I hadn’t really thought about rain before I left, which is a foolish oversight considering I was going to traverse a diagonal across a third of the US during early May. The perfect tarp for covering a trailer load of package bees was in the back of my car but on the morning of the day I was to pick up the bees I realized I hadn’t packed anything to cover myself. As I puttered around Elizabethtown, Kentucky running a few pre-departure errands the current weather and weather prediction on my smartphone said, “Cloudy” but the actual weather had alternated between a persistent drizzle and a steady, soaking rain. (The previous day I had been mightily confused when the weather icon said “Hurricane, Partly Sunny” until I realized I was in Hurricane, West Virginia.) I found what I thought was the department store to sell me a perfect rain jacket but after searching every inch of the place the only one I found was on the closeout rack and was of a style last seen in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. I considered for a moment whether it was worse to commit a crime of fashion or simply allow myself to be drenched but when I tried the jacket on it didn’t fit and I never had to conclude that moral dilemma.
At 9:30 I went to my appointment at Hardin County Honda to get the hookup for the trailer lights fixed. The people there were very helpful but informed me the defective transformer was not in fact a Honda part but an after-market part and they didn’t have a Honda part to replace it in stock anyway; they recommended I try over at Hardin Co. Truck Top and Trailer. Between one place and the other I realized my wiper blades were not really doing a stellar job of keeping my windshield clear and visible and I thought it might be a good idea to stop at VIP Auto Parts and get new wiper blades. (I have been asked, “Would it be helpful to talk about how you should have done all this car stuff before you left?” and to those critics I can merely say, “Hey, why don’t you leave me alone? I’m a grownup and I was busy with grownup stuff.”) With my new blades clearing off the persistent rain I pulled into Hardin Trailer and explained my predicament. The woman I encountered was sympathetic and helpful and fortunately had a bit of spare time to solve my problem. She didn’t have the precise part but gave off an awesome Jury Rigging Vibe and performed some sort of wizardry that not only fixed the taillights but, mysteriously, didn’t require power. She explained this as she handed me the fuse she removed to keep the disconnected power wire from remaining hot. I left bewildered but grateful.
Then I was off to Clarkson to pick up bees from the Walter T Kelley Company and in a cruel but welcome taunt from Mother Nature the rain stopped and the sky turned a gentle blue. After a bit of sorting and resorting we had the trailer loaded and I drove off into a beautiful Kentucky summer afternoon. Around me the locust trees were cascading with droopy white blossoms and surrounding fields exploded with yellow flowers I have not yet learned to identify. (Advice from the informed would be wholly welcome.)
In order to avoid hot daytime slowdowns in the densely populated I-95 corridor, my GPS chose a new route home that took me northeast through Louisville and diagonally across Ohio past Cincinnati and Columbus then into Pennsylvania. Looking back on the maps on the computer, this itinerary saved me about six minutes of driving time but I had traded in daylight hours driving through the breathtaking Allegheny Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley for the flat monotony of the Ohio River Valley. Perhaps if I hadn’t grown up in the Midwest I might find the drive across Ohio novel and interesting. Indeed, compared to the endlessness of my much-traveled road from Chicago to New England the land surrounding Columbus is relatively undulating. But compared to the mountains it is tiresomely dull. When it seemed unbearable I put in the National CD “High Violet” and listened to Bloodbuzz Ohio very, very loudly and that seemed to help a bit.
From late afternoon until well after nightfall I drove across Ohio and watched brilliant displays of lightning to my north and west and I knew I would be pummeled with thunderstorms sooner or later. I had my tarp and, at least, a dry change of clothes. My eyes began to droop around the time I saw signs indicating I was in an area called The Pennsylvania Wilds and I decided to get some rest at the nearest rest stop. I pulled my trailer into a truck parking spot and draped the packages with a cotton sheet. The idea was to let them breathe well while giving temporary protection against the thunderstorm while I woke up and secured the tarp. I leaned back my seat and drifted off almost instantly. In my sleep my knee nudged the gear selector and the car began to roll backward down the hill toward a rushing river but because the engine wasn’t going I had no control over the steering and the brakes wouldn’t stop the plunging car. Just then a half a dozen fat, thudding raindrops hit the roof and startled me awake. I realized there was no hill, no river, and remembered how much I hate dreams that weave my present situation into a fevered nightmare. Perhaps I had been sublimating a bit of anxiety. The rain had stopped as quickly as it started and I checked the sheet on the trailer and went back to sleep another couple of hours till daybreak. Those six drops would be the only rain I’d encounter on the entire journey home.
The only worrisome traffic I would encounter was at some construction in Putnam County, New York at the height of the mid-day heat and after nervously muttering the few lyrics of an old Tom Waits song and watching the temperatures rise on my load of honeybees I was able to pull off at an exit and drive around town to allow the packages to ventilate. I decided to fill up the tank and across from the gas station I noticed a group of girl scouts outside Gappy’s Pizza hawking their eponymous cookies. A dear friend of mine taught me to never pass a lemonade stand without buying lemonade and I figured this lesson probably applied to cookies as well so I went to see what was available. I asked the three scouts which cookies were best and each of them pointed to something different. Scout # 1 immediately shouted, “Samoas.” Scout #2 said, as if calmly stating the obvious, “Thin Mints.” (I whispered back, “because they’re the best, right?”) I noticed the “Trefoils” (a dull but delicious shortbread) remained unsold at a rate of 5:1 but Scout #3, when asked about her favorite, reached for a box of Trefoils and said, “These!” I said, “You’re just trying to move the ones that aren’t moving. Are they good with coffee?” Without hesitation she said, “Absolutely.” I said, “You’re only eleven. Do you drink coffee?” She looked at me with steely eyes and I bought a box. In fact, I bought all three kinds. I knew I was being played but I admired the chutzpah and I absolutely adore Girl Scout cookies. Then I asked the scouts, “Want to see something weird?” And I showed them a trailer filled with a million bees.
I zoomed along without incident until I reached Connecticut, though it seemed like some unpleasant event was possible around every bend. I noticed where the Middle Atlantic states bump into New England there is a whole new mood to highway driving. All four lanes have cars at all variety of speeds passing, swerving, cutting in front and behind with little regard for etiquette or safety. In an ordinary passenger car an attentive defensive driver can work around these offenses. But the decreased maneuverability and increased anxiety of pulling a trailer filled with a million bees make driving utterly exhausting. A mishap in another car might mean a repair, an insurance claim, or possibly a visit to the emergency room. An accident in my situation would mean all that plus having The Honey Exchange in the news because something had gone horribly, horribly wrong. I turned off at Willington, Connecticut to rest my white knuckles and put some drops in my tired eyes. When I pulled into a truck parking spot with my trailer I realized the space was abuzz with someone else’s bees! Of all the places to rest I had found the one with hundreds of honeybees flying around and two sad piles of thousands of homeless bees on the pavement. I am still at a loss to explain their presence. “It’s a sad and beautiful world.”
And after about twenty-two hours of driving and about four hours of sleep I arrived back at The Honey Exchange and Meghan and I unloaded the bees. The next day we would send them off to the homes of just over sixty beekeepers. 100 packages, all alive, safe, and sound, to bring joy to anxious parents. And the evening was warm enough for me to enjoy a nice, cool, gin and tonic.