Sunday, September 12, 2010

More friends

Oors’la had predicted that the 29 would be busy as well as full of mad speed limit changes; and that Interstate 81 would be nose-to tail-trucks. She was right on all counts, and I began to lose interest in trying to get to Roanoke by midnight. The nose-to-tail truck thing set me wondering how easy it would be to find a place to sleep. There didn’t appear to be an abundance of truck stops in and around Roanoke itself or on the way, that meant the rest areas would fill up early.

I opted to stop early, about 9ish, and find a place to sleep in daylight before the mass truck-parking binge began. Stopping about an hour from the morning’s destination would mean that I could take a legal 10 hour rest, start at 7 and be delivering by 8 in the morning. Perfectly acceptable. I found a rest area, parked relatively untroubled, sent my eta to dispatch by satellite, and settled down for some serious rest. I was beyond tired… too exhausted to eat even though I was hungry, too zoned-out to miss the shower I wasn’t having and wanting very much to turn for home as early as I could tomorrow.

A return message came through, had I exchanged one trailer for another at Culpeper? I replied that, no I hadn’t, they had unloaded while I waited and I was off now for my legal rest. Apparently they like to be told when you are going to sleep so that they don’t disturb you with unnecessary messages. Huh. Half way through the night an incessant bleeping woke me up. It was dispatch wanting to know if I’d delivered the Culpeper load yet, which inevitably led to some whingeing of the ‘don’t you people bother to read the messages I bother to send you?’ variety. I didn’t get back to sleep.

Finding Roanoke and the customer, loading up and sorting the paperwork all went remarkably smoothly in the morning. It was still before 9 when I call despatch to tell them I had four skids on board and was ready to come home.
“We may have another load for you to add first, we’re not sure yet. Call us in half an hour.” I sat for half an hour in the customer’s grounds but started to feel a bit in the way as cars and trucks arrived and left. I called back.
“We still don’t have a reload for you, give us another half an hour.”
“I’m a bit in the way here, can I start heading home while I’m waiting?”
“We don’t know which direction we’ll be sending you in yet, could be anywhere now you’re that far south, find somewhere local to wait.”

I wasn’t getting happier. I remembered seeing a truck stop just as I’d pulled off the Interstate and decided to retrace my steps and try to find it. At least there would be coffee, breakfast and maybe a snooze while I waited. Tales abounded among Linamar drivers of being expected to wait for a day or two once they had you that far from home. It was cheaper to keep you there doing nothing, waiting for business, than to bring you back half empty. I found the truck stop and it was bedlam. So many trucks were trying to get in and out that the road was gridlocked in both directions as far as I could see. It appeared to be the only truck stop in the region and clearly my assessment of the local late-night parking potential had been spot on. Maybe I was getting some experience. I declared my decision of the previous night a stroke of genius and waited my turn to pull in, realising with a sinking feeling that I would be competing for parking space with people whose reversing was much fast than mine. Once I pulled off the road though I twigged that I had been clever again. More trucks were leaving than arriving. I found a ‘pull-through’ space and, grinning again, set off in search of coffee.

There was a small restaurant advertising country-style, all-day breakfasts. I hadn’t eaten anything more substantial than half a peanut butter sandwich or a handful of trail mix for several days and I fancied breakfast so I headed on in. They bring you coffee pdq in a truckstop and I was on the outside of my first cup before the menu arrived. I ordered a veggie omelette and sat back to enjoy the conversation about what I would like to have served with it. Fries, hash browns or home fries? I usually ask for home fries because I never quite know what they will produce. Sometimes they are like sauté potatoes, all crispy with onions, sometimes they are shredded more like a rosti, sometimes closer to an oven-wedge thing. It’s a minor amusement. Then there is the litany of bread to choose from for your toast. There will always be wheat, white, sourdough or rye, but it depends how far south you are what comes last. “Or biscuit” is very southern and seems to start in the Carolinas. In Roanoke, Virginia, I can now report that they offer “or Texas toast”. I was tempted, because I’m not quite sure what Texas toast is, but settled for rye, because I like it and the need for comfort food overtook my customary writerly curiosity.

My omelette arrived, with shredded rosti-like home fries and toast. It looked good, loaded with fresh veg, no slimy tinned mushrooms. “Would you like Hot Sauce?” the waitress asked me. That’s another location thing; far enough south and the green and red Tabasco are already on the tables with the ketchup. “No thank you,” I replied “but I wonder if you have any vinegar?” She looked confused, they always do.
“It’s a Brit thing,” I added helpfully. She thought for a moment and brightened, “yes we do, I’ll bring it for you.” And she did. She brought me the little oil and vinegar condiment set from the salad bar and beamed from ear to ear as she set it down. I’ve not had raspberry vinegar on potatoes before, but it was actually very nice. Much nicer than the last time I asked for vinegar in the US and they brought me low-cal Italian salad dressing.

I messed about with my food for a while, pushing it around the plate. My brain was hungry but my stomach wasn’t. That knot of anxiety that hadn’t gone away since day 1 on the road was still huge enough to take up all the available space in my guts. To be honest, that has been another reason I’ve been happy to sleep in rest areas rather than truck stops. I don’t seem to be able to get a meal down while I’m on the road. What with being expected to cheat on my rest time it’s been remarkably helpful in a lot of ways, I can spend all the available time asleep. I’m losing weight, which is a bonus, but I’m not sure how healthy that will be long-term.

I had nibbled about a quarter of my brekkie when the waitress returned.
“Would you like another omelette?” I thought that she thought I didn’t like it and wanted something different, since I was making a very untruckerly job of ploughing through it.
“No thank you, it’s lovely, I just wasn’t as hungry as I thought I was.”
“Well, it’s all you can eat, so let me know if you want another one when you’re done.”
I let this piece of information sink in. She was offering me a second omelette after my first one because the restaurant advertised ‘all you can eat’. I’d not come across that before. All-you-can-ear buffets and salad bars, yes, and I’ve been offered extra toast, salad, garlic bread, etc. when they are sides to an entrée, but no-one has ever offered to recook my entire meal. I double-checked that I’d understood her right and we had one of those conversations that began with “I love your accent” and ended with “you come back and see us again now” and I wished I could have eaten my first omelette and made an attempt at a second, just to make her happy.

I bought a few bits and another coffee in the little shop on my way back out to the truck. The girl behind the counter asked me how I was today and when I replied we had another of those conversations that began with “I love your accent” and ended with “you come back and see us again now” and I was minded to declare Virginia the friendliest state I have visited so far.

I called dispatch and they had nothing to tell me. I snoozed for an hour or two and called again. I had decided that I would head for the shower if I had to sit there any longer, despite the fact that I was at a TA truckstop and would have to pay for it. We only get free showers at the chains we refuelled at…the Flying J or Pilot group. They still had nothing to tell me. I whinged a bit. They had a bit of a conflab and then told me to start heading home and call in a couple of hours. Hooray. There was a Flying J half way up the 81, I’d get there, have a free shower, another attempt at a meal, and then call.

I was sufficiently perked by the prospect of going home and a shower to pop the radio on and see what Virginia had to offer by way of weird radio stations. I’ve moaned before about how the US seems to have nothing but religious stations outside of major cities, even around Memphis there had been was no country music to laugh at, just more hymns and sermons. But I struck lucky in Virgina. I found a station of such countryness that I started to compile a list of song titles in my head for the purposes of adding a little US flair to the travel writing. I was charmed by Redneck Romeo, amused by Everything’s Good in the Trailerhood and then utterly horrified by something nasty about three crosses by the road. I didn’t catch all the words but it was about a road accident and some preacher waving a blood-stained bible about. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I went right off Virginia on the spot, turned the radio off and went back to my audio books from the library.

I looked the lyrics up later, just in case I had imagined it in some sort of starvation-induced waking nightmare. Here they are for your edification and delight:

A farmer and a teacher, a hooker and a preacher,
Ridin' on a midnight bus bound for Mexico.
One's headed for vacation, one for higher education,
An' two of them were searchin' for lost souls.
That driver never ever saw the stop sign.
An' eighteen wheelers can't stop on a dime.

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,
Why there's not four of them, Heaven only knows.
I guess it's not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It's what you leave behind you when you go.

That farmer left a harvest, a home and eighty acres,
The faith an' love for growin' things in his young son's heart.
An' that teacher left her wisdom in the minds of lots of children:
Did her best to give 'em all a better start.
An' that preacher whispered: "Can't you see the Promised Land?"
As he laid his blood-stained bible in that hooker's hand.

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,
Why there's not four of them, Heaven only knows.
I guess it's not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It's what you leave behind you when you go.

That's the story that our preacher told last Sunday.
As he held that blood-stained bible up,
For all of us to see.
He said: "Bless the farmer, and the teacher, an' the preacher;
"Who gave this Bible to my mamma,
"Who read it to me."

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,
Why there's not four of them, now I guess we know.
It's not what you take when you leave this world behind you,
It's what you leave behind you when you go.

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway.

It’s by Randy Travis. I won’t be dashing out to buy the album.

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