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. 


Hilarious. 

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?