John's World: The Waiting Game

November 10, 2012 02:56 PM

One of the more counterintuitive aspects of Harvest 2012 has been the reintroduction of  detention time at our elevator. Not just bridge repair stoplight waits. Not even playoff ticket line waits. I’m talking on-the-runway, flight-cancelled-at-O’Hare waits.

How could such a teensy crop overload our grain handling system? Take a closer look at the corn in your truck. Is this something you want to babysit in your bins for several weeks? Even if my load does test OK, my area is awash in ever more horrifying tales of rejected loads of grain wandering the countryside like zombie trucks looking for a final rest.

Half yields should mean half the number of trucks. Add in a corn-starved industry pipeline anxious to get its hands on anything that looks like feed or an ethanol input. The resulting strong basis and historic price levels can give panic selling a credible cover as savvy marketing.

We’re going to unload the misery of this crop onto somebody else’s spreadsheet

But down deep, I think something else is going on. We waited all year for decent rains. We waited all summer for cooler temperatures. We waited all growing season for any vague yield guesses to strengthen our nerve to market some grain. We have nothing to show for these acts of uncharacteristic patience. Well, by heaven, we can outwait an elevator line and finally win one endurance match this year!

Deep cleaning. Not having one grain of the 2012 crop on the farm might also be an outward sign of an inward cleansing. We’re going to unload the misery of this crop onto somebody else’s spreadsheet. Every truck that comes back to the field empty is a tiny triumph of hand grenade juggling in a year filled with massive explosions.

So, show me where to park.

You can tell the rookies in line. They pop in and out of their trucks sharing depressing yield stories and ever more fatuous rumors about moisture tests, elevator incompetence and what outlandish things guys in the next county are seeing/doing/saying.  Veterans of past queues during wet years or grain system overload brood passively in their trucks, knowing full well that drinking several cans of free soda will only present them with another problem about 30 minutes later.

Sure, we continue to nod to semi-familiar faces as we wind around the loops, until avoiding eye contact becomes easier. Some readers might recognize the social awkwardness from the maze of Disney World rides. By late afternoon, the thin veneer of gentlemanly forbearance has worn through. My elevator has a particularly intricate queuing layout, so any inadvertent line-jumping triggers the simultaneous opening of doors as bored truck-sitters perk up at the chance for confrontation and entertainment. Luckily, I have perfected a "totally clueless" response over my many decades of marriage. The young stallions buy it every time. Plus, pretending to be oblivious gets easier every year.

Soon the conversation supply is exhausted and we all know we’re just making stuff up. Rumors begin to spin out of control like local viruses. Spurred by the aflatoxin paranoia that was rampant this year, the collective blood pressure in the squadron of idling trucks can jump several points should an employee from the scale house start to wander among the vehicles, seemingly looking for a victim. This happened once as some 2012elevator folks tried to hand a settlement check to a line placeholder. When they knocked on his truck, he passed out cold, fearing the worst. Then again, it was a powerful argument for direct deposit.

Luckily, we have new information sources to provide enough stimuli to stave off a boredom coma: tweets, texts, e-mails and—for old fogeys—phone calls. I’m surprised our local cell towers aren’t overloaded during elevator operating hours. One curious aspect of this electronic engagement is looking down the line of trucks and seeing bowed heads over clasped hands. It is eerily like silent prayer time in church. Only more sincere.

Besides, if time does truly fly when you are having fun, waiting at the elevator slows every moment. At my age, that’s a good thing.

This time in the harvest penalty box has given me the chance to get up to speed technologically, by learning to follow tweets. I am also current on the latest tech controversies and humor.

For example: "A man using Apple Maps walks into a bar. Or maybe a hotel. Or possibly a church."

Wait for it…

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