In the next few posts I play a little catch up. I don’t have the time or connectivity to do this every day so please bear with me.
8/17/2012 – Mesquite, TX
Woke up at 3:20(!!!!!!!) to brush my teeth and finish packing for my 6:20 flight to El Paso. I had resisted having to fly anywhere but since I would be flying Southwest and they would check two bags free I consented. Neither bag weighed 50 pounds but they were sure close. So at about quarter to four I was schlepping to heavy bags plus my laptop and book bag from the farthest room from the lobby to where the van would pick us up. One other guy was already there and had called to see where the van was. He was heading to Phoenix. The dude with all the nightmare trainer stories from the previous afternoon showed up a few minutes later.
It wasn’t long before the van showed up with a very large dreadlocked black man covered with tattoos arrived and we loaded up and headed first to Love Field where Phoenix and I would catch our flights. The luggage compartment at the back was already full of the other two guys’ stuff so mine went into the third row. Vinny sarcastically said, “Boy is your trainer going to be pleased.” Yeah, well.
Dreadlocks regaled Phoenix with his life as a trucker, seven years with Stevens, expecting his first child, angling for a local run since his wife was sent to bedrest for the remainder of her pregnancy and how he had scored a local gig and would likely not go over the road again. If nothing else, he had a brother-in-law who drove tankers and made a lot of money. He could do that too. Like 80 percent of the truckers I had seen, he lit up a cigarette and continued his storytelling and dropped the two of us off at Love and then left for DFW with Vinnie.
I think I pulled a muscle in my gut (I literally busted a gut) carrying my three articles up to the check in desk where, thankfully, I could dump the two heavies. Phoenix and I got in the longish security line where I finished my water and fretted about losing the Swiss army knife I had in my pocket. I did my best to hide it under a camera as it made its way through x-ray. It worked or they didn’t care, and I got dressed again (you still have to disrobe to pass through security) and walked to my gate.
Arriving in El Paso I was thoroughly impressed by the airport. Modern terminal, squeeky clean restroom, nicely designed shopping concourse and, best of all, only a short distance from baggage claim to the taxi stand where I found an exceedingly friendly Hispanic cabbie who drove me to the Flying J Truck Stop on the east side of town. I had received a $50 credit to my T-Card, lost $5.00 to the hotel to get the cash, and paid the cabbie. Seven bucks profit. That’s about as generous as Stevens gets.
The cabbie was a reader and was talking about the end of times books he had just finished. He said he read everything from the classics to books on quantum physics. He reassured me that the world not literally end in December, just the world as we know it. The financial and social systems on Earth would be unrecognizable a year from now. Uplifting.
As a token of gratitude for his reassurance I suggested he read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Doubt he’ll read it, but I’ll never know.
My trainer, Dudley, was waiting for us at the curb outside the restaurant at the Flying J. He hopped in the cab and directed us back to his truck, a red Freightliner. He was an owner / operator.
He seemed like a nice enough guy and after loading up my stuff, I walked back to the store to use the men’s room. When I got back to his truck, he fired up the Detroit diesel and off we went. It was barely nine o’clock and we were heading east on I-10. We started getting to know each other. He’d been driving for seven years and training for perhaps three of those years. He had bought his truck in 2009 and would pay it off in another couple of years. His house was in Fort Worth but his home was pretty much in the back of the truck.
He started out in the service. He was drafted but things were winding down in Viet Nam and he got a nice assignment attending to nuclear missiles. He thought about making a career of the military but he said they started tossing his bunk regularly and he really didn’t like that. He found his way into being a Ford mechanic, but learned that to make money you couldn’t be totally honest. Cheap auto fixes do not generate much income. So he got into construction, sounded like mostly industrial projects like power plants. He started looking into trucking and eventually got hooked up with Stevens.
After a year, he told management that he didn’t see himself as a $10 an hour guy and thought he would have to leave the industry. They pointed him to their Alliance program and the next thing you know Dudley was leasing a truck. He did better. When he added the extra pay for training new recruits he did better still. Then he bought the Freightliner and by all appearances he is doing okay. He still hustles like crazy. He gets home – er, back to Fort Worth – every three or four months. He truly likes his career and wishes he had gotten into it a lot sooner. He said he will drive until they drag him from the driver’s seat.
He’s divorced and had two grown children. I won’t get any more personal than that for now.
After we stopped at a micro-sized truck stop in west Texas, we did a post-trip inspection and then had a bite to eat. After eating crap food for most of the last week I had a nice grilled chicken salad and watched my partner eat half his Mexican dinner. It was a typical country diner featuring booths, tables and a counter with stools. The bathroom was pretty disgusting, but I figured that was predictable. It smelled bad, one of the urinals was being repaired, and the toilet stalls were dirty with the u-shaped seats down and showing the sprinkles of the pigs who had urinated through them without raising the seats. (I blame this on women, by the way, who insist on the toilet seats always being returned to their closed and locked down position. In the long range, the smart thing would be for seats to be left in the upright and unlocked position because then pig men wouldn’t think they could accurately aim their “stream” though the middle of the seat without leaving a sickening film of- I can speak of this no more.)
Back in the truck, even though it was barely 7:30, it was time to get ready for bed. That moment had come to take the 100+ pounds of crap I’d brought and stuff it into a 25 pound bag. I would be sleeping on the top bunk of course on a sleeping surface the size of a cot. Dudley was kind enough to give me a 16 inch by 16 inch compartment accessible through a circular hole that was about 8 inches in diameter. This compartment was situated just to the side of where my feet would be. Fortunately the end cap was removable, which gave me more access but meant that on the occasional bumpy right turn, some my crap would fall out. So I could only put crap in there that would be okay if it fell about five and a half feet.
I then made my bed using the king-sized sheet my wife had thoughtfully provided. I tucked the folded side into and under the far side of the 4-inch thick mattress and then hurled my duffle bag up.
I stuffed a bunch of the unbreakable non-clothing stuff I thought I’d be needing regularly into the compartment and unpacked the rest of my stuff onto the bed. My stuff more than covered the bed. So I took out some of my clothes, left the rest of it in, and pushed my rather large duffle bag into the bottom corner where I thought it would be enough out of the way that I could stretch out my legs and sleep semi-normally. (Silly boy, silly boy.)
We were able to compress my winter stuff and canvass golf bag (pressed into non-golf service as my second duffle) and squeeze it into the compartment under Dudley’s lower bunk.
Dudley was getting ready to turn in. I had been up since 3:20 (!?!?) and was rather tired myself. So I rock-climbed my way back up top, slid between the sheets, and laid my head on the top of my two pillows. I had neglected to bring the pillow I use between my knees so I folded up the Harry Potter blanket I’d brought and would use it instead. That left me without a blanket but it was pretty warm up there so that wouldn’t be a problem.
Because of a little tiff I’d had with my wife during supper (she thought it would be too much work to meet me at a truck stop in Katy in the morning to bring me a few things I wish I had brought), I wasn’t in a very good state of mind anyway. Add that factoid to being in a new bed, on an insubstantial mattress, with about half the space I was used to, in a noisy environment and you can guess the quality of my night’s sleep. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being sleeping on a cloud in heaven, I’d put my night at a solid 2, sleeping on a New York Subway with a bum’s accumulated stuff stacked around me and his shopping cart sitting next to my feet.
I had been fighting to sleep and had at least dozed for a few hours when I heard my phone chirp a text alert. Thinking it was morning, I took a look. First of all, it was only 9:15 p.m.!!! Second of all, the text was from my wife who had rethought my request to have her meet me in West Houston. So I responded to her text and we made plans to meet.