Wednesday, July 30, 2008

They say his rig is a midnight black

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - Holy crap! I seem to have actually completed training! I'd be bouncing off the walls if I weren't so exhausted from running nonstop on very little sleep for the past several days.

Last trainer dropped me off at the Indy terminal last night, and this morning I did several hours' worth of computer tests and training modules to qualify me out of student status. Now I am on a waiting list for a truck. A truck for ME. No one else would get to drive it or put their stuff in it or make rules about it. Within the confines of my getting my job done and delivering loads on time, I can make my own decisions about my time. Imagine that!

My plan after getting my own truck has been to take my first home time in Portland next weekend so I could attend a friend's wedding, but instead I'm going to ask for a load to take me home as soon I get a truck and talk to my dispatcher. Because drivers are eligible for three days off per three weeks of being out on the road, taking time off in Portland would mean that I wouldn't get home for another three weeks, for a total of about two months away from home. That's more than I can really handle.

I'm getting to know the deep-set existential darkness that sets in when you wake up every day in motion without any idea where you are. That moment just sort of pulls everything else into its own black hole, because you JUST HAVE NO IDEA about anything, and this sets the tone for the rest of the day. I am holding on to the hope that having my own truck, one that does not move unless I am driving it myself, will keep this feeling at bay.

Next update: hopefully from privacy of own truck!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

All they will call you will be deportees

OTAY MESA, CA - Along the Mexican border between San Diego and Tijuana is the biggest cluster of truck yards I've ever seen, all filled to capacity, all bustling day and night with international traffic, truck wheels kicking up gravel and dust that sticks to my skin and won't scrub off. American truck companies come to border towns to drop off goods going south, and the trailers are picked up by muddy cab-over trucks heading to Mexico. And the other way around.

Less than a mile away from the border, in this beautiful, bilingual, fair-weather place, I can almost believe that maybe that line separating the two countries really is imaginary. To the north, the hills of San Diego twinkle with lights in the night. To the south, Tijuana looks the same. One could confuse the two, if not for the gigantic omnipresent signs directing traffic to border crossings. The line just seems so arbitrary, like it was penciled in and everyone forgot they could erase it at any time.

About a hundred miles west of here, over the mountains and through the sand dunes, I-8 snakes next to the border. To the south of the highway, sand-blasted and chained barricades tell you just where the line lies. And again, you'd never know. It's all desert and wasteland as far as the eye can see, in either direction.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Beer cheaper than gas

WILLOW SPRINGS, MO - Bored out of my mind, so very ready to get back on the road. Have been filling up my time with walking around and taking lots of pictures. (Also, sleeping and reading and watching crap TV and eating surprisingly decent pizza.)

Willow Springs 13

Willow Springs 3

More pictures here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The chaos gives back

WILLOW SPRINGS, MO - Remember how I said I was going to get off Larry's truck at the next terminal we stopped at so I could get another trainer? Yeah, that didn't happen. Instead, I am spending the week in rural southern Missouri, at the only motel in the closest town to where Larry lives.

Willow Springs has a population of about 8,000. It's an hour and a half away from any interstate, nestled in a warm back pocket of the Ozarks. There's a couple blocks' worth of Main Street, most of the businesses shuttered, and a set of railroad tracks. I ate breakfast at Main Street Cafe this morning, and the other diners were talking about farming and politics. One of the men said, "If Nancy Pelosi wants to live in a communist country so much, she ought to move to Canada." I shoveled eggs and toast into my mouth as quickly as possible and got out of there before they smelled California on me.

Outside in the heat, I walked around and took pictures of all the decay and strangeness, the overgrown doorways and broken windows. Then I saw the words "natural food store" and stopped in my tracks. Inside the small shop were organic soaps and essential oils and herbs and handmade jewelry, and I felt so comforted I wanted to cry. The shopkeeper, a older English woman named Erica, told me she used to do much better business before the state built a highway bypass between West Plains and Springfield, because none of the locals actually shop there.

She moved here from England 15 years ago because of an ad she saw in an organic gardening magazine that promised cheap land, fruitful soil, and a long growing season in the Ozarks. She packed up her two small children and crossed the ocean. Most of that ad's promises were not met, but her kids did grow up living off the land and playing outside, which is more than she could have done for them in the outskirts of London. And now, she said, she's got her house and her garden and her shop and her daily routines, and uprooting herself yet again just seems like too much work. Besides, once you turn the world off and just take comfort in the small oasis you've built for yourself, it's not too bad.

Erica rents out the apartment on top of the shop to a young woman named Janis and her son. Janis is from Minnesota but lived in California for 7 years. She moved to the Ozarks to live off the land. (Oh that eternal hippie pipe dream of living off the land.) She has taken on the small empty lot next to the shop as her personal project, building a gazebo and a beautiful flower garden there. The boy showed me his pet turtle named Betty, who lives in a walled flower patch. Tonight, I am going to help Janis plant new flowers.

Erica and Janis told me the local public library would be my best bet for getting online, so here I am. On the way here from the shop, an old black Cadillac limo pulled up to where I was walking. Inside was a man with unkempt long hair and two small children, a preteen girl and a boy under 10. The man asked me if I knew of a place that could buy old silver and gold. I told him I wasn't from around here, and he sped away.

I got here on Tuesday afternoon and wanted to throw myself under a train. But I feel better now. There are stories coming out of the cracks in the pavement here. Just as anywhere else, finding kindred spirits is just a matter of knowing where to look. And goddamn, my life is just such a strange and absurd journey.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The west is the best

SIOUX FALLS, SD - The desert will be the death of me one day. Got stuck in Elko, NV, a few days ago on a truck that kept overheating as it chugged along deserted I-80 in thick air filled with smoke blowing over the Sierras from California burning. Got routed to a repair shop on a hardscrabble strip of casinos, motels, and gas stations, a rare stop between Reno and Salt Lake. My stomach had been doing worrisome sickly flips all day, like all these physical and mechanical components revolting against the overambitious human mind.

I am 47 driving hours away from completing training (would have been done by now if not for aforementioned breakdown and a slew of other unexpected delays), and my next step will likely be getting dropped off in Omaha to wait for another trainer (this would be trainer #5, for those counting at home) because Larry's going home for a week, and he's getting on my last nerve anyway. I don't do well when I don't get regular meals. And I mean, I REALLY don't do well. And flatbed operation requires an amount of effort I just have no inclination to make, especially without regular meals.

But in better news, I found what I believe to be my new favorite stretch of road in all the land: I-84 from Boise to Portland, first winding through the Cascade pines under a weepy gray sky then running along the Columbia river with Washington State on the other bank.

Columbia river sunset

On the night of the Fourth of July, I drove south over the Grapevine snaking uphill towards Los Angeles in gathering dusk, and when I crested the hill the LA basin exploded with light, more and more fireworks beyond hills with every turn, confetti falling and dissipating into the brake lights of city traffic.

The more unfamiliar parts of California I see the more sure I am that this is my home, no matter where I came from or where I'll go in the future.

NorCal Sierra back road

NorCal power line sunrise

(Click on individual pictures for bigger versions. More can be found over on Flickr.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Lug it out

LODI, CA - I'm sitting in a truck stop about 15 minutes away from my house, but don't have the time or chance to actually go home. It's disorienting to be on home turf yet not be able to act like it. Leaving soon, always leaving soon.

New trainer Larry told me in full seriousness that oranges are bad for you because the acid wears down enamel on teeth. He said this as he put a dip of Copenhagen chewing tobacco between his lip and set of rotting teeth.

Things are all right, I suppose. Larry watched me drive for all of about 15 minutes before he said I had everything under control and retreated into the sleeper, leaving me to drive in peace. What's nice is that I feel comfortable enough already behind the wheel, so I don't need the supervision. Otherwise, he and I have absolutely nothing in common and our conversations feel like we're both speaking different languages.

Also, he doesn't eat. Like, seriously. The man lives on Pepsi and Copenhagen, and when I try to stop for food he acts like we're going to be late for everything in the world because of me. By the happy coincidence of my being in Cali right now, my roommate just met me at this truck stop and brought my cooler, which I left at home because I didn't think I'd need it on a trainer truck. (Thanks again for the cooler, Lunza!) Now I can stock up on sandwiches and stuff, and not sit there munching on Wheat Thins just to stave off the lightheadedness caused by not eating all day, which is what I did yesterday until I finally stopped for a much-needed square meal at about midnight in Oregon.

Oh, and he's a flatbed driver. Which means I am supposed to help strap down things like vinyl window parts to the truck, which is not something I have any intention of ever doing. Ever. Especially not for the amount of money Werner is paying me. Cheap bastards.

I only have 80-odd hours of training left. Should be done by next weekend. This shit seriously needs to be over so I can finally get my own truck.