Inspection- Living on the Edge

by Ken Carman

 Life, if we’re honest, is all about living on the edge, spreading your wings and taking flight…
 Life worth living is defined by risk.
  Because there was a local emergency here: near Beaver River, a local owner asked me if I could take a vehicle down to the barge and tell them they would have to wait. It’s about 7 miles of sometimes rough dirt road. I have been driving since I was 13: on private roads, and used to drive all over the southeast delivering Porsches, Audis and Mazdas, an occasional Mercedes, Volvo. Mid that fun job I also drove a high profile truck with a street sweeper engine in the back bed down an ice coated, curve filled, road from Ashville, North Carolina to Charlotte, with my wife Millie in panic mode. I couldn’t blame her: I was scared too. My tour bus, an elderly motorhome really, used to have all bias tires. As the mechanic asked me once, “How the hell do you drive that thing? You can’t predict where it will go!”
  “You learn.”
  “You learn.”
  Back to my trip to the barge for a moment, then I will get to my point…
  A mile away, headed to my destination of semi-desperation, I took a corner and found, for all purposes, I had no brakes. But I handled it. Just like the Allegro tour bus which also has an unpredictable leaky master cylinder and a gas pedal that liked to fall off the lever it presses on, or the previous tour housing: a small 14ft Jayco that was heavy in the rear and had no sway bars. Even a small car passing me might make it gleefully do its very dangerous dance: swaying left, right, left, right…
  So let’s just say I can drive, OK?
  I was listening to Morning Edition: NPR, in my cabin, and they had a story about a teen’s first day of school, also her first day she could drive herself to school. She sounded so happy, and I understand. The first day I drove into the small back parking lot at Town of Webb School, in Old Forge, NY, I was in heaven.
  Then she said something that worried me. To paraphrase: “When you drive you are totally in control.”
  Ei!
  Are any of us ever, “totally in control?”
  When a talk show host suggests how to take out an ATF agent, is he “totally in control” of what might happen? When one side or another suggests violence be done to the other, are they “totally in control?” When tit for tat happens are you really “totally in control,” or will it simply make matters worse?
  In science, for one reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. In human relations there maybe be at least double the reaction. If not now: eventually. And the end result of tit for tat usually makes no one happy. The desired result, “I just want to be left alone,” is rarely achieved. Indeed, often quite the opposite.
  Look, young drivers, if you can personally manage every part in that vehicle so it won’t fail: especially vital ones, if you can control the weather, if you can control every other living creature near you, or in the sky, control rocks so there are no slides, you might be “in control.” Maybe. Otherwise. Hell no, you’re not.
  Thinking we’re “in control” has led to a lot of death, and is most likely the major contributor to the grim reaper’s bounty. That doesn’t mean we take no risks: for living in itself is a risk.
  A truly scary moment on many you tubes happens right after, “Watch this!”
  It is said we live in an amazingly peaceful time.
  No ice age… yet.
  No very unfriendly atmosphere changes… yet.
  No NYC city sized asteroids… yet.
  The sun hasn’t had a major screw ups that might affect us.
  But it won’t last forever. Eventually any of this and more could happen. If not, eventually super nova, or worse, and all we know will be gone. We will look like Mars, or worse. All we think precious will be returned to basic elements.
  So enjoy. As the puppets in Avenue Q sing, For Now.
  We do live in a blessed peaceful time.
  “Peaceful…” for now.
  Here at Beaver River we had a recent tragedy. Bill Brewer: being a true Beaver River-ite, was in what had been described as an experimental plane and something went very wrong. For days the state police, DEC and other officials were up here salvaging, investigating… oh, and the media was here.
  Surprise!
  Bill: well loved by many here, was living on the edge, taking a risk, and maybe he felt he was in control: until he wasn’t. I say “being a true Beaver River-ite” because when you spend a good portion of your days in a place no roads reach, where winters can be long, blanketed by several feet of snow and dipping into minus temperatures for weeks, you are certainly living with more risk than some. Medical services are many miles away and there’s a lake in the way, or a mostly inactive railroad at our end. We have no “grid:” generators, solar, wind in one case… unless we cut down all those trees we love.
 Not going to happen.
  Yes, we live on the edge.
  Without risks there would be no planes: experimental or not, no wheel, no fire. Living is risk.
  One of my father-in-law’s early critiques of me was I took too many risks. Yet, with 7 children, was he all that different? Considering two died: one from MD, another from a diving accident after he drove Mike there, maybe he finally realized he took risks too?
 We all take risks: just the ones we prefer to take.
 Republicans burned by impeachment have been toying with it again, or shutting down the government even for the third time. It worked so well last time.
 But if you have a purpose, a goal: you do what you think you must.
 I’m sure we could list Dems doing things over and over that haven’t worked all that well.
 But if you have a purpose, a goal: you do what you think you must.
 You take a risk.
 A black man running for president? After his defeat by Clinton, another Bush?
 Are you kidding? Think that’s going to fly?
 But both did: for whatever reasons, leaving the naysayers sputtering in history’s dust.
 They were risk takers.
 I spent years pounding the streets of Music Row with my songs, in music groups, writing songs, working at record companies, in radio, playing on man gigs, studying to be a studio engineer. I only found a living, a passion, a career when I did what everyone warned was foolish, a “dog food run” no one would want to do: tour and entertain while also educating kids using storytelling and a small recording studio.
 I took a risk: and was careful about it. I wheeled by experimental business out and took flight. And don’t ever think I didn’t almost crash many, many times. But it worked. I took flight. Sort of.
 (Long stories need not follow.)
 Bill Brewer wouldn’t have so many who loved him that mourn his passing now if he had taken few risks. I was in Old Forge the next day and several people asked me about him, even my real estate agent. I told him everyone I knew loved him, respected him. He said…

 ”If you didn’t like Bill Brewer there’s something wrong with you.”

 So while the flight that day went so wrong, his longer metaphorical flight, well… once life ends we can only hope we come close to that amount of success, that amount of love, so many friends.
 If we didn’t take risks there would be no Kitty Hawk, no planes, no Emancipation, no fire. Children would stay home: never leave the nest. No one would have ever tried eating rhubarb because the normally edible part of the plant is poisonous.
 Cars? Forget about cars.
 Forget about horses too.
 Walking? Never know what you might step in, or on.
 This doesn’t mean we need not be as careful as we can be.
  So, Miss New Driver, you may think what you do “safe,” but considering all that could, or might, happen… “take risks?” That’s what you’re doing behind the wheel. In fact, whether driving, or looking for the next president, or inventing, or creating music: no matter what you do, tis wise to be cautious… but while taking risks is often what kills us, it’s also what has kept us going as a species.
 I just wish you hadn’t fooled yourself into thinking you were “in control,” on your first day driving to school, Lil’ Missy.
  At any given moment: no, you’re not.
  But that doesn’t mean you don’t take the risk. It just means be as careful, and as wise as you can be…
 …as you take flight in your car: living on the edge.
 Just like the rest of us.

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Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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