By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 250
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Monday, December 23, 2002

Is it possible to admire and try to follow the example of someone you don't believe ever actually lived?

For 25 years, from the time I was ten years old till I was about 35, I was Superman's biggest fan. By the time I quit buying them, I was spending about $40 a month on comic books detailing his exploits and those of his friends. I had more than one dream in which Superman was a significant character. In some of those dreams, I simply sat—usually at a chair in his Fortress of Solitude—and listened as he lectured on various subjects. (Once in awhile, Lucy Ricardo was also in attendance, or team-teaching whatever the topic du noir was).

I'm not sure what appeal the character originally had for me—perhaps the ability to fly. I always wanted to do that, to leap into the air unassisted, and continue on to whatever location I desired. There was a certain sterility to being able to rise above all the messiness of everyday life, to float over it rather than having to experience it along the way. But, eventually, I identified with Superman's tendency to drop in on a problem-in-progress, solve it, and then fly away. Big or small didn't matter; Superman was as likely to help get a kitten out of a tree as to stop a prison break or prevent an asteroid from striking Earth (usually, aimed specifically at Metropolis).

I was unaware, of course, that this mirrored my own, co-dependent tendencies. I eventually identified myself as what's known in pop psychology circles as a "co-dependent rescuer". In other words, I devoted all my energies to solving the problems of others (generally unasked), instead of working on my own issues. I had been avoiding the messiness of my own life, dropping instead on others, solving their problems, and then flying off.

And it's not that I wasn't good at solving other people's problems. In fact, I was excellent at it. It's just that my own issues continued to mount. I had no energy left to tackle them. Living everyone else's life instead of my own was very wearing.

When some friends helped me recognize the co-dependency issue, and I started working on it, I found less appeal in comics and finally stopped buying them. But I still admire Superman. Not for his strength or other super-powers, but for his honesty and sincerity and true interest in his friends and the strangers around him. And, yes, for his ability to solve problems.

So, when my friend from training, Wayne, told me on the phone that he had nowhere to go for Christmas, I of course invited him to our house.

Now, I wasn't even certain I, myself, would be home for Christmas. I was, in fact, on my way to Stockton, California. But I wasn't too far away for it to be possible; it would depend on my next load.

I had finally gotten in touch with Wayne, who had disconnected his home phone, by asking an STL to send him a message on his Qualcomm with my phone number. A few hours later, I got a call. Wayne was no longer riding with the teammate he had found (that had lasted ten days) and, in fact, would be driving through Madera, CA. We made arrangements to meet at the Pilot there. We had a great talk over dinner, and I again invited him for Christmas. "Even if I can't make it," I said, "you'll be welcome. We always have a great Christmas."

And we do. Michael is the self-appointed King of Christmas. We have a tree that touches the ceiling, and thirteen crates of Christmas ornaments in the garage. By the time he is done decorating, there are angels in every corner, festoons of garlands exploding from every surface, scented candles lit and Christmas cards resting in every remaining spot. He bakes for weeks ahead of time, spends time shopping for just the right present for each person, meticulously wraps each one, sends gifts to friends and family all over the world, and still manages to watch each of the Christmas movies we have collected through the years: two or three versions of A Christmas Carol, animated "classics" purporting to tell the true tales of Rudolph, Frosty, Santa, and, of course, the Grinch.

Anyway, Wayne was excited about visiting for Christmas and promised to ask his STL to send him to Phoenix for the holiday. Wayne had let go of his apartment and was "living out of his truck," as we say, so he certainly was owed any number of "TAH" (Time at Home) days at the location of his choice.

I said goodbye, made my own delivery, and finally got a load destined for Scottsdale, one of the cities in the Valley and less than an hour from my house. That was the news I was waiting for. I would be home for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

I drove all night to make it to Scottsdale on time and, in fact, didn't quite make it: I was an hour and a half late. They didn't seem to mind, though. The kid who seemed to be in charge said, "It's the day before Christmas. We're pretty relaxed around here." Amazingly he remained relaxed, even when we opened the back doors of the trailer and several boxes fell to the ground. This delivery was a "drop", I was simply to back the trailer to their loading bay and leave. But I helped picked up the fallen boxes. I can be pretty relaxed, too.

Except, I wasn't. I was exhausted from driving all night and hit the loading bay a little harder than I intended. Nothing was damaged, but it made quite a thud. I was happy to leave for the Phoenix drop yard.

Michael was at work, so my daughter, Karen, and grandson Zachary came to pick me up. They drove me to the mall where Michael works so I could get the car, and then said goodbye until later.

The mall was a madhouse of decorations and frantic, last-minute shoppers like me. I have always hated the commercialism of Christmas. All the pretense of holiday spirit, just to induce shoppers to spend a little more at this store instead of that other one. I am particularly galled at the mall Santas, on whose lap your child may sit in exchange for your buying an overpriced portrait taken of the occasion.

Still, there I was, a Grinch trapped in the tinsel and ribbon world of my husband. As tired as I was, I bought Joni Mitchell's new album for Michael (she's his favorite artist) and a copy of the Star Wars II DVD for good measure. Then I went to Wal-Mart for a bunch of stuff for his stocking. By the time I got home, it was too late for a nap. I had to pick up Michael at work, and then people were arriving for the stocking stuffing.

As I said, Michael is no-holds-barred Christmas man. So we have parties for the decorating of the tree and the stuffing of the stockings as well as one on Christmas Day. Daughters Karen and Jenny and grandson Zachary joined us. I jammed the stuff I had gotten into Michael's stocking: a box of staples, some glitter paint, a package of microwave popcorn, and so on. The object is simply to fill the stockings. No, the object is to be together to fill the stockings.

My cell phone rang, but I couldn't get to it on time. A moment later, a voice mail message arrived from Wayne. His STL had given him a load that would take him to Olympia, Washington. So much for his spending time at home, any home, for Christmas. "It's not due for delivery until the 26th," Wayne's voice explained, sounding forlorn. "But there's no way I can make it to Phoenix first." I was furious, but had no way of contacting Wayne back. Call your STL! I wanted to say. Don't take this laying down! Or driving. But I had to keep it to myself.

Wednesday (Christmas Day), December 25, 2002

We awoke early—around ten, I think—and I was making French toast when Karen, Jenny and Zachary arrived. Zachary had brought most of the toys he'd gotten from his tree and wanted to show them all. He found a place to arrange them and then explained them all, first to Michael, then Celeste, then me. After breakfast, we placed ourselves around the tree and opened presents as Jenny handed them out. I had gotten Zachary a miniature Schneider truck from the company store. It cost $30, but it made starting and running sounds, and beeped when going backwards (which my truck does not) and air compressor brake sounds when it stops. It instantly became Zack's favorite toy and he played with it non-stop the rest of the day.

At four the other guests began to arrive: Sandy, whose partner Kelly was with his mother in Texas (his father had recently died); Jock and Diane; Peter and Barbara; and Michael's sister, Surya. They found a ton of hors d'voeurs waiting for them: black olives (Zachary's favorite), chips and Michael's homemade dip, devilled eggs (another Michael specialty) and more. Then the turkey was ready, with garlic mashed potatoes, yams, green beans with melted cheese and fried onions, asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, Michael's homemade cranberry-orange relish, and, of course, stuffing.

Before desert, we opened more presents (those for and from the guests) and sang Christmas carols. Our guests were composed of two groups: those who attend church regularly, and those who wouldn't be caught dead in one. We tried to cycle between religious and secular Christmas songs so as not to upset either group too much; Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer coming right after Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem. Then came more food: a cake of Michael's invention made of cherries and whipped cream and God knows what else; I ate half of it. Also, pumpkin pie and pecan pie.

When people finally left, they did so waddling.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Michael drove me to the truck on his way to work. I had a load waiting for me: I would be heading back to California. I wasn't due there until the next morning, and it was an appointment so it wouldn't help to get there early. So, I took a few hours to really inspect the truck and get it clean, rearranging where some things were located and wiping the dash and other surfaces. By the time I finally got going, it was already dark; I found myself in Tonopah, Arizona, about 7 p.m.

This is the location of the El Dorado Hot Spring, a favorite place I hadn't visited in over a year. On a whim, I parked across from it—there's plenty of room—paid $5, and entered the public bathing area. This is a nude area, so I undressed, put my clothes on the shelf, and lowered myself into the big, concrete pool. The water was hot but not too hot, perfect for muscles aching with soreness accumulated from four months of driving.

I wasn't alone. There were two other truckers, an older woman who was camping at the springs, an old, bearded guy who worked there, and his thirteen-year-old grandson who was helping out over the holidays. The grandson, Ian, was precocious, easily holding his own in conversation with the adults. Laura, the zaftig woman who checked me in, joined us shortly.

"John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin," Ian proclaimed. Apparently the conversation had been centered on Christmas and related topics; and Ian was holding court. "When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he told her that her Aunt Elizabeth, who was old and barren, was pregnant and so was she."

"I don't believe any of it," said the grandfather.

"That's what they taught us in school," Ian maintained, in a tone that indicated he was merely reporting what he had heard.

"He's got the story accurately, as presented in the Book of Luke," I offered. "It didn't happen really, but he's reporting it correctly."

One of the truckers challenged, "What do you mean it didn't happen? Don't you believe the Bible?"

"Not when it conflicts with historical fact," I said. "The Roman records from that time are painstakingly complete, and the only people in history who kept better records than the Romans are us. The Herod who Luke says was ruling Israel at the time of Jesus' birth, actually died about a hundred years earlier. There was never a census of the Jews that required them to travel to the home towns of their ancestors. There never was a slaughter of the innocents, either—there's no record of one outside Luke, and do you think the Jews, who've never forgotten a slight that history has visited upon them, wouldn't remember it? Joseph couldn't have been a carpenter since there are very few trees in that area; that would be like referring to an ancient Hopi carpenter. And Nazareth, the town, wasn't founded until the third century. In the other Gospels, Jesus is referred to as a Nazarene, which is a member of a religious sect, not a resident of a town."

"Then, where did the story come from? Are you saying the Apostle Luke lied?"

"Even religious theologians don't believe the Gospels were written by the apostles," I explained. "People in those days treated authorship differently than we do. It was common practice to gain credibility for something you wrote, by claiming it was written by someone famous. The best evidence is that Luke, and possibly even the other Gospels, were written by members of the Piso family in the second and third centuries. They were a prominent Roman family that included emperors. Even if the oldest Gospel, Mark, is legitimate, Luke is definitely an attempt to make it seem that Jesus' life fulfilled the laundry list of requirements, stated in the Book of Isaiah, for the Messiah. In other, words, the Book of Luke is intended to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, even if it had to fiddle with historical dates and occurrences to do it."

"So, you don't believe in Jesus." It was stated as a fact, not a question.

"Is it possible," I asked, "to believe in what someone stands for even if you don't believe they ever existed?" I paused to find phrasing for my words. "I think it is. Whether or not there was an historical Jesus, the principles he is said to have stood for are the ones I stand for. I believe in tolerance and unconditional love. I believe that judging others will get me into trouble. I believe that slavish following of rules and rituals will keep me from finding my spiritual center. And I believe that financial transactions in a church are an insult to God."

"That's what I believe!" Ian, the thirteen-year-old cried. "They get mad at me in school for saying it, but that's what Jesus taught—and what's the point of believing in Jesus, if you don't follow what he taught?"

His grandfather gruffly agreed, and so did the truckers. The conversation wound down, and, one by one, people said goodnight, got dressed, and left the area. I was the last to leave. The lights were off by now, and the moonless sky was ablaze with stars and the running lights of the occasional jet. I put on my clothes and tried to find my way out of the compound. They had put in new fences since my last visit, and the exit from the public area had been moved. Suddenly, I found myself in one of the private areas with its own pool. A man was dozing, nude, in a large tub. He was a large man, with snow-white hair, a full beard, and a belly that I'm sure would have shaken like a bowlful of jelly, had he had occasion to laugh.

Every now and then, I bump into one of these guys that is into the Santa Claus thing. Usually I bump into them in July or September, but here one was, the day after Christmas.

I backed out, hastily, but he must have heard me because he opened his eyes and looked at me. I swear, his eyes twinkled in a merry fashion as he said hello.

"I'm sorry," I apologized. "I got a little lost. I'm trying to get back to my truck."

"No problem, Paul," he said. When my jaw dropped at his knowing my name, he added, "I overheard you through the fence. You told everyone what your name was. And you told them you were a truck driver."

"Yeah," I nodded.

"You've been doing a lot of Santa's work, then, haven't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you've been driving toys around, and other things people give as Christmas gifts. You bring them from the manufacturer to the store."

"That's true," I agreed. "I hate the commercialism of the holiday, though."

His bushy white eyebrows knitted in a thoughtful manner. "Do you know the story of Jesus, when someone asked him whether they should pay taxes?"

I did. It's one of my favorite stories, and one of the reasons I think maybe Jesus really existed: The story is too good to be fiction. The Jews were being heavily taxed by the Romans, and resented it. When asked if they should pay taxes, it was a trick question. If Jesus answered no, it would be an act of treason and the Romans could arrest him. If he said yes, it would alienate the Jews. Instead of answering directly, he asked to see one of the coins used to pay the tax. "Whose face is on that coin?" he asked.

"Caesar's," was the reply.

"Then give Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and to God the things that belong to God."

The bearded man grinned. "Let the stores have their commercialism," he said. "Christmas isn't for them. It's for families to be together. The gifts are just a way for people to know they are loved—an outward sign of what's true all year long."

I nodded slowly. It had never occurred to me to just let the stores be commercial. I had spoken of unconditional love and not being judgmental; yet I wanted to fix the stores.

"Do you know why St. Nicholas started leaving toys for children?"

"Not really," I said. "Maybe he was just into wriggling down chimneys?"

He ignored my joke. "Parents in those days and in that place were very cold. They loved their children, but their culture wouldn't let them show it outwardly. No one ever said, 'I love you,' or even, 'What a good child you are!' It wasn't their way. Nicholas decided to give the children gifts at Christmas time, gifts that were mysteriously given, as a way of letting them know that God loves them…that they were loved, and worthy of love. It wasn't known, for many years, that he was the one leaving the gifts. The gifts would say, 'To Johann,' or 'to Anna'…but not who the gift was from."

I nodded.

"Eventually, the parents began to add their own gifts on Christmas Day, and Nicholas had won his point. At least, on one day of the year, the parent would show the children that they were loved."

"A nice story," I said. "I like that." I extended my hand, and the man shook it. "But I really have to be going. I have a load to deliver."

"I deliver things, too," he said, smiling. "I just had a heck of a load, with a lot of stops. But, you know, I missed one. Just couldn't make it." He shook his head sadly. "A kid in Olympia, Washington, hospitalized with cancer. Had asked for a special toy for Christmas. It wasn't ready in time." He sighed. "Fortunately, another trucker was able to make the delivery for me. He missed spending Christmas with his friends, and the gift was a day late—but I hope he thinks it was worth it."

I just stared. He couldn't be talking about Wayne, could he? His load wasn't due until the 26th, after Christmas…today.

I couldn't bring myself to ask. It would be too much like saying I bought his story. A man who won't accept the Book of Luke because of historical inaccuracies is certainly not going to believe in Santa Claus!

"There's nothing like a hot spring to unkink after a long haul," the man continued. "But, I suppose it's time to get back to the Missus." He began to climb out of the tub, and I waved goodnight, still a little shaken. Why had he made a point of telling me about the kid in Washington? I made it to the parking lot, which had just the one car in it—had to be "Santa's", I figured. It was a bright red Corvette, a classic car that gleamed even in the starlight. "Quite a sleigh," I thought, continuing across the lot toward the road and my truck, which was parked across from the springs. Suddenly, my attention was caught by a shooting star over my head. It was bright and left a long, red streak behind it, fading into the sky directly in front of me.

It had been traveling due north—which isn't possible. Shooting stars enter the Earth's atmosphere as the Earth turns beneath them from west to east. The meteors always appear to travel, then, in a westerly direction. Even a meteor arriving from the south, would have a westerly bend added to it.

I turned instinctively, to see where the streak had started from. I didn't really expect to see a trail remaining, and I didn't. But I didn't see something else: The Corvette was gone. There had been no sound, no lights, and only a few seconds had passed since I walked by and admired it.

I hurried back to the enclosures, but couldn't find the one the man with the white beard had been in. There were no lights, and no one remained that I could find, at least outside of the camping area.

I grinned, stunned. I've had a number of strange experiences in my life, and I've learned to accept them as they happen. But they still amaze me, and leave me wondering what to think.

Do I now believe in Santa? Not really…but I admire him just the same. As for the bearded stranger who gave me a new way of looking at Christmas? Well, maybe, for tonight, anyway…

I believe a man can fly.