By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
My wife and I have a cat that acts like a dog and plays chicken with me about every night when I get home from work. Every night’s the same game, but election night last Tuesday was especially bad because I was exhausted and Mister Peaches decided that he was going to draw a territorial line in the asphalt and dare me to make the first move.
I have always sought a parking place that would make it easy for me to get a start in the morning. My first vehicle — an Allis-Chalmers C tractor that I used to cut hay and spread manure on our farm — had a bad starter, so the first driving lesson my dad gave me was about how to park the tractor on a hill so I could drift start it.
Dad ingrained that concept in my brain, and it stuck. Ever since then, when I put a vehicle away for the day, I always did it in a way that was mindful to how I was going to get it going the next time I planned to use it. Most of the cars I have driven through the years have had decent starters, but I usually park with the thought of being in position to jump start my vehicle if necessary. The one and only Volkswagen I owned had a bad starter, and I always parked it on a hill so I could catch it in gear when I started it. The guys I worked with back at the Westside Sewage Treatment Plant will recall how I got Herbie going at quitting time.
These days, I don’t think about having to jump start my vehicles. However, I think about making quick exits in case I have to cover a fire or some kind of breaking news. I try to do the hard work at the end of the day so that when I leave-out in the morning, I will be looking at a straight shot. Driving tractor-trailer taught me the importance of backing up into a parking space and I just never shook off some of the truck driving habits I got into way back then.
The most recent election night was just like they always are — grueling and punctuated by panic at the end. Every election day morning, I try to figure out how I can retire at that minute to avoid another night of happy and unhappy returns. Every election night, I hope that maybe, it will be my last. But then, another one rolls along and I’m back writing stories again. Before they started covering Pirates games, KDKA radio started out by broadcasting elections. It’s what news people do.
For the past few years, Mister Peaches has been walking to the bottom of our driveway to greet me when I return home. He greets me in the mornings after my walks, but if it’s raining, he’ll meow at me from the front porch. Usually, he will get to one side or another, but sometimes, he’ll get directly behind the car where I can’t see him. At those times, I can usually move to one side of the driveway or another so I can park the car. However, last week on election night, he got behind me and moved when I tried to get around him.
I made a couple of fake runs at him to scare him away, but this time, he didn’t budge. After a few minutes of our stand-off, I got out of the car, walked to the back and saw him crouched down as though he was defiant about holding his ground. I walked up behind him to chase him away, but he held his ground until I actually reached down and petted him on the backside. He jumped away like I had hit him with a cattle prod.
My wife and I call Mister Peaches our puppy-cat, because he follows us around a lot and begs for food when we’re eating. He doesn’t like strangers, but he’s fearless when it comes to my Buick. He can hear it coming a block away, and if he’s in the backyard when I get home, he runs to greet me as fast as he can. He must have seen a real easy touch when I was covering the July 2001 flood in McDowell County, climbed on my foot and started meowing at me. He has never stopped meowing at me since then.
But having a cat to watch out for when I get home at night — even on nights when I’m exhausted — reminds me that it’s my responsibility as a conscientious person to watch out for people and animals that can’t watch out for themselves. I didn’t always understand that truth, and there were times in my life when I was not as responsible as I grew to become. I can’t change the past, but I can make sure that these days, when I arrive at the house, that I look carefully behind me to make sure there isn’t a lovable, 14-pound puppy-cat named Mister Peaches playing chicken with a 2,000 pound Buick.
Note to self: Don’t forget to check for orange cat when backing into the driveway. In a world where every new thing seems like the straw that could break the camel’s back, Here’s one more thing to remember.
Bill Archer is the Daily Telegraph’s senior editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org