Starting about the time I was 14 years old – the precise moment when a teen girl’s mind starts to wander away from the farm task at hand and into town where the boys are – my father used to tell me to “stay alert.” One of his favorite sayings was: “Try to stay alert, kid. The world needs more alerts.”

I was reminded of that saying this afternoon, as today was one of those days where I didn’t “stay alert.” Driving back to my home office in Oregon on the long straight stretch of Hwy 69 between Monroe and New Glarus, I did the unthinkable as a former farm girl. I didn’t slow down when I saw a tractor in the distance.

Too busy admiring the dairy cows basking in their day spa of lush grass in the pasture to my right, and singing aloud at the top of my voice to a Ricky Martin song on the radio (yes – I know, Ricky Martin – mock me later), I noticed a few seconds too late that the tractor was actually idling on the side of the road, manure spreader in tow, with a farmer outside the cab talking on his cell phone.

An alert person probably would have deducted that the large pile of brown stuff oozing across the highway was something other than dirt or mud.

An alert person would have at least hit the brakes.

Yeah, not me.

I proceeded to careen through the biggest pile of shit you’ve ever seen going at least 60 miles per hour. I was going so fast that I’m pretty sure I sprayed the farmer on the side of the road with a large amount of shit splatter.

Oh. My. God.

Let me share a little known fact with you: it takes approximately 1.8 seconds to realize you have NOT just driven through a puddle of mud when an overwhelming stench suddenly hits your nostrils. It takes another 2 seconds to realize, in horror, that the liquid you’re smearing back and forth with your windshield wipers is actually liquid manure.

Not a good day.

Being the sensible person that I am, I tried not to panic. New Glarus was only about four miles away, I’d stop and wash my car in the car wash along the highway. This was not going to be a problem.

I get to New Glarus without further incident, pull into the car wash, roll down my window, recover from the nauseous odor that immediately wafts over me, and attempt to pay for an automatic wash. The machine takes quarters, $1 or $5 bills.

I look in my wallet. I have one $20 bill. Frick. So I get out of my shit-covered car, stumble over to the changer and think, okay, I don’t care, I’m just going to get $20 worth of quarters. Life goes on. But no, the changer only takes $1 or $5 bills. Frick.

At this point, a line-up of cars also covered in shit, but not as much as mine – because it appears they were actually alert and at least hit their brakes – has formed behind me. With no choice, I just drive through the empty car wash bay and head to the next-door Culvers to break my $20 so I can come back and wash my car. At this point, it’s also about 1 p.m. and I haven’t had lunch, so I figure I’ll just go through the drive-thru and order a burger.

Not a good idea.

I realize this after I pull up to the window and watch the Culver employee’s face recoil in horror and plug her nose with two fingers after she opens her sliding glass window to take my money. I apologize profusely. She gives me a number and tells me to park in the waiting area, next to the other customers. I pull into the parking area. One by one, all of the cars next to me roll up their windows, all the while looking at me like I’m the biggest loser on the face of the earth. Finally, the guy comes out with my burger, hands it to me through the window and says “Dude, what happened to your car?”

I smile politely, throw it in reverse, and speed the 100 yards back to the car wash. Luckily, by this time, the line-up of cars has mostly made it through the car wash (well except for the poor guy who was towing a white pop-up camper behind his pickup – he’s still trying to spray the shit off his camper in the self-service bay). I stuff my $5 in the machine, drive into the car wash bay slowly, put it in park and breathe a sigh of relief.

I am going to eat my burger and get this shit off my car.

As I’m unwrapping my Single Swiss Butter Burger with ketchup, mustard and pickles, the automatic car wash finally roars to life. At this point, I have to ask you to imagine the worst hotel shower you’ve ever been in, where the water pressure is barely strong enough to get the shampoo out of your hair. Yeah, this is that kind of car wash. Three minutes later, the “car wash” is over and I drive out.

My car is still covered in shit. Frick.

Thirty minutes later, I’m back in my home Village of Oregon, where I know the super duper mother of all automatic car washes exists. I pay another $8 (this time on a credit card – hallelujah for technology), sit through another car wash (this one even has an automatic dryer), and emerge with a clean car. No shit in sight. Thank God almighty.

So that was my day. If you take nothing else from this story of woe, it should be this: when you see a tractor and manure spreader on the side of the road and a farmer standing outside talking on a cell phone, it’s fairly likely you should at least hit your brakes. Now you know what happens if you don’t.

Stay alert, kids.

2 thoughts on “Staying Alert

  1. Haha, I love how you have no problem using the word “shit” multiple times but insist on using the word “frick”.

    Oh, and Ricky Martin? Really?

  2. Jeanne, I am simultaneously laughing at your retelling of this, and crying with you–because I did the same thing, just last summer. 1.8 seconds sounds about right. Luckily the Bloomer car wash was a self-service one with the wand, and I was able to target directly the caked-on shit which coated the wheel wells. Still, the smell lingered a while….

    I enjoyed hearing you on WPR the other day. I really like your attitude about paying what cheese is worth. If a couple slivers of $20/pound cheese leaves you more satisfied than five times as much cheaper stuff, which is really expensive, and which is the bargain?

    Oh, and I was recommending the Marieke gouda in perfect synch with you–but only my dogs could hear!

    I'm linking your site on my Trout Caviar blog, and look forward to checking in regularly.

    All best~ Brett

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