a sort of unofficial internet support group, the Friends of Each Other et al.
An imaginary accountant, or bean counter to use the idiom of today, will question whether I get equal value for my time and effort with this group. "After all, he says, you do all the writing and thinking." I throw him out of my office and let him sit with the dog. "Watch for the Federal Express truck and while you are waiting, weigh these blades of grass." A crow caws loudly. Alfred Barnes pops out of a cloud driving an old convertible, pulls up, winks at me and drives off. "Be careful at that blind turn," I shout at his dust.
Valatie May 9, 2001