John Phipps: I Live My Life On the Line

March 19, 2019 02:05 PM
My point is while many lives like mine seem mundane and unremarkable from a distance, up close they are positively numbing.

My middle name is Danger. It might be spelled “Willard,” but it’s pronounced “Danger.” Scoff if you want, but that’s no worse than the current 27 different ways to spell “Kirsten.” My point is while many lives like mine seem mundane and unremarkable from a distance, up close they are positively numbing.

Nonetheless, every day I cope with a life lived literally on the line—the scandalous Illinois-Indiana line. The border between mediocre and middling, between reason and excuse, between high-priced gas and slightly higher-priced gas. Worst of all, it’s the boundary between future and past: The Central and Eastern Time Zone dividing line.

From my office window, I can see the future one hour from now. It’s eerily like the present, but if you look carefully, you can see hints of what’s to come. For example, school buses. That’s right, you can see their strobe lights wending their way through the countryside in the predawn of winter foreshadowing the passage of local buses 60 minutes later.

Sometimes we are forced by need or the desire for KFC to cross over the line, confusing our phones and watches and muddling plans. Doctors on both sides of this temporal shift go to (pun trigger warning!) great pains to identify in which Time Universe the next appointment will be: “Your appointment with Dr. Patel is TUESDAY, March 35, 2031 AT 2:45 P.M. (afternoon), EST, INDIANA (FAST) TIME. Bring every insurance document you can possibly carry.”

This rift in the space-time continuum has its lighter side. For example, as a young man I dated, to the astonishment of all my friends, a lovely young lady who lived across the line. Despite a trifling 6-minute drive between our houses, she seldom got home by her parent’s curfew. I didn’t either, to be honest, but my arrival was a lot closer than hers.

For many years, this temporal shift flickered on and off. Indiana sneered at daylight savings time. So for several months the neighboring states shared identical clock settings. As you can imagine those resets exponentially added to the confusion. However, in the past few years, Indiana has joined the bellyaching over springing up and falling down. Or whatever that mnemonic is.

This invisible divider is also a regulatory trap. For example, I pay about $1,100 annually to license a tandem farm truck in Illinois (compared with Indiana neighbors paying approximately $4.95), which then occupies its few operating days driving between our farm 3 miles to the west of the border and the only elevator within reason 2 miles east of the border. But crossing that line profoundly threatens health, safety and tax booty, so regulatory bodies make an example of a few offenders who shun DOT numbers. This year was my turn. I’m sure my $750 penalty has made the border safe around here until next harvest.

It’s also a cultural line, dividing our two similar species like that ephemeral demarcation that separates Cubs Country and Cardinals Territory. Those “others” are shifty and mysterious in their ways. For example, Hoosiers have lots of places. In Illinois there are only two, as far as outsiders know: Chicago and Not-Chicago. In fact, try this fun exercise. Ask a Hoosier which is the second-largest city in Illinois. If that citizen can even name one, it won’t be right because nobody in Illinois knows either. Meanwhile, Americans can often name several Indiana towns, although rarely can they pronounce Terre Haute.

Another example of this twins-separated-at-birth schism: Indiana basketball referees still call traveling several times a season. In Illinois, a half-dozen steps carrying the ball is roundly encouraged.

Crossing the line is like entering the Universe where Spock has a goatee—not wrong, but not what nature intended. Yet this unearthly experience is an everyday event for me because Willard is my business. At least until our Wall goes up.

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