Flying J Truck Stop, I-30, exit 7, Texarkana Arkansas June 10, 2017
From nearby the previous delivery in Carlisle, I dropped my empty and pick up a trailer headed for Atlanta. I was ahead of the load by almost a full day and a call came through to swap with a driver headed home. He took my load to deliver less than 20 miles away and I drove his load another 400 miles to Kentucky. Just across the Tennessee/Kentucky boarder I got a call from Road Rescue that informed me of a “bad tire” on that trailer. If you are wondering how Dallas knows about my tires while I am in Kentucky, well I join you in that confusion.
They know about my tire (as it turns out) because they earlier authorized its replacement – with a larger tire, oops. Sure enough, it is plain as day – once it is pointed out. Tires of different sidewall heights cannot roll together in a tandem – at least not for long. A tire shop nearby will fix it in the morning and I included a Walmart visit in the bargain.
About twenty-two years ago, I wrote a piece called “How I Stopped Smoking…”. and I promised to post that for a chain smoker at the tire shop in Franklin, Kentucky. If you, too are a chain smoker, it is called “How I Stopped Smoking…and Other Improbable Tales” and you should see it in “Recent Posts”.
When I first started this Walkabout, it was because I had lost my job as an Exploration Geophysicist. I was looking for oil with seismic methods. Seismic had been required to find the natural traps where oil and gas seeped out of impermeable shale into sandstone or limestone reservoirs around natural fractures at faults and flexures. Sandstone is permeable. That is, it allows oil and gas to flow to the well. Shale does not. Hydraulic fracturing of shale has now made all that seismic exploration unnecessary and my Profession has withered to a ghost of its former prominence.
I survived three lay-offs and was caught in the forth. My particular field was deep-water marine seismic and it was among the hardest hit when oil prices declined. I looked for work in other parts of the Industry, but they all have very specific competence requirements that are out of my realm of experience. A younger man might convince the employers that he was clever enough to learn on the job. But I am sixty-two years old and they don’t believe that I can adapt. Or, maybe they think I will demand too much money or I will retire too soon. In any case, they can ignore their requirements for the young guy and hold to them in my case. That way, they need not reveal that my “column of years” is the true reason. And of course, they dare not do that.
Trucking was not the only job I was offered. But it was the only one that offered sufficient dignity and challenge. Early on, to explain my decision, I quoted the story about the Prisoner, the King and the Horse. It goes like this:
A group of prisoners are due to be executed, but one enterprising individual among them tells the King that he can teach the Monarch’s horse to sing hymns. The King is intrigued by this offer -enough to give the prisoner a year to accomplish this miracle, with clemency as a reward or swift execution for failure. The other prisoners ridicule him for singing to the horse and he says:
“I have a year. A lot can happen in a year. I could die. The King could die. The horse could die. And maybe, just maybe, the horse will learn to sing.”
I have been away from home – on average – about six weeks out of every seven. The year has found me in forty-four the forty-eight contiguous states and Ontario in Canada. Driving for ten hours a day for weeks at a time. “Marooned” in remote farmland or big cities. From sea level to 8000 foot mountain passes. Through 110° deserts of Arizona or snow-bound in the Oregon midwinter at 10 below. Struggling to maneuver the behemoth vehicle into claustrophobic nooks in a yard – backwards and looking in a mirror or awe-struck at the beauty and peace of the open road. Driving the long straight Interstate or a frozen, narrow dirt road (after missing a turn) or picking my way with a huge behemoth vehicle through small town streets. Alongside in a well-appointed, idyllic roadside park or stacked like firewood with 250 other rigs in a massively over-crowded truck stop or hiding the “beached whale” in a long-abandoned parking lot.
And I love it. God help me, I do love it so!
It has truly been an Adventure. Imagine if I had taken the big Box Hardware slave-wage temporary job! I would have had a year of low-paid soul-killing misery. This way, I am still low-paid, but with a challenging new existence, a satisfied soul and a peaceful feeling of a year well-spent. Yes, it has been difficult – almost overwhelming at times. Yes, I have missed my wife and children severely. But, I can give them back a husband and father that is better, wiser and stronger than the one I took away.
I am leaving the aforementioned “Company” because they can’t pay me what I need to survive in the long term. I will go on to a new, better paid position. Among the new challenges are Tankers, Multiple Trailers, and Hazardous Materials. The “Company” had black trucks. The new ones will be Orange. Feel free to make jokes and analogies with popular TV show names.
I resist saying that the Walkabout is over. But it has taken a different turn and the Undiscovered Country (the future) lies beyond.
. To continue with the previous analogy…the horse has learned to sing. And now the prisoner must find another impossible task to accomplish. 😉
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Over The Road,