“Breaker, one-niner. This is Rookie Road Runner…”

August 20, 2016 — Leave a comment

 

I think Americans are conflicted. About 18-wheelers, in particular.

Folks get frustrated, annoyed, and downright angry that they have to share the crowded roadways with these behemoths. They wish they could somehow ban them from the roads. And yet…

We want, and even expect, that our every creature comfort be stocked and ready to go, 24/7. We’ve been grown attached to, and even dependent upon, all this stuff that gets transported from its point of origin by truck.

Methinks there’ssome dissonance here.

I know there are rude truck drivers. And some drive dangerously. But I like to remind myself whenever I get frustrated by a trucker (who, let’s say, decides to pass another truck and ties up both lanes of the interstate for several miles) that they’re just making a living while performing a demanding job that ultimately brings my stuff where I want it to be, and he likely just wants to get home in time for his kid’s birthday party.

And yeah, I’m biased.

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My dad drove a truck from 1970 until he retired, all across the interstates of America from the East Coast to the Rockies, and from the northernmost states down to the Gulf. He logged some serious miles, wore out a bunch of Rand McNally road atlases (pre-GPS), and slammed down enough coffee to fill a lake, I’m sure.

His excellent safety record would occasionally be marred by making split-second decisions like jack-knifing a rig rather than plow into a VW Beetle that pulled in front of him and then stopped on a dime. Another time, he had a right front tire blow out when he was carrying air compressors. He was unable to maintain control of the vehicle, and it veered off the roadway and into a field. He later said, “When it rolled, compressors came shooting out of the top of that trailer like bowling balls out of a paper bag!” The cab came to rest upside down, with him dangling from his seatbelt. He made another unpleasant decision – to unlatch the buckle, meaning he would land on his head. He considered himself blessed to have walked away from that incident without harm to himself or any other motorists. Nevertheless, his safety record got dinged again.

I got to ride with him once. I was home from college during summer break and he was making a run somewhere out east. I had been hankering to see my cousins and since his route would take him right through Indianapolis, he suggested he drop me off after the first leg of the trip, then about a day and a half later, he’d pick me up. Sounded like a winner to me.

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[Me and Dad in Indianapolis, about to head back home (with  my brother); cousins on the right.]

Well let me tell you right here and now, the right seat in the cab – at least back in the day – will jiggle your liver loose. Meanwhile, the driver’s hydraulic seat floats blissfully down the highway. And the noise. So much noise. I discovered a new kind of violence that could be perpetrated on the hair cells of one’s inner ears. However, despite these discomforts, there was a major compensation.

Truck stops.

I can’t remember ever having a more delicious breakfast than the one I ate with Dad at about 1:30 a.m. (somewhere in Illinois – I was pretty groggy when we stopped). I think we ordered eggs, hash browns, pancakes, and the best chipped beef gravy on toast ever – and washed it all down with the quintessential brew, no cream. As I gushed about how wonderful it all tasted, he informed me it was actually pretty typical, because truck stops that don’t dish up good food, don’t stay in business. Made sense.

But as good as the meal was, the conversation at that truck stop was much, much better. The satiating of our taste buds, the unusual hour for communing, just the two of us travelling together… it all converged to create a powerful bonding moment between us. That trip was both memorable and sweet. (My jostled innards settled down eventually, too.)

Quite a few years later, after Dad had retired, I was visiting at my parents’ with my two little ones in tow. As I gathered our stuff and headed for our van, Dad asked me if I wouldn’t rather just spend the night, since it had gotten so late.

“Dad, it’s only 10:30 – I’ll be home well before 1:00 in the morning. You know what a night owl I am. I rarely get sleepy driving at night.”

“Are you sure? What if you have car trouble and some sicko comes along? A lot of bad stuff goes on out there, you know. Why don’t you just sleep here.”

Dad. What makes you think the first person I’d encounter would be a slasher and not some family man driving a truck?”

Heh heh, I had gotten him where he lived, as they say.

“Besides, whoever comes at me has to get past my Protector first! And if He lets them through, then the next thing I’ll know I’ll be on the Other Side. And I’m okay with that!”

“Doesn’t sound like I can talk you into staying.” Parents are often unsatisfied with their adult children’s decisions.

“I’ll be okay. Really.”

“All right. But call me when you get home, okay?” (Pre-Nokia.)

As expected, the van didn’t even hiccup, so I would neither be able to confirm nor deny the presence of slashers trolling I-70 that night. The promised phone call was brief.

About six months later, my parents came over for a jazz concert in which my two older kids were playing. As we piled into two vehicles to come back to the house, the guys were in the car ahead, and Mom and I took the van, with the two little ones in the back seat.

I meant to stop at the gas station earlier that afternoon. Really, I did. But they were temporarily closed to install new underground tanks. (Note to self: stop for gas at another station further down the road, after your next errand.) As fate, and my attention deficit, would have it, I never actually made it to the gas station that day. It became an issue on the way home from the concert that night, about a mile and a half from our house.

When the van sputtered I knew immediately I was toast. It came to rest within a couple hundred yards of the exit ramp we would have taken. I was glad I had on flats, since I’d be walking to the convenience store, less than a mile away. I put on my flashers and opened the side door of the van so I could let the kids out of their car seats. Grandma would watch them.

It was dusk, but the lights that pulled up behind us nearly blinded me.

“Need some help?” he asked as he approached.

[Now, lest you think I’m making this up, I promise that what I am about to share is indeed truth.]

This Good Samaritan got out of a truck.

That’s right. He pulled his semi onto the shoulder to see if a woman in a minivan needed help.

I said I’d be fine, since there was a phone just a little ways down the road, on that exit ahead. He offered to make the call for me.

“But you’d have to get off the highway to get to a phone (and get behind schedule). You don’t need to do that. Really, I’ll be fine. My mom’s right here with the kids.”

“No, let me do it,” he insisted.

So I handed him a slip of paper with our phone number, thanked him profusely, and he drove off. About ten minutes later, my husband showed up with some gas. Crisis completely averted.

Now, the humor in this scenario wasn’t lost on me or Dad.

We would smile about that one for years to come.

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[Dad, beside second cab.]

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