|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 2/28/2020
||Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving||Page Views: 267|
|An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal|
Saturday, January 4, 2003
I don't make New Year's resolutions. I don't see any point in starting out a new year by lying to myself.That doesn't mean I don't have wishes for myself. This is the year I win the lottery, I have said. This is the year I miraculously lose ten inches from my waist, or this is the year my hair starts growing back for no apparent reason. The thing about New Year's resolutions is that they are goals without a plan. They are doomed to fail before the New Year's baby trades his diaper for toddler shorts.
I had spent the night at the Commerce City, Colorado, TA, in preparation for picking up a load of beer in Fort Collins. I knew that Anheuser Busch fills the trailer as full as possible. I didn't want a repeat of my misadventure with the Arizona weigh station, so I hoped mine would be a load of Lite Beer.
At the fuel desk, where I waited my turn to hand the clerk my free shower coupon, I whispered to the trucker ahead of me in line. "My God," I breathed. "Do you recognize the clerk?" The girl operating the cash register was the spitting image of the actress who played Darlene in the TV series Roseanne. In fact, it wasn't the actress she resembled as much as the character. When she spoke, she even sounded like Darlene.
The trucker's waist-length ponytail swayed as he turned to check out the checkout girl. "You're right," he agreed softly. The clerk finished with the customer ahead of him and asked what she could do for him. He ignored the question, saying instead, "I suppose you've been told you look like—"
"Darlene, I know," she said good-naturedly. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm expecting a fax," the man said. "Permits," he added.
"They're not in yet," the Darlene clone said, glancing behind her at the fax machine.
"Okay, thanks," the driver said. I saw now that he was wearing a Schneider jacket. I gave Darlene my coupon and she replaced it with the ticket with my pass code to my own, private shower.
"What permit are you missing?" I asked the driver. "I'm with Schneider; maybe I can just copy you one of mine?" Most of the permits we carry are simple photocopies, identical for all Schneider-owned trucks.
"Do you have your 2003 permits yet?" he asked incredulously.
"Oh, no," I frowned. "Every time I've asked for them at Fontana, I'm told they haven't come in yet."
"Well, I just got a $125 ticket in Oklahoma for not having the One-State Permit."
"And you're going back to Oklahoma?"
"No, that permit is needed in most of the states. Except New Mexico. We need the updated New Mexico fuel permit there."
"Oh. I'd better call for mine, then," I said.
"Don't worry about it," the man said, reassuringly. "You can copy mine when it comes in."
"Here's your faxes," the clerk called to us. She handed the driver two sheets of paper.
"How much?" the driver asked.
"Nothing for permits," she said.
"Hey, thanks, honey," he grinned. "You know, you're really a lot prettier than that Darlene on TV."
She dimpled. "I hope so! She looked like a man." The driver laughed. "That's some ponytail you've got there," she added. I suppose she was returning the compliment in some truck-stop sort of way I haven't yet learned.
"It'll be gone, soon," he said.
"Really? You tired of it?"
"This is as long as I let it get. Then I cut it off and send it to LocksOfLove.com. They make it into wigs for kids with cancer."
"It takes me five years to grow it this long. My New Year's resolution this year was to chop it off." He grinned. "That's an easy one, since I was going to cut it, anyway. Then I'll start growing my next one."
I took my shower, putting on a fresh pair of jeans and the plaid shirt my mom gave me for Christmas. It was brand-new, but mercifully didn't smell of sizing and it looked pretty good. I looked in the mirror. I had lost enough weight since I began driving that it almost looked as if I had a waist, especially when I was wearing a shirt tucked in. Dressed, I decided to grab a good breakfast before heading on my way. I had plenty of time, since my load wasn't scheduled to be ready until 2 pm, and Fort Collins is only an hour north of Commerce City.
In the restaurant I went for the buffet—it was actually cheaper than anything else on the menu—and was working on my eggs and incredibly crispy bacon (Michael would have loved it) when a man entering the restaurant caught my eye. He was an older guy, at least seventy, whose clothes didn't fit him well and whose well-worn T-shirt had the following message emblazoned on the back: "Never underestimate the stupidity of the American trucker. Truckers are dumber than Gays. Gays are better organized."
He sat so that his back was angled towards me; my eyes kept returning to his shirt. I couldn't keep them off it. I tried to decide if it was insulting to me, as a gay man or as a trucker. The shirt wasn't actually saying that gays were dumb, just dumber than truckers. And it was true that truckers, not having a union (or, at least, not belonging to one) were unable to work for much-needed changes in the industry.
But why pick gays for the comparison? He could have made the same statement about any minority: "Truckers are dumber than Blacks," "Truckers are dumber than Jews," etc. I suspected that any other group he'd chosen would have been more likely to beat him to a bloody pulp. Gay guys were more likely to overanalyze the statement before beating him up, giving him time to leave.
Then I realized the basic flaw in the statement. It wasn't insulting, just grammatically : "Truckers are dumber than Gays" implied that there were no gay truckers.
He was still there when I finished eating, so I approached him and said, "Excuse me, sir?"
He turned away from his newspaper and smiled at me, a young man's smile in spite of his age. "Yes?"
"Well, I couldn't help but notice your shirt…was that made specially for you, or is there someplace actually selling them?"
He grinned. "I had one hundred of them made. I wear it just to stir up some shit, and give the rest away to anyone I can."
"Well, I bet it does stir up some shit."
"It does that," he said. "And it's true. Truckers are dumb. We don't organize."
"Are you a union organizer?" I asked.
"No. Retired from the Teamsters'." For a moment his eyes looked past me, into a world where he was young and full of pep, vim and vigor, rallying the workers to stand up for a piece of the pie their employers wanted all for themselves. "Do you want a shirt?"
I smiled gently. "I don't think I could wear it," I said. "I'm a trucker and I'm gay."
He stared at me as if he'd just seen a brand-new make of truck. "You can't be!" he cried, his voice suddenly louder than before, carrying across the restaurant, catching the attention of the other truckers at their breakfasts. "There's no such thing as a gay trucker!"
"Well, there is," I insisted, aware that everyone was looking at me. "I'm one." I hid my nervousness at being outed, by myself, to an entire truck stop all at once. But I wasn't nervous for long.
"Hey, I'm one, too!" yelled a blond man from across the room. Like mine, his jeans were pressed and his flannel shirt looked new.
"Me, too!" This fellow, older than the other, wore a perfectly-trimmed beard and wire-rimmed glasses. He might have been an accountant but for his jeans and Peterbilt cap.
"I'm not gay, but my co-driver is!" This came from a fellow who looked like he'd been driving all night.
Suddenly the room was, again, filled with conversation. I wondered how many patrons had noticed that the gay truck drivers were also the most neatly dressed?
Suitably shaken, my friend with the T-shirt said, in lowered voice, "Well…ya learn something new every day." He looked me in the eyes. "I never knew there could be a gay truck driver," he added. "I never heard of one, ya know?"
"It takes nerve to come out in our society," I said wryly. "But, as more people do it, it takes less nerve."
He gave me a steady look. "Then, if you've got nerve…organize! Put your gay talents to use. Get as many truckers as you can to join the union!"
"I'll think about it," I said. "I'm not convinced a union wouldn't be trading one set of bosses for another. And there might be other ways of getting the drivers' point across."
He nodded. "Do what you can. I'll do what I can." He sighed. "Guess I'm gonna hafta make up some new shirts."
My work assignment directed me to take an empty trailer, wash it out, and deliver it to Anheuser Busch, where I would receive a pre-loaded trailer full of beer. (Well, cans of beer.) I got the empty at the Henderson drop lot, no problem; but the washing out part was new to me. The instructions, for once, were clear; they described a truck stop in Loveland where the washing would take place.
The truck stop was where they said it would be. A kid there hosed out the inside of the trailer and the entire operation was billed to Schneider. This particular trailer had a roll-up back door (most Schneider trailers have double doors that swing out to the sides), so I just left it open to dry as I continued the rest of the way to Fort Collins.
The simplicity of an accurately-described task ended there, however. After I had dropped the empty, I was instructed to wait in a particular lot for an announcement that my loaded trailer, which was supposed to have been ready at 2 pm, was not, in fact, ready. The guard told me I should call an 800 number if I hadn't heard anything before 4 pm.
The lot I was to park and wait in, was already populated by over a dozen bobtails, each waiting for their loads, as well. All the assignments were late—some by many hours. I began to develop concern for getting this load delivered on time, Monday afternoon. I was running short of time on the 70-hour rule. Even if I didn't count this time waiting as "On Duty Not Driving"—which I should, as it was very tiring, worse than driving, in fact—it was going to be very close. Because this was a freezable load, I had told my STL to give me an Albuquerque routing point so I wouldn't have to drive over the Rockies. However, that added 250 miles, or five hours' driving, to the total trip.
As I walked to the drivers' lounge, one of the waiting trucks caught my attention. It was a cherry red Crete tractor with rainbow Gay Pride flags affixed to the window of each door. There was no sign of a driver. He (or she) may have been in the lounge, but I couldn't tell which driver it might have been. None of the men present was dressed more neatly than the others; and making an announcement seemed like a poor idea. I was sorry I hadn't taken the old guy's offer of a free, inflammatory, T-shirt that morning. I might have been able to tell who the other gay driver was from the reaction.
But, even without finding the guy, he had succeeded in making me feel guilty. I had a rainbow flag sticker. I had bought it several weeks earlier, but had never gotten around to actually displaying it. I had reasonable excuses, like I needed Scotch tape to tape it to the inside of window. But then, I bought the tape so that excuse no longer sufficed. I might have hesitated over the reaction I might get, for example, from mechanics. But, mostly, I was concerned that, if I posted it on my truck, anyone who saw it would, I felt, judge all gay truck drivers by my own ability to drive. What if I had trouble backing up into a tight spot, or miscalculated a turn and rolled over the curb a little? "Hmph," I could imagine this imaginary straight onlooker saying. "Damn faggots can't drive." If I put up the Pride flag, I would have to be sure I was the best driver in the world.
I did not want to do for gay truckers what the Rev. Jesse Jackson did for faithful husbands.
But my conversation with the old guy this morning just served to point out how urgent it was that I make sure people knew there was a gay trucker in my truck. Many straight people, like the T-shirt fellow, truly believe they do not know any gays. In their minds, one out of ten thousand or fewer people might practice this "perversion." It's easy to deny civil rights to one out of a ten thousand. Not right, but easy.
But about one in ten persons is gay or bisexual. And some professions attract more gays than others, due to the availability of men. Settling the West once attracted a lot of gay men, though the word didn't exist at the time—neither did "homosexual"—they were just guys who enjoyed the company of other guys…a lot. And I am beginning to suspect that trucking is also attracting a lot of gay men. Certainly I've run into quite a few, without even trying. Like the guys in the restaurant this morning, or the anonymous driver of the Crete tractor in the waiting lot.
The load was, indeed, ready at 4 pm. I coupled to the trailer and inspected it. It was completely missing the tag light assembly. This made it illegal to tow at night. I sent the appropriate macro over the Qualcomm. After about a half hour, the reply came to get the light fixed at the Commerce City TA where I had had breakfast.
I sent a message to Customer Service warning that if the repair took more than half an hour, or any other problem cropped up along the way to the consignee, delivery would be late. I urged them to arrange a later delivery with the consignee now, while there was time to adjust arrangements if necessary. Instead, the only reply I got was to keep Customer Service posted.
On the way out, as I got my load weighed, I spotted the Crete trucker with the Pride Flags. He was a good-looking guy in his late twenties, two earrings in each ear and a thatch of thick, blonde hair hanging just slightly over his ears and collar. He had not been in the drivers' lounge when I was, so he may have been napping in his bunk while waiting. I started to wave to get his attention, but then I thought, Why? I didn't have a matching flag on my truck. He might not realize I was a fellow gay trucker being friendly; he might even think I was a homophobic straight guy razzing him. I sighed, and did nothing.
An hour later at the Commerce City TA, I provided the required information to the repair shop folks and got in line for repair—"About an hour," I was told. I ate dinner and checked again. "About an hour," I was told again. An hour later, I was told the same thing. Finally, after nearly four hours of waiting, the tag light was installed—a job that took the mechanic, Bobby, less than ten minutes to do, once he started on it.
I sent the new information to Customer Service—on time delivery was out—and waited for a reply. I never got one, not that night, and not the next day, as it happened. But, while waiting, I put the time to good use.
I taped the Pride Flag to the driver's side window. The outstanding issue of having the flag, and not displaying it, had found its resolution.
Now all I had to do was wait for a reaction, if any.