By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/28/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 276
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Finally! I thought. A run worth rolling.

A load to be taken all the way from Delano, CA—itself a few miles from where I started out—to Union Gap, WA.

I was a little surprised to find out there was a town named "Union Gap". It seemed unlikely that the town had been named after the sixties rock group, so I had to assume, now, that the rock group had been named after the town.

I have a special fondness for the rock group. Back in 1967, The Union Gap and The Mamas And The Papas If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears! were the first two rock 'n' roll albums I ever bought. And, in 1970, I may have sung a duet with Gary Puckett himself.

I was living and attending school in Tampa at the time, and had become friends with a guy named Bill Sawyer from the nearby town of Lutz. Actually, I was infatuated with him. He was tall, well-built and handsome, with soulful eyes and sensuous lips. And, as I discovered one evening when he and his girlfriend and I went skinny-dipping in the Gulf of Mexico, he was also hung like a Hebrew National. Of course, I was deeply closeted back then, and never let a hint fall how I felt about him. But I spent as much time with him as possible, and was eager to do him any favor.

Through Bill, I met his mother and his two brothers. Their whole town was enthusiastically involved in the annual Florida State Fair, in which they constructed, inside a really large building, a small town called "Old MacDonald's Farm". It included a General Store, a "typical" farmhouse (typical for New England, not Florida; but maybe I was being too fussy), a barn with livestock, a volunteer fire station, and so on. There was even a yard filled with baby animals suitable for petting: a calf, a goat, some lambs, piglets, rabbits and baby chicks. All inside this building, mind you. But they painted a sky on the ceiling and upper walls; mountains on the lower walls; and, if you closed one eye and pretended there was a total solar eclipse in progress, you could almost imagine you were really in a little, New England settlement.

I liked to sing and play the guitar, and Bill and his family enjoyed listening to me. So, one of them got the idea that I should sit inside the petting yard (the only available space), with a microphone and amplifier they would supply, and I should sing. What's more, everyone thought it was a good idea and so, there I was, for the three days of the January, 1970, Florida State Fair, singing in a petting yard while fending off the unwanted attentions of a baby goat who found the collar of my turtle-necked shirt, and my ear lobes, irresistible, and of a baby calf who didn't really care where he went to the bathroom.

Of course, no one paid much attention to me. Kids would come and squeal over the lambs and the piglets (who squealed back; they really didn't like to be touched—which made them poor candidates for a petting zoo, in my opinion), and literally step over me to get to them. Then there was the matter of theme. How do you describe a petting yard with baby animals and a singer? Are you supposed to pet, or listen? Are you supposed to pet the singer? Listen to the animals? It was confusing, I admit, no less to me than my potential audience. So I decided to be a good sport and just sing. After all, I enjoyed it; and I could always put on my resume that I had "performed at the 1970 Florida State Fair" as long as I omitted the details.

It was also cold in there. No one had given any thought to heating the building. This was one of the coldest Florida Januarys on record, with temperatures below freezing at night and in the low 30s during the days. There were some scattered space heaters plugged in, but none of them could actual warm the vast space in which we found ourselves. The baby animals were particularly suffering; they had a single heat lamp they could huddle around, except the calf, who was by far the biggest of the babies there, pretty much monopolized it and so the others would huddle around me as soon as I arrived. For myself, I was bundled up in what sweaters and pullovers I had, with a watch cap someone loaned me and wondering if I could possibly play the guitar with gloves and, if so, how badly.

The last of the three days was relatively slow. It was colder than ever, which kept the crowds home to begin with; and the chill inside Old MacDonald's Farm kept people from staying much longer than it took to figure out that the centerpiece was a petting yard with a live singer. Those who did stay, tended to be the ones dressed for the weather. That's why, at first, I didn't overly notice two men in greatcoats. I was singing "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" while swatting at the goat at time, but when they stopped directly in front of me, I did. They were, possibly, the first people in three days who seemed more interested in my singing than in the piglets! And one of them began singing along with me.

Now, I was "miked" and he was not. Nevertheless, he had a clear, strong voice that I could hear, even though he was singing quietly enough to not be rude. It was the sort of thing I might have done, had our positions been reversed. But his voice was familiar to me, and I suddenly realized that the greatcoats the men wore, were Civil War greatcoats, exactly as were worn by the Union Gap on the cover of their albums.

It was, I was certain, Gary Puckett and one of his band mates!

Being a professional, albeit one with a baby animal fixation, I finished the song before I left the stage…er, yard. The men had moved on when I started the third verse. I tried, frantically, to find them—how hard can it be to locate two men in Civil War coats in a closed building? But it was like searching an entire town; they weren't in the General Store, or the Fire Station, or Elsie's House of Beauty, or anywhere else I could find.

Twenty-five some odd years later, I attended the New Hampshire State Fair in Manchester, where I lived, mostly because Gary Puckett was a featured performer. He sat at a record signing later; I of course approached him and asked if he'd ever been at Old MacDonald's Farm at the Florida State Fair in Tampa in January, 1970. "Could have been," he replied. "We were very popular at the Tampa State University back then. But, frankly," he laughed, "I don't really remember much from those days. We were pretty stoned all the time."

Anyway, this run brought me through the now-familiar territory of I-5 through California. But, this time, I passed Mt. Shasta on the north instead of the west. And I hadn't previously been to Washington state as a truck driver.

Friday, October 11, 2002

I pulled up at Sears in Union Gap exactly on time. I actually had to make two stops there: One at the retail store itself, the next at the auto parts department around the corner. I had been told I would have to help unload, but the guys in the retail store took one look at me and said I needed some sleep. So, go take a nap. After a couple of hours, one rapped on the side of the truck and gave me the signed bill of lading; it was now time to move the truck around the side of the building to the auto parts department.

I must now have looked well-rested, because these guys made me help. The retail part of the load had gutted the trailer; there wasn't that much left. The boxes were light, and the kid assigned to unload, and I, got a rhythm going as I tossed them to him and he stacked them. But then, we got to the last part of the load: auto tires. A hundred or so of them. My back ached just to look at them.

"Here's what we do," the kid said. He placed one of the biggest tires on the floor of the trailer, about four feet away from the stacks of them. He then picked up another tire and hurled it at the one on the floor. It bounced off and rolled neatly out of the trailer. "Try it."

I did, and was amazed to find it worked. I don't consider myself to be athletically inclined, and this looked to be at least as difficult as bowling. But the target was larger; and as I hurled tire after tire into the auto parts tire bay, I began to enjoy myself.

"So," kid asked out of the blue, "Do you have a wife? Do you have kids?" He was wearing a wedding ring, I noted. Of course, so am I.

Okay, I thought to myself. He asked. "I have grown kids and an ex-wife," I said. "And, currently, a husband and two dogs."

"What kind of dogs?" he asked, without batting an eye. It always amazes me, and disappoints me a little, that when I make the Big Revelation, most people truly don't care. I spent so many years keeping this big, dark, secret that it seems unbelievable that, when revealed, the breed of dogs I own holds more interest. That's the way it should be, of course. I'm just still surprised by it.

"Black lab mixes," I said.

"Is your being away from home so much a problem?"

"Not so far," I said. "Of course, my husband takes care of the dogs."

"Dogs are worse than kids," he agreed. "At least kids eventually go to college or get married." And he was one of the latter, I supposed, watching him catch one of the rolling tires. Or maybe not; I went to college and I was rolling them to him.

"You're sure a lot better at this than last week's guy," the kid said.


"Yeah. Little Asian guy. Long hair. Couldn't even pick a tire up, less bounce it into the bay."

"His name wasn't Nelson, was it?" I asked.

"Yeah!" the kid replied. "You know him?"

I had to laugh. Nelson! The long arm of coincidence had struck again. In a company with tens of thousands of drivers and a hundred thousand customers, my training engineer had come to this particular client just one week ahead of me.

We don't get paid much to unload trailers. But we get something. And I'd managed to impress the client with my tire-hurling abilities.

Or, as Gary Puckett used to sing, "Keep The Customer Satisfied".