Sunday, December 7, 2014
TWO DAYS A LONG HAUL TRUCKER
But I’d trade all my tomatoes
For a single yesterday…
from a great travelin’ song
I’d be deadheading a flat rack down the coast on US 101, overnighting about King City, then headin’ out before dawn fueled only by dishwater coffee and a pancake sandwich slathered in imitation maple syrup and a couple of eggs. And a side of hash browns. And rye toast. (If my mother calls, tell her I had the rye toast dry.) My destination? Lompoc: Roger Ramjet’s home base back in the 60s. There, I’ll load up. The manifest? Tankards of bulk Chardonnay, strapped down good. I’ll swing back north through Salinas and Frisco, and across the Gate. We’ll off load ‘er a couple of hours north, near the southern edge of the Emerald Triangle. Then I’ll find a neon lit boot-scoot in Healdsburg and throw down a cold one. That’s the plan, at least.
In preparation, I purchased an iron rod so I could occasionally stop by the side of the road and bounce it off the rig’s tires and a new deck of playing cards to roll up into the sleeve of my t-shirt so it’d look like I was toting a pack of Marlboros, or better yet, Chesterfield straights. That’s what the long haul truckers do, right?
It’s a two-day run. One I’ve looked forward to: the freedom of the open road, the whining of the tires on the slab, the rhythmic slap of the wipers streaking across a pitted windshield, sunburned elbow out the window, singin’ “Bobby McGhee.” Truck stops with dyed-red-haired waitresses I’d never see again but who’d refer to me, like a regular, as “honey.” Sweet, blue diesel fumes. Sleepin’ in the back of the cab with only a musty, moth-eaten army blanket and an AM radio for company. Maybe I can pen me some lyrics overnight. You know: about the romance of life out on the four-lane.
Reality often differs from fantasy or the dream world. While in college and during my first few years of teaching, I did a little trucking to help make ends meet. My rig this weekend would bring new meaning to the term “little trucking.”
The winemaking daughter lashed six empties onto a five-by-twelve trailer and sent me eight hours south to pick up some raw material she’d secured through a broker.
I didn’t find myself racked out in the sleeper because a Nissan crew cab doesn’t come with one. Rather, I made arrangements for a night in a motel about half way down and ended up in a room that had been declared “non-smoking” about 48 hours prior to my checking in. Breakfast, ninety minutes down the road the next morning, was an omelet and some weak coffee and banter with the waitress was pleasant, even a bit flirtatious.
Barreling down 101 with a trailer, I found it a better plan to maintain some sort of a schedule than to stop for any of the historical or scenic attractions along the way. Besides, parking with a trailer is a pain. Therefore, added to my motorcycle bucket list is a comprehensive tour of all of California’s missions using 101 as the main corridor for the ride.
Forty years after my stint as a casual trucker, I still harbor nightmares of the freight I improperly stacked only to have it collapse and spill and the hours I spent at the end of my shift swabbing out gallons of varnish that didn’t make it to the paint store. So I was delighted that the folks at the facility from which the bulk was being purchased were able to fill the barrels without having to loosen them from the trailer.
The return trip began shortly before noon and it would be ten o’clock before I would finally shut ‘er down. Periods of heavy showers through the Bay Area brought out many of the western hemisphere’s amateur drivers. Just south of Morgan Hill, an empty pickup hot-rodded past me on the left and slipped into the truck lane I was using. At about 70, he hydroplaned across a flooded section spinning 90 degrees. I braced myself for a crash. When his back wheels met traction he rocketed off the freeway and up an embankment about forty feet where he still may be mired in the mud. One can only hope.
North of San Jose, 101 was clogged because of Friday commute, lousy road conditions, a spate of rain-induced fender benders in the gathering dusk, and the fact that a parallel freeway was closed due to some civil disobedience over a recent grand jury finding elsewhere in the nation. Then there are those surface street miles in downtown San Francisco where US 101 ceases to be a freeway.
A stop at the north tower vista point of the Golden Gate Bridge afforded the only scenic shot my camera would take on this little adventure.
The sixty-eight miles from the south bay to here consumed two hours and forty-five minutes.
By 10:15, I am at home (I am to deliver the goods locally the next morning) sitting in front of a gas flamed fire with a dram of Knob Creek over ice and reflecting on my days as a long haul trucker. I’d listened to a lot of NPR and other than the omelet, all I’d had to eat was some pie and ice cream at a Denny’s outside of Soledad. But I'm not hungry. Just tired.
© 2014Church of the Open Road Press