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Red Lights

“Your order is ready to pick up,” was what the email said.

I was excited. I’m building a little greenhouse on the side of my shop, and I’d been having trouble getting some of the materials - specifically the polycarbonate panels. Evidently, a lot of people are building greenhouses, and because of the pandemic, there’s a shortage of...something. For all I know, my panels were on that ship stuck in the Suez Canal. In the end, I’d had to order the pieces from one of those big building supply places. I’m not going to name names, because I don’t want to embarrass them. However, the name does rhyme with Lome Heepo.

It ended up getting the material shipped to their store in Fargo, which is 111 miles away, but that was my only option.

I was concerned when the first email said part of my order had been delayed, but when the second one came, we saddled up and headed north.

I walked, jauntily, up to the order desk and handed my slip to the clerk. He looked at it, nodded, went into a back room, and brought out a long, slender package.

“Here you go,” he said.

“Where’s the rest?” I asked.

“Oh, that didn’t come. You’ll have to come back for that.”

I looked at him. He appeared to be about eighteen, nineteen tops. I ran through four or five possible responses in my head.

I asked him, “How often do you get yelled at for something that isn’t your fault?”

“Almost every day,” he said.

“Well,” I said, “You’re pretty darn close today.”

Here’s the thing. I like road trips. My wife and one of our daughters had come along with me and we’d had some pleasant conversation. But the trip to Fargo from our house is 111 miles through the Red River Valley. For those of you who don’t know, the Red River Valley is the remains of Lake Agassiz, formed when the glaciers melted around 10,000 years ago. It’s some of best farmland in the world, but it has the topography of the bottom of a mud puddle - basically just what it is. Luckily, there’s a tree every four or five miles to break up the monotony.

Take that trip three or four hundred times in your life and it starts to lose a little of its fascination.

That was the beginning of my weekend. Saturday morning, I woke up and the internet was down.

That’s a problem. There are ten things I do as soon as I get up, but on Saturday morning, other than flush the toilet and brush my teeth, I couldn’t do any of them.

I went to the furnace room and looked at the black box where the internet comes in. There were about seven blinking red lights. I unplugged the box, waited a couple minutes, and plugged it back in. The lights turned green for a moment, then went back to blinking red.

That’s the limit of my internet knowledge; I needed an expert.

I called the help line and got a perky guy named Grant.

He said, “Okay, now, there should be a black box with some green lights on it.”

“Yeah, I know. But the green lights are all blinking red.”

“Is there a light marked Power?”


“What color is it?”

“Red. They are all red.”

“Okay, so let’s unplug the box from the power supply.”

“I did that.”

“Let’s just do it again.”

I followed orders and he said, “Okay. What color are the lights now?”

“Red. They’re all still red.”

“Huh,” he said. “You have a more complicated problem. I’ll have to turn it over to a higher-level technician.”

He told me I’d be getting a call, and then we parted ways.

I called my youngest daughter on my cellphone and told her the problem. No phone, no computer, and no TV. “Wow,” she said, “you’re going to have to watch movies on DVD’s.”

“What do we do after that” I asked, “chip arrowheads out of rocks?”

I mean, geez, next I’d need to reinvent fire.

On Sunday, the higher-level technician called. We talked things through, he told me the battery backup had a dead short in it and said to just unplug it. The red lights turned green, and I was back in the 21st century.

And headed back to Fargo when the rest of my order comes in.

Copyright 2021 Brent Olson


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