Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
"'Bye, kiddo," Mike said to Kirsten early Thursday morning. "See you at the office."
"Before you go, would you check the bathroom for me again? I have to go."
It was a miracle that Kirsten was using the bathroom at home at all, Mike thought. On their way back from Northwoods Realty the evening before, Kirsten had them stop at the office so she could use the bathroom there, rather than at home. "No problem," Mike said, and hustled up the stairs.
He was back in a moment. "No snakes," he reported. "I put the stopper in the bathtub drain, too."
"Thanks," Kirsten told him. "See you later, honey."
Their mornings had been a ritual for many years, now. Both he and Kirsten got up about the same time, and shared making breakfast for themselves and for the kids. Mike could get in and out of the bathroom while breakfast was making, but Kirsten faced half an hour or more of getting her face on and getting dressed. Rather than waiting around, Mike drove his VW Rabbit over to the Spearfish Lake Cafe, out on the highway, for a cup of coffee and a chance to catch up on the latest round of gossip.
Actually, sitting around the big breakfast table at the Spearfish Lake Cafe was partway business for Mike; it gave him a good chance to test the tenor of the community, and hear what people were really thinking about. He found out more about reactions to each issue of the paper and each major story there than he could ever have found out at the office.
There were actually two different breakfast tables in town where opinion like that could be heard; the other was at Rick's Cafe, just down the street from the paper. However, Webb had been a regular at Rick's for maybe twenty years, and he and Mike had agreed to split up the territory. They often compared notes afterward.
Actually, Mike didn't mind getting the second choice. Every now and then, he and Webb switched for a few days, and Mike had the opinion that all the guys at Rick's talked about was hunting, golf and football. Mike didn't have any interest in hunting, was a lousy golfer, and got enough football in the fall to suit him. Talking football in April made him want to barf, anyway.
The crowd at the Spearfish Lake Cafe was a little younger, and the conversation was rather more eclectic. It ran to rock and roll, sex, football, pickup trucks, television, basketball, sex, snowmobiles, kids, fishing, guns, country music, sex, politics, cars, baseball, women, computers, and sex, but could take off anywhere and wind up almost anywhere else.
"What are we talking about this morning?" Mark asked as he found an empty chair at the middle of the table.
"Would you believe dog sled racing?" Mark Gravengood replied.
Mike looked over at Mark. He'd known Gravengood for years, if not real well. He was a repairman for the phone company, but he was also one of the guys in the Vietnam Veterans that Mike potentially owed a hell of a favor to, if the chance ever came. "Oh, somebody else saw that PBS special on Susan Butcher last night, huh?" he commented.
"Yeah," Ryan Clark said from down the table. "Ah, Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod."
The last few years, the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska had become a regular morning topic in the Spearfish Lake Cafe -- but only for the month of March. A dog sled race running a thousand miles through the wildest part of the Alaskan back country, taking ten days or more to complete, it had captured the imagination of these people who lived in a rather more settled northwoods, the kind of adventure that each of them sort of dreamed of and all figured they'd never take on.