On The Road - Greetings from PA
By Ian Kolsky
Aug 7, 2006, 10:45am
So here's the deal- I decided to make the most of the last weeks of vacation and take a TRIP, so I decided brother Mihir needed a visit. Being the cheap non-conformist that I am, I decided to try to HITCH my way from Denver to Pittsburgh, about 1800 miles. Plane tickets, train tickets, even round-trip bus tickets would have cost like three or four hundred bucks at least! Plus, I have read about big-time hitching in "On the Road" but had never done any. You know, see the gritty underbelly of America, enter for a short time the life and mind of the truckers.
Dawn was a little apprehensive about the idea, what with the media constantly showing everyone the multitude of reasons we have to fear each other. Psychos, perverts, serial killers, those aberitions who capture everyones imaginations keep them for the most part fearful of one-another. But when I told her I COULD just ride my motorcycle, well, she acquiessed on the hitching idea.
Using a translucent vinyl panel (leftover from fixing the kitchn light), I made a sign simply stating
"I- 70 E" in big blue Sharpie letters. I threw an extra T-shirt, a couple of pairs of boxers, three books, two journals, and a pocket-knife into my day pack. Dawn dropped me at the Pilot Truck stop opposite the Purina Plant on I-70. Hugs, kisses, kind words and I'm on my own.
It's a funny feeling holding up a sign for a ride- it's like begging. Like, "Hey buddy, can you spare a ride?" I mulled about by the door to the convenience store. Some of the drivers saw me and quickly looked down at their shoes- not good prospects. Others would lock eyes for a moment, and we'd exchange greatings, getting warmer. I'd draw their attention to the sign and ask "Goin' east?" About an hour of this and a skinny, grizzled driver of about fifty says, "Climb aboard! I ain't suppost to have passengers but it's my gaddamn truck and fuck 'em anyway...." And the rant went on. He I call the bitter driver, Ken. Ken's stories were straight out of a county western song... broken marriages, infedelity, abuse, larceny, drugs, alchohol, prostitutes at truck stops, dirty jokes, perverted humor. When he laughed he beamed with rotten teeth, salt and pepper grizzled face lean like a ferret under a Peterbuilt cap, eyes darting about maliciously. When we'd get to a weigh-and-check station, I'd have to jump in back into the sleeper, a meesy laundry spewn room, his home on the road for days and weeks at a time. No one would accuse him of being tidy, candy wrappers and cigarrette butts blew around the cab. His most interesting and enthusiastic rant regarded his 2nd ex-wife, who apparently was a hottie but also a schitzophrenic with four distint personalities, the nice one, the bitch, the whore, and the psycho-bitch. "She wake up in the mornin' and finish the fifth of vodka from the night before, then she sit on the couch, shitfaced at 9 in the morning, and watch TV all day and not do a goddamn lick of work around the house. Her son, a sixteen-year-old, don't got no job, just sits around, the damn garbage is overflowing, the wood's not split, and ME bustin my ass to pay for them. And I got to teach her little four-year-old daughter how to read, cause she's slow, got that fetal alchohol thing, cause her momma drank hard right till the day she gave birth. Well, I get home from the road a couple of months ago, and I said enough. All she do is bitch, moan, critisize, and take my money! So I tell her to be gone by the time I got back from my next run. She gone, alright, with my stuff and my Corvette, too......"
And it goes on. He explains he understood why she's so crazy, what with a mom died when she was young, and seeing her dad commit suicide, and being abused in foster care. After a while, he finished that whole sad goddamn story, and we spoke of happier thing across the great expanse of Kansas. I think I cheered him up, weaving my tales, and reading to him. I read him four chapter of "On the Road", which he liked. He told me he hadn't had a run that pleasant and fun for a long time. I guess all that time alone in the truck is TOO much time to think to youself, and it was good for him to chat with a real person who wasn't a Jerry Springer veteran for a few hours.
The late afternoon sun chased me around the parking lot of the stop in Junction City Kansas. There wasn't a whole lot of movement- most of the rigs were parked, idling with the A/C on while the drivers slept. I tried getting rides in cars, too, but most people would just look away, although more than a couple of fine Kansas soccer moms gave me WARM smiles from their mini-vans.
After four hours of waiting, waving my sign, and generally loitering and smoking cigarrettes, I knew the proactive approach was in order. I sauntered on over to a big driver who was washing his window and made my pitch. He swung. He asked a fair number of questions before he'd take me in, it was like an interview, like a courtship. I showed him my license, my school ID, and the 150 bucks in my pocket. That cynched the deal, if I had my own money, he guessed I wouldn't be robbing his. Told him I'm a writer looking for inspiration on the American Road. He was a good sort, much less pessimistic than the first driver, and we chatted happily for hours into the night, east, east, always east. Late he started with the CB, and he was conversing back and forth in that thick, southern-fried trucker dialect, Just chatting about mundane stuff with another driver just in front. "What are you hauling?" Where you headed Yea, I hate hauling chicken reefers, too, too long to load, and you gotta make a million stops. I like hauling peppers, or peanuts, up from Georgia..." and so on until my driver Dave says, "Well, sound like you're walkin' away from us, good buddy, keep the rubber side down, I gonna lay my head down at the next stop..." Next I'm at a truck stop east of St. Luis, with my sign at 4 am.
About 6am I got a ride from a pretty clean-cut young driver named Brian. Nice neat truck, mohogeny dash and chrome gauges polished, again stories of ex-wives and pmts, two household, a hot "recovering bi-sexual" second wife and the accompanying stories of sweet debaucheries. I think he liked my looks and my company, and I think he was taking a shine to me. I could imagine him and his wife, both in a church group, all "recovering" bisexuals and gays... and the church helping to get them together as a nice, healthy couple. Next thing you know their having threesomes and orgies in the Missouri night- you never really know whats going on behing closed doors and drawn shades. He said I looked beat and could jump in the sleeper to have a nap. The whole truck, including the sleeper, was all neat and tidy, the bed was even made! So I accepted his offer and took a nap back there, with one eye open, half expecting him to wait till I was asleep to crawl in and feel me up or something, reminding myself "that's not my mission right now..." I awoke outside Indianapolis.
My karma must have been good, because I hardly had time to strech when a big black driver offers me a ride. James was a good guy, jolly and plump, talking about how he couldn't wait to get back home and do the "hippity-dippity" with his wife. I found that expression really funny, the "hippity-dippity". He could so totally relate when I explained Dawn's initial reaction to camping- she said straight faced and unequivicably, "Black people don't camp"- and he said, "Hell no," he agreed, "we got away from that stuff ages ago..." When I explained that I'd be heading home for my son's birthday in a week, he lamented missing his son's college graduation the week before because he was too drunk to get up. He really felt bad, you could see it. He loved his wife (really, wives), his various kids, and said driving gave him a lot of time to think. He got me past Columbus.
Standing on an on-ramp with my sign, I had the humbling experience of someone yelling "Get a job.." from a passing pickup truck. I wanted to grab that guy by the collar and explain"I just made over a hundred and fifty bucks today on my VACATION, how much you make, Hoss", but it was just ego talking. I made a point to, instead of cursing the people who didn't stop, to have compassion and say a little prayer for each, good vibes. A hippy guy, 45, picked me up in a beat-up old Subaru. He worked a temp job in a factory making the plastic headlight and taillight covers for Hondas and Toyotas- he had his own sad story of being jilted by an internet girlfriend from South Carolina. Short ride, just to the other side of town.
My final drive was an older gentleman named Phil, who I approached by the soda fountain in a truckstop. After the initial "vetting", he welcomed me aboard his nicely appointed Nissan minivan. He's a travelling salesman, selling different kinds of robotic and servomotors to factories and plants throughout the mid-west. He drove 85 down the highway, and spoke in sophisticated tones. The chamelion I am, I matched his sophisticated tone and we had hours of intelligent conversation. He enjoyed my company so much, he even went a little out of his way to drop me off close to Carnegy-Mellon.
I walked the rest of the way thru the 10pm streets, past the crackheads and ladies of the night, then past the huge stone cathedrals and castles of Pitt U. I was in a daze, walking now, the final approach. Past streets lined with solid brick homes built by European immigrants, and a couple of miles later I walk up steep concrete steps climbing the front yard. Mihir and his roommates are hanging out front, and warm embraces and greetings let me know I made it.
I decided to take the Greyhound back (I don't want to be like the guy who missed his kid's graduation), that way I know more-or-less my arrival time and I can prepare Marley's 5th birthday party at Chattfield Resevoir. But this segement of travel just gone by was a whole other experience. So with that I take my leave, a warm embrace to you my brother, both from me and from Mihir,
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