At Chez Rivrdog, we're multi-talented writers. Here's a catchy little ditty I just wrote:
We were linemen for the County, but the similarities to the old song end there. Joe, my truck-helper, and I work for the Jackson County People's Utility District, and we have a lot of rural roads to cover when someone's power went down, or when new construction went in and we have to re-rig pole service.
The job paid well, but it was also exhausting, both driving the big, heavy truck, and doing the work when we got to a site. There was some danger, too: voltages from 13,800 on down were our usual calls, and sometimes we helped out with other units on the bigger stuff.
Storms were what got our engines revving, though. In this part of the South, severe thunderstorms and the occasional tornado were facts of life nine or ten months out of the year, and in the other two or three months, winter, there could be ice damage to the lines. Nope, we always said that when the cash-strapped State and local governments fired their last public employee, we would still have jobs, because they can't do without the electricity, and the electricity needs us to keep getting to where it's needed.
It was August, and we'd just restored service to a farm where a car had taken out the pole and it's service. We'd spent half the morning getting there, and the rest of the day putting in the new pole, then rigging it, then making sure all the voltage taps from the new transformer were right for the farm service. It was almost five, and we stopped at a crossroads country market to get a cold drink and a snack to tide us over until we got back to the yard, then our homes.
I was married, just barely, and usually had some sort of meal waiting when I got home, but Joe had never married, and he spent every dime he had pursuing his hobby of tournament bass fishing, and boy, did I get an earful after each of his trips to a tournament. I heard not only how many fish he caught, and what they weighed, but how they fought, what bait he had used, what pole he cast the bait with, the water conditions, and on and on and on. As a matter of fact, he was excited now, because there was a famous pond just a few hundred yards from where we were stopped, and he nagged me to take a look at it after we left. I knew what would come next: he carried a small fishing kit on the truck, and he would want to cast a bait or two in this pond. That would mean that we would have to go “off the clock”, because we only got paid for driving the truck to and from a call, and taking care of the call, nothing else.
Sure enough, while we were inside the store, Joe makes his pitch to me. I'm the crew lead-man, and I tell him that he would owe me big-time for this, but I agree, and pull out my cell and call Dispatch to let them know we were going off the clock for a meal break instead of coming straight in. The dispatcher, a sweet-heart of a gal I should have chased and married instead of my present wife, said to tell Joe he'd better bring some nice fish by the office tomorrow. We never got a thing past that gal, never.
I told Joe that Dispatch was on to our “meal break”, and told him of the requirement to bring some pan-sized bass or nice bream in for the gals to take home. He shrugged, and said I'd have to give him more time. I looked at my watch, and knowing sunset was around nine, told him he had three hours, tops. Joe would have kissed me if the store-keeper, a tall, good-looking drink of water, hadn't started towards us.
“Hi” she said, from halfway across the little store. “I'm about to close, can I get you anything before I do?” Joe was already half-way out the door, and he didn't look back, but I thought about the prospects: no dinner, just junk-food to tide me over all evening, because we still had to get back after sunset, and probably wouldn't leave the yard until almost midnight.
“Where can I get some real supper around here, Sugar”, I asked. “My partner is going to fish the bass pond for a while, we're off the clock, and I've nothing to do and no dinner for the next couple of hours.” The woman just looked at me, but after a few seconds, said, “If you can remember my real name, you can come over to my place and I'll fry us up a steak and the fixin's.”
“Sure thing, Sugar, but we haven't been introduced.”
Now it was her turn to be embarrassed, and in fact, she blushed. “I'm sorry, I'm Amanda Weeks. Most call me Mandy”. “I'm Robert Grady, and no one calls me Robert, it's Bob.”
“OK, Bob, turn south at the crossroad, and I'm the first driveway on the left.” I went out the front door, which she locked behind me, and I climbed up into the tired old Ford F-650. It had a lot of years on it, but it fired right up. I turned off the air conditioning and rolled down the window, since the heat of the day had subsided, and Mandy's place would likely not be air conditioned, most poor folks around here couldn't afford it. A minute later I pulled the truck into Mandy's driveway, and climbed down. A large hound eyed me, but Mandy called him off, and I walked up to the little sharecropper's cabin porch, where I offered my hand to the dog to smell. He was more interested in my crotch, as some hounds are, and he almost pushed me off my feet with his nose. Mandy laughed out loud.
“I see that Soda likes you” “Soda?” I laughed myself. “That's the damnedest name for a dog I ever heard.” Mandy looked at me again for several seconds like she had back in the store, then opened up a bit, “I call him Soda because if he thinks a man is after my virtue, it takes squirting him right in the eye with a Pepsi to get him to back off of you.”
Now, I have been in awkward situations before, and I have gotten out of most of them easily, but I was tongue-tied, which set Mandy to laughing so hard she had to catch hold of the front door-frame to keep her balance.
But, I did recover. “I can see that dinner conversation might get a little lively around this place” “Yes, it can”, was Mandy's only reply. I pulled off my cap and went inside after her. Soda stayed on the porch, but the door was open.
Mandy busied herself with the supper. Out of an ancient fridge came two steaks, some potatoes, some okra, some onions and tomatoes. I watched her fiddle with the old electric stove for a bit, then give out an audible sigh, “Supper might take a while, there's only one burner on this thing running about now.”
“What else do you have to cook on, Mandy”, I asked. “Well, there's an old camp stove I keep in case the power goes down and you ain't around.” “Good, you use that, and I'll work on this stove.”
It was obvious as soon as I pulled up the stove-top. Years of grease and food particles had created such a mess around the burner contacts that there were probably no contacts to be made, or the resistance wouldn't allow the burners to work properly. I went out and put a few tools and rags in a bucket, and in 15 minutes of scrubbing and wiping, I had all 3 burners of the little stove running. The oven looked great, and seemed to work. Mandy probably never used it. How a gal could fry everything and look as good as she did, I'll never understand.
In the meanwhile, Mandy had put the supper together on the little camp stove, and now the sounds of pots and pans clanging changed to the clink of china, and she hollered thought the front door, “It's ready, come and eat it or Soda will get there first.”
We ate. She asked me about my work, how long I had been with the PUD, that sort of thing. Nothing too personal, all on a very high plane. I asked her about the store. She said that it had been her Dad's, but he had gotten sick five years ago, and she had dropped out of college to help him run it, but then he died, so it was hers to run or sell. She hadn't known much else but the store, so she kept it.
“So, here we are”, Mandy said. “You're stuck on the lineman's truck and I'm stuck in the store.” That all sounded so final, like it was the end, so I fumbled in my mind for some words to say thank you, but Mandy beat me to it.
“Thanks for fixing my stove, Bob. That's been a real bother for quite a while, and I can't find anyone else who even wanted to fool with it. They're all scared of the electricity.”
“Well, they need to be scared”, I said. “Do it wrong, and you burn this place down or fry yourself. Can I help you with those dishes?”
“Why Bob, you're such a gentleman. You're just what a lady needs, but can never find, someone who can work with their hands and do the right things for a gal at the right times.”
We both carried the dishes and the pots and pans inside, and she turned on a light. In the yellow glow of the bug-light, she looked even better, and Mister Happy started to agree with me, in fact, stood up right proud. Mandy was busy at the sink, and I waited with the pots right behind her. Without warning, she turned around suddenly, and bumped right into me, or rather, right into Mister Happy.
For the third time, she said nothing, but recovered faster this time, and took the pans from my hand and set them in the sink.
“Well now, Mister Bob, I can see that you're ready for dessert.” Once again, I was tongue-tied, but Mandy wasn't. She reached over to the fridge, opened it and pulled out two bottles of Pepsi. The hound-dog Soda just stayed at the front door, never came inside...