My Saggin’ Wagons

A couple of years ago we decided to break the pattern of our holiday celebrations, unchanged for the past 25 years.  Instead of traipsing from one suburb to the next to touch bases with as many family members as possible, we decided that the four of us would take off on a family vacation where the stress of Christmas and gift giving could be placed into the deep background.  So off we went on a guided “multi-sport” adventure to Ecuador, featuring mountain biking, horse back riding and river rafting. 

It was there at 8,000 feet in the Andes that I experienced the pleasures of the sag wagon, the vehicle that discretely follows behind you to transport the luggage while you are riding a bike, or to basically pick up the pieces in case you falter.  As we headed off on our bikes on the first day, I knew immediately that I would need the sag wagon early and often.  I am not a strong cyclist, and was further hobbled by the challenges of the high altitude and the uneven cobbled streets.  Plus as I scanned the rest of the group, I noticed that some of the other members were unveiling full spandex outfits, a style that is not only useless for me, but also particularly unbecoming.   We took off following along a ridge on a high slope.  As a Midwesterner used to totally flat rides – in fact I don’t think that I have ever used more than 2 or 3 gears – I was immediately intimidated by the undulating course.  Well at least I should be able to coast some of the time, I thought.  However, going downhill was even more difficult than up, since you had to creep along to avoid the potholes.  Using the brakes going downhill is not a good sign for an amateur cyclist who doesn’t like going up. 

I immediately fell behind and soon I spotted my family and everyone else two curves ahead of me and getting smaller all the time.  It heard a car sputtering behind me and as I stopped along side the rutted street I saw the blessed sag wagon.   Now here was the quandary – what kind of help did I want?  I certainly did not want to hold back the rest of the group who would have to periodically wait for me as I lumbered along, but on the other hand I did not want to make it so pathetically obvious that I was such a weenie.  I hit upon an artful compromise.  I asked the sag wagoneers if they wouldn’t mind stopping for a smoke or a drink at a café and then they could catch up with me, give me a ride to within a reasonable distance of the lead group, then they could have another drink or smoke, and then repeat.  That way I could leap frog along the route, triumphantly arriving at the lunch spot within 10-15 minutes of the rest of the group.  

The system seemed to work, though the sag staff was probably awash in drinks and dizzy from nicotine by the time I arrived.  The luncheon spread was set out in a grassy meadow overlooking a picturesque valley.  I realized that I also had a sag wagon team ahead of me, to arrange the lunch, pick out the picnic spot, make the hotel reservations, and probably prepare contingency plans if it was pouring rain.  I guess we are all a collection of intertwined emotional, psychological and physical sag wagons for each other, and the definition of a vacation is when you can set your own sag wagon down and hitch yourself to another.  And when you have sag wagons both fore and aft, well — what you now have is a more expensive vacation.

The next big biking day was more promising.  We drove to the top of a mountain and the idea was to coast down.  How hard could that be, particularly since this time instead of a rutted cobblestone road, it was a semi smooth paved road.  I felt quite confident that I could keep up with the spandex group – any idiot could coast.  I had forgotten about the sag wagon, assuming that I would not need one, and then I smelled the unpleasant odor of diesel gas, and there it was right behind me.  I bristled – clearly I didn’t need a hovering sag wagon in this situation.   There are times where you obviously need to circle every available wagon, there are times when you want the sag wagon in sight, and others where you just need the concept of a sag wagon, and there are situations where others can mercifully call in a sag wagon for you.  It was going to be hard to explain the subtleties of the length of the tether in my broken Spanish.  I wanted to tell them to take a long break, in fact as long as they wanted and just make one run down the mountain at the end of the day to make sure that I wasn’t splattered on the pavement.   Jose and Marcos settled in and I coasted down.

Pretty soon I was truly in the middle of nowhere totally wrapped up in a thick mist.  Every now and then the clouds would part to reveal a stunning view of patchwork subsistence farms and the occasional cow.  I moved steadily along and when the mists parted again I realized that once again I had fallen hopelessly behind.  Perhaps I was more timid than I thought and was not willing to fly down the twisting and turning road, which had multiple blind turns where you could get absolutely flattened by an oncoming truck and thrown over the steep and rocky slope next to the miniscule shoulder.  I tried to rationalize my slow pace by pretending that I was more appreciative of the scenery and the few birds, but the truth was that I was going as fast as I could.  Pretty soon the small dots of my companions disappeared entirely and I was alone.  There were several forks in the road and I just guessed the route, choosing the one that seemed to head down the most. 

I began to feel nervous – I had no identification on me and no money – it was all in the sag wagon that I had so casually dismissed.  I could envision the headline –“Unknown Amnesic Tourist Nursed Back to Health by Remote Ecuadorian Farmers.”   Although I was close to pushing the panic button, I realized that the lack of sag wagon would make a better character-building story, of triumph over adversity and of dogged persistence – though perhaps not on the same scale of the survivors of a plane crash in the Andes who fended for themselves by cannibalizing their fallen companions for several months.   They finally realized that everyone had give up on them and no rescue was coming – they were entirely on their own.  Then one of them heroically climbed out of the Andes wearing nothing by his soccer shoes and a thin parka. 

I snapped out of my daydream as I again smelled the sweet scent of diesel.  I knew that I could have made it if I wanted, but I didn’t want to keep everyone waiting.  Besides, I was on vacation, and this vacation came with a sag wagon at my beck and call.  I hopped in and coasted down the mountain.

The missings words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like post, stop, spot) and the number of asterisks indicates that number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with previous or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and context ot the poem. 

Even the most confident CEO full of bravura and *******

Can have a crisis of confidence or a nervous fluster.

His sag wagon may be discrete ******* or maids or even his wife

Who all try and pick up the pieces of his messy life.

Other days he lies on a couch and talks to a shrink

But most days he prefers something ******* like the gin that he drinks.







Answers;  bluster, butler, subtler


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