Monday, July 16, 2018

The Cop and the Corn

I’ve written before about the DOT regulated hours I have to track as a truck driver. I can drive for eleven hours a day, but once I start, I have just fourteen hours of on-duty time in which to drive the eleven. A ten hour break resets these clocks.

I just started driving again for a company where I had driven before. Its a three-beer-story, but I had three trucks in my first eight days after two of them died on me. And because I had to get a ride from another driver back to Florida, I had to leave some of my stuff in the second broken down truck. That truck is still waiting parts in a shop in Savannah, Georgia. I wrote about that here in a post about earning boat money.

I picked up in Alabama and delivered in Douglas, GA.  I had just enough time on my clocks to backtrack to Albany for a load; 44,000 lbs of Coors Light bound for Smyrna near Atlanta. About an hour up the road from there, I had to stop for the night (my night is usually 14:00 to midnight). My appointment for the next morning was at 10:30; a terrible time given the usual morning traffic in Atlanta.

After checking with Google Satellite Maps, I knew there was lots of parking at my delivery location. So I left quite early to avoid the traffic and arrived at 6:00a for my 10:30a appointment. There’s lots of beer drinkers in Atlanta, so there were lots of trucks waiting to deliver there that morning. It was almost 1:00p by the time I was unloaded and ready to roll.

My next load assignment had two pickup stops. The first was about 40 miles away, back through Atlanta traffic -- and needed to be picked up before 2:00p. I started rolling before I had a specific address, but had to message into dispatch that I couldn’t make it before 2:15 or 2:30p.

My truck GPS was still in the broken truck sitting in Savannah. I was using my phone and wandered through some sketchy country roads near Hampton to get to an old, repurposed warehouse. All that rushing around for two skids of no brand windshield washer fluid.

The next stop was up near Stockbridge. I managed to find that next warehouse tucked in a suburban shopping district and got loaded with Chinese imitation YETI coolers. My fourteen hour clock was running out and I had only driven about five hours of my eleven for having waited all morning to unload the beer.  I was chagrined to find nowhere to park a semi in the neighborhood.

Dispatch had a grand plan to get me through Savannah to pick up my stuff. The two stop load I had was bound for Hope Mills, NC. Then I was to pickup a load in Clinton, SC to go to Fort Pierce, FL; passing right through Savannah with a stop for my stuff. The trouble was that Clinton vendor is notoriously slow to load a trailer. Hundreds of big-but-light boxes of plastic storage bins are loaded by hand on the trailer floor -- no pallets. I had to get there in one jump and take my break while they loaded me. Otherwise, I would not have time to get to Savannah during business hours. I had to make business hours on Friday or I would have to wait until the following week, on another load, to swing by and get my stuff.

Here’s where the fun begins. My trip from south of Atlanta to the other side of North Carolina was reasonably uneventful. There was an accident involving three semi trucks and a ten mile backup, but luckily it was on the other side of the highway. The eastbound lanes got bound up by rubberneckers slowing down to gawk at the accident but I was through the bottleneck in a few minutes. The rest was not a leisurely ride, I only stopped once for coffee -- to get rid of some and to get some more. Old Trucker Proverb: You don’t buy coffee, you rent it.

I arrived at the Hope Mills warehouse and had to scramble to find an empty trailer. There were two choices: one trailer wouldn’t be unloaded for a couple hours, the other was hidden in a back corner of the lot. I had about 200 miles and little less than four hours to drive; I had to go. When I found the empty trailer, someone had left me about 20 pounds of field corn spilled in two sprawling piles. My broom was hanging on the back of the truck in Savannah.

I grabbed the trailer and headed for South Carolina; flying. The next load was almost all the way back
to Georgia and I barely had enough time. About halfway there was a truckstop that I remembered was easy off and back on the highway, so I planned my attack. When I arrived, I jumped off the highway, ran into the store, and bought a broom, some garbage bags, some supper and a granola bar for breakfast -- then tore off down the highway again. I watched my diminishing drive time and the ETA on my phone all the way there.

I arrived with just six minutes to spare. Now the trailer needed to be swept as I hadn’t been able to take the time yet. Once the trailer was swept and I scooped the corn into a couple garbage bags, there wasn’t a dumpster to be found. Many warehouses give little or no thought to the needs of drivers. At least this place had an indoor bathroom that we all could use. I tossed the bags of corn on the catwalk behind the cab and checked in with the shipping office.

I slept a while at the dock, then finally felt them start loading me. I slept some more and then woke to the metallic sound of the dock plate being retracted; the perfect ringtone for a trucker’s alarm. In front of the shipping office, the trailer was sealed, the paperwork signed and then I moved off to a corner of the lot to sleep a little more. Now I could time my departure to hit the dealer in Savannah mid morning and get my stuff in the right truck.

Up at 2:00a for my morning ablutions and a pit stop, I was ready to roll at 3:00a but still had to do something with the bags of corn. I decided that since corn was natural and I was out in the country, I could just dump it. No one would be surprised by a pile of corn in the road. I didn’t want to just dump it in the warehouse lot, so I pulled out onto the road, stopped in the left turn lane and threw on my four way flashers.

It was still dark when I exited the cab and stepped back to the catwalk. Just as I sliced open the bags and started dumping the corn onto the road, a couple pairs of headlights passed over my shoulder heading toward the warehouse. Crap, I thought, shift change. Attention was not something I wanted just then. I had corralled a piece of plastic twine that had been swept up with the corn the night before. I just wanted to dump the corn, not litter.

The bags were almost empty. And then a sheriff squad car crept by on the other side of the truck. As he pulled in front of the truck, my heart sank. First I wondered how much a ticket for littering might cost. Then I remembered I was in the south. I might end up in front of some unamused judge after languishing a couple days in the local drunk tank. My thoughts became a horrifying mix of Buford T. Justice, Barney Fife, and the littering trial saga of Alice’s Restaurant. I was hindered by the twisting twine and a few cups of remaining corn, and struggled to wad the bags up. I leapt back into my truck and tried stuffing the mess into my little trash bag.

The sheriff approached my door. He couldn’t have been 25 years old; squeaky clean, way to alert for 3:00a with a perfectly polished smile straight out of the Laurens County High School yearbook; probably a former quarterback. His grandfather was probably the judge I’d be seeing later in the week. My gagging trash bag finally swallowed the tangle mess of twine and corn and I sat up in the driver’s seat.

“You good?” was all he asked.

“Yes … yessir, I am,” I choked.

He waved, spun around to his car and drove off. I’m still confused.

Did he see the corn on the road? Did he think it was someone else’s?

He probably thought I was taking a leak. Behind the cab at the catwalk is a notorious peeing trucker spot.

Looks like I won’t be having a baloney sandwich at the county jail tonight.

I’d rather be lucky than good.

It's long but it's a classic draft era protest song:

Bonus Track from Todd Snider:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

An Empty Square

[Please note, I wrote this in my journal about a year ago, I wasn't sure I would ever share it.]

Paula Hosey passed away over the weekend, just shy of her 53rd birthday. The news was difficult and a sharp pain to my heart. She was the first girl with whom I used the phrase “go steady.” It seems a little silly now using those words in fifth grade, but we did. Those were the days when anything was possible and we, and all our friends, lived with hardly a worry or a care.

Back at Galewood Elementary, fifth grade I think, for Paula’s birthday I wrote her a poem and got her a flower. It was March, forty some years ago, when I trudged through snow over to her house. When I knocked on the door, the house was filled with her girlfriends and I had stumbled into a birthday sleepover or something. I can vividly remember realizing that one leg of my pants was scrunched up on top of a snow boot. When I bent over to straighten that leg, I realized to fix it I would have to expose my long john underwear to all those girls -- a fraction of inch, mind you. I stood back up and left the pants where they were -- and I probably turned red, because that’s what I often did back then. No one else likely noticed or cared, but they did all coo about my poem and flower. I felt pretty cool and the walk back home was a little warmer.

In fifth grade, you don’t go steady for long.  We were always friends and sang together with friends in an act that tried out for our high school band's variety show; the Band Bounce. Just after we all started high school, Paula’s family had to move. I wrote another poem for her which I don't remember besides the last line which was something creative like “I sure will miss you, Paula.”

A couple years after though, I did get to see Paula again when a family camping trip took us through Williamsburg. And recently, we had been in contact on Facebook.

For many many years I had a journal containing my poems. Most of them were not very good; either sappy and lovelorn or an obvious attempt to impress a girl. It contained that last poem I had written for Paula. On that page I had drawn a square where I was going to stick her last school picture. I never tracked down a picture and all those years later it was just a square with “Paula” written inside it.

When I got divorced a second time, I moved out of the house in a hurry. That is not a story for today, but I grabbed my possessions on the fly, deciding what was important and what to simply abandon as I loaded my car. That journal of poems, a hard bound, unlined book with no writing on it’s spine, escaped my attention. Weeks or months later, it was an abrupt, strangely physical sense of loss when I realized that I was missing all my poems.

Ever since I heard this weekend that she was gone, my heart kind of feels like an empty square with the word “Paula” written inside.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

I Couldn't Find Any Sleep

I Couldn't Find Any Sleep
(first draft, incomplete?)

I tried to get too much done yesterday

And when I finally laid down

(short nap before a night shift)

I couldn't find any sleep

In the jungle that is my disquieted mind

The hurly-burly of all my schemes and aspirations

Howled like monkeys at sunset.

Image used without permission. Stolen here.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Vivid Un-medicated Flashbacks (and the links to prove it).

I had the strangest load last month. For those of you who don't know, my part-time gig is delivering to CVS stores. I usually have 3 or 4 stops on a trailer. This load was to Tequesta, West Palm Beach - and then, Longboat Key. If you don't know Florida geography, Tequesta is about an hour south of me here on the Treasure Coast. West Palm is a little further south, but Longboat Key is all the way across the state - on the Gulf Coast!!

Longboat Key lies off Sarasota and to get to the CVS about halfway up the island, I had to go straight through Sarasota, across the John Ringling Causeway, over Bird Key, around St. Armand's Circle, across the northern arm of Lido Key and finally over the New Pass Bridge to Longboat. These are my old stomping grounds; full of ghosts and vivid flashbacks. I didn't suspect a thing as I drove across the state from West Palm, over FL-70 and up I-75.

As I crested over Bee Ridge Road, I realized I was going to pass the original shop where I started a plastics business in the mid 90s. It's Florida, so the whole area was much more developed than it had been. Nevertheless, I went by the site where the line between right and wrong got paved over for my ex-wife. I had another plastics guy as a business partner and our financial partner had locked us out of the building we were working in. Under the cover of darkness, we stole all our stuff -- from ourselves -- and started the business all over again across town, under a new name, without a financial backer. I squinted from the highway but couldn't tell exactly where the little shop on a cul-de-sac had been, but it was definitely gone.

Next I exited at Fruitville road. This exit had been redone since my near fatal road rage incident almost 25 years ago. Just west of the highway was super-developed with retail, but the original plaza I knew appears to still be there. It was there, halfway through a long day at the shop, that my partner and I were looking for some lunch and spotted a couple ladies walking along the plaza. As we crept by, totally obviously checking them out and got right alongside them - leering - and it was my wife and a friend!! Worse yet, Don had been checking out my wife, whom he didn't get along with. And I was checking out the friend!

A little further down Fruitville Road was the apartment complex where Cindy and I lived. It was also the site where a sheriff deputy showed up and served her with the paperwork showing that I was getting sued for $600,000. We'd been married less than a year - image coming home to that kind of news!

I didn't turn up Beneva Road to see if the Circus City Trailer Park was still there. I spent about a year at the park in a little 22 foot Prowler travel trailer. However, just a few blocks down Fruitville was the gas station where I got my propane to cook.

Further down the road I went by the Office/Drafting Supply store that made copies for me of a complete set of plans for a fifty foot trimaran. One of our customers had got all misty-eyed when he discovered we had a company subscription to Multihull Magazine. My Emma is nearly the complete opposite of a multihull but I had always thought I might build one. This customer had built the 50' trimaran in California in the early 1970s. Apparently, the man's son was not happy that he had let me copy the plans.

When I got to US41, I craned my neck but it looked like Walt's Fish Market was gone(moved apparently). My business partner and a friend/consultant, who was an economics teacher at Bradenton High School, used to go there for happy hour and stuff ourselves with steamed mussels and smoked mullet. It was often all I had for supper on a Friday.

Left onto US-41, and then a right onto the John Ringling Causeway was a little tight in a semi, but I chanced a look at the docks on the east side of Golden Gate Point. I had a Southern 21, which I had bought from our cardboard salesman, docked there. It was here that I got a round of applause for ghosting into my slip under sail. A little old lady, and her very protective daughter, lived on the first floor of the building she owned and rented the adjacent docks pretty cheap.

Next was Bird Key, a gated community, hence I didn't hang out there. Yet years after leaving Florida, when my second wife and I were auction hounds, we shipped a music box to Bird Key. I had found a rare music box at an estate sale. It was lacquered brass with intricate engraving. Inside was a little, realistic looking bird. When opened, the bird popped up and the box sang like a bird rather than playing music. My wife and I sold it on eBay for about $600.

Next up was St. Armands Circle, another interesting spin in a semi. The ‘circle’ means traffic circle with a park in the middle, boutique-y shops and over-priced restaurants around the outside. I once had a terrible blind date at a little place called Hemingway's. On the way out and back, I just put my four-way flashers on and took up both lanes around the circle. (I did yield for a few pedestrians.)

Around the northern elbow of Lido Key, it looked like the Old Salty Dog bar is something else now(actually, maybe it’s still there). I did a lot of sailing by myself, but one evening with a couple guys along, we were sailing out to the ‘Dog’ for supper. A few boats beat us to the turn west toward New Pass. We followed them in. All of us were "Wing & Wing" as the evening offshore breeze was behind us. It wasn't long after we turned that the other sailors started yelling at us. They were in some kind of race back to the Sarasota Sailing Squadron and our sails were blocking their wind. We just waved and carried on. The wind was very light and by the time we actually tied up to the dock, the kitchen was closed. Supper that night was beer and potato chips.

I barely recovered from that flashback when I was crossing the New Pass bridge to Longboat Key. Just outside the bridge, on the Gulf-side, is a party cove where I spent my last Fourth of July weekend in Florida. My buddy Tom and I got out to the cove early to get a good spot, but a no-name storm was going by out in the Gulf. We spent the night in winds approaching 30 knots with just an 8' sand dune between us and the storm. The anchor line was tight like a guitar string the whole night.

On Longboat Key, I drove past all the resorts starting with the Key Club on the south end. When I drove a cab in Sarasota, most of what I did was run tourists back and forth between the airport and these resorts. Tips were good on the way out because vacation had just started, everyone was excited, and no one was counting their money yet. The way back to the airport was a little somber and less lucrative.

The CVS is about halfway up the key. After the delivery, all that travel was just reversed; party cove, Lido Key, St. Armands, Bird Key, and the John Ringling Causeway bridge. Here I could finally safely and clearly see the anchorage where I had a boat for eighteen months or so. Back then, 60 or 80 boats were anchored there for free; about a third were liveaboards. Today, it's a state-regulated mooring field. Last I heard, it's about $275 a month - not bad for a place downtown.

Sunday mornings at the anchorage meant breakfast at O'Leary's. Whoever got there first had to buy the paper. When the rest of us wandered in - rowed ashore actually - we perused the random, left over newspaper sections.

I used to tell people I was a bi-athlete. Each morning I rowed about 50 yards to shore, unlocked my bike from the palm tree, locked the dinghy with the same chain and then pedaled to work.

I couldn't quite see the park and O'Learys past Marina Jack's but my brain was exhausted from all the flashbacks. I was a little delirious all the way out of town and back on the highway. Northern Indiana and Detroit are two other places where I've spent enough time that a simple drive through can be full of ghosts.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Saved by Karaoke

I ended up with 45 minutes to kill and that’s often no good. The day before, I had delivered a load and got my next assignment. Shortly after I let them know that I didn’t have the driving hours to get there yet that night, they cancelled that load and gave me another. This is trucking, no problem, and now I had extra time to sleep. Google told me that my new pickup would be about an hour away in the morning.  

I woke up a little early and had a panicked thought. After checking the Motor Carrier Atlas, as I had suddenly expected, the route Google was sending me along was a state highway not rated for trucks. After plotting a legal route, I jumped up, got some coffee and took off down the road. I was dipping south down onto the bypass around Columbia, SC, crossing over to I-26 from I-77, and then northwest to Clinton, SC. I worried about morning traffic on the Columbia bypass. The truck and I rattled through town just early enough that there was very little traffic. Hence, I was onto I-26 and heading toward Clinton much sooner than I had planned for a fixed appointment. 
Surely how he sees himself.

I’ve been really working hard in my fight against road food. In fact, in the heat of the summer while I’m not exercising as much, I've gotten down to a Slim Fast Shake in the morning and evening with a healthy lunch. There is a bit of cheating here and there, but I’ve been happy with my progress. This morning though, I found myself with some time to kill and the looser the schedule is, the harder it is to keep up my discipline. I saw a billboard for a Waffle House next to truckstop and exited the freeway; hellbent for a deliciously bad breakfast. 

It had actually been quite some time since I had a regular breakfast. Once in a great while, I succumb to coffee and a donut, but I hadn’t had eggs and cheese and potatoes in a long time. That was my thinly conceived rationalization. It is pretty easy to find a parking space in a truckstop about 5:00 AM because several trucks have surely left to start their day by then. I backed into a spot, cast my eyes toward the glow of the Waffle House sign, and hiked across the lot. I could already smell the onions and potatoes. This was going to be great! 

Concho Belt
The Waffle House was on a bluff above the truckstop. I wandered around to the front and stepped up the rise past the tiered landscaping. The restaurant appeared to be fairly recent construction or was at least recently landscaped. There was a short sidewalk in front of a couple parked cars. I could see the grill crew standing at the ready. There were a few customers inside. One guy, at the counter, had his shoulders hunched over like an armadillo curling up to hide. Everyone else seemed to be looking at something, the same something. 

Just as I touched the door handle; just as I was about to burst into the Waffle House Playground of Grease and Salt, my eyes found what everyone but the guy at the counter was looking at. A wrinkled old toothless guy striking an ecstatic pose as if he were wailing before a stadium of adoring fans. In one hand was a microphone attached to a karaoke machine that leaned toward the floor at the edge of a booth. He was dressed in black adorned with sterling silver; silver band on a black hat, black western shirt under a black leather vest with black jeans and boots. A sterling silver bolo tie pulled up to his chin and a concho belt at his waist completed the look; except we’re all in South Carolina not Texas. 

He cast an eye at me as he sang. His grizzled face surely hid many stories, but the manic grip on the mic and the deep karaoke sincerity in his sad eyes was too much. If I had been asked to come up with some particular way that I did not want to spend my breakfast, this scenario would never have even come up. Still I knew immediately, no matter whether he was singing Waylon Jennings, Britney Spears or Anne Murray -- breakfast serenaded by this ancient midnight cowboy was exactly not how I wanted to have it.

I hadn’t yet applied the smallest outward pull on the door handle. I didn’t look at the grill crew or anyone else. I simple turned and walked away. Back down the hill to the truckstop, I bought a coffee and a Clif bar, went back to the truck and checked email on my phone. The coffee wasn’t bad and I enjoyed it until when the time was right for leaving again. Thank you, Ancient Midnight Cowboy. You just helped me to continue to avoid that unhealthy -- yet delicious -- breakfast. 
The Dangerous Siren of the Off Ramp

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Do You Need a Ride Somewhere?

It has happened before, I was in decent shape (for me) and then went back on the road to earn some boat money. This was a means toward an end; an end where I was going to live in a very healthy, minimalist way. I got distracted by this future healthy lifestyle and took my eye off the ball, again. There is nothing healthy to eat for 5 miles on either side of a highway. And after sitting on my butt for 10 or 12 hours of driving, I’ve not been very motivated to exercise. So, predictably, but suddenly, I realized I was back to an unhealthy weight and my fitness level had essentially just dropped off.

My Trek Antelope is my main means of transportation, but I’m only home 3 or 4 days a month and even though it travels with me, I don’t bike as much as I should. I decided that I could walk regularly if I put my mind to it. Recently I’ve got to where I’m doing 3+ miles four or five times a week and feeling good about it. I’ve been doing a lot of prep work on the boat, but I've been needing to do some work on prepping myself as well.  

On one of my walks, a car came up behind me and I could hear it start to slow. As the luxury car passed, the nice looking middle-aged woman driver seemed to be looking my way. Up ahead, the car did a gentle U-turn, and pulled over onto the shoulder. 

A few times before, I’ve thought I was going to get offered a ride. It may not be that unusual to come across a guy walking down the side of the road for exercise, but out by the highway, on the country roads around a truckstop, exercise may not be the first thing that comes to mind. 

Not far from me the lady turned her car a little deeper into the grass and got out. She was head to toe in business attire and walked on uncomfortable shoes. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but without even acknowledging my presence she walked down toward the woods to straighten a real estate sign that had begun to lean. “160+/- acres for sale.” I guess that explained the shoes. 

So just last week, it happened again. And it happened right next to some real estate signs. I can’t imagine but it might have been the same stretch of road. A car slowed down as it went by, did a U-turn, and came at me on the shoulder. It was an older Honda Prelude with the paint scorched off most of the horizontal surfaces. Down here in Florida, after 12 or 15 years, many cars have not only lost their sheen, they have begun to lose the paint. Older cars are even rusted on the roof and the hood.  

As the car came along beside me, the driver’s window rolled down. At the wheel was a young man; maybe 17 or 18 years old. A mop of loosely curled hair spilled out over the top of a pastel bandana tied around his head. His synthetic sleeveless shirt looked vaguely European and another bandana was tied around his right hand as it gripped the wheel. He must of been headed to an 80’s dance party or was looking for Richard Simmons. 

“Do you need a ride somewhere?” he asked with what seemed like genuine concern. 

I can’t imagine my appearance; near the end of 3 miles of walking, sweating through my shirt, a dirty Detroit Tiger cap, ponytail, old running shoes, and I probably hadn’t shaved for a few days. I caught a strong whiff of what seemed like both spearmint and patchouli wafting out of the car. 

“No, man. I’m a truck driver just trying to get some exercise,” I said as I sloshed my water bottle in the direction of the nearby truckstop. 

“That’s hilarious,” was all he said and he drove off, making another U-turn and continuing on wherever he had been going. 


At 6:20 pm on a Monday evening, plenty of traffic buzzed back and forth. I was close enough to Jacksonville and the farms out toward Hastings, besides St. Augustine behind me, that all kinds of different people in all kinds of vehicles were commuting in each direction. It wasn’t like I was alone watching the kid’s car drive off but I wondered as I stood there on the shoulder of FL-206 not so far from I-95, what exactly was hilarious?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cab Suicide

Warning: Contains plenty of adult language.

Joe drove his taxi across the Ringling Causeway as the evening faded into dusk. He loved this time of night. Striations of orange and pink and purple expoded in his rearview mirror and turned the glass towers of downtown into whimsical murals. With no fare in the cab, he had the windows down and the cool, salty evening breezes swirled around him. The winds off the Gulf always made him feel cleaner. His straggly, mostly grey hair, pulled back behind his head, twitched in the wind. He didn't smile a lot these days, but as he crossed the bridge and looked north over Sarasota Bay, he remembered what smiling was like.

He had been married to a woman who eventually learned to dislike him. The long glow of their romance had faded and they had gradually learned how much they disagreed about basic stuff. They argued about how to raise the kids they didn't have yet. They argued about the business he had started. They argued about money and whether he was making any. And they argued about stupid philosophical bullshit. Joe had finally played the bad guy and moved out. Just the same, she had probably been his last chance to be conventionally happy.

His business had almost taken off but then didn't. He and his partner had learned to scrabble and survive when it didn't seem possible to anyone else. Along the way Joe began to appreciate life, and to value things like money and success, in ways that most people, especially his ex-wife, couldn't understand. It wasn't about some external status, he felt he was doing something bigger and more personal too. With his wife gone though, Joe was able to see clearer the way his partner was handling the money, and how the company was actually doing. This more jaundiced eye helped him to leave the company after all. He still cussed at the notion that his ex had been right all along.

Now he drove this cab for a living and wondered what could possibly go bad next. Still, he drove a nice Town Car all day for Checker Cab of Sarasota. The company had the airport franchise, so only their cabs could pick up passengers there. It was decent money schlepping bitchy tourists back and forth between the airport and the resorts out on Lido and Longboat. At odd hours, Joe worked the city too, to make a little extra money. He wasn't even sure what the money was for, but it made him think that he was doing something with his life.

His last fare had been a family going out to the Longboat Key Club for their vacation. Two bratty kids, a gorgeous soccer mom in yoga pants, with a dad who didn't seem to deserve either. Joe was more than chagrined when he spotted some nerdy accountant who seemed to have it made; even though the whole lifestyle seemed foreign to him. The BMW, the minivan, parent-teacher meetings, the house in the suburbs, the fucking immaculate lawn, the pool off the patio, the packaged vacations and all that bullshit. It didn't seem like a real life to Joe, but it made him feel strange. Not quite jealous, not quite offended, but a little bit of both and something else too. Anyway, the dad tipped pretty well. The beginning of a vacation was where the good tips could be had. Everyone's excited and dad hasn't spent enough money to start rationing it.  

Joe turned up US-41 to head back home. This used to be 'the strip' in town back in the 50's. Old motels and seafood joints fought for waning attention with neon signs that lit the street. It was damn near Vegas for a mile or so. Joe could've gone home a couple ways, but up here he might find one more small fare. Every little bit helps, he thought. Helps what? he almost said out loud.

Near the end of the lights, a kid hailed for the cab. Joe slowed to turn and eyed the kid warily. The Chinese place was usually garishly lit, but it was dark this time of night. Hopefully, the kid just got off work or something. It was a strange place to be standing this late.

"Where to?" Joe asked from his already open window.

"I need to get up to Motel 301," the kid said flatly as he looked up the road and then back down toward downtown.

Motel 301 was a notorious spot on the northside and not the kind of place the cabbies liked to go after dark. Most of the local 'second string' hookers lived there with their junkie boyfriends. People didn't go to Motel 301, they ended up there. Trouble often found its way there too. The cops ignored all but the worst of what went on.

Joe eyed the kid again. He was wearing a clean shirt, his pants hung loosely. Just another punk trying to look tough. Mom and Dad were probably in the suburbs, nervously wondering where he was and if he was OK.

"Alright, get in" Joe barked, not convincing himself that it was a good idea. He hit the unlock button and the kid grabbed a backpack and climbed in.

They were silent as Joe drove up toward the airport and the motel. A jazz program out of Tampa buzzed quietly out of the cab's crappy speakers. Joe tried to think of something so he could chat with the kid. He usually liked to talk to his customers, but tonight he decided it was best just to drive.

Catching all the lights green was Joe’s favorite game. If he pushed the speed limit just a bit, he could usually hit them all. He seemed tp get away with a lot on the street. The cops gave him a little leeway with the taxi light on the roof. Being left alone appealed to him on many levels; ex-wives will do that for you.

Motel 301 was an island of bright lights out by the back of the airport property. The cab lurched and groaned into the rough parking lot as Joe looked around. A trucker had squeezed his big rig into the empty lot next door. The artificial light made the puddles shine like lakes from an airplane at night. There were a few cars around, but it looked like a slow night for the girls; weeknights usually were. A few stragglers hung around the stairs smoking, but most everyone had gone. Someone was probably making money tonight, most were not.

"You want dropped off out front or what?" Joe asked hopefully.

"My room's kind of in the back by those dumpsters. If you don't mind getting me close. Some of the people around here make me nervous."

Joe shrugged as if to say whatever. He didn't speak not wanting to reveal the tiny edge of nervousness that had snuck up on him.

"Right back there," the kid leaned over the seat enough to point toward a couple dumpsters at the far end of the building. One dumpster was at the edge of the light, half open with an odd assortment of junk piled into it. A dirty mattress leaned against the other which was just a dark box back in the shadows by the airport fence.

The cab slowed to a stop near the last room. Pealing paint and strips of plywood sagged off the neglected door. Joe clicked the meter which showed $4.75 in an eery green glow from the dash.

"How 'bout we just call it four bucks." Joe was tired. It had been a slow day until the nerdy Longboat dad's tip had brought him up to decent for the day. He wanted to give the kid a break, get him out of the damn cab, and go home to bed. Joe heard the kid dig in his backpack for a wallet and thought his day was about over.

Then he heard the safety click and felt the sharp stab of the gun's barrel behind his ear.


"How about we call it all your cash on hand," the kid grunted with a harder edge in his voice.

Joe looked through the chain link fence beyond the dumpster. The airport was dark. He knew no one at the motel would even stir for a gunshot. The quiet idle of the cab and the kid’s excited breathing were the only sounds. Joe knew he had to play this just right.

“Cash on hand” was such a suburban thing to say. Dad was probably an accountant. A bean counter and his punk kid; what a night.

The cab hummed. The kid rasped in Joe's ear.

"Huh ... well, thank God," Joe finally said.

"What the fuck ..."

"You're gonna save me a lot of trouble," Joe continued. "And you might keep me from wasting more time too."

"I don't understand, man," the kid stuttered. Joe felt the slightest release of pressure from the barrel behind his ear.

"You see, kid, I've been driving around in this damn cab, thinking about my useless, fucking life and about just doing myself in. Two years ago, my wife left me. Last year, I had to close my business and start driving this fuckin' cab taking tourists out to the Key Club and eating their shit every day. How would you feel?"

"Tough shit," the kid spit as he pushed with the barrel again.

"You see, I thought I would just pull into the parking lot out at Lido Beach or some damn place, stick the gun in my mouth and be done with this mess; just forget about it all. Been out to Lido four or five times and I couldn't do it. I don't even know what this gun tastes like yet. Do you know what your gun tastes like?"

"Fuck no, man," the kid said getting gentle again with the barrel.

"See, I figure about the time I hand you my money, you're gonna realize that you've been sitting in my damn cab for twenty fucking minutes and that I can I.D. your dumb ass. So you're gonna have to shoot me. I just wanted to say thank you ahead of time."

"Shit," the kid drawled and leaned back into the seat, still pointing the gun at Joe's head. "You are one crazy motherfucker, man."

"I'm counting on you now," Joe said sternly.

"I don't know, man. This is a fucked up situation. I don't wanna pop some crazy fuckin' cab driver. They'll hunt me down for that shit."

"Don't let me down, kid," Joe said.

He paused and then said, "Hey, you wanna see the gun I was going to use? It's a beauty."

Joe slowly pulled his gun from under the armrest and carefully held it up in his open hand; no fingers near the trigger. The motel sign bathed the gun in yellows and reds.

"A Smith and Wesson Mountain Gun, stainless steel, rugged, 44 fucking Magnum. What d'you think?"

"Its nice. I guess."

"You know once you cap me, you can have this gun too. It's built to take some shit - outdoors even."

"Fuck! You gonna give me your money or what? Crazy fucker. Jesus!"

"Look at these custom grips," Joe slowly twisted the gun in his hand. "You're going to love this fucking gun, kid. Don't forget to grab it on your way out."

When Joe caught the kid's glance in the mirror, the kid just stared back, dumbfounded and silent. His eyes swirled with anger and confusion. His gun still pointed at Joe's head.

Joe waited. The kid stared.

With the gun in his left hand, Joe let it drop slowly to rest on the steering wheel. He casually scratched the back of his neck with his right hand. The kid didn't flinch but leaned his gun a little closer, not yet touching Joe's neck again.

Again Joe scratched.

In a single motion, he stuck a finger in his right ear, pushed the gun over his shoulder and fired. The back window darkened and Joe's head swam in the acrid belch of gunsmoke and the incredible noise of the blast. His left ear howled, stinging like it was on fire. He had practiced that move in his head a hundred times.

He grabbed his phone and opened the door. When Joe stepped out, a couple girls were leaning over the third floor railing. They gaped and shrank away. Damn, he was still holding the pistol. Leaning back into the open cab, he set the gun on the seat and got a full face of the metallic smells from the backseat. He chose not to look at the kid. Joe already hated the kid for forcing his hand. He hated the job for making him think he needed the gun. He hated this life that kept kicking him while he was down. Joe slammed the door and dialed 911.

He wondered how he was going to keep himself from calling his ex-wife tonight.

The Cop and the Corn

I’ve written before about the DOT regulated hours I have to track as a truck driver. I can drive for eleven hours a day, but once I start,...