You'd think that with the amount of time I spend on my riding mower, I could rival Lance Armstrong in the annual Bonner County Fair "team tour de arena" classic. After all, I put in more time on my Sears Craftsman every year than I do at my computer---and that's a lot of hours. When you've got fast-growing grass and more than an acre's worth, along with all the ditch areas within a quarter mile of the driveway, you learn how to maneuver the machine.
Well, last night I was ruthlessly coaxed into entering the John Deere riding-lawnmower obstacle race. It was held in the indoor arena not long after the beef competition had ended. Until moments before climbing aboard the John Deere with its attached trailer, I'd never witnessed such an event. I had seen the lawnmower drill team perform several times at the Fourth of July parade and rather enjoyed their precision moves.
Last night's experience all started during a conversation with my dear friend and former student Erica Curless, who makes me proud almost daily with her fine reporting for the Spokesman-Review newspaper. We hadn't had a good visit for quite some time, so we plopped ourselves on the bench outside the indoor arena and got into some serious jawing.
Nowhere near finished with all that needed to be said, I did feel a hunger pang reminding me why I was hanging around that spot in the first place. We were situated just a few feet from Der Wurst Man's brat stand, and I'd shown up to sample my first fair brat. His booth was there the day before, but he hadn't appeared, much to the disappointment of Bill and several friends who'd read my blog and decided to go sample their own brats.
After razzing him about his no-show, I found myself in a familiar "open mouth, insert foot" position. He hadn't come to the fair the previous day because his 90-year-old mother had fallen. So, he'd attended to her needs. I apologized for giving him a rough time and told him I'd be back soon.
So, as I was saying good bye to Erica and headed toward his stand, I peeked inside the arena and zeroed in on the action. A good lawnmower will take my eye any day. During that momentary pause, I was hooked. I followed Erica inside and decided to sit a few more minutes with her and her parents. Turns out Gail and Randy were next in line to compete.
Now, driving a riding lawnmower is actually a lot of fun, and most people master the discipline pretty fast. But not a lot of folks can be spotted chopping down their grass with a white bandana wrapped around their heads. This competition required drivers to wear blind folds----i.e. white rags, while their teammate stood in the trailer and directed them around the cones. The race also involved backing the trailer between two designated cones.
As we walked in, we could see the mower and trailer at the far end with its team aboard, meeting face to face with the south wall of the arena. One teammate had directed her driver into a rather tight spot, and the pair was having a difficult time escaping their predicament. The 5-minute time limit was finally called, and the Curlesses stepped up for their turn.
Erica and I made lots of noise, teasing Gail, who heads the school district bus shop. We knew Team Curless would use their wisdom and run a smart race. "Slow but sure wins . . . " definitely ruled as Randy coached Gail through the obstacles. They didn't knock down a single cone and were finishing their clean run in the backing maneuver when time was called.
We gave them a hand for their efforts and resumed our chitchat for a few minutes. I was about to jump up and head on to the Wurst stand when Randy said, "Gee, I think the teacher and her student need to do this."
It took some persuading, but we eventually agreed to enter the competition without reversing the roles that had worked so well in the past.
I would tell Erica what to do, and she would politely oblige.
Well, it didn't exactly happen that way all the time during our three-year teacher-student relationship, but she'd listened pretty well and performed adequately to make me bust my buttons with pride more than once.
In this lawnmower competition, we certainly could employ that same spirit and not embarrass ourselves---or so it seems. The plan fell sadly short, though, before our turn. We learned that the John Deere man would flip a coin which determined who would drive and who would direct. I lost.
The man then explained to me which pedal to push to go forward and which would send us in reverse. He emphasized the action of taking one's foot off the pedal to get the thing to stop. Then, the attendant wrapped the rag around my head.
"Okay, you're ready," he said. "You can start any time." My entire focus (I did not share this with Erica at the time) was to avoid running that mower into the wall, like I'd seen earlier. I've run mowers into other obstacles on my home turf, and usually just one person has witnessed those incidents---my husband who purchased the mower. In this case, nearly a hundred people would be watching, so I had my public pride to maintain.
As we rolled through the course, Erica calmly gave me commands.
"Okay, go left. Go left. Keep going left. Do a hard left," she directed. "Now straighten your wheels." Like an obedient child aiming to please, I did exactly as I was told. The sensation of driving a lawnmower blind-folded gives a person no hint of where you are or what you're about to run into. So, I exercised extreme caution with my gas pedal throughout the course. We did not win. We did not even make it to the back-up exercise before they called "time."
We also exercised extreme caution with our tongues. Erica did not curse once. I did not curse once. We had been warned beforehand by Louise Wood that we would lose 5 seconds every time we uttered any naughty words. For Erica and me, this would be a challenge, but we met it with grace. One reason we may not have won the competition relates directly to my "conservative caution," as Randy and Gail called it later.
"We're not moving," Erica had calmly announced to me midway through the course. Again, I had no idea of this lack of motion because my foot was firmly planted on the gas pedal. Must've been just frozen on low gear. She didn't even curse at me. Could be if she had, I might have gotten the lead out and gone like an old bat outa Hell. But that would have been too profane, and we'd lose 5 seconds.
Maybe we'll do it again sometime, and maybe we oughta go back to the good ol' days where I bark the commands and she obliges!