By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 272
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Friday, March 28, 2003

I had never heard of a company called "De Monte", but I was assigned to pick up a load from their facility in Stockton, California, anyway. When Lloyd and I got there, we discovered it was Del Monte, the canned-fruit-and-vegetable people. Yet another example of how the folks sending drivers to their loads can't spell or proofread. Adding to the fun was the fact that my loading appointment was scheduled for 8 am, which was exactly when Del Monte's morning break began. I received my door assignment (12), backed up to it, and went inside to await the end of the morning break.

According to my work assignment, I was supposed to do the loading myself. However, this is often false information and I hoped this would be one of those times. I am not a big fan of loading. It's not the sort of thing I would want to do for a vacation, and I'm not that crazy about doing it at work, either. Actually, the kind of loads I prefer are the ones where I can sleep in my bunk and, when the loading is done, someone comes and tells me. Better yet, they hand me the bill of lading so I don't even have to get out to get that. In fact, even better that that is when they add, "We don't need this door for the rest of the day, so if you want to finish your nap before you go, that would be fine. Sorry to have awakened you."

But that doesn't happen often.

Anyway, inside I found two other truck drivers waiting by the doors adjacent to mine. One was about my age, accompanied by a young man who somehow reminded me of Lloyd. He was about the same age, with the same loose posture the kids adopt these days, but with a soft but full beard and green eyes. Something about the way he moved made me suspect he might be gay. The older man introduced him as his "trainee". Unlike Schneider, which does on-the-road training under a strict schedule, these guys would remain trainer-and-trainee for however long it took for the older man to decide the younger man was properly trained.

By the other door, was a thirty-something guy with sandy hair, goatee, and eyes that were pale blue but very sharp. He had intense features and an expression that suggestion he missed nothing. When I first spotted him, he had pulled up the metal plate that is supposed to bridge the warehouse and the trailer, and was letting it descend on its hydraulics in the extended position, to allow the warehouse's forklifts to enter and leave his trailer safely. The problem was, this plate was designed to be lowered into position by the weight of a man standing on it, and the driver wasn't quite heavy enough to do the trick. Ah, ha! I thought There is an advantage to ingesting adequate amounts of Chee-toes. I put a foot on the plate, adding my weight to his, and the plate flattened and descended with a satisfying clang! He thanked me, then said, "You work here?"

"Naw," I replied. "I'm at door 12."

He looked at the door next to his, then blurted out, "Oh—you're the driver with the rainbow sticker on the window."

I nodded, and he stuck out his hand. "My name's Mike," he said. "It's nice to meet Family."

I shook his hand back—he had a strong, sure, grip—and said, "You're gay?"

He nodded. I was surprised. My gaydar hadn't tripped at all. He did not "look" gay to me, or act it, or dress it. The straight actor who plays Will Truman on Will and Grace looks way more gay than this Mike did.

"My brother's gay, too," he added, "and he's always after me to put a rainbow on my truck, too."

"Why don't you?" I asked.

He shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "It seems like it would be like advertising."

I nodded in understanding. "You could think of it that way," I agreed. "But it's also a way for us to not be so invisible."

"Everyone's invisible," he said.

"Blacks weren't in the sixties," I replied. "You wouldn't remember those days. But, previously, black folks had quietly sat in the back of the bus, as it were, not making waves, tolerating their second-class status. When the occasional individual became 'uppity', the KKK would be in their front yard in a heartbeat, burning a cross and terrifying, not only them, but their friends and families, who would then contribute to the suppression by urging the person to 'keep his place.'"

I looked around for a sign that anyone had come to load our trucks, but apparently the staff was still on break. "Now, we're in a similar situation. Worse, in some ways, because it's a lot easier for most of us to 'pass' as straight, than it was for most blacks to 'pass' as white. But we still can't marry the person we love, we can still be thrown out of our apartments for no other reason than that we're gay, we still usually get screwed in the inheritance department when our partners die. And it's all because most straight people have no idea that they know even one gay person, much less dozens."

It was a passionately given speech, but Mike seemed unmoved. "I might care more if I knew more gay people," he said.

I looked at him intently. "You don't?"

"Not really," he said. "My ex-partner and I had some friends, but when we broke up eight months ago, he got our friends in the divorce. And now I'm driving a truck. The loneliness is the thing that gets me."

"Well…there are opportunities on the road." I didn't mention that, to list them, I'd have to run back to the truck and ask Lloyd what they were.

But Mike shook his head. "I'm really not interested in that sort of thing," he said. "Casual sex disgusts me. I want a relationship."

I thought how different things were for the new generation of gay men. In the span of twenty years, we'd gone—I would say, "advanced"—from having to hide our sexuality so desperately that we married women and had children to mask our true selves. Many of us fell in love, of a sort, with our wives but still sought solace in the arms of strange men. Sex and love became so separate for us, that many gay men my age find they cannot fall in love with a man, or have a monogamous relationship, even now that such a thing is possible.

The younger gay men, like Mike, are so accustomed to being "out" that it doesn't seem odd to them. In fact, until they come up against the discriminatory laws—until they want to actually get married for tax or other benefits; or want to own a house with their partners without fearing the partner's greedy family will annex it at the partner's death—until they want to adopt a child (even one of their own biological children), or any of the other things still subtly forbidden to us—they don't see any need for public declarations of their sexual orientation. On the other hand, the only sexual relationships they've known, starting in high school, have been healthy, romantic ones. Sex and love are not isolated for these men; they are natural partners.

Which is not to say that no gay man under forty is interested in playing the field. —Lloyd being an example, though hardly a typical one. But most of the time, I think, when they do play the field, they play with partners whose names they know—and that's different than the experience most of my contemporaries share with me.

As Mike and I waited for the warehouse people to show up and load our trucks, we continued to talk but our sexuality wasn't mentioned again, other than peripherally. That is, I told him about my husband, Michael, and our extra-legal church wedding; he told me a little about his ex and how his heart had broken when the man left him. We talked about whitewater rafting, which we both enjoy, and he described how he loves to spend a day at a river, fishing, with no one else around.

Eventually, the trucks were loaded, and Mike and I shook hands again. My truck was finished first; and, as I walked away, I turned and called, "Please—reconsider that sticker. Make the world a better place!"

He grinned and shook his head. We lived in different worlds. And I wished I could live in his.

Because his already was a better place.