The Shining……

I have mentioned Steve Ruzila previously, who was Ross Irwin’s room-mate. Steve also worked on
Mountain Lake Research with me as an undergraduate. On long weekends, or borrowed weekdays
when I wasn’t teaching class, we would take our equipment and head up the long serpentine hills of
Giles County toward the “Lake at the Top of the World.” This was where they had filmed the movie
“Dirty Dancing” some years before. And, in fact, the red 1965 Mustang that opens that movie belonged
to the brother of my doctoral advisor, Bruce Parker. Sometimes we would take the blue 1973 Beetle to
the top of the world– sometimes it was the little red 1966… and sometimes it was the yellow 1974 that
I had bought along the way for my mother. Eventually, she had urged me to take it down to Virgina
with me, where it was to live for a long time.
In truth, driving that yellow Beetle up the thousand-feet-elevation-in-seven-miles road reminded
me of a quite different movie opening. And as I drove, I could always hear the sombre opening strains
of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” echo in my head. On the way up the Mountain, we would pass the
little mis-spelled road sign that said “Rabit Meadow Road.” And I would often comment at the top of
the mountain on just how much the stone Mountain Lake Hotel looked to me like the Overlook Hotel
of the Shining movie. Especially on foggy days, when the light was gray and strained. Several times I
mentioned my temptation to apply for the winter caretaker job at the hotel, “so that I could get some
writing done on my Dissertation.”
But actually, the undergraduate students had not ever seen the 1980 film, which had happened
along about the time that they had been born. So one cold mid-winter evening we rented a VCR tape
from Blockbuster Video in Blacksburg, and we watched it as a homework assignment. Again the minor
key music, and again Jack Nicholson drove his little yellow Beetle upward toward his Destiny at the
big stone hotel. It took about one minute for the entire cadre of students to begin looking at each other,
and to agree heartily as to just how horrifyingly creepy that opening scene was. And a hundred times
creepier was that we had been replaying it on a nearly weekly basis for most of the past season. Now,
unfortunately, all of my obscure jokes and comments made far too much sense.
By Spring, the undergraduates had decided that they preferred to ride in the red or blue Beetle
up to the lake—and were less interested in taking the yellow “Shining-mobile.”
Now, of course, I had rewired the red Beetle myself, about ten years before. And I was the first
to admit that it had some vagueness to its electrical system. But the brakes were real good, so I never
really worried about it as the little car hunkered down like a rally racer car on the inclined twists and
turns coming back down the Mountain. On one particular afternoon, as we returned, we passed some
bicyclists that Steve knew from the College. I obligingly beeped my little Beetle horn at them as we
went by. And just as immediately, the car died. Instantly and completely. We drifted off to the shoulder
of the road.
“Just a fuse.” I said confidently. “That happens sometimes when I blow the horn and turn the
steering wheel at the same time. Its Just a little short in the wire,” I said.
I dug in the dash, and then wedged myself under the steering wheel. Sure enough, there was the
blown fuse, which I promptly replaced.
“There. All better.” I said. I climbed in and turned the key. And nothing happened. The sun
slipped a notch or two lower behind the Mountain.
I got out and checked wires on the engine. And then under the hood. Everything was in perfect
order. Except that the little car wouldn’t start. Not on a dime; not on a bet. The battery was fine– it
blew happy sparks when I brushed a screw-driver across the terminal and the grounding strap. I
crawled under the car and pounded on the starter with a hammer.
Since gravity was on our side, I let off the emergency brake, got some speed up and popped the
clutch. Also Nada. It began to get a bit darker, and Steve began to fidget a little more. Of course, as
was usual in my life, I had no flashlight with me.
It took me nearly an hour to figure out the obvious, there in the dwindling twilight, which was
that in truth I had actually blown TWO fuses at the same time when I beeped my horn. And having
fixed and replaced one fuse, I had immediately stopped looking at the fuse block. Once I had
eventually intuited the truth, then I changed out the second fuse, and then we were quickly on our way.
I had to take Steve to Ryan’s Steakhouse for dinner to sooth his mood– which he allowed was
considerably less comforted since I had made him watch that Kubrick movie some months before. In
all the years since, Steve has never let me entirely off the hook for that one, nor let me forget it.
Steve was a trained.paramedic, and ran with the fire service in Blacksburg. After the fuse
episode, he allowed as how he was convinced that late some night he would get a call, and it would be
myself, having come to grief somewhere on a back road in my Beetle. He allowed as how he did not
relish the thought of scraping me up from along side the road—and that he definitely was not going to
give me CPR if I killed my dammed fool self. He sounded like Jackie, my mechanic. Even though I
actually took very good care of my little Beetle cars, and felt comfortable and safe in them as I went
my way. Surprisingly, for all of the complaints, Steve remained mostly willing to ride with me in the
Beetles. Long years after, I attribute this to the fact that he confidently knew First Aid.
Occasionally, in those years, we would take a Beetle and venture out to hit some combination of
the junk and antique shops in the region. Steve’s family in northern Virgina had a few antiques– I
assumed these might be fine things from European castles– and he liked to look at the sorts of effluvia
that might wash up on the shores of history and wind up in a shop. It was true that the usual American
antique shop resonated with the ups and downs of local social and technological history. A railroad
town like Roanoke would store bits of railroad memorabilia. While an iron history like Clifton Forge or
Iron Gate could not help but to be charged with shelves full of gatemarked charcoal iron pots and
cauldrons. This was in a bit earlier age, just as the usual antiques were only just beginning to resemble
a vintage K-Mart store.
Perhaps the most telling example was during a Beetle foray to Wythe County. We were
wandering among the bits and pieces when a large family wandered into the store. They were loud and
expressive as they ogled partially clothed store manikins and tried on hats. Finally after a fairly long
time, the mother of the group made her way to the front of the shop with her find. It was a large pastepottery
cookie jar, which represented Santa Clause riding a greased pig. There was much excitement
while they all dug down deep to come up with the Fourteen dollars required to buy the relic. They all
loudly and loyally agreed as to how this was definitely the “find of the day.” And that “Mom had a
knack of finding just the most precious things.”
Once outside in the Beetle and several miles down the highway, Steve, who also tended to be
expressive, though in a different way, unbit his tongue.
“I feel SOOO violated!” he said. It was his only comment. And then he said no more


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