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NOTE TO READERS: This article contains adult content that some may find objectionable.
I sat on the cold metal grating that was the porch of the mine office and watched steam roll off the top of my mug and the snowflakes fall to the ground. I was back to drinking instant apple cider out of a thermos in the mornings, but it didn’t feel the same as when my mother would send me off to work. Maybe it was the coal and rock dust that had built up in the back of my throat. It was disappointing sitting there awaiting another long shift of being soaked to the bone by the rain and snow. I only wanted something warm to heat me up from the inside.
I sat there in silence, just two other cars in the parking lot. Then from a distance I could hear the rumble of an ATV traveling down the gravel road. If you grew up in this region, you could pick out an ATV and dirt bike from a mile away. Four stroke, two stroke, high rev engine, or maybe it just sounded like sh*t and you knew it was the drunk from the end of the holler who had lost his license to DUI years prior. This all-terrain vehicle was a four-stroke, utility four-wheeler. I could hear it in the exhaust and engine as it came around the bend.
When the headlights came into view and the ATV pulled into the parking lot, I could see someone wearing coveralls and a ski mask. He was driving a Honda Fourtrax. I hadn’t seen one those tough sons of bitches in years. They were the best of the best in their heyday. Couldn’t beat ’em, couldn’t break ’em, and they’d go anywhere you were brave enough to take ’em. For example, this miner has just driven his Fourtrax well over 20 miles to work all the way from the head of Carbon Glow, across the old strip mine, and down into Defeated Creek. If that ain’t efficiency, I don’t know what is.
When he stepped off of his all-terrain steel horse, he lifted the bottom of the ski mask just enough to uncover his mouth and light a cigarette. He walked circles around the metal racks unstrapping bungee cords that were holding down his boots, coveralls, hard hat, dinner bucket, and mining belt. As he unhooked one end of the bungee cord, he would stop to take a draw off his cigarette and proceed to the next strap. I counted. He smoked two cigarettes before unloading his equipment and one more for good measure before going into the trailer.
“Hey Bentley, you all gonna get me another 10 feet today or we gonna stand over there scratchin’ on rock like a coon up a dog’s ass?”
It was Charlie, complaining about our slow progress cutting a new slope/shaft mine through sandstone.
“Well, I dunno, Charlie. You gonna have to tell me how good this new miner man is,” referring to the man who had just driven up on the ATV. “And when the hell Cap Wedge is coming back.”
“Grasshopper is a hell of a miner man, but he’s young and thinks he knows it all,” Charlie responded. “I bet you an’ him will get along just fine.”
Charlie loved to pick on me because I was so young. He was another veteran. He had worked for Enterprise Mining for many years and had once owned and operated his own mines. He had two sons working for the company in Virginia and his youngest working just next door at the #8 mine. Charlie didn’t love anything more than mining – well, other than his coon dogs. He raised internationally renowned coon dogs, and that was where his passion lay.
“And, don’t you worry about ole Cap,” Charlie said, referring to the seasoned mine operator who had run our crew until he got called away on another job. “He’ll be back next week sometime. They needed some help getting that slope finished over at #41, and he was the one who cut it down, so there wouldn’t no one else to call on but the man himself.”
We were only a five man crew, so I already knew the man on the ATV was Grasshopper, our new miner man who had transferred from the Red Star mine. I didn’t know his name until Charlie had told me, but then again, names aren’t anything but a few vowels and consonants anyway. The personality is what makes the person and what builds the character for the name.
Grasshopper walked out of the trailer in coveralls that were most likely stolen from a man about five times his size. He strutted across the parking lot, similar to Angus Young of AC/DC fame, and I imagined that’s what he was listening to on his iPod on the ride into work. If not AC/DC, then it was Billy Ray Cyrus, because this guy was sporting one of the best Kentucky waterfall mullets I had ever seen in person. He was definitely listening to AC/DC, because under the glow of the light in the parking lot I could see the grim reaper tattooed on his forearm, but instead of a black cloak, the cloak was a confederate flag. I thought to myself, this guy was a classic. I guarantee his ‘88 firebird was sittin’ on blocks in his front yard, but he refused to let it go because of the memories. He’d look at his wife and say:
“Hell, that’s where we made that youngest little one over there. It’s like a video of you giving birth but better because that’s where the baby making happened. Not everyone has a piece of history like that sittin’ in their yard.”
In less than 30 minutes I had watched this guy ride an ATV in to work, go into the trailer, walk out, and I had figured him out. I didn’t know everything about him, but I knew what kind of person he was, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t hit the nail on the head and drive that son of a bitch all the way down with one blow.
As we started our shift, I could see Grasshopper was another cocky loudmouth, young, but still 10 years older than me. He wasn’t nearly the miner that Cap Wedge was, but if you listened to him brag, you would think that he was cutting double the rock than any man could when in reality he struggled to get the miner to cut through the rock at all. When we sat down for lunch, Grasshopper felt the need to tell us about his weekend.
“By God, I tell you what. You ain’t never got none till you give your ole lady a couple of Xanax beforehand. We took the boys to the drive-In last night, and I was trying the whole damned time to get me a feel. After the little bastards spent a fortune on popcorn and candy, I finally got them to sit in the back of the van and watch to movie. I was trying my best but she just wasn’t into it. I gave her two Xanax and before the movie was over, she was wanting me to have my way with her. She got so damned horny that on the way back she tied a blanket up between the front row of seats and the kids so they couldn’t see what she was doing. It would’ve been great but them nosey bastards kept yellin’ at me cause they thought she was choking on popcorn.”
Gary Bentley is a former underground miner from Eastern Kentucky.