Life’s a funny thing. One day you’re running an auto repair shop up in West Burville and the next you’re part owner of the town diner, the Double Axle. If Linda Mae had any idea the stir she would cause, she might have thought about what she did…
Selling the idea of a snow event proved to be a lot less perilous than Hooter had planned. In fact, in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail, the whole town was at a fever pitch over the first annual West Burville Snow Gliders Ride Out/Ride In. The name was a compromise between two warring factions: the ones who said you had to ride out to have a race and the ones who said that was all well and good but you eventually had to ride back in.
There was nothing quite like it in the collective memory of West Burvillians, except maybe the Grand Opening of Bean’s Superette. On that fateful day, when the refrigeration system went kablooey, the celebration included swiping melting cartons of fudge ripple and a year’s supply of mixed vegetables before the hissing compressor gasped its last and the management shut down the festivities.
This time the community excitement was directed at the herding instinct of snowmobilers. It was a fact that the success of the local merchants was in proportion to the long winter and the appearance of packs of riders in downtown West Burville.
At headquarters over at the Double Axle, two of the end booths were assigned as the Ride Out/Ride In Command Center. At no particular time of the day one of the Counter Dwellers would detach himself from his stool and drink coffee over at the booth. The booth had been equipped with a phone, typewriter and a supply of paper. The stack of paper, with coffee rings and pie smears, had borne the brunt of the hungry business of planning a major event. Hooter presided over the grill and the preparations with equal amounts of humor, ballistic anger, and indigestion.
Mabel Buck, who continued to sputter and complain about everything from the coffee to the weepy custard, was put in charge of the food concession. It was decided early on that the best way to shut her up was to give her something to do. However, Hooter and the other Counter Dwellers failed to verify whether or not Mabel could actually cook anything or if her specialty was to complain about everyone else’s cooking. As a result, left on her own with a budget and a few questionable ideas, Mabel concocted a menu of chili dogs, baked beans, and something she called “Cowboy Coleslaw” that had never seen any time on the ranch. With cabbage, chili powder, pickle relish, mayo, those bitty oranges in a can, and marshmallows vying for equal time in a 30 quart bowl, Mabel and her cooking threatened to derail even the ironclad digestion of the local adolescent males.
As days turned into the first week, gaily painted banners announcing the upcoming Ride Out/Ride In festooned the two light poles in the center of town. In fact, there wasn’t an upright pole, tree, shrub, or post in the entire Piney Woods County that didn’t sport a colorful sign spotlighting the artistic talent of Wanda Benson and her third grade class.
At the end of the first full week of planning, controversy exploded over the exact location of the Start-Finish line. On one side of the heated debate were the folks who couldn’t understand why the Start line couldn’t be in one place and the Finish line in another to “spread it around more”. The opposition refused to believe anyone could be that stupid. It didn’t take long before the shoving started and ancient Father Spenkleman had to rescue a situation that threatened to turn into all-out civil war. In a rare ecumenical gesture, the parking lot of St. Ida of the Grotto, the local Catholic church, became the official beginning and the end of the Ride Out/Ride In.
But Father Spenkleman has an ulterior motive, one that showed itself with the stringing of the black checkered banner. It was simply this: in exchange for the use of the parking lot, he would act as Official Host for the event and he would conduct a sort of Blessing of the Fleet. Father Spenkleman would not be thwarted on the subject. It was the Blessing or the parking lot. Take your pick. Once that was decided, Father was a juggernaut, as his parishioners well knew from his annual fund-raising cash-a-thon, the Annual Day of Giving-A-Lot.
Over at the West Burville Baptist Church there was a pervasive feeling of unchristian sentiment directed straight at the oblivious Father Spenkleman. With the ardor of a new curate he bustled about preparing for his debut. In his inner moments he saw himself, miter on leonine head and crozier in hand, stretching his free palm in benediction over the lurching boats of some great fishing fleet. In reality, he would be dressed in his upcountry felt packs and down jacket stretching a bemittened paw over a different kind of fleet. This did not bother Father Spenkleman as much as it did the Baptists.
To be continued…