January 2005

Doing the Four Corners Polka

By David Feela

In the winter of my 13th year, my junior-high PE teacher forced me to dance with a girl. I would have been happier outside, playing hockey, getting knocked on my butt, impressing people who passed by with the power of my snowballs.

The cold weather transformed our gym into a fresh meat storage locker packed with geeky teenagers wearing sweaty gym shorts, T-shirts, and tennis shoes, sharing the intimacies of an infinite moment in the arms of the opposite sex. I didn’t have rhythm, I didn’t have finesse; I had pimples and slippery palms. The girl, if I remember correctly, fixed me with a look that taught me the meaning of disdain.

Since that time I’ve avoided traditional dancing altogether, but of all the classic steps drilled into my head, I remember the rhythm of the polka best. A polka is a Bohemian dance done in double time with a basic pattern of hop-step-close-step. Newcomers would have you believe that the fandango provides a more suitable rhythm for living in the Four Corners, but I beg to differ – you’re not a true Westerner until you’ve mastered the Four Corners polka.

Step 1: Dance around the potholes but keep in mind that potholes breed potholes. As the cold weather grates its teeth against each road surface, potholes must often be upgraded to craters. The best way to move around them is to stay loose. I recommend a modified tug-swerve-tug-swerve rhythm with your steering wheel. Touch the brake very lightly. You don’t want to end up in another driver’s arms, a stranger who already has a long-term commitment with an insurance company different than your own.

Step 2: Watch for wildlife. Don’t tread on any hooves or paws, demonstrating your clumsiness behind the wheel. Any deer standing near the highway can easily be sitting in your lap if you’re not careful. If an intimate drive through the mountains is all you’re after, don’t confuse a skunk with the white stripe running down the center of the road.

Step 3: Keep an eye out for dangerous curves, and don’t be lured by the notion that curves can be attractive. You’ve seen those drivers who think they’ve entered the Grand Prix as soon as the road starts to twist. Keep your hips firmly in line with your shoulders; keep both hands in front of you, gripping the steering wheel. Approach any bend in the road as if it’s the one with arthritis.

Step 4: Stay clear of gridlock. I know you think we don’t have gridlock in the Four Corners – Denver has gridlock. We live on a relatively peaceful stretch of asphalt. But don’t be misled. Construction workers across the Southwest have been assigned the task of frustrating neophytes like us by idling our time behind a string of motionless vehicles. They use orange cones on the road surfaces like instructors at the Fred Astaire Dancing School use painted footprints on the dance floor.

Step 5: Avoid falling rocks. If a rock has ever worked itself loose from a mountainside and headed your way, you can’t avoid understanding the gravity of the situation. My father-inlaw, driving all the way from Chicago, bent his driveshaft coming across Wolf Creek. He hit what he described as a fairly innocent rock as it waited in the center of his lane, prompting his most useful cliche: Take everything you see for granite.

Step 6: Watch out for tourists. There are simply too many Kodak moments where a wide-eyed driver can be Four- Cornered. If you’re tailgating, you may get a bit of tail in your teeth. Better to stay back a ways from any vehicle bigger than a pickup truck. Out-of-state license plates are just another way of saying the person in front of you drives to a different drummer. Smile and wave as they cha-cha past. Don’t stare at their outfit unless, of course, it’s skimpier than the one you are driving.

Step 7: Blend in with the cattle drives. You can’t go around them without having to cover a lot more ground than the beef. Try not to feel as if you are being forced into a slow dance. Relax: Listen to the moosic.

Step 8: Emergency vehicles have a way of shaking you out of your reverie with their piercing sirens and flashing lights. It may seem like disco is back, for an instant, but if you’ll just pull to the side this too will pass.

Eventually you’ll have to shut off the engine and get out of the car. You’ll feel a little like Dorothy without her ruby slippers, like Lawrence Welk without his bubble machine. Finally your feet will be motionless, flat against the ground, but the earth – confound that thing – will continue to spin.

Dave Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.