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I had a hard time keeping my eyes open by Sacramento — the beers and several consecutive late nights. Tony said, “Man you’re making me tired just watching you try to stay awake. Why don’t you crawl back in the sleeper and make it easy on both of us?”
   Stretched out in the sleeper I thought I’d fall immediately into some long overdue erotic dream, but found instead that in-between place, not quite sleep, not quite awake, a place where the mind gently wanders and ruminates over thoughts that have occupied the day — free-floating thoughts released by the hypnotic warmrumbling vibration of the machine, the highway passing beneath me, and drowsy movement road sounds across quiet desert.
   Salt Lake City’ll make number nine. I’ve run everything from cow manure to class A explosives for nine different companies, most of which I’ve worked for more than once.
   For the last 18 years I’ve listed my occupation as truck driver. All the male members of my family and a couple of the women, have been, or are, truck drivers. I’ve pulled flat beds, low beds, drop beds, reefers, dry boxes, tankers, end dumps, bottom dumps, and according to my best calculations, I’ve driven somewhere around a million and a half miles. Not a huge number by trucking standards, but one that qualifies as experienced.
   My father taught me when I was about twelve. They were angry cruel trucks with absolutely no comfort: uncovered steel floorboards that radiated summer engine heat like a flaming broiler; iron-frame seats that offered no cushion against the pounding rigid suspension; transmissions that refused to go or stay in gear; clutches and steering so stiff and defiant they’d break the spirit of Thor long before lunchtime. More like the machine in Kafka’s penal colony than the trucks I drive today — they wanted to do harm, carve their initials in your back. Now they’re like motor homes: T.V.s, VCRs, refrigerators, microwaves, cruise control, plush air-ride seats, double high condo sleepers, power steering, on-board computers, 500 horsepower engines, and 13, 15, even 18 speed syncro transmissions with overdrive.
   Yet even with all the great new equipment somebody still has to be willing to drive 18 hours a day. Now you can just go further faster. It isn’t necessarily easier, just different.
   In graduate school, when everybody else was clearing tables for minimum wage, or teaching for what worked out to be about twenty cents an hour, I was doing turnarounds for my Uncle Larry: Phoenix to San Francisco and back. Four hundred and fifty cash for a weekend’s work.    I’ve done other things: machinist, corn dog vendor, carpet cleaner, diesel mechanic, bouncer, teacher, carpenter, road paver, but like a powerful addiction trucking keeps pulling me back. The high is ecstatic.
   The sleeper curtain open, from my bed I stare at the haunting leaden moon that can’t quite lift its yellow self completely above the Humboldt Mountains. It casts a somber muted light that lends the appropriate air of mystery and desolation to this implausible expanse of Nevada desert. For five hundred miles this land is an unbroken series of mountain ranges and separating basins, basins that stretch in their pure emptiness nearly as far as the eye can see. But just as the horizon threatens to devour all in sweeping flatness another mountain range juts out of dry hard earth to protest the monotony. And just on the other side of that mountain range is another basin equally flat, desolate, and lonely. This roller coaster procession begins at the magnificent Sierra Range in California and marches deliberately across all of Nevada before coming to a halt at the Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Front of Utah.
   In scattered places the landscape is littered with the deteriorating debris of previous generations: crumbling shacks, out buildings, mine equipment, rusting bullet ridden cars and trucks. Occasionally small highway towns rise out of the void to service the rushing East/West throng on Interstate 80. Otherwise the land is empty and unpopulated.
   Christ, I’d forgotten how much I love this part of the country. The Basin and Range — its austere troubling beauty forces me out of time, releases me from San Francisco. It’s only at this moment, half asleep that anything has really begun. Twenty-four hours ago I was trapped.
Suddenly everything seems possible.
   I slept peacefully all the way to Lovelock, Nevada. And I’ll tell you how good a driver Tony is, how smooth, I slept up, over, and down Donner Pass. Not easy to do. Donner is one of the most notorious and treacherous mountain highways in the country, with ice, broken concrete, grades, and long lines of crawling trucks, snow plows, and motor homes. But Tony made it a pleasant lullaby, a quiet wind through the tallest mountain range in the continental United States.
   We dropped out of Wendover at ten and throttled up for the Salt Flats, a hundred miles of some of the flattest and fastest earth on the planet.
   Just after midnight we passed the maniacal Magna copper smelter. Ten minutes later we were sitting in front of C.R. England’s sprawling, 120 acre yard. I surveyed the area and found the cluster of buildings England calls The Driver’s Center, my home for a week during New Driver Orientation.
   Tony was in a hurry. We said our good-byes and I watched as the black Kenworth headed off, 15 diesel shifts east for Springfield, Missouri.
   According to the instructions I’d received from Ursula, I was to find an empty bed in one of the seven bunk houses. But the lights were off in all the buildings. It was gonna be a blind man’s walk in a totally unfamiliar room.
   I ducked into the first building I came to. Fortunately the interior hovered in a weak fluorescent glow that leaked out of the cracked open shower room door, just enough light to see the few bunks still available. I grabbed a lower one next to the door, unrolled my sleeping bag, set my ear plugs, and made an attempt at sleep, in what is, essentially, a dormitory. Twenty other guys were already tucked in, most snoring loudly. And it was too hot, the heater working against the freezing Utah temperatures. Even through my ear plugs the snoring and noisy heater fans made the place sound like the Bay Bridge at five on a Friday.
   I’ve had sleep problems all my life, and only do well in familiar environments that are quiet, dark, and cool. And I hadn’t even shared a room since college. Back then my roommate was a mule-headed linebacker who’d busted his nose six or seven times. All night that deviated septum would rattle like the raspy horn of a Model A. I never got any sleep. This threatened to be even worse. Immediately, I gulped down a handful of antihistamine pills to help me snooze.
Sunday February 27th: woke late, near noon, most everyone was up and gone early. I'd gotten some decent sleep in the late morning, when it was finally quiet. After a shower I headed over to the Red Rig Cafe for lunch, courtesy of C.R.E. Once inside the door I got a look at what was coming off the grill, which was nothing horrible, about what you’d expect from a trucking company diner: fried food, lots of gravy, plenty of grease, and incalculable calories. I figured I’d better not get started eating that way or I’ll be 300 pounds by 4th of July. So even though the food’s free while I’m in orientation and I’m dangerously low on funds I resisted England’s generosity.
   Later I checked out a Driver’s Center pool car and went searching for a supermarket. With access to a good grocery store I can live on next to nothing, both calorically and financially.
Not far from the Yard I found a huge well-stocked Albertson’s that had a parking lot filled with C.R. England bobtails. I accurately guessed it was where everybody stocked up before hitting the road.
   Spent my last $8.97 for some bread, tomatoes, peanut butter, and a few bananas, which should get me through orientation, maybe even the first couple days on the road.
   Back at the Yard it was time for the grand tour of my new home. I wanted to see what kind of place they had. You can tell a lot about a company by the yard that houses their equipment and drivers.
   The maintenance facility was the largest and nicest I’d ever seen: twenty service bays running around the clock, a trailer shop, reefer shop, body and paint shop, their own recapping facility, engine and dyno shop, and a large parts counter for mechanics and drivers — everything they need to build a tractor and trailer from the ground up.
   The Driver’s Center is made up of the Red Rig Cafe, a Laundromat, fitness center, barber shop, classrooms, bunk and shower buildings, driver’s lounge with telephones, T.V.s, video games, and vending machines, and the Driver’s Store which carries everything from clothing to food, tools, toothpaste, and CB antennas. In between the bunk houses are picnic tables and barbecue pits that make up a central gathering area where everyone stuck at the Yard sits around, even in the snow, trying to make time pass more quickly.
   The rest of the day crept by like so many others. Doesn’t matter what the situation, isolate people, especially men, from the rest of the world and it’s the same scenes: guys that otherwise never write scribbling long letters home, or moaning into pay phones late in the freezing night, or maybe standing nervously together telling stories meant to impress, trying not to let the boredom and doubt get a hold. A losing battle. After a few days they surrender and wander lethargically, eyes pinned on infinite space.
   Some around the Driver’s Center had been there three and four weeks already, attending England’s driving school. C.R.E. runs its own truck driving school at the Yard. They hire people with no experience, train and get them their class A license and everything necessary to hit the road. The cost is minimal and financed through the company. When they graduate they’re ready to work, job waiting.
   Different equipment, different teachers, on the job training, I never went to school. These days, with stricter laws and insurance rules that isn’t really possible. If you wanna drive a truck you gotta go to school.
   Anyway, I sat around the Driver’s Center and kept to myself, listened to all the chatter. Truck driving war stories flew through the air like a meteor shower. Stories about rollovers, high speed runs of 3,000 miles in 3 days, hijacked loads, and women met on the road — most of which never happened, to them or anyone else.
Monday February 28th: 8 a.m. the beginning of five days orientation. Always the lowest common denominator. Always some subnormal mouth-breather that drags the group down, causes everything to move along at the pace of continental drift. And always the groups that splinter off: boys being boys: back of the room, cutting up, making jokes. And at the podium stood our leader Joe, obviously serious about his job. Maybe not a company man, but definitely an industry man. Someone who cares about truck driving. Not the type of person who finds humor in a bunch of irreverent fuck-ups making a joke of his life’s work.
   I sat by myself in front, figuring it wouldn’t kill me to brown-nose for a couple days. I've been through it enough times to know what a couple of ass-kissing days can produce. My impulse is to always avoid any group phenomenon. I’d rather be judged by my merits or demerits rather than the shortcomings of others.
   So Orientation is 34 men and 1 woman. The woman just finished school. She’s getting ready to join her husband. He’s already with the company. They’re gonna run husband/wife team. The rest of the class is about equally split between experienced drivers like myself, new hires, and others who’ve just finished driving school.
   We got the introductory pep talk, then were marched over to the White House, as the administrative complex is called. Time for paperwork, medical card physicals, and drug screens.
   After the lunch break we met back in the classroom. It took us a couple hours to cover the normal material: logs, benefits, equipment maintenance, accident reports, how to care for temperature sensitive freight, and company policies.
   And no surprise, I was right. By the end of the day Joe was talking primarily to me, directing comments my way, asking if I had any questions. During the breaks we talked about driving bottom dumps and end dumps, construction stories, and a few other points in common, including, coincidently, that he was one of those England guys who used to deliver to Dean’s. Now we’re pals. I expect he’ll take care of me when the time comes.

RCV #64                                                                                                  03/03/94; 15:23 MST
SCOTT. ALL UR LOAD AND ROUTING INFO IS ON THE SYSTEM. GOOD 2 HAVE U ON MY TEAM. B SURE 2 CK UR COMPUTER EVERY DAY 4 WTHR AND CO MESSAGES. CALL ME IF U HAVE ANY PROBS OR QSTNS. MERLE.


Thursday March 3rd: Joe took us out to the fuel island and then to the maintenance shop this morning then instructed us on what goes on at the Yard along with how and when to get it done. After lunch we were back in the classroom going over the on-board computer system. A man came in and handed Joe a note. He glanced at it quickly and they left the room. When he came back Joe said he needed to see me outside. “Shit, I flunked the drug screen. They’re sending me home,” I thought. “We need a driver for a load to Twin Falls. You wanna finish orientation early and hit the road?” “Hell yes!” Back in class Joe called a 45 minute break then trotted off to the White House to do my bidding. Over his shoulder he yelled for me to meet him in his office in 30. Half an hour later it all started to pay off: top pay scale, number one fleet in the company, brand new truck, and an unexpected $400 signing bonus in my company account. And like continental drift, after a slow creep, explosive movement — sent off on my journey in shiny new tractor #2565. Thought I heard cries of, “See ya son. Make us proud. Go out and love the land and our freight,” from somewhere in the sky.
   I went over to the White House to meet Merle my new dispatcher/fleet manager. Both of us hurried, it was quick and terse: “How hard do you like to run?” “Hard, but not crazy.” “Anything else I should know?” “No, except I came out here without much stuff and I’d like to swing by the house and grab some things. Don’t need to stay, just a touch and go, pick up more clothes and all my truck gadgets, then back on the road.” “I’ll see what I can do.”
   Next I found freshly prepped 2565, my new home, waiting for me next to the shop. A beautiful piece of equipment: polished aluminum wheels, shiny red paint job with pin stripes, cavernous cab reeking the smell of new car, and a virgin throne ready to whisk me around the world, or at least part of it.
   Buckled in the Captain’s chair I started playing with all the switches, bobbing up and down in the seat, honking the horn, playing with the stereo. Think I even mouthed a few shifting engine noises while jerking the steering wheel back and forth. I’ve driven so many pieces of junk held together with bailing wire and duct tape and now a brand new, Freightliner condo, all mine. Couldn’t wait to get rolling, but first I needed a crash course in the computer system.
    I started and aired the tractor, waited for everything to power up. Merle had told me all the load information I needed was already on the computer. Only problem was how to get it. They’d pulled me out of orientation before we'd covered the whole system. All I knew was I had to be in Twin Falls, Idaho at 6:30 in the morning, about 210 miles away. But I still didn’t know how to find the trailer I was taking up there, or exactly where the load was going — and I was running out of time.
   After fooling around with the onboard computer a while I had to admit I was going to need some help. In the incessant bustle of fuel island activity I searched for an intelligent and generous soul and ended up flagging down a guy I’d talked to in the Driver’s Store the day before. We climbed into the cab and in about eight minutes he went over all the codes and procedures, more than ninety of them, then wished me good luck and was on his way.
   The computer messages are written in what looks like an obscure language. Apparently the company is charged by the character when messages are sent. So everyone tries to abbreviate words and phrases, keep the number of characters to a minimum. Sometimes it takes a while to understand what’s being communicated, but it’s kind of fun, like deciphering personalized license plates. It took me a couple minutes to figure out where my wagon was supposed to be.
   After a short search I found trailer #7240 in row YY, space 16, backed under the box, aired it up, checked the fifth wheel, did a quick pre-trip, crawled underneath to adjust the brakes, and was ready to roll. Back in the truck I pulled up the routing on the computer, started my log book, then ran across the Yard scale to make sure the rig weighed legal, picked up the manifest from the guard shack and steered for the gate. At 19:30 I was rolling toward I-15 and Twin Falls with 43,567 pounds of frozen mixed vegetables.
   Utah whizzed by in visual stereo as I sat in the Captain’s chair laughing out loud and pulled away from suburban Salt Lake City after the scales, just north of Ogden, weightless and wonderfully alone.
   Four hours to Twin Falls, no hurry, I sat back to enjoy the first trip.
   After metro Salt Lake City it’s all mountain interstate to the I-84/86 split in the middle of the Sawtooth National Forest, up and down rolling grass covered hills and tree lined mountains that, in the teasing moonlight, create the emotional impression of a dream: as though unreal, created to cause effect: not subject to the rules of waking reality — everything exaggerated, out of proportion, more majestic and ridiculous than normal, like those Bierstadt paintings I never want to leave. 210 miles and I wished it had been 2,000.
   My first trip on a renewed journey. Hard to fully appreciate. Anticlimax? Always in retrospect the world bigger, more powerful. Maybe tomorrow night tonight will assume its rightful place.
   I pulled into the receiver just before midnight wanting more, but undressed and crawled into the bunk for my first silent sleep in five days.

RCV #21                                                                                                  03/04/94; 07:14 MST
WTHR: WNTR WTHR 2DAY IN OK, MO, KS, IL, IA, WI, MN, WITH SNO AND ICE. INTERSTATES AFFECTED R 90, 94, 80, 70, 44, 40, 35, 30 IN CNTRL US. BEWARE OF BAD DRVNG CONDS IN THESE AREAS. SLO DOWN, INCREASE FOLLOWING DIS, STAY ALERT AND ALIVE. LARRY, SFTY.


Friday, March 4th: the way it works is, after a late night arrival, you pull up to the locked gate of the warehouse and block their driveway. In the morning, when the dock crew gets to work, they open the gate and bang on the sleeper. The perfect alarm clock. Then you have at least half an hour to rub your eyes, dress, and brush your teeth. I usually jump immediately into the driver’s seat naked, pull quickly into the yard so as to maintain my place in line. There are usually several trucks waiting. Sometimes I can even gain a spot or two by getting right at it.
   By 7:15 I had a door for a driver unload. Fortunately they had motorized pallet jacks. No spine-snapping hand work. Like stand-up go-karts, motor jacks effortlessly carry a couple thousand pounds of pallet on the two forks that stick out in front. Maneuvering one isn’t particularly difficult. Still, I see a lot of guys that never quite get the hang of it, so that they end up leaving a lot of torn up pallets, ripped open cases of freight, and holes gashed in the sides of the trailers with the forks. But with even minimal hand-eye coordination a good motor jack not only makes the job easy but fun.
   I had the trailer empty and the load staged on the dock in seventeen minutes. The faster unloaded, the faster reloaded and rolling again — can’t make any money sitting still when you get paid by the mile.
   With my Empty Call bouncing off a satellite somewhere out in space, I was signed out and headed through the gate by 8:00.
   After every load the trailer has to be swept out. We primarily haul food, so the wagon has to be clean or the shipper can refuse to load his freight in your box.
   I’d just pulled into the street and climbed in the trailer with a broom when my beeper went off; probably a new load assignment. The computer triggers a portable beeper whenever a priority message comes through. Back in the cab I scrolled the new assignment up on the screen. It picked up about three miles away at 17:00, so I finished my sweep and brought my log up to date then went looking for an early load. No sense sitting around all day if I could talk someone into loading me early.
   The shipper was backed up — no chance. I spent my free time reading the England Driver’s Manual, getting a feel for their system and how to streamline it: always so many unnecessary or redundant procedures with big companies.
   17:15 I finally got a door, slipped the trailer in the dock and went in to see what the load looked like, only to find everything already staged and waiting. All I had to do was run it in the box, close the doors, and drive away — signed out and on the interstate by 17:30.
   This at Ore-Ida for a load of frozen french fries going to Salt Lake City for Monday morning. I’ll dump the wagon in the load line at the Yard and let one of the local drivers make the drop.
   Back in the truck I had a new load assignment waiting along with a message from Merle: a box to swap with when I drop this one at the Yard. It goes to Monterrey, Mx.
   We drop all Mexico loads at the border and let one of their trucking companies take them across. I’ll take it as far as Laredo, Texas.

RCV #41                                                                                                  03/04/94; 17:03 MST
SCOTT, THIS LOAD WONT HIT THE YD TIL SAT AFTRNOON SO DONT HURRY BACK. GOOD WORK SO FAR. COME C ME WHEN U GET 2 THE YD. MERLE.


   The trip back was joyous. I sat pleasantly slumped in the Captain’s chair and took it all in. On the way out I was anxious, absorbing a lot of new information and procedures, as well as getting used to a new tractor, but headed back I relaxed and found that old familiar groove after I fumbled through my bag and found Green Street Chronicles, Volume One, the perfect driving tape. Cloistered in my steel and glass cocoon I settled in to feel the world drift by at seventy miles, an hour — Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, Miles Davis. An aural accompaniment to the greatest drama ever staged, the liturgical red glow of the dashboard reminding me of a conductor’s dim lamplight caressing opera house musicians.
   The interstates were clean and dry under a cold clear winternight sky. Silhouetted against the quarter moon a solitary hawk circled overhead in silent predatory pursuit, its malignant stare searching the highway for the weak and wasted.
   An impenetrable sense of solitude haunts this part of the country. Not much to look at along the road: no towns, no brick chimney farm houses or silent school yards, only an occasional shimmering truck stop and the moonlit mountains looking as though they hide gnostic secrets. The land so vast and limitless no matter how fast I push down the highway it seems as though I’m standing still. Daylit the same road would be an entirely different experience. But out here, in the murky dusk, the imagination opens up, becomes as limitless as the landscape.
    It’s the peace, the hallucinatory loneliness, the release of the creative mind from workaday common task drudgery. There is no equivalent experience. Unceasing darkness lighted only by what the tender ivory moon volunteers, tonight is like an addiction. Moving hard through the world, pushing at the chill mountain air. From now on it’s going to be long thousand mile nights in the frozen Western landscape.
   Snowville, Utah, mile marker seven. Close to the Yard already. Seems like I left Twin Falls ten minutes ago. I’ll be in SLC by 21:30 and won’t wanna stop. Maybe I’ll just roll right by and head for Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa.
   The moon’s straight overhead now reflecting perfectly on the long red hood of my ten ton home, Utah plate 038Ø95 pulling 46,826 pounds of cut potatoes.
   Trucks pour by the other direction looking sleek yet massive, decorated in colored lights, custom paint, chrome, and polished aluminum reflecting the iridescent, snow-peaked night.
   Traffic picks up closer to Salt Lake City and the spell is broken by the need for urban concentration.
   I rolled the fuel island at 21:20. All trucks have to check through the island when they hit the Yard. The rig is fueled, tires and lights checked and changed if necessary, the reefer unit inspected for proper setting and cooling, and all collected information entered into the computer system through a hand-held unit. If the tractor or trailer is scheduled for service the shop is automatically notified.
   24 hours a day, five guys on each lane bounce around trying to keep up with the flow. At peak traffic hours up to four lanes can be open, each backed up with five or six of England’s nearly 2,000 trucks. It’s an area of almost nonstop activity.
   After half an hour of busy-work I checked through the island and dumped my trailer in the load line (we’re required to unhook while in the Yard so one of the Ice Cream Shacks can service the reefer unit) then headed for Happy Acres. Time for a shower before putting in for the night.
   Happy Acres, as it’s called, is the bobtail parking area. All laid over drivers park there, live there, while at the Yard. It puts us right next to the bunk houses and Driver’s Complex.
   But Death Row’s the only way in. Gotta roll the Row to get to Happy Acres. Always down the long fenced driveway lined on both sides with tractors that’ve been rolled or otherwise destroyed: rusting monuments to great bodily harm and the cessation of life. Even with eyes intentionally focused beyond, the wrecks haunt the peripheral vision. It's all a matter of strategic managerial placement, a reminder to keep us aware of the inherent danger that exists every time we leave the Yard. And there are always new residents on Death Row.
   Got parked, gathered my stuff, and headed for a shower. The bunk houses serve not only as quarters for those going through orientation and school, but as a place for drivers who’ve come in from the road to shower, shave, and take care of biological functions. More commonly this is known as the Triple S Ranch (shit, shower, and shave). Collectively, the Ranch, the Row, and Happy Acres form a nomadic encampment that purrs round the clock with the humming rumble of as many as 200 diesel engines idling against the sleepy cold.

RCV #74                                                                                                  03/05/94; 17:08 MST
WE HAD 30 ACC LAST WK. 19 WERE PRVNTBLE: 6 BCKNG. 11 HIT PRKD VEH OR FXDOBJ. 1 REARENDED OTHR VEH. 1 ROLLOVER. SOME OF US R LEARNING 2 SLOLY. LET’S GET BETTER AT R JOBS & STOP THE ACCS. THE OTHER 1983 OF U R DOING AN EXCELLENT JOB OF DRVNG SAFELY AND WE REALLY APPRECIATE U. PLZ KEEP IT UP. THNX. LARRY, SFTY.


Saturday, March 5th: got up early and headed for the guard shack. I wanted to find my load on the company computer, see when it would hit the Yard. The entire fleet is hooked up to a global positioning system. I punched in the trailer number and the computer told me exactly where the box was at that moment — sitting still in Boise. It wouldn’t make SLC until late afternoon, just like Merle said. I had some time to get further organized.
   Drivers list truck accessories they want to sell on the bulletin board in the guard shack. I needed a CB. I have a nice linear sitting at home in a box, but don’t know how long it’ll be before I make it anywhere near Northern California. And I don’t want to be without a radio too long, especially this time of year, a few more snow storms yet to come. A yellow index card offered a Cobra 148 with antennas. Nothing fancy, but good enough. The original $110 asking price was scratched through and lowered several times which made me think I could get it cheap.
   The card said he was staying in bunkhouse G. With hangdog head slowly swiveling for effect he moaned that he’d been fired for too many accidents and needed money for a Greyhound ticket to Barstow. I got the unit for fifty cash.
   Only one more purchase necessary to make me completely roadworthy. The factory stereos in these trucks are pretty good, but not nearly good enough for a music fanatic like me. Figuring that once rolling with this Mexico load I’d be in the truck every night and day for six or seven weeks at a time, I went over to a stereo shop near the Yard. Word had it a guy there’d done a number of big truck installs: wiring anything into a tractor is always a challenge. I plopped down a credit card I now felt confident I could pay off and said, “I want it to sound great and make my ears bleed.”
   For just over $2000, multiple amplifiers, tweeters, mid-ranges, woofers, and sub-woofers produced music so loud I couldn’t hear the truck, or any road noise. The sound was phenomenal, delicious.
   The load showed just after 15:00. I got the papers, checked the reefer and seals, pre-tripped and aired the box, then ran through the wash bay and headed south with Rory Gallagher singing A Million Miles Away.

    Much of the trip to Laredo from SLC is off the interstate on U.S. routes, through some of the most beautiful landscape in the world: the Bookcliff Mountains, Manti-la Sal National Forest, Arches National Park. I was a little disappointed that the most scenic part would pass by in the dark on a March night with nearly no moon.

RCV #23                                                                                                  03/06/94; 10:14 MST
2 ALL NEW DRVRS: REVIEW: OVERWEIGHT CITATIONS: GROSS ALLOWABLE WT 4 TRCTR TRLR AND LOAD IS 80,000 LBS. TRCT AND TRLR TANDEMS CAN WEIGH NO MORE THAN 34,000 EA. STEERS 12,500. IF UR GROSS EXCEEDS LEGAL LIMITS, IMMEDIATLEY CONTACT UR FLEET MGR 4 INSTR. FAILURE 2 DO SO WILL LEAVE U RESPON 4 ANY CITATIONS. THNX. DE.


Sunday, March 6th: pulling the long I-40 grade out of Albuquerque I passed another England truck. We hooked up on the CB for the slow trip to the summit. He's Laredo-bound as well, but delivers tomorrow at six in the morning. He’ll have to run hard to make it. Thankfully, we couldn’t run together. Usually, headed the same place, they want to team up. I can’t stand waiting on somebody all day, can’t stand being harassed by the constant CB mindlessness. “See you in Roswell,” I said. We’re both gonna fuel there tonight.
   Old and a little run down, the truck stop in Roswell is an anachronism in the age of the sparkling clean, brightly lit, corporate Flying Js, Petros, and Pilots. I beat Yard Dog there by a few minutes. We finished our business then, in the most ephemeral and superficial way, briefly stood in the grimy light of the hallway getting to know each other before he motored off in a hurry toward Laredo. I’ll see him again tomorrow, maybe: fleeting encounters with people who leave little more than their names floating around my head.

Two fifteen in the morning: houred out somewhere in Reeves County, Texas on deserted U.S. 285. Through the static-crackle of a remote signal Van Morrison suggests letting my soul and spirit fly into the mystic. Reasonable advice for a lonely morning like this, so I do.

RCV #19                                                                                                  03/07/94; 06:54 MST
WTHR: WATCH 4 HI WINDS, SEVERE T-STORMS, AND HVY SHOWERS OVER E. TX AND LA. THNX. BUD, SFTY.

RCV #20                                                                                                  03/07/94; 09:13 MST
ALL NEW DRVRS: REVIEW: OVERWEIGHT CITATIONS: GROSS ALLOWABLE WT 4 TRCTR TRLR AND LOAD IS 80,000 LBS. TRCT AND TRLR TANDEMS CAN WEIGH NO MORE THAN 34,000 EA. STEERS 12,500. IF UR GROSS EXCEEDS LEGAL LIMITS, IMMEDIATLEY CONTACT UR FLEET MGR 4 INSTR. FAILURE 2 DO SO WILL LEAVE U RESPON 4 ANY CITATIONS. THNX. DE.


Monday, March 7th: made Laredo at two in the afternoon, empty by 15:30.
   There's only one truck stop in town and it’s the dirtiest stinking slime pit in the country. The fuel desk is a study in filth, grease, and diesel oil. Overhead there’s a row of baseball caps for sale — so old and grimy the head bands have begun to deteriorate and the front patches have become indecipherable. Excepting perhaps the severely brain damaged, nobody would ever buy one. I’m certain they’re destined to become permanent fixtures.
   And no air-conditioning. It’s even more humid inside than out. The feculent atmosphere waves with billowing blue clouds of cigarette smoke and the smell of dirty toilets, over-ripe body odor, diesel fuel, and cheap after shave. The after shave comes out of a dispenser in the bathroom, 25 cents a squirt.
   The parking lot is an unpaved mosaic of enormous pot holes, some so deep they can actually damage a truck. The constantly pounding tires generate a thick layer of silty desert dust that permeates everything and everybody. No escape from the heat, dust, oil, and B.O.
   But it’s the only game in town. Rumor is that it’s owned by a woman who’s hooked up with the city council. Somehow, as the story goes, she’s successfully blocked the construction of any competition. So the lot is continually full. And there's always a long line of rigs and bobtails parked illegally on both sides of the streets surrounding the area. Just too much traffic for one place to handle.
   In the lot there was a row of England trucks parked against the east fence. I pulled up to see what everybody’s reload status was.
   One of the guys was just getting ready to go load. I jumped at the chance to put in off the street and grabbed his spot. Being in the lot puts you closer to the toilets, showers, phones, etc. It also somewhat reduces your risk of being broken into or robbed while sleeping. A row of company trucks together’s like having an armed guard. Great. I was gonna get some good sleep if I got laid over, which was the way things were looking.
   Of the four C.R.E. trucks one was leaving to load, which was how I got the spot, one driver was apparently asleep, and two of the guys had gone over the border to Nuevo Laredo. If I’d gotten there in time to be invited I would’ve gleefully gone along. Instead I settled in to read, relax, and wait for a load assignment.
   Normally, load assignments come out twice a day. The first around nine Mountain Time after all to the fleet managers get in and see who’s empty and what freight’s available. If your Empty Call's waiting for them and there’s something in the area, you’re on the road. The next dispatches make after lunch SLC time, toward 14:00. If you don’t have a load by 15:00 Mountain Time you’re laid cover: time to relax or start bitching depending on your frame of mind. It was already after 16:00 MST, so those two guys had gotten a cab for Mexico. They were over there getting drunk. Envy gave way to jealousy.
   After reading a while I got on the phone looking for a gym to get a workout and shower. I wouldn’t wash motorcycle parts in the showers at the truck stop. And I’m not that picky, but this place has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Mildew everywhere. The floor so thick with scum it’s almost another layer of tile. And dense lumps of knotted hair clogging the drain screens, so there’s always an inch or two of standing water incubating who knows how many different kinds of infections to wade through. One dim bare bulb hangs dangerously exposed from the ceiling, casting a queasy prison light. And meaty Texas-size predatory cockroaches inhabit not just the shower room, but the entire facility.
   I found a good gym only a few blocks away, grabbed my bag and walked over to kill a couple hours. Got my workout and shower then started back toward the truck at a slow twilight stroll, enjoying the musty humid walk down broken trash covered Santa Maria Street. Nothing like a border town to broaden your sense of just how gone and sad a town can be. It’s all a matter of perspective however, and far from being sad, I was elated. Elated to be out in it. All part of my continuing education.
   Regardless of how dingy and seedy the place, I was enjoying being there, regardless of where there might be. Additionally, I was swimming in the joy of having no idea where I’d be heading from Texas. Pure illusionary freedom. Beautiful melancholy. Durer’s everpondering man walking along that street among the fixed parade, a mile of idling trucks parked on both sides. The fading light made interiors glow. Men sat alone staring blankly at the limited space of their sleepers. Some looked at magazines. Others stretched out in their bunks and relaxed to the shifting blue flicker of a D.C. T.V. Small groups, two or three, gathered in cabs to exchange stories, beers, and cigarettes. And always the circling procession of Lot Lizards knocking on doors trying to make ten bucks the hard way. Or once their feet get tired they’ll sit in cars and proposition drivers over the CB in sputtering English. Mostly Mexican girls from over the line covered with layers of make-up, but there are never many takers. No longer, nor is it likely they ever had been, members of the elite hooker class, a truck stop is a last pathetic port on the journey to ontological annihilation.
   When I got back to the truck my jealousy of the Nuevo Laredo contingent was at a peak. To soothe my envy I decided to pull up a broken stool at the truck stop bar. A wild, almost lawless oasis, it's a place for fist fights and excessive drinking with mostly unwashed sweaty truck drivers, local hustlers, fancy dress vaqueros, and topless Lot Lizards. The fights are fairly regular, not too intense, and terribly entertaining. The drinks are only slightly less costly then a roll with a Lizard.
   Conspicuously armed and probably eager, doormen maintain a relative peace. Nobody fucks with them. And, as long as you don’t destroy any property, they don’t fuck with you. The sign over the entrance lets you know what you’re in for: “Check your weapons at the door.” All comers are subjected to a pat-down search upon entry, especially the women.
   Till I couldn’t take any more Country-Western music I sat there thoroughly enjoying myself, chasing down stale tortilla chips with Mexican beer and cheap tequila. But finally I downed a last one for the walk then headed back to 2565 and my music in the dark.
   Laying in my bunk now, all the circling activity of the lot in full view through a dust cloud hovering just above the hood. It makes an almost San Francisco-like homesick fog. Trucks, circling slowly, looking for parking spots, puncture the cloud, emerge instantly and without warning. Running lights glow through the haze then quickly disappear. Always in lots, the circling activity.
   Occasionally, gaptoothed smiling faces shadow forth, pounding offers in foundation brown and deep red, inky hair trailed over brows. Indifferent across the glass Bitches Brew pipes me toward deep tequila sleep.

RCV #53                                                                                                  03/08/94; 07:01 MST
WTHR: HVY RAIN AND WINDS 2 60 MPH WITH BASEBALL SIZE HAIL IN TX, OK, LA. B VERY CAREFUL AND LISTEN 2 LOCAL RADIO 4 TORNADO WATCHES. THNX. SFTY.


Tuesday, March 8th: after a sexsweet San Francisco dream I woke in Laredo, Texas with the computer terminal next to my bunk, hoping a morning load assignment would be my alarm clock.
   When a priority message comes across the system an electronic beep sounds every 45 seconds until the message is pulled up. Noon brought a ball-peen headache and no load.
    I unfolded myself from the sleeper and saw two C.R.E. drivers, the Mexico pair, standing next to their trucks, talking in the steamy shade. 89° and 92% humidity.
   They were eager to recount their adventure as I stood trying to understand the weather.
   There were tales of unnatural acts performed live on stage, a white-knuckle taxi ride through the streets of Nuevo Laredo (the driver reportedly divulged that he was very high on mushrooms, speed, and beer), and a particularly gruesome yarn involving projectile vomiting in a crowded cantina.
   One of the guys went by the handle Yard Dog, and that’s exactly what he looked like. His knotted, long gray-brown hair and beard resembled the coat of a aged mutt that sleeps and breeds in the dirt. His teeth and skin looked as though they might belong to the same animal. I never caught his real name. The other guy was Jerry, a lean, 5’9”, mid-40s, ex-soldier with more energy than an A.D.D. five year old out of Ritalin.
   Yard Dog offered the story essentials. Arms waving, body twitching and jerking from laughter, Jerry fleshed out the tale with details that drove him into nearly uncontrollable fits of sobbing laughter. It was like a football broadcast with Yard Dog giving the dry play by play and Jerry functioning as the color man, making the events come alive through anecdote and humor. The additions, interjections, faces, and noises he contributed sent me laughing so hard I started choking, which was dangerous with my stomach and head in Tequila meltdown from the night before. In all objectivity the stories, by themselves, weren’t that funny, but Jerry was.
   Jerry is the guy I’d want to deliver the news I only had days to live. Coming from him it would be not only palatable, but comical. I’ve known a couple others like him, guys so full of energy for life and every single thing it offers that you want to hang around just in the hope some of the enthusiasm will rub off. Plus the sense of humor. Somehow Jerry could make slaughtering a cute puppy with a straight razor belly-laugh funny.
   And he’s a man who possesses a flawless memory for names. Unfortunately, not the correct ones. By some odd neurological process, a name, always incorrect, settles into his brain and sticks. And once it’s stuck nothing can dislodge it. So he calls everybody by the wrong name, but always the same wrong name. After a while you get tired of correcting him and just start answering to whatever name he’s decided on. Yard Dog was always Shaggy Dog. Instead of Scott I was Ski. One guy we met, Ed, became, for some inexplicable reason, Ellie or Eleanor.
   Utterly guileless, always smiling and eager to help, always with some kind of mischief on his mind, Jerry’s humor never seems to offend. He gets away with a lot.
   It was getting unbearably hot and muggy. We decided to take refuge in the cool dry air-conditioning of Jerry’s truck, wait in comfort till load assignments came. Jerry was going to show us his fool-proof method for running three log books at a time and never houring out. Yard Dog was up against 70 hours and in need of some help.
   14:15 all our beepers beeped: load assignments. Mine’s out of Fort Worth tomorrow afternoon. Jerry and Yard Dog’s are both out of San Antonio tomorrow morning.
   The two of them decided to immediately head north and party the night on the San Antonio River Walk. Jealousy welled up inside once again. At the same time I was thankful to get out of there at all. Laredo layovers are often extensive. A lot more goes into Mexico than comes out. The three of us packed up and headed out together.
   Laredo to San Antonio is 154 miles up I-35, and there wasn’t a full minute of CB silence the entire trip. We ran on 25, the company channel, instead of 19 the nationwide trucker’s CB channel and talked among ourselves, mostly Jerry joking, harassing, making fun of nearly everyone and everything we saw along the way.
   San Antonio flickered on the horizon at silvergray twilight. Exit 159 rolled into sight. We blinked our lights at each other and slowly the two red Freightliners drifted off the interstate, a long sweeping ramp down into town. It was kind of sad in a typical way, at least typical out here. I wondered if I’d ever see either of them again — not likely. I kept pointed north toward Fort Worth. For a couple miles in the crackling distance I could hear the two of them gabbing away on the radio: where to park, some woman’s hair like an abandoned buzzard’s nest, a particular bar Jerry’d thrown up in last year — if they could find it, their first stop.
   There’s a strange often ghostly camaraderie among truck drivers. Sometimes just a blink of the lights on a highway is as reassuring and satisfying as seeing a friend for the evening. And then there are the CB conversations. I’ve had long almost intimate conversations with people I never saw — just faceless voices headed the same direction talking against the long delicate night.
   Cops, wives, dispatchers, and home. The CB is a portable bartender. Someone to tell your troubles to day and night, the CB’s the greatest drinking buddy on earth.
   Rain north of Austin. A brutal Texas cross-wind blowing me all over the highway — red steel kite with a 48 foot white tail. Just before Westborough, I-35 turns east. The cross-wind became a tail-wind, but didn’t do shit for the rain. 440 miles of it. And not easy rain, a goddamn can’t even see the lines on the road downpour. Exhausting. Muscles perpetually tensed against the unforeseen and unpredictable, never feeling in complete control, always struggling against the wheel with flexed arms and stiff back. The truck feels like it’s going to blow over on it’s side, which it won’t, unless you’re empty, like I am tonight.
    But still, the risk of actually being blown over or off the road is minimal. Just keep your head. Don’t overcorrect. Don’t be fooled: it’s only the cab that’s leaning over ten degrees, not the whole truck. The cab is suspended on air bags and shock absorbers to smooth and cushion the ride. That allows it to lean excessively in a direct wind. And if the driver doesn’t know exactly what’s going on he’ll overcorrect for a nonexistent threat. In between gusts when the cab settles back he’ll turn the wheel thinking the whole truck is settling back down. But by doing so he’ll drive right off the road and into the ditch. The thing to remember is the truck’s doing just fine, rolling straightly down the road. No correction is required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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