The only thing that covered up the incessant whine of 500 mosquitoes in our car at 3:30 a.m. at the Walnut Ridge, Ark., Amtrak station was the roar of the freight trains that blasted through.
We drove to the depot so my wife could catch the train to see her aunt in northern Illinois. We’ve done that several times and, in earning the name “Damntrack,” the train was late, as usual. It’s supposed to roll into the quiet northeastern Arkansas town around 1:40 a.m., horn a-blastin’, bells a-clangin.’ This time it was more than two hours late.
Generally, the departure is a sad thing. Holly steps into the train, I stand on the platform and watch as the train glides away, whisking away my wife for a week or two. The train horn bleats its forlorn sound as it heads out and eventually, the silence of the rural area returns and I slink back the car and make the trip home alone.
This time, it was a bit different.
When we pulled into the station’s parking lot, we noticed it was lit much better than before. The city sprung for more lights after complaints that the darkened station looked more like a spot to buy illegal drugs or to be murdered.
The lighting was a nice touch until Holly got out of the car and left the door open. A mass of mosquitoes already attracted by the brightness outside swarmed into the car. I guess they saw my fat ass as a buffet.
We still had a while before the train arrived. The Amtrak phone app indicated it would roll in at 4:14 a.m. We could either sit in the depot, which was also covered with the winged bloodsuckers or remain in the car. We chose the car and I started it, put the air conditioner on high and drove out of the station and down the road with the windows open, hoping to blow the ‘skeeters out.
We returned to the station, got Holly’s bags and waited in the depot for the train. Holly, of course, looked dainty brushing an errant bug from her. I looked like a deranged person trying to dance and keep time with the driving beat of Beck’s song “E-Pro” while swatting at the mosquitoes. Look the song up. You’ll get the image.
The train finally rolled in, Holly got on it and left. I was at the station alone and in the stillness of the night I could hear the steady ‘buzz’ of the mosquitoes. There must have been more than a million doing circles under the sodium vapor lights. Others sat on the white windowsills and doors, attracted by the light colors, and waited for any living thing to move so they could feast. It was a smaller version of the scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s move “The Birds.” All I needed was an old phone booth to be trapped in and nearby children frantically running from a playground to complete the movie scene.
I returned to the car, already missing my wife, and prepared for the lonely trip home.
I thought the earlier drive would have blown the bugs out. Instead, it hurled them to the rear window bay where they waited for me to return. When I got back into the car, they formed a giant cartoon arrow and headed for me. Again, I rolled the windows down and drove fast.
And here’s a note I forgot to mention. City workers were replacing sewer lines on the east side of town; as we drove in, we could smell the rank scent of sewer gas and whatever is in the lines – a handful of Taco Bell burritos, perhaps? I took a different way back, but still drove into the work zone, this time with the windows open.
At 4:30 a.m., half-tired and battling mosquitoes, I didn’t appreciate the stench. It smelled like someone set an outhouse on fire and then tried to douse the blazes by pouring a vat of skunk diarrhea on them. It had the ambience of the Number 3 restroom stall at the Love’s Truck Stop off the I-57 Exit 308 in Kanakee, Ill. Six hundred miles of hard driving, coffee and pork rinds can replicate that smell.
So, how does this tie in with APBA? Well, with Holly gone, I had planned to roll quite a few games this weekend on the 1972 baseball season replay I just began. It was going to rain, so I couldn’t mow the yard and I didn’t have any pressing deadlines for stories I write for my magazines. I had all the time to play the game.
Instead, I was groggy from lack of sleep Saturday, the day after our train station adventure. And that afternoon, I had to go to the store to get cat food. It was pouring rain and as I sat in the store parking lot for the rain to abate, I heard that horrific sound: The stirrings of mosquitoes waking and buzzing. I bolted out of the car and into the rain storm deeming that getting soaked was better than getting malaria. Later, I spent more time trying to get the critters out of the car.
They’re still in the car, I know. I also know that when I get into the car to drive somewhere to pirate wi-fi to file this blog, the mosquitoes will be with me, wings whining in unison as they prepare to feast on me yet again.