By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 243
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Saturday, September 22, 2002

Now, this is what truck driving is about. Me, an 18-wheeler, a clear country highway, blue sky, a view to the horizon on all sides.

Sometimes I wish they would just give me a load and let me drive around with it for a few weeks. Forget the loading, unloading, searching for shippers or consignees. Just let me drive.

The highway, or highways, are US 277, US 90, US 285. They run a more or less straight line between Laredo and Fort Stockton, Texas. They roll over innumerable small, steep hills, so there are few curves but many up-and-down sections, most of which require some shifting between 9th and 10th gears. There is almost no traffic, even in the infrequent (and seemingly deserted) towns I pass through.

The vegetation at the sides of the road consists of low bushes. For some miles, the bushes are adorned with purple flowers, and they grow all the way to the horizon so the land itself seems purple, like the Gillikin Country in Baum's Land of Oz.

My companions are great birds, vultures, that swoop and soar, riding the thermals created by the blacktop, searching for a little dinner. Now, I know, vultures have gotten a bad rap. Some people dislike being reminded that there's such a thing as death. But I know it's part of life, and the vultures serve a marvelous purpose, keeping things neat and clean for those of us who remain behind.

Every now and then, I spot a carcass alongside the road. They're easy to spot because the vultures have already found it. At one point, there's a dead deer. I don't know what killed it; it doesn't look smashed but it is alongside the road. Usually, when someone hits a deer on the road, they drag it to the side so it won't cause any more accidents. But this one is way to the side, so it might have died from consumption, or a broken heart.

Perhaps the other deer harassed it, and it killed itself in a fit of despondency.

In any case, there's a committee of vultures standing on it. That's what they do. In spite of their size and fierce appearance, they're actually very timid creatures. First, they fly over the carcass, for hours or even days, to make sure it's really dead. Then, they land near it and check it out. If it shows any signs of life at all, they return to the air. Finally, they'll actually stand on it. Their feet are sensitive to any heat or movement. Only when the creature has truly expired will they begin to dine. So, these guys are standing on it, presumably having a vulture conversation:

"Think it's dead, yet?"

"Looks dead, Morris."

"Feels dead to me."

"What do you think, Frank?"

And so on.

The towns—Dryden, for one—look like the vultures will be there any minute. They have dried and all but blown away, buildings in poor repair, shops closed—even on a Saturday. Yet, in the bright sunshine, even their carcasses looked scrubbed and clean. Worn, but clean.

I like the country better, though. I know some people ride through hundreds of miles of desert or chaparral and say things like, "Look at all this wasted land! And they say we're over-populated. Why, a million people could live here!" But millions of beings do live here already, and we humans need them all. We're only beginning to understand the complexity of the web of life. Each blade of grass, by itself, is dispensable. But, somewhere, there's a blade of grass that, if destroyed, would be one blade too few; and the web will collapse.

I pull into a roadside picnic area to make my lunch. I have a propane camp stove I've been saving for when I'm in the middle of nowhere like this. Heating a can of Chunky Soup takes just a moment.

There's a big toad hopping near the truck. He has beautiful and intricate markings. There's a blur, and his tongue retracts with something black on it: presumably, one of the flies buzzing around. Flies eat carrion, too; and living creatures like the toad eat the flies. Something else will eat the toad. Every one of them lives a few moments, days, or years, in splendid individuality, then re-submerges into the strands of the web. Why would anyone think this is a poor system? It provides the system, itself, with far more opportunities of expression than a more stable system, one without life-and-death, could ever provide.

Eventually I get to I-10, the major highway that will get me to Phoenix and, eventually, Long Beach, CA, my load's destination. Driving it will require a little less concentration, so I pop in a tape cassette I've been saving. It's an audio book abridgement of Michael Crichton's book, Eaters of the Dead. According to the cover, it's an English version of an actual book from a thousand years ago, about a civilized Muslim who found himself living among the Vikings. It sounds like it will be fascinating, and I've been looking forward to hearing it. Unfortunately, the in-dash radio/cassette player doesn't play cassettes very well. I can only make out about every fifth word, not enough to follow the story. I take out the cassette and begin planning a replacement.

I am thinking I will just bring an actual cassette deck from home. I can either run it through the computer and therefore the computer speakers, or use headphones.

Music, as played by the computer through the computer speakers, works out well, though. The computer can play hours and hours and hours of music, unattended. One CD-ROM can easily hold ten hours' worth of MP3s, and I have much more than that on the hard drive.

As I near my limit for driving, I find myself in Van Horn, Texas. My plan is to drive three more hours, to Las Cruces, New Mexico; but by the time I have a little dinner I am too tired to go on. The outside temperature is comfortable and the trucks parked near me aren't idling, so I roll down my windows part way, strip, and lie down.

The next thing I know, I am itching like crazy. I can't hear anything, and when I turn on the light I can't see anything, but there are bugs of some sort and they are eating me alive. Of course, it's too late now to close the windows (though I do); they're in the truck with me. I have to get under the sheet even though it's a little warm for that. Even then, I find myself suddenly needing to scratch here and there.

I don't care who eats me when I'm dead, but I wish they'd wait! I never said being part of the food chain is fun, just mystically beautiful.

Eventually the bugs give up and I sleep soundly.