Bisht Doo Family?
Earth 2019. A lone pilot enters the cockpit of his craft, readies for the day’s journey. Lights, check. Battery pack, fully charged. Fuel load, sufficient. He notes the log. His eyes conduct a perfunctory assessment of the cabin. The ship’s interior - the second of such class of vessels under his command - though perhaps a little worse for wear has served him well. He stows his food supply, secures his safety harness, enters the coordinates.
Destination: The world’s 4th largest Amish settlement.
Assignment: Assemble and transport a crew of sentient life forms, highly skilled humanoid builders known as masons.
Thrusters ignite. Initiate hyperdrive.
Bob Ryan exits his driveway looking both ways before pulling onto Ferris Avenue. He triggers his turn signal 100’ from the intersection of Ferris and Water and upon arrival comes to a complete stop. His ship, a white 2006 Chevy Express, emerges from Ferris in the direction of Middlefield where today, like most days, Bob makes his living as an Amish taxi driver. But unlike most days, today I get to tag along.
We meet at a property where the crew is laying foundation walls for a house and barn. I locate the long dirt driveway fitting Bob’s description and midway down its length, Bob, in a well-loved, well-worn paddler’s hat. We make our way to the van inside which the crew is taking a break and into the back I climb with Willie, Andy and Merlin. Paul is up front. By their curious expressions I surmise they’ve not been expecting me. Yet, as a friend of Bob’s I’m warmly welcomed. This is the young, un-motley crew; more or less depending on the day. This is Detweiler & Slabaugh Masonry. This is Old Order Amish.
It takes a few minutes to get my bearings in such close quarters, questioning my choice of hot pink lipstick, fearful of asking some stupid or offensive question. Meanwhile it quickly becomes clear that Bob is in his element. After nine years with this crew, he’s family. As if to prove the point he introduces everyone saying, “Most people in the Amish community know each other. Paul, here, has probably 150 to 200 brothers-in-law.” My eyes widen, my breath catches - an Amish joke. The guys all laugh, Bob being one of them. This may not be his home world but humor is universal.
Dit doo, dit doo, dit doo, signals the van when Merlin, Andy and Willie disembark. They get back to work as Bob, Paul and I depart to check on a prospective project. En route Bob briefs me on various facets of Amish culture - lifestyle, education, history, language (oftentimes a combination of Amish verbs and English nouns) - meanwhile Paul looks out the window, arranges a concrete delivery on his portable home phone. Bob says, “In the Amish lifestyle there’s nothing lacking. Were I to become Amish I wouldn’t miss TV. The only thing I’d miss is a microwave.” This clinches it. I’ll never be Amish.
We pull down another dirt drive and Paul exits. Promoted to co-pilot, I then get down to the business of understanding Bob’s. I ask all the hard hitting questions:
What’s your average day like? Like this. I drive, I sit and read or write while I wait.
What’s for lunch? Tuna sandwich, chips and M&M’s.
Favorite road trip song? “Homeward Bound” by Simon & Garfunkel
Number of books you read in a week? Two. Typically sci-fi or westerns.
Current read? “Ringworld” by Larry Nevin. He hands me a tattered paperback. It’s the story of adventurer Louis Wu, a 200-year-old man who appears no older than 20. He’s been all over Known Space and frankly, he’s bored. Persuaded by a two-headed alien Puppeteer he joins a crew tasked with exploring beyond the edge of Known Space. The team soon crash-lands on Ringworld, a million-mile-wide habitable artificial ring. Their troubles soon multiply, astronomically.
Dit doo, dit doo, dit doo, chants the van. This is her song. She is a she as, according to Bob, all mechanical things are and he was a mechanical engineer. “Treat them right or else,” he cautions. Cars, ships, planes - all female. Ah, but what of Federation starships and Ringworld, I wonder...? A flatbed truck appears requiring access to the site. Bob throws her into reverse. He does so at light speed, as high-velocity a backwards driver as he is a backwards walker. And he never trips. In a galaxy far, far away he is known by his given name, The-Grandpa-Who-Walks-Backwards. Dit doo, dit doo, dit doo. Paul returns. “Are we doing this one?” Bob asks. We. And oui.
Spending as much time on the road as Bob does it seems only natural he’d develop a few pet peeves. Poor driving habits are the subject of a column he authors and hopes to one day publish under the pen name Buster Iver. In his articles Bob’s vocal and cynical alter ego Roger Rhoads (think road rage) chastises dangerous driving while Buster counters with encouraging suggestions. Claire, aka Bob’s wife Beth, is along for the ride too. Buster’s biggest bugaboos? Failing to signal, following too closely, inattentive driving, pets on laps. And yes, buggy drivers are equally likely to incur Roger’s wrath.
So, what does Bob like most about his job? His independence sure, but mostly, “They’re a good bunch of guys. I pick them up in the morning and within 15 minutes they’re laughing. I don’t always know what about because they’re speaking Amish, but every morning they laugh. They’re happy. It’s refreshing. And when I drop them off, almost any time of year but definitely the summer, they’ll get out of the van and within minutes all those kids come out and grab them. Every time. You don’t see that in the Yankee community.”
As a father of five grown sons and a devoted husband Bob knows a thing or two about the importance of family. He and Beth prioritize quality time with their kids and grandkids; casual get-togethers and holidays but also cross-country adventures and epic canoe trips. A proud grandpa, Bob once made the mistake of comparing number of grandkids with an Amish woman. Bob has 19. She had 44.
We count ourselves blessed to live next door to the Ryan’s. In some ways we feel like surrogate members of the family by proximity. The kindness they show sets the standard for community on Ferris Avenue and I would argue, beyond. The sun always shines on 132. We’re just happy to be near it, feel its warmth. “We think we’re just regular, normal people,” Bob says. Well Bob, those are about as rare these days as planetary alignment.
On any given day, somewhere out in Middlefield a family man drives a passenger van.
I wish I was homeward bound,
Home, where my thought’s escapin’,
Home, where my music’s playin’,
Home, where my love lies waitin’ silently for me
In the words of Buster Iver,
“Keep the smile and drive safely.”