The Dodge was fitted with a now-empty workbed, which had once been
stocked with a vast and very heavy assortment of tools and spare
parts; now the truck rode with two 1,000 pound blocks in back just
to keep the rear springs compressed. With the conveyor robot
perched atop the workbed, driving it was like wrestling a pig up
the road. I played CD's through a Walkman and cassette adapter;
it's two loaded party mixes from New Orleans to Jackson, MS and two
more to Indianola.
Half-way through CD number 3 you drive through Yazoo City. Just
before the tragically closed Shoney's, a billboard proclaims Yazoo
the "Gateway to the Delta," a distinction comparable to being
singled out as "Spiritual Advisor to the Manson Family." After a left turn
from 49 onto 49-W, the truck coasts through Yazoo, down from the
hills to the perfectly flat alluvial plain of the Delta. Past the
Amtrak station the landscape loses all its verticality, and the pine
forests give way to a monotonous, unending procession of cotton fields
and catfish farms.
Most of the towns are bypassed now, so that you never see Inverness,
Isola, or Midnight. Eventually you reach an intersection; you turn.
Far in the distance, an improbable square object shimmers out of the
flatness. This weird mirage is not the Ka'aba, but a catfish plant.
The road turns to gravel and goes past it, but the power lines do not.
Catfish prices are down to US$0.55, down from their $1.00+ norm, and
production is down; by the time I arrive they've run out of fish and
sent everyone home. I go on to the hotel.
Indianola has four hotels, two of which aren't quite dumps yet. Both
are getting close. None of them have restaurants or bars. After
checking in I wrestle the pig-truck down Hwy 82 looking for places
to eat. The only good place in town, the Bayou City Grill, has a
hand-lettered sign in the window: Sorry, Friends, we are closed.
After that it's Pizza Hut, a questionable Mexican place, two even
more questionable Chinese places, and the obligatory KFC, BK, and McD's.
Further afield Greenville to the west and Greenwood to the east are
a bit further than I want to wrestle the Dodge. I park back at the
hotel and walk to the Burger King.
At the plant we repeat the ritual of putting the robot through its
paces; we set it up in the maintenance department and various managerial
bigshots come through to pass on it. Since it's experimental we decide
to set it up temporarily in the plant and feed it real fish to see how
it performs, before committing to a permanent installation. I ride
with a coworker who is based in the Delta to a job in Greenwood, about
an hour away. By the time we get back the robot is planted mutely in
a corner of the plant, positioned to discharge its product back into
the production line. Since it's not running, we go looking for the
breaker that turns on the outlet it's plugged into, which is one of
many anonymous cords hanging from the ceiling.
The breaker is on. The plant techs show up and test the wiring; they
left the motor running and in their absence one leg of the three-phase
supply dropped out, probably due to the hanging plug being corroded.
This has burned out the motor. After a lot of recriminations our people
agreed with their people that we would ship the beast back to the metal
fabbers, to fit it with a better quality of motor which it should have
had to start with anyway.
This has cancelled the main reason I agreed to spend a week in this
godforsaken hole in the world, but because we've scheduled side jobs
around the now-nonexistent main event, I'm stuck through the next weekend.
Throughout the rest of the week:
The failure of my truck's transmission almost 300 miles from home is
cause for celebration, since it could have happened on the desolate
stretch between Yazoo and Indianola where my Sprint PCS cellphone refuses
to work either in digital or analog mode. After the nice Mississippi DOT
guy pushes me off the road with his orange F350 (thank you, sir, wherever
you are today), I call Jackson and after several more phone calls help is
on the way. After a singularly unproductive day I find myself booked into
a hotel in Jackson, with convenient access to several very nice restaurants,
a movie theatre, shopping district complete with Barnes and Noble, and
even a microfridge and coffee maker in my room. Ahhhh, civilization.
- At a sales call some distance into Arkansas, I learn that the
customer's need is "to get the weights into a computer." Why? "Because
we've heard that's what you need to do nowadays."
- The new PROM burner refuses to work with my Toshiba laptop, so we
ship an older one we know is compatible on the bus from New Orleans.
They ship it to Greenwood instead of Greenville, so I have to wrestle
the truck 160 miles round trip to fetch it.
- The Indianola cable franchise has no UPN affiliate, so I miss
Enterprise and Wolf Lake. Again.
- On Thursday I move to Greenville, and find that while the Ramada still
has a bar, it doesn't have a restaurant because they can't find anyone
to manage it competently. The two casinos are sorrier than most, and I
already ate lunch at the one good restaurant with our area manager on the
way back from Arkansas. Fast food again.
- On the way out of Greenville, the Dodge's transmission goes out.
They have another truck for me. Once upon a time we put a workbed on a
truck in New Orleans, and drove it a hundred thousand miles or so; then
we bought the tech a new truck, and put the workbed on it. We put the
2000 model pickup bed from the new truck on the old 1994 body and created what
is variously described as the crossbreed, Heinz 57, or hermaphrodite.
This vehicle was sent
to Monroe, then someplace else, and finally with 170,000 miles on its
odometer it awaits me in the parking lot when I arrive at the Jackson office.
Like the Dodge, the rear suspension is perfectly rigid without a few
thousand pounds in the back. This is provided after the Dodge is towed
in and the blocks are forklifted out of its bed into the back of my
Friday, a job in Jackson: In addition to reconfiguring our software, our
customer wonders if I know why his laptop insists on dialing up his ISP
twice each time he boots up. His Win98 machine is loaded down with self-
starting crap loaded from the Internet, including the infamous KaZaA
malware. After I clean out his autostart registry settings ("You mean
programs can start if they're not in Startup?") I ride out to the construction
site, where we run the real system off a DC inverter while I test the changes.
The generator is locked up, and since it's about to rain most of the workers
Then it's back to the Delta to rewire a plantwide data collection system at
another catfish plant. My partner on this job insists that I'll be home
Saturday night, but it doesn't happen. Rats haven't eaten the cables as
he feared, but four units have bad circuit boards from corrosion. We do
get back to Jackson in time for dinner.
At the restaurant in the hotel parking lot, I order a Jack Daniel's and Coke.
"If you'd like," the bartender offers, "I can give you Knob Creek for the
same price." Why? "We're discontinuing it, and management wants us to get
rid of the bottle." Things are looking up. Ixnay the mixer, as this is fine
aged sippin' whiskey of a caliber I rarely bother to order.
And finally, I make it home: Back to the girlfriend, the familiar bed,
a washing machine that doesn't want quarters, and of course my DSL broadband
Hotmail Account Size is Critical! Your mail is being rejected
because your account is over its size limit. You must delete some mail
from one of your folders in order to be able to receive mail again.
A megabyte of spam in only seven days. Well, it could be worse.
I could still be in the Delta.