Line One
Downshift
It’s been a good road

By Bill Hudgins
columnist

 

When it comes to juggling schedules and meeting deadlines, my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe takes second place to no one. Still, as Thanksgiving approached, a combination of bad weather, undermanned warehouses (thanks to swine flu) and road construction conspired to keep him from being home in time to enjoy the day with his family.

Rufus wasn’t alone as he sat down to a truck stop meal of turkey and trimmings. But he didn’t see any familiar faces in the handful of drivers scattered around the restaurant, and they seemed lost in their own thoughts. As he lifted a forkful of mashed potatoes and gravy, Rufus felt much the same. Staring out the steam-misted window, he reflected on the meaning of the day and the road he had chosen.

Several million miles, untold hours at the wheel, thousands of cups of coffee and meals in truck stops and endless streams of traffic later, the good times still outweighed the bad.

Trucking had fed him and his family through good times and bad, starting out when the country was at war with itself over a place called Vietnam and continuing today, when our fractious citizens battle over health care.

As the song “Willing” says, he’d driven just about everything, from cramped rigs with dual gearboxes, doghouses and bunks barely wide enough for his shoulders, to virtual rolling palaces.

He learned the ropes from an uncle who let him ride along and help drive some years before he legally could. His uncle taught him more than just how to shift. He acquired a sense of honor, an appreciation of honest work, and a code of conduct for the road. Sometimes his uncle still seemed to be there in the cab with him.

Later on, Rufus took his own kids on short runs during summer vacations. He could still hear their delighted squeals coming from the bunk as they thrilled to the big engine’s growl and the passing scenery. Even the neighborhood kids would volunteer to help wash his rig in exchange for a short ride and a long pull on the airhorn.

Though he has a list of places he wants to go back to, Rufus mused that he’d seen huge swaths of this land. He couldn’t count the times he’d seen the sun set one day and then rise a couple of days later over the same stretch of Rocky Mountains, or he’d come down the Grapevine as the moon hung fat and low over the Pacific Ocean.

The burned hues of desert landscapes fascinated him, and autumn in Vermont and New Hampshire demanded another piece of pie at a roadside diner, just to drink in all the colors. And how could the Atlantic look so gray off Cape Cod and so blue rolling into Miami?

Heading west over the Mississippi, he marveled at how the horizon unrolled itself and stretched ever farther away, until the jagged gray edge of the Rockies began to rise. Ahead of schedule once, he’d gotten behind as he watched the colors of the Grand Canyon shift minute by minute under an arcing sun. It was worth the chewing out he got for being late.

Most of all, the people had made trucking more than just a job. Before CBs turned into trash cans, drivers out in the night would open up and talk each other through the dark miles. More than a few marriages had been saved by scratchy, static-filled advice. And more than a few truckers had found God, or new jobs, or the strength to go on when some anonymous “Gotcher ears on?” crackled out of a speaker.

As Rufus finished his pie and coffee, he realized he was content. It occurred to him that the end of the year puts us between a holiday when we are supposed to be thankful for what we have and another one that encourages us to want more. Maybe, he wondered, that’s why people look forward to Thanksgiving more than Christmas. And why every day could be Thanksgiving.

Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. LL

 

Bill Hudgins can be reached at billhudgins@earthlink.net.

Aug/Sept Digital Edition