The Gates of Hell

I live on top of a mountain. It just barely counts as one as far as qualifying height is concerned, but hey, a med school graduate at the bottom of her class is still called doctor. You pass. Congratulations. Hang up your shingle and warm up your stethoscope.

Back to my big hill.

The road up to the house measures a solid mile long—and a thousand feet up. Most cars chug up to the top with the old engine standard of ‘I think I can’ grunting from beneath the hood. If a car, on route to the top, should give up before reaching its destination, the choices for its passengers are either to roll backward along a death-defying series of dead man’s curves, or secure chalks beneath all four wheels and limp along on foot the remaining distance.

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The county decided they had no interest in claiming responsibility for road maintenance, and the post office, who still delivers mail via horse drawn carriage or carrier pigeon out where we live, said PETA would be all over their sorry arses if they had to consider our address as part of their route.

Together, the two organizations colluded and decided to call the road … our driveway.

In order to gain access to the stretch of road that has more animal encounters than a National Geographic Special, you must pass through a set of gates. They are formal looking, sharply pointed, black and menacing. Iron bars meant to intimidate. In fact, I’m fairly certain they are possessed. I feel as if they should brandish a sign with a giant skull and crossbones, displaying blood-scrawled words, “I’d turn back if I were you.”

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Growing up in Wisconsin farm country, gates were a part of life. They served a functional purpose. They kept animals off the road, animals from eating the crops, and teenagers from making crop circles in the corn fields on late night sprees. Of course, the last one was the hardest to control, and that’s pretty much my point: it was rare to find a gate we couldn’t outwit.

But this gate …

I’ve given up on the programming manual. It requires a degree in electrical engineering and more brain space than my head can provide.

The gate is electric and attached to a phone line—and although we pay each bill on a monthly basis, juice to both services is supplied only on every other Thursday as long as it falls on a combination bank holiday and Catholic saint day. Seldom do they all align.

More often, the box providing electricity is just a small metal house that offers shelter to either an enormous ant colony or a den of mice–whoever stakes claim to the space first after it receives its monthly cleaning. If the box does happen to hum with some form of voltage, it is only a matter of hours before someone inside becomes fed up with the incessant noise and chews through a wire. And if they’re a little slow with work that day, then surely lightening will come to the call of duty and strike the box with a massive bolt, rendering all residents inside to simple carbon atoms.

I’m positive the “antenna” meant to catch the signal of our remote control devices was accidentally switched out with a lightening rod. Pressing the remote control never works. You can point it at the gate, level it at the aerial, or even put it under your rear tire and back over it to make sure you’re pressing down hard enough, but I’ve found it ain’t up to the job.

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It does, however, change the channel on our dish receiver and it usually messes with the cockpit info in overhead planes.

Handy in some cases, I suppose.

Folks coming to visit who do not have one of our remote controllers meant to lull you into a false sense of consumer product reliability must depend upon their savvy skills of speaking into a box to gain entrance. This box is occasionally hooked up to our phone line which will dial up to our house, but only after you figure out a complex math equation and punch your results onto a keypad. This was done to ward off the mass of hunters who often show up and ask permission to track the land with their coon dogs.

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I don’t have any problem with hunters. I just want to make sure that if there’s a guy and a gun walking the woods where I live, he has to have passed fifth grade math.

It’s usually not such a big problem anyway, as the phone line is habitually broken and we’re on a week long waiting list to have someone from Appalachian Power come and take a look at one of our many issues. It might be just as effective if we simply tied two tin cans to the ends of a mile long string. I’m willing to give it a go.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run down to the bottom of the driveway to help someone get in, or arrived home to find the damn thing on the blink again. Either way, my car is usually parked on one side of the barrier or the other while I’m unlocking padlocks, pulling out circuit breakers, wrenching out lynch pins and roping back the gates to allow entrance or exit. Frequently in a downpour.

I have proposed we get rid of the whole system, but the three other adults who live up top are all English and find the gate reassuringly British, so I am outvoted.

Therefore, I’ve decided to think tactically. I’m now researching the cost of hiring a beefeater. Safe, traditional, and classy.

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I sure hope he doesn’t come with a manual.


Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

85 thoughts on “The Gates of Hell

  1. WOW! LOL! So many ordeals to go through in a single day. How you manage with all the mathematical skills is amazing. Living on top of the mountain is a blessing these days but overcoming so many hurdles must have improved your detective, mathematical and all other skills. Must have made you mentally very, very alert. Keep them sharpened. Loved the post. Had a good laugh. Take care and good luck.

  2. Quite entertaining, as usual! I will never again tell anyone our driveway is long, or steep. And we will be sure to make prior arrangements if we decide to visit… Like have you meet us in some nice flat coastal town. X

  3. Shell,

    I know that hill well. Driving it is a hairy enough without wondering if one’s transmission won’t fall off, however; um es auszuführen ist eine Hündin, besonders wenn man dumm genug ist, um den Hügel zweimal laufen.

    I feel your pain with anything that needs a remote control or some type of non-manual labour, that, outside of just pushing a button. Just think, you too could have done as Thoreau did and just “simplified” your life. Walk around the gate and up the hill leaving your old gas guzzling, army green rusted Ford Maverick at the gates of Hell (where that car came from) and up build your Gluteus Maximus to your hearts content.

    BTW Rob, I am an avid hunter… somehow, I can actually see someone from your side of the pond out hunting with an umbrella. LOVE the artwork as usual. Perhaps you could create one of Shelley cheeringly walking up her drive.

    Best regards,

    Stoshu 🙂

    • I got ambitious here, stepping out of the double entendre zone into treble entendre territory – hence the cross between Hunter Thompson (shades and smoke), the Thompson twins from Tintin, replete with almost matching moustaches, bowler hats and umbrellas, and some kind of iconic Appalachian hunter type. “I try, Mr Fawlty…I try!”

    • The day Rob sketches a picture of me walking “cheeringly” up my drive will be a sad day indeed, for I could never post something so inaccurate to readers. On the other hand, Rob did nail our hunters precisely. That is, the ones who are granted access through the gates. They are classy hunters, our mountain men – well-preserved from the Victorian era.

  4. I would hate to see Rob’s reaction to meeting one of our local hunters in the woods (from my redneck of the world). Rob, do you like banjo music?

  5. So if that road to the top is your driveway get it in writing and make sure it is defined as part of your property and it will sure add value to your investment, right?
    I can imagine all sorts of things I’d do with that piece of land! Build a bridge over your ‘driveway’ in a sort of two stories high ‘Madison County’ kind of bridge and set a cute B&B on the second floor (you are only building on your driveway, right?). Hunters could pay to stay there! Oh! the possibilities!

    Congratulations on getting Freshly Pressed!

    • Marvelous idea, Joaquin! Looks like I’m going to have to hire myself a dozen engineers to configure the plans and a few of Disney’s imagineers to come up with the impossible possibilities. I’m on it. 😉

    • Thank you, Barry. I hope everything remains intact, but I have to admit, if I’m going to injure myself, I’d sure like it to be because I laughed too hard. I suppose it’s the sign of a happy life. 😉

  6. I hail from Hellannoy, where the land is flat and ugly. Occasionally someone will try to get it through my thick head that the grass is not greener on top of those beautiful rolling hills, and I think you’ve hit the mark better than anyone else to date.

    By the way, where did the comic strips come from? I love them!

    • Is that Hellannoy, Illinois? And flat and ugly can make for a really nice bike ride.

      Robin Gott is the comic genius. Sketch artist extraordinaire. His mind is a place I would never venture without a tour guide and a pocketful of bread crumbs.

      Many thanks for reading!

  7. Make it coin-op but only with British coins. At the end of the year, collect the booty your neighbors have “donated,” convert it to U.S. currency, and buy a new system. The irony will enrage them only until they learn how lovely a working gate can be.

    • Brilliant idea! Now if by some chance the Brits up here decide to secede from Virginia and reclaim their colony, I am going to insist that you be contacted for the position of chief of government finance. Sound good? 😉

      • Sure, but I demand inducements: A. Brawny young Scotch/Russian physical therapist who helps me onto his massage table twice a week in my office; B. Free iphone prototype that screens out all stupidity and refuses to accept their calls; and C. Retirement package consisting of annual shipments of imported chocolate and monthly winning Powerball tickets. And I’ll need that notorized.

  8. Love your musings here. Especially as I have a crazy mountain road of my own. No exciting gate like yours though. Just the occasional barriers like 2 x 2 meter gouges in the road after flash flooding.

  9. Simple two part solution. Dump the gates and replace them with…
    1. A cattle grid – the keep the animals and small children out.
    2. A sign saying: “This Jehovah’s Witness household welcomes you. Have you been saved?”

    The people who know you won’t be deterred.

  10. I’ve grabbed my dog’s bone….and I’m chewing HARD. I’m trying to find that REBLOG button that scarred by BIDOOBEES off me so that I can press it AGAIN…and keep it this time (but I want it on top of my blog:) When I first hit reblog, after I first read you on Freshly Pressed, I thought that meant your story would kick back up to the top of Freshly Pressed…and stay for a bit longer. I went back to my sight and FREAKED when I saw you in the center of MY blog! DELETE you, I did. (Yes, my virtuous soul was gobbled up in an instant by my greedy-guts side..:(

    My husband later explained the purpose of REBLOG (he’s a “thinker”, I’m not.) So, grudgingly, I reread your story…then your ABOUT….and I’m done in all over again. WHERE doe I find that silly REBLOG thingamahoopie?

    • Oh, my godfathers, that is such a funny story! I nearly had tea shoot out my nose – and some wonky Indian spiced kind that surely would have given me a third nostril had it happened.
      Yep, I’m with you as far as the whole ‘press now, panic later’ syndrome goes. I do it all the time.
      And when you finally figure out (or maybe your husband) how the inner workings of WordPress work, give me a holler so I can share in the enlightenment. 🙂 I guess we’re all learning one day at a time.
      Cheers to you!

      • My aging body can’t support this kind of belly-laughing!! It’s a deal. We’ll hunt down that darned button…and you’ll be the first to know!

        (hate those typos!!)

      • I’m having a Royal Hissyfit now! I found the reblog buttom under My Activity near Freshly Pressed. BUT, that button says, “Reblogged” and it’s frozen in time…FOREVER! It’s NOT a toggle button, unfortunately like the “Like” button. Evidently, I’m allowed to “UNlike” you still…but, no…Oh, NO, Re-Reblogging you is OUT OF THE QUESTION. I’m gutted.

        I’ll “ungut” when I find another reblog button…

  11. I’m new to blogging, so still finding my feet so-to-speak.
    This was just SSSOOOO funny! Loved the cartoons, and I can certainly identify with the technology and how it all works (or not).
    Having a variety of remotes in the home, it was no surprise when the CD player didn’t work because I was using my husband’s mobile phone (same shape and colour). Everything now is colour coded for identification, with red, blue and green dots on the washing machine for the most economic cycles and similar on the cooker controls to denote which knob heats which ring before I burn my fingers.
    The dog’s safe, she’s monochrome (black and white).

    • I love it! What a visual. You can dine on that story for a long time to come.
      I hope you’re writing down some of your adventures. They sounds absolutely blogworthy – and I for one can’t wait to read about them.
      The only button I panic about these days is the one in blue that has the word “PUBLISH” imprinted on it. I have nightmares that I’ll accidentally send something off into WordPress cyberspace without being fully prepared. Ah well, at least that button won’t blister.
      Cheers and good luck with the feet finding! 🙂

    • I shall put your vote forth before the council. I’m betting it’ll hold a lot more weight than mine. I’m just one of the Colonials (and probably shouldn’t be trusted). No, it’s probably true, I shouldn’t be trusted. 😉

  12. I can think of a million stories whose plot lines would have benefited from just such a thing. And then maybe we’d all have a few dozen more versions of Karen Russel’s Swamplandia! I could certainly go for more of her twisted heroes.

    • I aim to please–if not inspire some sort of a local townspeople protest against the gates. Okay, that’s my real aim – to get the gates removed, but it would be so much easier if everyone was laughing while removing them.

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