So here I sit at a Flying J about forty miles EAST of Montreal.
It’s 8:37 EST. I was up at 4:07 this morning so I could get to my appointment at Uni Foods by 6:00. My load of meat from a Tysons plant in Amarillo required a reinspection so I didn’t want to be late. Ha! As if it ever matters. They get to your load when they’re good and ready. The lumpers didn’t even start to unload me until almost 8. But I had nowhere to go so I shifted into neutral and even caught a fifteen minute nap.
A quick aside regarding the lumpers. Typically I find the receiving staff composed of ugly, ill-tempered fat women (behind the window) and a combination of hard-working black or Hispanic men. Now the last trip to Montreal, the actual workers were white dudes. But this place! I saw maybe four of the lumpers and, may I say, they were all movie star handsome. I actually felt like I was in a movie. Ya know, where no matter what the scene, all the characters that would be normal looking in real life are played by actors so they are all very pretty. Except for Coen brothers movies where everybody looks authentic – that is, homely, crooked teeth, face warts.
Coming back to reality, I had already received a pre plan to pick up a load of candy in Sainte-Hyacinthe at 2:30. I had all the time in the world.
Although, as per usual, I had some time issues. By the time they had me unloaded, I had eight and a half hours of driving time left. Oh, and that’s also what I would have left on my 70 hour clock. An hour and a half to candyland. At least a couple hours to get me loaded. That’s if they took me when I got there two-plus hours early. I would have a maximum of four hours of drive time to get my ass out of Canada and to a truck stop in the US of A where my load would be repowered.
As I thought about it, that didn’t seem like a workable plan so I messaged Dallas to see if they even wanted me to pick up the load if I might not be able to get it out of Canada before I ran out of hours. “10-4,” the dispatcher wrote back, meaning go for it. So I boogied out of Uni Foods and drove my way to the east side of town. Didn’t make a single wrong turn. Nav Chick directed me down a residential street in Sainte-Hyacinthe I wouldn’t take again, but I got to the candy plant on the outskirts of town just fine. The destination address was the office. There was a large plant across the street, but it was unmarked so I wasn’t sure whether it even belonged to them. I pulled onto a side street and parked so that cars could still get by me and turned on the four-ways.
As I was about to get out of the truck and see what was what, I received a message on the QualComm. My pre plan had been CANCELLED! I spend an hour and a half driving away from civilization only to find that the trip would be for naught. And since I was in Canada, there would be no getting on the cell phone to see what was next. No signal, no cell phone, no internet. So I messaged.
Minutes later, I got a “Sorry, go hang at a truck stop until we figure things out.” In the 55 miles I had driven, I did not see a single truck stop. I set out for a roadside rest I had passed seven or eight miles back to the west and would wait there. Not long after I got there, they messaged me that there was this Flying J at exit 157. So I headed 20-some miles back to the east and past Sainte-Hyacinthe. I saw a Flying J at exit 152, and actually stopped in to see what it had. It was a micro truck stop with less than 20 parking slots and the building looked too small to even have showers, so I went on. It’s not uncommon for Flying J and Pilot to have two truck stops very close to each other so I lit out for what I hoped would be the bigger one. I was a bit concerned however, because the other Flying J was 10 miles off the freeway. Hmmmm.
Exit 57 itself was an entre (get that French term?) into farm country. I two-laned it by farms that reminded me of home in Minnesota. They looked like dairy farms. No feed lots. Elevators (the conveyor belt thingies) extended out the back of most of barns. They conveyed manure from the inside of the barn to the outside where it would be loaded into manure spreaders and taken to the field and … broadcast. Looks like they were NOT in the broadcasting business these days because the cow poop was piled high and deep. I resisted the urge to roll down the window and inhale the earthiness.
I was very impressed with the way the farmers rigged their mailboxes to deal with the snow. Some of them were on swivels, but my favorite was a mailbox at the end of a long pole that hoisted it about 10 feet in the air and thus above most of the snow that would be plowed to the side of the road. The farmer had thoughtfully provided a chain that hung down from the box so the mailman had only to stop, tug on the chain to bring the mailbox down to his level, insert the mail, and let go so the counterweight would lever it back up into the sky.
Another farm had a clothes line rigged at the back of the farm house on a pulley system that went upwards at perhaps a 30 degree angle. It had to be a pulley because at the far end, the wet clothes would be well out of reach of mere mortals. The only reason I saw it was the line was loaded with clothes. I looked down and noted that the outside temperature was 19 degrees. That was one tough farmer’s wife (I’m making a sexist assumption).
As delightful as this drive was, I was getting more skeptical with each passing mile that there would be a Flying Anything where the Nav Chick was taking me. Sho nuf, she and I got to the place where she robotically said, “Look for your destination on the left.” There was some kind of trucking company there, I’ll admit, but a Flying J it was not. So I continued on and circled another 25 miles back to the micro Flying J back at exit 152. It was a nice tight interchange. Not one of those where the exit ramp deposited you a quarter mile from the interstate.
It was actually a pretty decent location. The FJ facility wasn’t much– the mens room was a one-holer – but it did have a couple of showers! And I believe I had a shower credit! (It’s amazing how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs changes when you become a trucker.)
In addition to the FJ, there was a Tim Hortons right next door (there are a million of these in Canada – their version of Dunkin’ Donuts / Starbucks, I think), a McDonalds across the street (WiFi?), a pizza joint just past Mickey Ds, a gas station on the other side of the freeway with an A&W, and a larger truck stop complete with a sit down truck stop café (breakfast on the morrow!). There also looked to be a little village about a block further in. Maybe there would be a grocery store where I could stock up. It would have been a small, quaint one. It looked like a small quaint village, except for all the action at the interstate. The name of the town was quaintly inscribed on the welcome to town sign: Ste-Helene de Bagot.
After I parked the truck, I got on my winter gear and took a quick stroll into “town.” Alas, although there was a petit business district, the main enterprise was a lumber yard. An old church, probably Catholic but I didn’t look, was the largest and tallest building in town, and a cantine nearby offered Slurpees, but was even smaller than the FJ so I figured fresh produce would be a long shot. I hiked back to the truck and prepared for a long sit.
A long sit with no WiFi (I’d head over to McDonalds for supper and take care of my online stuff then), no phone, no television lounge in the FJ, no English (as a first language)-speaking people. Just me and my laptop, a book – Fast Copy by Dan Jenkins – and my thoughts. Before quitting time in Dallas I messaged Andy, my driver manager, to shoot my wife a quick email telling her that he had stranded me in Canadian hell for a 34 hour reset. He replied shortly, “Done.”
So I caught me a short nap that turned into about an hour and a half REM sleep, complete with dreams. I was startled awake by a dream in which I was laying on my back being run over by a truck. I was trying to wiggle my way between the wheels when I woke up. Briefly paralyzed, I thought my way out of my dream and slowly started rousing myself out of my bunk. I played with the laptop for a bit. Defragged the hard drive, and then looked through some of the programs I didn’t know I had. I brought Sticky Notes to my desktop (it would be good for reminders) and found Solitaire. I could pass a little mindless time playing cards with myself. Thirty two games later, I fought my way out of the game (stats show I was winning nine percent of the time) and packed up my laptop for a trip over to Mickey Ds for a quarter pounder and side of WiFi. It was probably about a 500 yard – excuse me, 455 metre walk.
NO WiFi! I ordered an overpriced third of a pound Angus Burger, ate half of it, doggie bagged the other half. After “reading” the French language tabloid that was at my table – I actually believe I haven’t forgotten all my high school and college French – I trekked back the 455 metres to the truck. It was dark and cold, and where there had been a slight breeze at my back on the walk to Mickey Ds, it was a gale in my face on the way back.
I washed up at the FJ so that when I got back to the truck I could get my contacts out and settle in for the night. After all, I had my cranberry juice bottle.
But my bodily functions had other ideas. I’ll do Number 1 in the truck but not Number 2. I gave my body an hour and a half to change its mind but it decided we needed to make another trip in the cold and dark to the FJ’s one-holer. Fortunately, it was worth the trip.
I did some writing, played a couple dozen more hands of solitaire and settled into bed with my book. Dan Jenkins is a laugh out loud author of mostly sports fiction. I’d last read one of his books maybe 20 years ago. And laughed out loud. It was the kind of book my wife forbade me from reading in bed because when I’d laugh, the bed would shake and it would wake her up. This particular story was a bit different in that while the central theme would be high school football – perhaps that should read TEXAS high school football – the setting was depression era life in a small town not far from Fort Worth. It’s actually pretty historical in addition to being profane (another Jenkins trademark) and humorous. The characters spend quite a bit of time describing how the depression came about, the early years of Fort Worth and Dallas, the early years of the oil boom, along with college and high school football and how the big Ivy League schools may have gotten the game off the ground and dominated play in the early years, but Texas had shown a real commitment to knocking them down a peg or two.
I slept a good eight hours and shortly after 8 a.m. got suited up for my walk to the truck stop café. It was brisk, but the sun was out and there was but a mild breeze. It was such a balmy 19 degrees (F.) that when I walked into the warm café, my glasses didn’t even fog up.
Two attractive waitresses were running the house. One of them had a blouse that was obviously made out of the same material as the boxer shorts I was wearing – black pin-stripe. It was an omen. The other waitress brought a cup of coffee to the table and asked me if I needed a menu. “Oui,” I replied. I wasn’t even going to get coffee here. I’d brought my own travel cup and was going to get a coffee at the Tim Hortons on the way back to the truck. But I had her pour her cup of coffee into my cup and, after identifying what I wanted off the menu – deux oeufs avec bacon – placed my order.
I was presented with a nice plate. Just what I would expect from a French restaurant. Deux oeufs, over easy, quatre strips of bacon, fried potatoes (NOT French fries), a slice of orange, three petite slices de cantaloupe, two slices of buttered brown (their term for wheat, I guess) toast, and, strangely, an itty bitty plastic cup of pork and beans. I guess the beans are their version of grits. The eggs were perfectly cooked and the breakfast was truly excellent.
The television over the counter was on, without sound. Three stories of note:
- The night club disaster in Brazil. A few scenes of the exterior of the club and a lot of scenes of the wailing mourners. How horrible. Rock bands, fireworks, and night clubs just don’t mix.
- There was evidently some act of violence perpetrated by a middle-aged white guy. There was no close captioning so I couldn’t determine what he had done, but the psychiatro they were interviewing, said that he was rational and organized.
- A huge water main (or maybe a dike along the river?) had ruptured and had turned a couple of streets into raging rivers. It was pretty cool looking – water a foot or two deep cascading down streets largely within the confines of the curbs. Didn’t see any cars being swept away but a couple of kids (I assume) got into the street and whitewatered their way for several blocks. The action looked to be captured on cellphone video.
After topping off my coffee, they took my Visa card, and processed me out of there. The price wasn’t bad either. Less than $10.00, and that included a $2.00 tip.
Back to the truck I strolled to enjoy the warmth and comfort of my Kenworth T700. Didn’t do much for the rest of the day. I’ packed it in early and got up around midnight to head down to St. Albans, Vermont to pick up a load of Ben & Jerry’s bound for Sandston, Virginia.
Special Spiritual Note: About all the cities I hung out in on this trip were named after Saints. Almost converted me back. Almost.