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Rants from the Hill: Road Captain

Rants from the Hill is cross-posted from High Country News Last night I got a phone call with the bad news that I have received what my neighbors out here in the remote Silver Hills refer to as a “redneck promotion.” To be specific, I have been promoted from plain member and citizen to Road Captain, which is a position no sensible person would covet. Despite the cool name and apparently elevated rank, the job is without compensation or administrative support, is unelected, and descends on you by fiat when the current Road Captain tells you you’re it. The road to the Ranting Hill is 2.3 miles in length and has eight houses scattered along it. It is a terrible road which sometimes degenerates to pure caliche mud in winter and bone rattling washboard in summer. There have been times when it was so dry and abused as to be barren of gravel; at others it has been impassable because the water flowed across it in an unbroken sheet. Many seasons it is so muddy that we Silver Hillbillies must resort to hanging around in town drinking beer after work just to kill enough time for the mud to freeze up so we can cross it to reach our homes. There have been winters when the ruts in the muddy roadbed became so deep that if your wheels dropped into them your truck would glide along like a vegetable peeler, the skid plates cleanly shearing off and polishing the surface off the road. The road’s ditches are full of silt, the few culverts have crushed heads, and if there were ever any road signs they have long since blown away in the Washoe Zephyr or been hung on a horseshoe nail in somebody’s pole barn. (Our mailboxes are all crooked and our addresses are out of numerical order, too, but that’s a story for another day.) Here’s the kicker: this is a “private” road, which means that while the county won’t maintain it nobody else wants to either. So who, by default, is in charge of stewarding this mess? The Road Captain.
The new Road Captain at work.

Many years ago we had a neighborhood association out here, to which we paid modest annual dues that were used for nothing but road work and snow removal. But most Silver Hillbillies are by nature unsociable, misanthropic, and paranoid, a worldview that inclines us toward conspiracy theories and radical libertarianism. As a result, a majority of my neighbors voted to get rid of the association, which they regarded as oppressed peasants do an occupying foreign army. The theory seemed to be that anybody who would collect association dues would soon come for our whiskey and guns. Once the association was disbanded it was every man for himself, which is precisely the arrangement most of my stubborn, independent, and heavily armed neighbors prefer. Ever since the neighborhood association was busted up the roads out here have become even worse, and some roads have even descended into social chaos. On one nearby road which has only four houses, each neighbor has adopted the same strategy of trying to outwait the other three to see who will find the road so intolerable that they give in and fix it themselves. So far nobody has surrendered, even when for weeks at a time they were all forced by deep mud to park out at the paved road and hike up to their homes. On another road a guy who is especially entrepreneurial bought an expensive grader in hopes he’d have a field day, but because he was once seen having a beer with our local real estate developer nobody would hire him, and the bank took his shiny grader back pretty quick. On a third road a guy who had repaired the roadbed at his own expense threatened to install a toll gate if his skinflint neighbors wouldn’t pony up. Read more at High Country News