RIVERSIDE, CA* - The bus that takes me from Stockton (my homebase, for those following along at home) to start training in Fontana, CA, is filled with other truck drivers, all going down to SoCal for the same reason as me, albeit with different companies. It's encouraging to have that bit of camaraderie on the 10-hour ride down, to hear the jargon in which I'll be immersed from now on.
But the man who sits next to me between Fresno and LA is not a trucker. He is from Texarcana, TX. His skin is freckled and tanned like leather around tired, bright blue eyes. He introduced himself by asking about the book I'm reading (the gigantic tome of "Infinite Jest") and launches into a long monologue about his favorite horror books and movies.
He is traveling with his son. The son is 14, the father tells me, and he ran away from and ended up in Fresno, and the father has been on Greyhound buses for two and a half days, all the way from east Texas to central California, to pick up his son. They are now headed back eastward, two and a half more days of buses ahead of them.
The boy is pale-skinned, dark-haired, thin, with a trace of mustache on his lip. Wounded adolescent pride shoots from his eyes like arrows when he's not slumped over in his seat, his head in his hands.
"That's trouble right there," the father says, his voice fraught with painfully unconditional love as he looks at the boy across the aisle. "See that hickey on his neck? He's trouble."
I switch buses in LA and head east, away from the sunset and back to the inland dust. When I go to check into the hotel where Werner puts its recruits, the girl at the desk informs me I have a roommate, which I was not expecting. The light in the room is off and no one responds to my light knock, so I walk in. I'm greeted with a loud, "What the hell do you want?" uttered by a small, disheveled woman in sweats.
My roommate is from Compton. She is watching a Medea movie on TV and chain smoking (inside the hotel room, in California, highly illegal). There's a Bible for women, all pink curlicues on the cover, on the bed next to her. She eyes me viciously, so I go out to get some food. When I come back, she is in the same position, albeit slightly more talkative.
She tells me that she was doing her training when she had to take time off for a funeral. She got back to the hotel just yesterday to wait for another trainer. "It's not your fault," she says. "But I told that damn front desk girl to just give me one day to deal with my shit, but obviously she don't care." We smoke a cigarette together, hot-boxing the small room. During a commercial, she gives me what I take to be her biggest piece of advice for new drivers: don't make friends with anyone. "Your trainer might try to be all buddy-buddy with you, but just keep it all business," she says. I think I will respectfully decline that piece of advice, but I definitely get the point as far as she herself is concerned.
In an effort to give this unlikely roommate her space, I am in the hotel lobby with my computer and my tiredness. Tomorrow morning I get up at the ass-crack of dawn to start orientation, which lasts for two days. Then I get to hang out here until Werner finds me a trainer, which could take up to a week since I requested a female trainer and those are harder to come by. Oh the adventures, they are just beginning.
*All posts from here on out will bear AP style datelines stating my current location.