Al Batt: A post turtle comes to a fork in the road one day

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

“Tell me about yourself.”

Al Batt

That’s what the fellow seated next to me on the airplane said.

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When someone says, “Tell me about yourself,” where do you begin?

I replied, “I’m a father and a grandfather. I was born in Naeve Hospital in Albert Lea. I have a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious family.”

I thought that ought to hold him, but he asked what I did for a living.

“I breathe. I’m the official bird inspector for the yard, a spider-in-the-shower consultant, and because of the shrinking population in rural areas, I’m now the village idiot in four small cities.”

His follow-up question was what I had done before I had those critical jobs.

“I was and am a post turtle.”

When a farmer worked his fields, he looked for turtles. He loved turtles, and the heavy farm machinery wouldn’t do them any good. If he encountered a turtle, he picked it up and put it on the top of the nearest fencepost. Why didn’t he put the turtle in a wagon or a box until his work was completed? If he’d done that, it’d have ruined the story. The point is, if you ever see a turtle on top of a fencepost, you know one thing–it didn’t get there by itself.

I’d talked to a 100-year-old woman who shared her secret to longevity.

She kept moving.

Years ago, on my first speaking gig in California. I flew into LAX — Los Angeles International Airport. The pilot stuck the landing. I grabbed my motley bag held together by everything that could hold a bag together (duct tape, barbed wire, twine — nobody cared in those days) from the baggage carousel and hiked to the rental car shuttle, which took me to the rental car place where I could pick up a rental car. The agent collected information and had me sign forms galore before asking if I knew where I was going. I was a post turtle. I wasn’t sure how I got to where I was. Those were the days before GPS and cellphones. I showed him a notepad with handwritten directions on how to get where I needed to be. He smiled an insincere smile and wished me good luck. I was Alfred E. Neuman, a MAD Magazine cover boy who was famous for saying, “What, me worry?”

He gave me the keys to a Dodge and a spiffy map folded properly to serve as a confuser. I put my battered bag into the rental car. It was much nicer than the car I owned, which doubled its value each time I filled it with gas. The rental car started like it was supposed to. I followed the explicit commands of my high school driver’s ed teacher on what to do before hitting the road. I adjusted everything that could be adjusted—mirrors, seat, steering wheel and attitude. I even pulled up my socks before taking off like a herd of turtles. I came to an intersection where I saw more cars, lights and signs than I’d seen in all my life in my hometown. The directions notepad had fallen to the floor. I couldn’t read or reach it. Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
I had to go that way or this way to keep the driver of the car behind me happy. I made use of my excellent followership skills and turned the same way the car directly ahead of me did, which was the wrong direction. Being a man, I was unwilling to admit there was a possibility I’d made a wrong turn.

I was the only driver who didn’t know where he was going. Everyone else appeared to be hurrying to get somewhere they didn’t want to go. I didn’t take my foot off the gas because I didn’t want to be run over. I was making good time going in the wrong direction.

I wanted to be elsewhere, but the light at the end of the tunnel was the size of a pinhole. I kept going because I knew that one day, it was going to be a good story.

Like that 100-year-old woman, I kept moving.

I may have circled the Earth, but I got to the right place.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.