Category Archives: truckers
I was riding my bike from Portland to Eugene.
It’s not the longest ride but it’s not the shortest either.
In Oregon anyone can walk or bike on any road even the main several lane freeway that cuts down through the off center of the state. We weren’t taking that route though. We were taking two lane highways;
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Was it the skunk spraying my dog or the dog chasing the skunk that saved my life that night?
The dreams were awful under that bridge.
We had been hitchhiking since dawn out of Portland. We were headed east, headed for Denver, for rivers and inter tubes and 40’s getting warm too fast like they aught to in the summer but never do in Washington. We barely made it 40 miles and I swear we walked most of it.
We were at four corners. Four corners is a place out of place. You can find it in any state, several times some of the time. A place where two freeways cross each other and a truck stop is sitting at each cardinal point. It’s a place made by concrete and named for how square it is. There are other types of four corners but this one is the most commonly known to many a modern american.
It had long since grown dark. We bought a couple of beers with a pile of coins that the cashier didn’t bother counting. That was good for us because it included some Canadian and at least one chucky cheese token, may have also been where my lucky bingo chip ended up.
We walked south down the smallest road leading out of there. We were looking for a nice bush, nothing fancy, just cozy. We saw a string of lights outlining a bridge not to far down the way.
Under it we found nothing too strange. There was a fire pit with the last occupants empties in it. There was a line of bushes where water used to be; the brush was thick past there. We drank and rolled out our beds. My dog, Skrap, was tied to my backpack. It wasn’t heavy enough to stop him but it slowed him to just less then my speed. This was important if a cop was to come down. I agree that it is very rude to wake people up but, in my dogs’ best interest, I still had to be able to catch him before he mauled an officer of the law.
I fell right to sleep.
The sleep was strange; something was strange.
There was something on top of me in my dream, something choking me, my eyes were open but I could not see anything but the bottom of the bridge. I couldn’t breathe. I was panicked.
I woke to Skrap taking off running faster than ever into the bushes. He was hollering loud, the kind that is reserved for real danger. The leash snapped and he was gone. My partner was sitting up, scared. I was aware of this all happening before I sat up because I couldn’t move for a little too long. I was awake but my body wasn’t responding to me telling it to get up.
He turned to me and shook me and with that stimulation my connectors kicked back in. I sat up. He said we should get out of there. I said why. The dream was already fading. He said we should get out of there.
I yelled for Skrap so much. We could hear him tearing through the bushes but he was not listening. My friend was shaken up. I was very groggy. I tried to convince him we should go back to sleep. Skrap would leave whatever it was alone eventually and we could leave at first light.
My friend was pale.
I started to lie down again but Skrap came back. He had been skunked. Fuck. There was no sleeping in that smell. Even under an entire bridge it was suffocating. Not to mention the fact that we would never get a ride farther east with him like that.
We packed it up and walked back to the gas stations. We had to go back to Portland and stick Skrap in a vat of tomato juice or something. There was still something going on with my friend but he was not saying anything to me. He found a guy headed back west willing to put us in the back of his open pick up truck. The sun came up in the gorge as we rode snuggled in our sleeping bags. Bless him; he dropped us right on the doorstep of the Garfield House.
We put Skrap in the tub. There was no tomato juice but there was ten years worth of roommates leaving half full bottles of smelly shampoo. We covered him in everything. By the end of it he still smelled like a skunks ass but more like an elite skunks ass.
We stayed another night. We went to a party with all kinds of cocktails. We drank a glass of water between each of the twelve we both drank. We were pretending that would help us still get an early start.
He told me about the dream his third or fourth drink in. He had a dream that he could not tell was a dream, everything was just like it was when we went to sleep except in this dream he woke up and where I had been was only a small pool of something like water. He said it was the scariest dream he ever didn’t know he was dreaming and that is when Skrap woke him up.
The next day we left, midday and we got a few very smooth, very long rides and we were in Denver in no time.
I don’t want to know what was there besides the three of us.
Thank you Skrap. Thank you skunk. Thank you for every time a person is protected before they know well enough to protect themselves.
He picked us up in Nebraska or somewhere theres about. He was an owner operator. Though he appeared so average it almost wasn’t average, we learned that he had been very narrowly avoiding serious disasters the entire 15 years he had been trucking.
Many years ago the Bay Bridge had a habit of falling down. I remember the last time they fixed it the city brought in thousands of gallons of dish soap to lube the sides of a massive concrete insert that was just slightly too large. It worked like a charm and has not collapsed since. Of course a bridge between Oakland and San Francisco is going to need a lot of lube to function. It doesn’t take an engineer to sort that out.
This man who picked us up had watched that bridge go down in his rearview mirror. He had also seen cars swallowed by a river when he barely missed a bridge on I-90 going the same route.
“Yeah it’s the funniest thing. Seems almost unusual to see so many things like that.” He chewed his chew and itched under his dusty ball cap. “You guys remember that time the twin towers went down?”
Turns out both of us had heard something about that.
“Well I was in Manhatten that day, with my truck,” He looked away from the road and into my partners face there in shotgun and said,
“That was different.”
At 15 I flew to Hawaii, where I hitch hiked around Oahu for a few weeks or a couple of months. My experience there was more of hitch hiking as a form of public transportation. I got my rides from familys’ and somebodies grandparents.
When I was 17 and convinced my best friend that we should hitchhike from Portland to her families house in Ohio I decided not to mention my lack of practical experience. I was well into my twenties before she found out the truth. The truth was, and is, that I am very good at instilling confidence in people when I have none of my own. That is what I did. I talked so much about how grand our adventure could be, that it seemed to her (without my needing to say so) that my thumb was well worn from miles on Americas highways.
The night before we left Portland while I was whiskey drunk with some stranger, that same best friend went in a dumpster behind an auto repair shop and found a stack of embroidered name tags that had been torn off of jackets. The next morning she picked out two and I picked out two. We became Gamblin’ Evelia and Elsi Will.
We went to a highly recommended truck stop that still stands on the 84 just barely outside the city. We wove around and between the trucks looking for drivers to ask. We had opted for this method in an attempt to find a nice long first ride. Tim was a great choice. He was small enough that either one of us could have taken him in a fight. He was nice enough, he didn’t smell like booze or tweeker sweat and he was going all the way to Minnesota.
We climbed into his cab. We were just about to pull out of the truck stop when he stalled. One of us eventually asked why we were stopped. Tim explained that he was a company driver and was only one half of a team. His partner drove another rig for the same company and they would be caravanning to Minnesota.
It was then that his partners’ truck pulled up adjacent to us. One of the largest men I have ever seen was glaring at me over the steering wheel. I watched that man reach for his CB. I heard a very deep gruff voice come over Tims radio, “Hey who you got in your truck Timmy?”
That man smiled a narly yellow toothed smile as ‘Timmy’ explained that we were his very nice female companions to Minnesota. Maybe we should have gotten out right there, but the seats were cozy and the sun was setting and it was such a long ride and we secretly hoped to be in Michigan in time for the annual shopping cart races on our way to Ohio.
It was several hours down the road when we stopped and went into a diner to have our first meal all together. Tims partner was even larger out of his seat. His big grey beard hung all the way onto his barreled chest. They offered to buy us a meal which we did not refuse.
Other than ordering hamburgers there was not much talk. Our food arrived and we began to eat. Conversation started slowly and we learned that Jim, the partner, was essentially a bionic man. His skull was ½ metal after being blown up by a grenade in Vietnam. Most of his joints and one leg had been replaced after a series of incidents when he was in the C.I.A. Most of this information came from Tim, as Jim ate and eyeballed us.
It was rather suddenly that Jim asked us what we did for a living. Truth be told there was nothing legal and likely nothing relatable about our lifestyles at the time. We told a lie we told often, that we worked with the forest service doing trail restoration.
There was a silence that was a little too long.
Then Jim dropped his sandwich and his gaze got even sharper, “Wait a minute! I know what you are! You two are a bunch of environmental liberals.”
At this, my sweet Gamblin’ Evelia dropped her sandwich and I began to eat as fast as I could. These were our different responses to the sudden feeling that we were about to be thrown out of the diner. He continued, growing louder, “What in hell do you want to do that for?! Trees are a renewable god damned resource!”
Gamblin Evelia, bless her heart, began to politely explain that old growth forests are not actually renewable. All the while I was kicking her under the table trying to send a “Don’t waste your breathe, quick and eat your fries in case we have to run soon” vibe. Nothing deterred her because in her heart she believed, and still believes, that anyone will be reasonable if given an opportunity.
There are a lot of different kinds of loggers, just like any profession. I grew up with the kind that believed activists were only good for target practice. I knew when I heard the word ‘spotted’ and ‘owl’ cross her lips, that we were in big trouble.
Jim was at his boiling point. He stood up and hit his fists so hard on the table that all four plates jumped up a foot. He screamed, “Bull shit! It’s survival of the fittest. Spotted owl doesn’t do for me,” another emphatic table fisting, “SPOTTED OWL DIES!”
The restaurant was silent. The loudest sound was my slowed chewing. Jim remained standing, bright red, long enough that the veins in his neck receded. He then sat down and the meal resumed.
From then on when we stopped, no one really talked about work anymore.