Jesus, it is said, turned water into wine. I am told everything my great-grandfather Jones touched turned to money; my dad seems to have inherited the knack. I, on the other hand seem good at turning money into work: the sweat-soaked, blister popping, skin-burning, snot slinging, dirt in the eyes, mud in the jeans, blood-dripping, cussing, groaning, aching muscle and creaking bone variety.
I took another hurried trip to Balmorhea this weekend. Thinking I could defray the cost of diesel for the trip, I hooked a 24 foot gooseneck flatbed trailer to the truck with designs on buying a load of alfalfa which could then be resold for profit here in South Central Texas.
As I arrived to the cut off to I-10 on loop 1604 North of San Antonio, I saw a bright yellow motorcycle on its side. The scene was roped off and the ambulance was parked nearby. Cops photographed the evidence. I assumed the driver of the bike was dead, due to the lack of haste on the part of the emergency team.
I drove through heat and dust and smoke the rest of the way. At some point an addled hitchhiker joined me on the journey. We passed a semi that had caught fire and burned. Only about the back third of the trailer had skin remaining. The hitchhiker tells me he’s trying to get back into the corporate world. Why he’d want to descend back into that viper filled world, I don’t know. I’m thinking the back-pack, cut-off shorts and burned skin look might not work so well for a job interview.
At Balmorhea, I discovered we’d had a mild frost a week ago. About 10% of the young pepper plants were killed and the rest had been damaged to some degree. Manuel had waited too long after pre-plant irrigation to plant cantaloupe and watermelon seed. This is not entirely his fault for he had no experience in farming desert land under irrigation. Now we’re going to have to water the plants up or lose some $900 worth of expensive hybrid seed. The danger is this is that the ground can crust over and trap the seed underneath.
A young man in Balmorhea told me he’d sell me hay for $6.50 a bale, $2.50 cheaper than his Mennonite competitors down the road. The barn was secluded. I had to back the trailer around a curvy obstacle-filled path for over a quarter of a mile to get to the hay and then we had to load from the back.
The hay had good color but some (but not all) of the bales were very light, perhaps in the 40 pound range. The boy told me he’d had to hire another man to bale the hay and it had laid out for a week waiting for moisture enough to bale. In the end he had to mist the hay with a spray rig before baling. Daytime moisture levels in West Texas have fallen to 2% humidity, with highs of around 20% early in the morning.
I got a little over ten miles out of a gallon on the way to Balmorhea; coming home the truck got 9 miles to the gallon. The round trip was over 800 miles. The cheapest diesel is now $4.00/gallon. I saw some as high as $4.20 a gallon.
I hauled only 150 bales for fear I’d end up alongside the road if I put too much weight on my rig. So, $2 per bale in diesel and 16 hours behind the wheel gives me an out of pocket cost of $8.50 a bale for hay that’s worth $9.00 due to the weight of the bales if I smile just right. I guess I could have bought the $9 bales and had $11 a bale in $12 hay. This of course denies the fact that my truck will wear out and that my time must be worth something.
Spent tire casings littered the road on the way home; two tires disintegrated directly in front of me, showering the road and my truck with rubber and wire. No less than 10 vehicles were abandoned in various states of disrepair.
Few tourists shared the road but I did see an occasional rental truck dragging a trailer; what appeared to be California refugees rode behind the wheel, traveling back into the dust bowl with fearful, grim looks etched into their faces.
I get home and read of floods in the Mississippi River Valley.
Phuck. See, I can write without four letter cuss words.