Drivers' Corner - Knight of the Highway
Staring out a windshield works on a man sometimes. It seems when you are not sleeping, you are driving. And those miles go by so quickly. The only oasis it seems at times is when the children look out with faces smeared across the passing car windows. Some with arms moving up and down, waiting excitedly for the sounds of air horns to break the humdrum sound of engines, moving vehicles and tires meeting pavement in a rhythmic fashion. One young boy gyrates his arm frantically up and down. As you pass, you lay on the air horn with a tickle in your belly and a wink in your eye. You noticed the boys mother jump out of her seat, being driven from a deep sleep. Her hearts pouncing out of her skin as her loving son laughs and laughs and laughs, hanging thumbs up out the window. You laugh to yourself and think of the times you were that age, dreaming of the day you too would commandeer one of them eighteen-wheeled machines down the highway.
If only they would really know, you think. Naw, it's best if they don't know the downs of the "American dream." It's refreshing to see the gleam in a child's eyes when they see you on the road. There would be an empty void in a driver's life without the children's obeisance to the lonely knight of the highway.
I remember my two children that I haven't seen in years. I could shoot myself for not keeping up on them. I don't even send cards any more. I don't blame their mother. Who would stay with someone who gets stationed continents apart for a year unaccompanied? I know the empty feelings of loneliness. Yet I have this bitterness at times that builds inside. "Is there really such a thing as true love?" I questioned myself, not expecting an answer. Mainly because I didn't really know the answer. I thought I did until I came home to an empty house and a note posted on the refrigerator. She showed no signs on the phone or in her letters, but the woman I had longed for and whose picture I kissed each night was gone. The children with her. I divert my attention away. It gets easier the farther distance I travel from my memories.
It seems I forgot what not being tired felt like. Weary bones. Burning eyes. Discomfort in my back. My knees crack and pain visits often. The most important thing in your life at the moment is stopping at another truck stop to visit their showers. To feel the hot, steaming water draw you away from the harsh realities of a stressful life. Loads that were supposed to be there yesterday; you were dispatched on today and when you get there tomorrow, the receiving department blames you for the late load and seeks revenge. You have fellow drivers that treat you the same. You never made them drive a truck, but they seem hell-bent on making you miserable. And four-wheelers who look at you as if you were a villain intent on destroying them. You stop at a stop sign and, though it's your turn, you wave them on so they don't have to wait for seventy feet to pass by. They glare at you for a moment before looking away.
The coffee seems to have gone through me and I don't feel like filling the pee jug this time while driving so I decide that I'm going to stop. A sign says another town's name a few more miles away. I decide that will be the place where I return the call of nature. I pull to the stop sign at the end of the off-ramp. I notice a lonely hotel with a café attached. It reminds me that I'm hungry and haven't eaten for a while. I look closer to make sure there's room to park. I see a sign: "Truck Parking." So I park.
I start to walk over to the café when the thought comes that it would be nice to spend the night out of my truck. So I change paths to the hotel office. I fill out the form for a room, handing my credit card. I grab the keys and return to my truck to get my shower bag and a fresh change of clothes. Before I clear the doorjamb, my bags are tossed on the bed, bouncing to the floor. I drop on the bed like a dead weight. I pick up the remote and flip through channels, stopping when I see Shania Twain dancing as if from a fairy tale. "Hot, very hot!" I whisper to myself as I light a cigarette. I put the cigarette out just as I nod off.
I wake up with a slight headache wondering what time it is. I peer out the window and see the sun about to lay her pretty head down for the night. I jump in the shower and wash the road off my skin, getting out and replacing the smell with Old Spice. I light another cigarette as I dress in my fresh jeans and shirt, watching Alan Jackson on the Chattahoochee. I hope to myself that the café is still open. My stomach grumbles in agreement.
I make my way over to the café, working the cracks out of my knees as I walk. Inside the café it's quiet with the exception of a TV playing the same channel from my room--the volume low where you have to strain to hear. A few quiet conversations spread among the tables. I find a booth by the window where I can watch the sun finish melting into the horizon. I hear someone for a moment, but it doesn't register as I daze through the glass. Finally I come to long enough to ask for coffee and chicken fried steak. Ask if I could do the breakfast not the dinner, eggs over easy, gravy on the browns. "You have sourdough?" I ask to her question of what kind of toast. She leaves and I return my gaze to the headlights steadily creeping by in the distance.
The waitress comes back with my coffee and asks if I would like cream. I nod my head, as I say, "No, thank you."
She startled me, thinking she was going away, when she asked, "Do you have a minute?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, wondering which organization she was from. A Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Baptist; or maybe worse, Amway?
I signaled for her to sit down. That was when I finally noticed a face rather than a waitress. I looked into her hazel eyes and the quiet smile on her face. The wavy brunette hair more controlled than wild. The soft features on her face. The warmth seeping from her presence. Whatever she is, I'm interested.
"I just want your opinion. I noticed you earlier in your truck and was wondering what you thought would make a perfect truck stop?" she inquired.
Just having you there, I thought to myself, not realizing at that moment that this would be the woman who would change my life. That night I forgot time, I forgot the road and I forgot my past. I was there sharing with a woman who I'd never met, yet somehow strangely wanting to spend the rest of my life with.