Thursday Schooling

 

I arrive at the horse show in Vermont just before the horses do. It is raining vigorously. There are just two client horses coming with the commercial shipper, and I watch from inside the barn as they are unloaded. I lend a hand stretching a tarp over our hay. I step in to help carry a big box of tack.  I unwrap my horse’s legs.  The show groom tells me where I can find scissors to cut the twine that holds a bale of hay and asks me to give a couple of horses a flake each. She also confides that this is her last show with our barn because she is giving notice on Monday and moving to a new job. I don’t want it to be true, so I quickly decide I must have misunderstood her. I want to wait for my trainer to show up with his horses before I get on, but I can lunge. Gidget stands quietly for a quick grooming and I walk her to the lungeing ring.  

She reacts to the new place, giving the rain-gorged creek her most crooked parrot-eye, answering the whinny of another horse, letting a passing tractor blow the wind up her skirt. The show facility has a new lungeing area, shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. I’m clumsy with the gate latch. I walk Gidget into the center of the lungeing ring, into the bend in the bean, and stop her to adjust the side reins, which are new, so I’m guessing at what hole they should be on. I remember to walk with her in a large circle, showing her the situation counterclockwise and then clockwise. Gidget settles into working on a circle, trotting and then cantering, with me in the center. A big truck blasts by on Route 106, and my mare celebrates with a buck and a fart and a surge of galloping with her tail straight up. I hold on. I get her back to trotting, and then ask her to walk. I stop her and adjust the side reins again and take Gidget over to the other side of the ring shaped like a rectangle on three sides and a bean on the fourth,  making room for our trainer who has arrived with his horse.

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Didn’t it rain?

A friendly staff member of the facility comes and asks how the new footing is. We tell him it’s good. He explains how the lungeing area ended up shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. We both finish and go back to our barn to take off the side reins. 

We get on and ride into one of the show rings, because this is what everyone does on arrival day at a show. The same friendly staff member comes, shouting and shaking his fist at us, saying that the ring isn’t open, and we’re gonna ruin the footing, what with the rain. I go tour the property instead, letting my horse see everything I can. She snorts like a crocodile at the dairy cows at the farm across the street. When it’s time to put the horses away, I think about when the friendly staff member had almost finished the new lungeing ring and had three straight sides of fencing up and someone came along and told him that people want a curved shape for lungeing. I wish I could picture him farting and running or snorting like a crocodile, but I can only see him raising his eyebrows or shaking his fist.

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I think Vermont is still one of those places that we’re supposed to write poems about. You’ve got time to, if you live there, because mobile phone coverage is spotty at best, and high speed internet is a rare and prized luxury.  I lived there in the eighties, before I cared about the internet and I still wrote poems regularly. My poems were about the biting black flies in the mountains and the crabby yankees who were my neighbors in the city and no one ever read them. Then I got a paying job, and threw myself at adulthood, and (mostly) stopped writing (but especially poems).

Gidget marched around the show ring six times over the next few days, and by the last trip had mostly gotten over the creek, and the tractors, and the too-fast trucks. The cows will still be there next year. I did not misunderstand the show groom, and I will miss her.

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I got more x-rays

What I saw: x-rays of my foot, six weeks and two days after surgery

What TV shows did I watch beforehand: Bojack Horseman, all of Breaking Bad, all of Better Call Saul, seasons 7 and 8 of Doctor Who, 10 episodes of the Magicians, two episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, all of Alias Grace, all three seasons of Broadchurch, season one of the Crown (three times), 13th, two episodes of Godless, Mudbound, half an episode of Rake, two episodes of the Indian Doctor, all of the Handmaid’s Tale, 6 episodes of Brooklyn 99, one episode of Gravity Falls, and probably some other stuff.

Something I ate: fries and bubble tea and hot and sour soup that we can get delivered.

What I wore: the bear sweater. Did I tell you about it?

How I got the bear sweater: I don’t like shopping, but I do like tigers. I was looking for something with a tiger on it when I found the bear sweater (and also a unicorn sweater). Panicked, I reached out to a friend to ask which one to get, and she wisely advised that I get both. She is a good friend who understands what is important to me. I got her a plain sweater for X-mas. I hope she isn’t reading this.

Why I saw so much TV: I am too exhausted to say.

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What the hell is wrong with me: three weeks after getting my walking cast, I had a follow-up appointment with the doctor. I had to drive the Connecticut to see him, even though I am allergic to Connecticut, and lose all hope for humanity as I pass through the border. You can tell when you’ve left New York because the stacked stone walls along the way go from charmingly tumbled and to obsessively tended. A Connecticut stone wall is tall and set in mortar. I don’t know what they’re so afraid of in Connecticut, but they are prepared to defend themselves against the invasion when it comes. The other way you know is that the pavement in Connecticut is a smooth as the glossy pink bottom of an Episcopalian’s first-born daughter.

Things that were not funny: there was ample parking, though some of the luxury SUVs were parked like the driver skidded in sideways at great speed and leapt from the driver’s seat. One might have asked, “Where’s the fire?”

But we know the answer to that these days (Sorry, California).

The staff wear uniforms and are efficient and polite, which is to say that they are humorless but at least they don’t ask me about the weather (I have missed all the weather these past two months, what with the foot surgery and the walking cast and all, and I do so love fall weather, leaving the house, doing exercise, alas). I was shown to exam room 6 and told to take off both shoes and socks. My plastic cast landed with a cracking plastic thud.

Who should see it: next the nurse whose name is like Penny or Jerry or Patsy or something came in and told me I was going to x-ray. I am disgusted with myself that I can’t remember her name because I can learn the names of 50 people over lunch (this is actually true because I did it once). Nurse Penn/Jerr/Patsy asked if I was weight-bearing yet. I said I wasn’t. So I had to climb down and pick up the walking cast and put it back on and limp down the hall in the crooked way that I do when I don’t have a shoe on to balance the height of the cast. I arrived at x-ray and was passed off to an x-ray technician with a practiced instructional patter that was eerily sing-song but also in this monotone that was hard to understand. It reminded me of that thing, you know, where you see a bunch of words for colors like it says red but it’s actually yellow? There was a question in there about whether there was any possibility that I was pregnant and I didn’t so much say no as say no?

Anyway, she didn’t have a prepared speech for telling me to take off my cast so she said nothing and went to get an x-ray plate. Alone in the room, I sat in the only available chair and took off my walking cast in silence. Then she came back and resumed with the uninflected  lie down and I realized once the instructions filtered down from the air into my ears and through my brain comprehension matrix that I was supposed to get up from the chair and go over to the table using the naked foot that is not weight-bearing and lie down.  I did some unsupported lurching and flopping. Drone Voice put an X-ray plate under my foot and had me adjust three ways and then, at the last possible second, handed me big square lead apron. I knew what to do with it and it was a good thing I did because she didn’t say anything about how to hold it or where. Drone Voice said now tilt your leg and I tried to and she said more and just at the point where she goes perfect it was the moment where it actually hurt to be in that position and I was about to grunt.

Next I had to walk across the room and stand like the gold medalist on the top of the three squishy foam-covered stairs and Drone Voice moved the table closer because she could and while she explained what she was doing and why the words went up and around and flew some circles in the room and slipped out past the illuminated red EXIT sign.

I took my steps up the balance-destroying squishy foam steps and stood for more angles, holding the apron awkwardly around myself, hoping to hide my delicate innards from the horrors of repeated x-rays.

Things that were sad: when I was in high school my physics teacher gave this one oral exam where we each had to walk in and answer one question and then go sit down and wait for the next person and hear them give a better answer. I was asked to tell everything I knew about x-rays. I studied in high school, although the thing then was to be too cool to admit to it, but I remember nothing about x-rays.

What I can tell you about x-rays: they go in a straight line. There was this German guy experimenting with electrical currents through glass cathode-ray tubes, and instead of inventing the computer monitor fifty years before anyone needed one, Röntgen discovered a mystery radiation and punted on finding a good name.

Something I made up about x-rays:  because of the different densities of materials, your malevolence, your damaged soul, your biases, your mistaken preconceptions, and your failures will all show up brightly on an x-ray.

Something else I made up about x-rays:  x-rays are also known as longevity rays and especially good for you and you should get them as often as you can.

Things that were funny: while I was standing on the squishy foam-covered stairs and holding the apron in front of my delicate innards, Drone Voice made a face at me and exclaimed in her perfectly flat voice It’s your bear. It’s peeking out at me. That made my day.

Drone Voice showed me her teeth. I think she took smiling lessons from Sarah “Aunt Lydia” Huckabee Sanders. The bear on my sweater made her day.

After the X-ray I strapped my plastic boot/trap/cast back on and limped down the hall to wait in room 6.  The doctor came in, looked at my latest foot x-ray and said, meh, he couldn’t actually see from an x-ray if the damned airplane parts they’ve screwed into the joint have actually fused at this point, so, uh, just wear the cast for about 4 more weeks.

I smiled and acted all cheery and agreeable and ha, ha, ha, I couldn’t tell the difference between this x-ray and the one they took in October but on the inside the words were bouncing around and flying in circles and looking for the red illuminated EXIT sign.

After two weeks, suggested the doctor (maybe because my eyes weren’t smiling), I could experiment with little walking in a shoe. And did I want to go to PT? I told him I’d think about PT (I should have told him that the last time I went to PT the therapist made rape jokes and I hope to never go back to any PT ever).

But anyway I guess in a couple weeks I get to experiment with my foot without the plastic walking cast.

What is the inverse square law: stand back from the source of the x-ray and hold your square apron upside down.

What I saw on the way home: the mortar fell out of the stone walls and I went back to my charmingly tumbled life.

 

I went to the barn holiday party

What I saw: barn friends and Hado at the holiday party.


What I did beforehand: overslept, ate cereal and walked the dogs.

What I wore: very dirty jeans and some other clothes I found wadded up on the floor of my closet, Keen pull-on snow boots, enormous purple scarf.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.


Why I saw this show: the ascendence of fascism in America has crushed my already limited desire to cheerfully attend social functions. Nevertheless, a party like this is an opportunity to give year-end tips to the hard-working people who take care of my horses. And to see my barn friends.

Where I stood: in the barn aisle.


Things that were sad: last year when I attended this party I didn’t realize it was all about, so I didn’t have cards and tips with me. It was awkward.  I did bring bread I made, which everyone made a big deal about. That kind of added to my feeling awkward. The other thing that happened last year is I had to have the same awkward conversation a bunch of times about who I was, and how long I’d been at the barn, and which horses I owned, and where I had my horses before that. The third time through these questions I fully flowered, via awkwardness, into an overgrown, surly hothouse  middle-schooler, providing one-word, conversation-stopping answers: two months, two horses, Dutchess County. “Oh,” they asked. “Where in Duchess County?”
And I’d say, “Pine Box,” which they hadn’t heard of.

Also, last year I met the barn owner at this party, and had a conversation with him about cakes or something but whatever I said it was said without knowing he was the owner. I thought he was just some guy. When I found about a few days later that I had been talking to the owner, and not just some guy, I marveled at myself for being so supremely awkward.

One good thing about going to parties where I barely know anyone is I can get away with just shaking people’s hands. On the west coast, I don’t remember even having to shake hands all that often, but here in New York you shake hands with new people and are engaged in this grotesquely awkward air-kissing gesture with people you already know (and sometimes even with people you don’t already know). Some people actually press their cheeks into yours, which feels like a completely unnecessary violation. Others smack you, kiss-wise, on the cheek, which at least resembles something your Aunt Ruthie might have done. Then there’s the two cheek thing, and it’s too, too much.  

So this year, I had to hug my friends and try to dodge the kissing thing, except with the French people, who seem to know what they’re doing and will do all the work so all I have to do is stand there limply, feeling awkward and wait for it to end.

Hado goes for an awkward air-kiss

Things that were funny: I was standing with my friend C. and some other people talking about the bread and someone else walked up to tell me how much they like my bread. Also, I ran into the owner again, and this year I told him how much I love the barn and thanked him. If it was awkward, I didn’t even care.


Things that were not funny: two different people asked me if I make my bread using a bread machine. 

Something I ate: there were home-made linzer cookies, and my husband made me try an inch-long piece of the top of his. It was good, though we thought it should have been rolled just a little bit thinner before baking. I also drank a glass of quite decent red wine out of a red plastic cup. Nothing says “PARTY” in America like a red plastic cup.


What it is: keeping horses is an expensive, labor-intensive business, requiring attentive and careful management. It takes a lot of people, and many hours, and good communication. The work is never-ending. I now understand that regular tips are expected and also some kind of Christmas bonus. This summer I was brave enough to ask some of my barn friends what they tip and was enormously relieved to find I wasn’t doing it wrong.

Who should see it: holiday parties might be supremely awkward, being a weird salad event of tossed religious holidays, crumbled gift-giving, and chopped “being busy,” over a bed of shifting expectations for getting dressed up, but you should go. No one ever says, “Ugh! I wish that awkward so-and-so didn’t show up!”

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What I saw on the way home: Canada geese, headed south for the winter. 


A Letter to the County Executive of Dutchess County, New York

The event I described happened in mid-July, and on that day I told the people I was with that I would write the sheriff and the county executive. They laughed. On a different day on that same stretch of road, my young horse spooked at a speeding garbage truck, dumped one of the barn’s professionals on the ground, and took off galloping back to the barn. He stopped and we were able to catch him.
Recent events all across the United States involving police remind me to encourage you, dear readers, to write letters to your local law enforcement and their bosses if you have an opinion about what you see them do. 

Out Hacking
Marcus J. Molinaro
County Executive
County of Dutchess
22 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Dear Mr. Molinaro:
Thank you for your kind letter welcoming me as a newly registered voter in Dutchess County. I look forward to participating in elections in my new rural community.
Recently, on a July weekday in the mid-afternoon on State Route XX in XXXXXX, I was out riding my horse on the road’s shoulder along with two other younger staff members of the barn where I ride. We were each wearing a helmet and riding a calm, older horse belonging to a private owner. An unmarked police vehicle approached and turned on its brightly colored lights and passed us, at an alarming speed. Because we are all experienced riders, we were able to calm our horses and continue; however, almost immediately the unmarked black police vehicle was joined by a marked Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff’s car, and passed us from the other direction at even greater speed.  Once again, we had to calm our horses and continue, which we did without further incident.
I have mulled over the encounter during the last couple of months and taken the time to confirm for myself that under Article 26 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, Section 1146 a., “Every driver of a vehicle shall approach a horse being ridden or led along a public highway at a reasonable and prudent speed so as to avoid frightening such horse and shall pass the horse at a reasonable distance.”
I believe that the drivers of both police vehicles, though they may have been responding to an emergency, failed to obey this law, endangering the lives of three people and three horses.
Should any staff members of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s office be interested in learning about basic horse safety, the barn where I ride is a British Horse Society Certified facility, with highly educated and experienced instructors who would be able to provide basic lessons in horsemanship. I would think these skills would be useful throughout much of Dutchess County.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.

The Landlords: Pruning

I thought I was done telling storiesabout the Landlords, but I ran into Her on the driveway this weekend and Her look of amazement made me realize I wasn’t done telling stories about them.  We have lived in the house 256 days as of this past weekend, but we persist in feeling we keep surprising them by being here.  Because of more tree planting (yes), His car was parked halfway up the driveway, with about 6 feet of room to get by.  One of their cats was in the driver’s side window, and at first I mistook it for Him. I crept slowly down the drive, trying to understand what I was looking at, and She asked if I could get by in my car (which I couldn’t).  I mistook her question for a joke since it was obvious that I couldn’t.
There is a large mature flowering dogwood tree between the Big Red Barn where we live and the garage where the Landlords live. It is no more than thirty or so feet tall, but broad and substantial. It was damaged pretty heavily by the snowfall in late October, and now shows that removing the broken limbs late last fall was not enough. A ladder was propped in the tree a number of weeks ago now, and it has not moved as He tries to correct with pruning a process which looks to me like an ordinary old tree death. Throughout the weekend I heard sneezing coming from the tree, either because He has allergies or because he has a cold. 

Pruning is a year-round hobby for the Landlords, along with splitting and stacking firewood by hand.  There is a large maple at the top of the driveway growing out from a crotch made by an old dead stump and the piled-rock wall. It is the sort of volunteer tree that grows in an over-looked spot until one day it drops a huge limb and traps your cars on the other side.  It has a lop-sided growing habit, extremely vertical branches, and a rotten-looking core. If it were a tree on my property I would have it removed.  One weekend, the Landlord took it upon Himself to prune it, highlighting its inherent unattractiveness. He then used twine to tie several of the lower, live branches so that they make a better angle with the tree. The result was extremely startling for me, since it suddenly became impossible to see to the left from my car as I emerged from the driveway. Before I had a chance to say anything, though, the deer came along and ate every single green leaf on that branch, so it is now easy to see through.

In between pruning and planting sessions this weekend, a repair was made to the garbage hutch, which is at the top of the driveway, across from the sad ugly volunteer maple, facing the road, for the second time. Within only a few days, the first repair had become a dangerous piece of trim with sharp protruding screws every ten inches along its length. Seeing no new support for the lid, I have reason to believe this repair may remain solid until mid-June.
The garbage hutch stands in front of a large stand of mature bamboo.  This bamboo collapsed under the weight of the wet snow in October, and lay across the driveway like a fully-loaded snow-flinging trebuchet, but stood up again when a willing nitwit (me) shook off the snow. (“Shook off the snow,” dear reader, is a euphemism; it really means, “got a lot of snow down her sleeves and coat.”)  Now, because of the massive root structure established under the bamboo, numerous spring shoots have emerged.  Young bamboo is pointed, and can pass through many layers of leaf litter or simple impale it and carry it up with itself like a hat on its head.  Because the bamboo is at the property line, I am not sure if its presence is the Landlords’ doing, and I doubt it.
I followed Him out this morning, as he sped up the driveway, demonstrating the revision He is making to the shape of the driveway, and I now understand the new path in the grass. He also veered off the driveway at the top, plowing through all the young bamboo sprouts with his car. From behind it looked like He was careening out of control, but in reality, he was doing some more pruning.

The Landlords: Tree-Planting Mania

You never really see them together, and in fact, the Landlords often arrive in separate cars. There are two ways you know they have arrived: either because you hear the barking, barking or because you see the silver car careening down the hill, driving on the grass across the lawn. It’s a circuit, you see, and it is how He arrives at the property.  We are surrounded by trees on all sides, but there is a track He drives, in a predictable and bumpy loop, mostly just inside the trees, and in all weather, and at any time of day or night. She drives a white one and He drives a silver one. Hers is newer and in good repair. His is battered on both ends, and has bits held onto the body by wire and that special handyman stickum.
Where all our water went
They are of a retired age, but maybe they have professional responsibilities that keep them in the city during the week. They are professionals, and both have advanced degrees. The Landlords usually show up Thursday nights, and stay through Monday. I send the rent check to a nice address in The City, on the Upper West Side.  (You should know by now that “The City” is New York City, which is where we should be living now,  but are not. It is where we will be living in the fall.) The Landlords have a teeny-tiny apartment above the garage, next door to this, the large red barn house.  Everything I know about their building is from the weekend in October when we stole their firewood.  We have no garage privileges, no matter how much we are paying for this house.
Buckets and new trees
Since we moved in last September they have been around on the weekend every weekend, and they have gone from one barking, barking dog to two barking, barking dogs.  Having a Country Place is something people do to survive city living. Our town is an easy enough commute to The City, so is not a bad place to have a Country Place as long as you don’t need to actually be in The Country (because this is actually The Suburbs).  I think it must be a relief for the Landlords’ dogs to come to The Country so they can bark with impunity.  I wonder, though, if they produce the same barking, barking in The City. I also wonder if the second dog was obtained in an effort to improve the first one.
When they are not driving around the property, walking their barking, barking dogs or burning wood in their woodstove, the Landlords have a passion for planting trees. I cannot report on how many trees they have planted this spring, but they were very busy at it for a few weeks there, with new trees going in every day.  We did not pay very much attention to it until the Saturday when we were getting dressed to go to a dinner party and we did not have enough water pressure to take a shower. All of our water was going to a new tree, just south of our house. 
It felt like there was some urgency to the tree-planting mania, what with the hoses needing to be dragged around, buckets requiring stacking, moving, refilling and lining up, holes wanting digging and refilling, mulch having to be purchased and delivered and applied.  The silver car was hard at work all over the property. He was very busy.
Some of the new trees are snugged in next to the driveway at the top.  You cannot see our house from the road at all, owing to the shape of the hill more than the trees.  Now that these new little trees have been planted, it seems clear that there is a plan to put evergreens along the driveway from the top to the bottom. The driveway is a quarter mile long and the trees flank the topmost fifth of that quarter mile. The new pines are perhaps twelve feet from the more mature pines on the other side of the drive, and in just a few years will create a perfect, all-around scrub-brush system for scratching the sides and tops of all entering and exiting vehicles.
Hose
There is now a hose stretched from the building where they spend weekends in the teeny-tiny  apartment above the garage all the way up the quarter mile long driveway to reach the new trees. I drive over this hose twice in the morning when I take the 8th grader to school, twice if I go to the grocery store, twice if I go to the post office, and twice if I drop anyone at the train station, and twice if I pick anyone up at the train station. The hose has remained stretched along the driveway for weeks, and soon I will have squashed it flat from driving over it.
I never see or hear the Landlords leave. Sometimes a car remains behind, so it seems like they are still here. The absence of barking is a state of quiet akin to having no headache.

A Story from the Weekend Before Last

We had turkey chili for dinner. We finished dinner. We were sitting around the table talking. The youngest kid got bored with us and went to his room. He heard a “pop.” We didn’t hear a “pop,” because we were still talking. The lights went out.
We have had three power outages since we moved here. The first power outage was a result of Tropical Storm Irene, and began before we even moved in.  We were delayed in our being able to move in, so that we had to stay in a hotel the first few days of school. It was a terrible way to start the school year. The school year has been rough, too, with nasty Spanish teachers and confrontational attendance ladies who sometimes require a note just because they are clueless.  It’s all part of the long bad vacation.
Last time the power went out, it was because of a freakish snow storm in late October. This time, it was predicted to get down to about 7F overnight, as if in solidarity with the earlier, unusually cold weekend in October. Because we had heard the “pop,” the Relentless Troubleshooter called NYSEG  to report the outage. They were confused. As it was, we turned out to be only one of two houses affected, the other being our landlords, in the garage apartment next door.
A crew was dispatched, and it was determined that someone in a car had smashed into the utility pole that serves our two houses. Man Landlord (who is eccentric) insisted that we contact the police. The Relentless Troubleshooter called the local police to inform them that someone had hit our utility pole and driven away.  He was asked several tired and irritated questions like “Did the pole hit the house?” and “Did you see it?” before the crowning achievement of questions: “What do you want us to do about it?”
We were told that a North Salem policeofficer would come and have a look, but we never saw him.
Overnight, it was very, very cold, and the Relentless Troubleshooter kept the fires going in all three woodstoves. We put the food that needed to stay frozen outside. By morning the power was restored and a new pole had been installed at the top of the driveway. As of this writing, a little over two weeks later, the old pole had not been removed yet.  The Relentless Troubleshooter and other interested parties went up to make an inspection, and concluded that a small, red car with bald tires had done it (based on tracks in the mud, paint on the pole, and broken bits on the ground). That a small car could drive away after breaking a utility pole surprises me. The Man Landlord (who is eccentric) believes that the addition of a new house nearby has changed how the road looks on the curve, and while he hates the look of a big yellow arrow sign, he believes a big yellow arrow sign might be in order. 
When I was in elementary school, my father, who hated speeders who drove too fast through Davis Place, got elected to the board of neighborhood trustees.  He pushed the effort for speed bumps to be installed, in addition to having the gates to the minor streets of the subdivision closed on alternate weeks. One speed bump was added right in front of our house.
I think the reason he wanted people to slow down on Davis Drive was that he liked to play catch with my brother.  Dad would stand on the island in front of our house and my brother would stand in our yard.  People came barreling down the street between them. What he did not realize until the speed bump was added was that now there was the sound of braking, followed by the ker-thump, ker-thump of the car going over the speed bump, and then the acceleration away. Now it was much noisier, cars lingered longer, and it was not an improvement.
Today, there do not seem to be speed bumps in Davis Place anymore. At least, there were none the last time I was there.