Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a Warm Christmas . . .

The lights around the highway exit loomed in the foggy darkness and faded out into the lunar landscape of the snow covered Nebraska plains. In the foreground, the grotesque beauty of post storm ice on everything. Every twig in the bare trees, every leaf on every bush, each stem and blade of the weeds, and even the occasional deer carcass, was covered with a silver veil in the glow. The roads were better here, the freezing rain had given way to blowing snow. I drove down the more or less visible highway with the wheel cocked ever so slightly into the wind.

Nerve endings crept out of my fingertips. They slithered around and down the steering column like miniature versions of Jack's bean vines. Somewhere under the dash, a connection was made. The truck and I were one. Just as a crosswind began to push against the truck, I was already pressing the steering a little further. Before the puff was over, the wheel was already back to where I started, just nudging the wind as we went. In cycles of push and ease, we read the wind like an old sailor and his schooner. Anyone watching would simply observe a semi truck maintaining its lane. Inside, the effortless, unified work continued.

With the creak of bone and sinew, my left leg grew down through the floor like Mr. Hyde or a Werewolf in mid change. My toes touched the chilly tarmac. Just as I steered, a moment before the road became slick, I was easing off the accelerator. In dry snow or on pavement, I was already speeding back up. I had taken the red pill, I was plugged in.

I had the FM radio off and the CB radio on. If a bad spot in the road or a wreck was up ahead, someone would cackle over the tinny speakers of the CB. We would all adjust to the new conditions. When the road got really bad, no one talked. For miles it seemed that I was the only truck left on the highway. The steering and the accelorator eased on and off as the road dictated. The only interruption when a bridge would drastically break the wind.

Easing in and out of steering into the wind worked just fine except when the wind suddenly vanished. When I drove under a bridge, the bridge and its embankment would block all the wind. With no wind to steer against, the truck lurched toward the bridge. This can be disconcerting in the daylight. At night, with so few visual frames of reference, the brief, disorienting, lurch toward the bridge felt exactly the same way the tractor did when going into a slide. Each time my heart jumped into my throat. I had to check my mirrors for the trailer. Each time, I could just make out a side light and the rear marker light on my side of the trailer. If those lights were roughly parallel, I was still going down the road; relatively straight.

I had driven more than eight hours before I actually made it up to 54 mph. With a clean road and real speed, I noticed the wipers were still scraping at the windshield. Clickety Clackety to the right, Clap, thud to the left, clickety clackety . . . over and over again. I had to run the wipers on the icy glass, with the defroster blasting from the inside, just to keep a clear view of the road all night. Four or Five times, I had to pull over to scrape the windshield and crack the ice off the wipers. It took me quite a while to trust that I could turn the wipers off. When I finally did it was eerily quiet; like a tomb only colder. I hadn't needed much caffeine with all the stress but now, with a little relief, I was suddenly sleepy.

I had roughly a hundred miles to go. In clear weather, I would have been there early. After all the winter conditions driving, I was getting my confidence back in a clear spot. I was hitting 60 mph occasionally. My trucker brain figured at sixty, I could almost make my appointment. My right leg, with its damnable will to live, kept pulling back, not yet trusting that we are past the weather. The brain gets us back to sixty. After a few minutes, I look down and the leg has us back at fifty two. Brain pushes, leg eases. Same cycle as before, but call it a draw. I made it to the gate with about 7 minutes to spare. The gals at the Receiving Office had no idea what I'd just driven through.

"Back into Dock 214," she said cheerily. She's all smiles and big eyes; bright red sweatshirt and fingernails painted green. "Chock your wheels, dolly down, but don't unhook." Her voice chimes like holiday wishes. The perfect inflection as if she were saying "Donner and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Pancho, Chuy, Tavo." A whole new meaning to the phrase Holiday Fruitcake.


"Aw, "repression"..."recession"...it's all da same thing, man." -Cheech Marin