Civil bore

At the risk of being sharply criticized or maybe even shot with a lead ball fired from an authentic Civil War-era long gun, I’m going to say right here and now that I don’t understand this fascination some have with Civil War re-enactments. Last weekend we went to Denny’s for breakfast, and the joint was jammed with these nouveau Civil War soldiers and their wives and girlfriends dressed in knit bonnets and long dresses. There was Johnny Reb having the Grand Slam Special, sitting in a booth and sharing a table with Cap’n John Smith, proud in his Union blues. I’d forgotten this was the weekend of what has apparently become the annual Civil War re-enactment fun at Butte College. I know this is an important fund-raiser, but I’m sorry, the attraction of this event escapes me. Maybe it’s just more disturbing to glorify war while we have real soldiers—and civilians—dying each day in Iraq.

And that raises the question: When will we Americans start re-enacting other American conflicts? Anybody up for a little Korean War combat? How about a police action Vietnam style? Remember Grenada, Ronald Reagan’s greatest military triumph, when our troops conquered a bunch of Russian construction workers? When does it become OK to replay a war? How many years must pass? I realize the Civil War was an all-American deal and fought here, which makes its re-enactment less likely to offend people in other countries. Do they do this in other countries? Does Great Britain relive the Falkland Islands conflict with Argentina?

The day after eating with soldiers in Denny’s we ventured out to the Orland Fairgrounds and rode the little train. Maybe it was me, but the whole thing seemed so uninspired. Everybody was just going through the motions. The train engineer stopped at the pumpkin patch, turned around in his little engineer seat and asked if anyone wanted off to pick some pumpkins. The patch looked pretty well picked over, and nobody moved. He waited another second or two, gave the train whistle a short blast, and we rolled on back to the little station, where families of bored little kids waited glumly to take their rides. Some of the Halloween decorations hanging on the station still had price tags on them. Apparently this year nobody could muster the energy to peel them off. The corn stalks bundled and leaning against the old farm equipment that sits alongside the track looked like they had been placed without much thought or care. Across the grounds, a blues band played “The Thrill Is Gone” to an empty arena.

I think the war in Iraq is beginning to wear on us. It hangs over us, casting a pall, darkening our thoughts, dampening those things we would normally enjoy. American soldiers are dying every day, and we hear about it on the morning news or read about in the morning paper. Dozens more soldiers are coming home every week permanently maimed, blinded; missing arms, legs, parts of their faces. And it goes on and on. We don’t hear about this part of the war, but we know it must be true—it comes with the territory.

I ran out of gas twice within a week. In both cases I was able to coast to a safe end. Once off of Highway 99, off the ramp, down and into a gas station. The second time I was downtown and jammed the transmission into first gear, cranked the ignition and lurched to a parking spot on Flume Street. The gas gauge doesn’t work, or rather doesn’t go to full. Thus when the needle gets toward and then past “E,” I give it more credit than I should. The eternal optimist. As my friend Kevin Dohner once told me, “E” stands for “enough.” Hey, he owned a Corvette once, so who am I to question?

Speaking of Highway 99, instead of widening it to facilitate the traffic coming from the on-ramps off First Street and Highway 32 and cutting down a bunch of trees to do so, let’s just make the speed limit through there 35 mph. Why not?