Heading East with the Truckers

(…continued from last week)

I left my Denver family a day earlier than planned, heading home in a pick-up truck with Cookeville friends who’d had their ski vacation cut short when coronavirus closed the resorts. Worries about finding food and fuel were compounded by predictions that a blizzard was set to pummel eastern Colorado. At 4:00 in the afternoon on March 17, I climbed into the back seat and settled in for the 1,200-mile journey.

There was some talk of driving straight through, with one person sleeping, one driving and one keeping the driver awake. But even as we discussed that possibility, we knew it didn’t make sense to attempt such a feat. We’d need to find lodging once we were beyond the storm’s reach. If, indeed, there was any lodging to be found. We crossed the Kansas line just before dark and decided that a busy truck stop was probably the best place to buy gas and supper.

Good fortune was with us. That truck stop included a Hardee’s restaurant, called Carl’s Jr. out west. All the chairs were turned upside down on the tables and a big sign said COUNTER SERVICE ONLY, but that was good enough. We headed back to the truck with a sack full of greasy goodness and were soon on our way.

With nightfall came heavy fog. Much to my disappointment, I wouldn’t get to see the wonderful windmills of western Kansas.

As midnight approached, the search for a motel began. We found a Comfort Inn near Salina, which, I learned, is pronounced just like our own Celina, Tennessee. After a few hours of shut-eye, friends and I headed downstairs to the free continental breakfast. No hot waffles or scrambled eggs or biscuits-and-gravy awaited us at this virus-wary buffet. Shrink-wrapped muffins, juice and coffee would have to suffice. We filled up with gas at a truck stop across the road and were soon on our way once more.

And so the second day went. Twelve long hours filled with talk and laughter and with me (because my offer to help drive was politely refused) reading aloud from Jane Goodall’s 1971 classic “In the Shadow of Man,” which tells all about her living with and studying the chimpanzees of Tanzania in the early 1960s.

Those 12 hours were also filled with one truck stop visit after another. We knew they had gas. We knew they had public restrooms. We knew they had grub, much of it junk but some of it pretty decent. At one stop somewhere in Missouri (or maybe it was Illinois), I got to choose between three different kinds of sausages, juicy and sputtering on the roller grill, a Godfather’s personal pan pizza or a Popeye’s spicy chicken sandwich. A tough choice no matter how you look at it.

Mostly what I did at those stops was try to imagine what it must be like to work as a long-haul trucker. To travel alone hour after hour and day after day in all kinds of weather. To have little or no nutritious food to choose from. To take a ticket and wait for your turn to shower. To sleep when and where you can.

Though I’m sometimes nervous sharing the road with eighteen-wheelers, I’ve always appreciated what the drivers do. “If you got it, a truck brought it,” as the saying goes. That saying never hit home like it has over the past couple of weeks. Truckers are why we still have food and medicine. They’re why we still have fuel for our cars. They’re why we get packages from amazon, some of which—perhaps—contain hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

I’m humbled to have spent 1,200 miles traveling with the truckers. And I’m eternally grateful for what they do.

(March 29, 2020)