By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/24/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver Page Views: 836
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

October 1, 2002

This was my most pleasant day, so far. I drove south, the length of I-5, through the rich farm country, with no traffic to speak of, the sun shining, the road smooth. This was the first time I tried listening to a "book on tape". My sound system now consists of the following setup:

  • A pair of computer speakers resting on the dashboard in front of me
  • My laptop to drive them, when the sound source is on the computer
  • A home, dual cassette deck, driving the speakers if I want to hear a cassette, seat-belted to the passenger seat
  • An AC power supply to power it all

It's still a little awkward, but it's getting there.

I had purchased a membership in Audio Adventures many years ago; I rented Anne Tyler's Back When We Were Children from the rack at a Pilot along the way and today I played it, or most of it. Unabridged, it ran for six hours. I had previously read Ms. Tyler's The Accidental Tourist and so knew in advance that her writing would leave me in awe, as it did. Thus, the miles rolled by, unnoticed, as I got caught up in the lives of her characters.

It was almost with regret that I pulled into a truck stop when my ten hours' driving time had elapsed. I backed the trailer and truck into an available space, and as I walked past all the other big rigs on my way to the drivers' lounge, I thought, "Well…nothing happened today to write about!" I was actually somewhat relieved. Having to write about every day is a daunting challenge.

Inside, I peeked into the TV lounge—they were just concluding Saving Private Ryan—and the noisy game room located immediately adjacent to it. Past there, the place opened up into something resembling a mall, with a food court (Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, etc.) and all the usual truck stop store stuff isolated into a typical mall-looking store. If it had really been a mall, there would have been a sign over it with a name like "Just For Trucks"; that there wasn't one, was the only clue that this wasn't a mall in fact.

I ordered a Super Supreme Personal Pan Pizza at the Pizza Hut kiosk; the cashier warned me it would take about twelve minutes to prepare. I told him to go ahead; I'd be back.

I was still looking to streamline my Internet connectivity, and one of the things I've been looking at is called PNV (Park N View). This system, intended for use in trucks, requires that the driver purchase a "starter kit" that contains the connection wires. When he or she parks at a participating truck stop, there will be these yellow pads between every two spaces that the connection wires plug into. The original purpose was to provide cable TV in the truck, and you can buy a membership that provides basic access or extended access. They then added phone service (obviously planned before most drivers got cell phones). Now they've added Internet connection, or so they say.

The catch is, PNV apparently went bankrupt and was sold some time ago. The first few times I asked about it, none of the clerks had any information. When I did get information, it was from a truck stop that was selling the starter kit at half price, because "Our connections haven't worked in two years." So, now I was trying to get a feel for how many truck stops actually had working connections, before I spent money on the starter kit.

I went into the store area to ask, and found myself behind a big woman who was arguing with the clerk.

"You must have the manager's phone number," she was insisting. "What if there was a fire?"

"I don't have it, ma'am," the clerk replied, meekly.

"Well, I want that noise lowered! I can't hear a thing and I'm getting a headache!"

"I don't know how," the clerk maintained. "No one here knows how."

"Then give me the manager's number," the angry woman demanded.

"I don't have it."

After a few repeat choruses, the woman stepped back. My "gaydar" tingled and I recognized her as probably being a lesbian; my impulse to be friendly to "family" took over and, suddenly, I found myself talking to her. "What's the problem?" I asked. "Not that it's any of my business, but…"

"They've got those games so noisy, you can't hear the movie!"

"The movie in the viewing room?" I asked, to clarify.

"That's right!" she snapped. "The walls are paper thin—typical, shoddy, American construction. I've got a headache, now, from trying to concentrate on the movie over the sound of the video games."

I blinked. "You couldn't hear Saving Private Ryan over the sound of PacMan?" It seemed hard to believe. Saving Private Ryan is, pretty much, non-stop explosions, grenades, machine guns, and so forth.

"Incredible, isn't it? But no more incredible than a store clerk who doesn't have an emergency number to call."

"Maybe video game noise doesn't constitute an emergency to her," I suggested mildly.

"Well, it does to me, eh? I've been stuck in this wretched country for three days and I want to go home!"

I had thought I detected an accent. "And home would be…Canada?" I guessed.

"Vancouver," she clarified. "The real one, not that fake Vancouver you have stuck in Washington or Oregon or wherever that is."

"I love Vancouver," I said. "I've been there several times."

"I'm really from Ontario," she said. "But I moved. And now I'm stuck here, and I want to get home! And, while I'm waiting, I want to watch a movie without having to listen to video games, eh!"

"Ah," I said, nodding sympathetically, wondering why the hell I ever asked. "Well. Well. Oh, the clerk is free now; hopefully she'll have a better answer for my question." I smiled, ducked and turned, and faced the clerk. "Do you have Park N View installed and working here?"

"Yes, we do," she replied, obviously relieved that the man who had been talking to her tormentor wasn't going to take up the fight to annoy her manager.

"And do you sell the starter kits? For how much?"

"We usually do, but we're out. They cost about $30."

"Thanks for the information," I replied, and left. If I could remember where that Pilot truck stop was, I could buy a kit there for $15.

I turned to leave the little shop and pick up my pizza, and found the angry woman square in my path. "Isn't she an idiot?" she said.

I shrugged. "She had the answer to my question," I said. "Perhaps it wasn't as great a challenge as yours."

"Every one, in any store, must be able to contact the manager in an emergency," she repeated.

"Yes, well, my emergency now is dinner. I'm starving," I smiled.

"Who can afford to eat here?" she snarled. "Look at those prices!" She pointed to the Pizza Hut, where my pizza was probably ready by now. "$5 for a Personal Pan Pizza!" she cried. "Do you know how much that is, Canadian?"

"Um, about $8?" I guessed, unable to not answer a question.

"About $8!" she cried in triumph. "$8 for a little pizza! Who can afford that!"

"Well, tonight, I can," I said. "There's a Super Supreme there with my name on it." Again I smiled, ducked to break the connection of our conversation which I now dearly wished I had never started, and trotted off to the Pizza Hut kiosk, feeling her stare a hole into my retreating backbone.

I got the pizza and thanked the cashier, then took my cup over to the soft drink dispenser and poured some Diet Pepsi (my second choice, but Diet Coke wasn't available). I turned to go to a table and found myself blocked, once again, by my new, best, friend. "Good thing you didn't go to Burger King," she said, conspiratorially. "That cashier hasn't got enough brains to keep his ears apart."

"I'm really sorry you've had to wait so long for a load home," I said fervently. "What's the hold up?"

She looked at me as if my ears were imploding on the space where my brain should be. "The strike," she said.

"Strike?" I said blankly. "Someone's on strike?"

"The dock workers!" she cried. "It's costing a billion dollars a day! Whole ships are stuck in the harbor because no one will unload them!"

"Oh!" I blinked. "I've been out of touch, I guess." There had been no strikes in Anne Tyler's book, but I didn't say so. I plopped myself into a chair, determined to enjoy my pizza with or without unwanted company. I took a bite, and it was delicious. So was the soda, even though things would have gone better with Coke.

"Mind you, I'm on the dock workers' side, of course," she said, as if challenging me to argue. I just kept chewing, savoring the melted cheese and the tingle of sausage on the sides of my tongue. "They deserve to earn a living doing what they do. Just like truckers deserve to." Oh, oh, I thought. She's a union organizer.

Now, I'm not against unions. I am well aware that the situation in the early years of the 1900s was absolutely intolerable, and it was unionization that finally put an end to the legalized slavery of the Industrial Revolution. Even the companies that didn't unionize, were forced to treat their employees fairly or lose them to a company that did.

I'm also aware that countries like Mexico, where unions are, simply, illegal, still permit slave wages for physical labor, which is why we have illegal immigrants from there, picking our fruit and doing our landscaping. Believers in a Global Elite see a pattern to this: the intentional maintenance of cheap labor by positioning a union-free nation next to a unionized nation. The Elite live in the unionized nation, where they can enjoy the security and comfort of a high standard of living, while guaranteed the presence of underpaid-but-loyal maids and butlers from the neighboring slave state.

Certainly, if there were no borders, employees would all flee non-unionized countries for unionized countries, leaving no one behind to supply the cheap labor the unionized countries require to keep their bottom lines high. Eventually, the non-unionized countries would be forced to raise salaries and working conditions just to keep workers at home, and everyone would make a fair living for their work…and corporations would make less profit, and the owners of corporations would be unable to find a maid or butler to work for nearly free.

So the dichotomy continues.

I know that there is a movement afoot to unionize Schneider. I've worked for a unionized company (Western Electric), and it wasn't fun. It was in Florida, which has a "right to work" law, which meant I could join the union or not as I preferred. But I was told, my first week on the job, that "people who don't join sometimes find their tires slashed when they get off work," so I joined. The first day on the job, I discovered the manager of our troupe and I had a lot in common, and we ate lunch together. Afterwards, I was informed that "workers don't eat with management." I remained at that job exactly three weeks.

So, I'm not a big fan of unions, either. I recognize their worth, and if it were the 1920s I would join or even start one; but I'm less interested in being in one, now.

Anyway, my friend was still rattling on, and finally I said, "I really admire your energy. I couldn't maintain such a constant level of anger; I would be exhausted."

She looked surprised. "Things need to be changed!" she said.

I nodded. "I change the things I can. I let the other things be. I find that, if I choose my battles, and save my energy for them alone, I can often win."

"I've always been an activist," she said. "I can't help it."

"No harm in that," I agreed. "Great good in it. Just, choose your battles. Is it really necessary to maintain an opinion about a kid who's trying to pay for college by working at a local Burger King?"

"Burger King!" she practically spat. "Do you know it's owned by a member of the House of Lords, who gets free labor by using it to 'train' homeless for the business world!"

"Is that any reason to come down on that poor kid over there?"

"What an idiot," she snorted. "He's never even been out of this state."

"Why does that make him an idiot?" I asked. "So he made different choices than you. Your choice to travel by driving truck doesn't seem to have made you very happy. An impartial observer might think that you're just jealous."

Her mouth opened, but nothing came out. I put more pizza into mine, and added the zinger with my mouth still full: "Why are you driving truck, anyway? What do you like about it?"

She sat across from me, her eyes misting. "I hate it," she said. "I don't know why I'm doing it. All my friends say I should quit."

"Then, maybe you should. In a perfect world, a world in which you could do anything you wanted, what would you be doing?"

She sighed. "There's a project in Vancouver," she said. "The real—"

"I know," I interrupted. "The real Vancouver in B.C."

"Yeah. There's this old, abandoned, department store, eh? Nobody else is using it. So, a few of us are trying to make it available as a shelter for the homeless. It's turned into a big battle. The people who run the city have started to buy into this old neighborhood, restoring old homes and selling them for big money. So, they don't want any homeless people in sight. They put a guard dog in the building and everything. The homeless staged a sit-in, and the police dragged them out. I should have been there. I should be there."

"Then, why are you driving a truck?" I asked.

"I've asked myself the same thing," she grinned ruefully. "I needed to pay the bills, 'cause activism don't, eh?"

I raised an eyebrow. "Actually, some people do very well as activists," I said. "They start up organizations to do some good, and raise a lot of money, and keep some of it as their salary for making it all possible. After all, without their salary, they couldn't do it at all. Some battles," I added, "are too big to fight as a hobby. Homelessness is probably one of them."

She looked astounded. "I could do that," she said. "A lot of people have asked me to, in fact. Some people have even offered money."

"You'd become an organizer," I said. "You'd have to give interviews, appear on TV and radio to speak for your cause. You'd have to plan rallies, and speeches, and manage money or get a volunteer you trust to do your books."

She shook her head in amazement. "I've done most of that, already!"

"Well, but now you'd be doing it for an organization. All you need is a catchy name."

"Hmm." She thought. "Vancouver Against Homelessness. How's that?"

"One more thing," I smiled. "Againstness never works. It doesn't work. Historically, a position against something is doomed to fail. What are you for?"

She thought again. "How about, Homes for All?"

"Excellent!" I grinned. "Who could argue against that?" She rose, thanking me, but as she turned I stopped her. "One more thing," I said. "What gift has the truck driving brought you?"

"Gift?"

"We are never presented with a situation that doesn't contain a gift for us. Find the gift."

"Well…it's shown me more of the country, and even the United States, than I would have seen otherwise. And it did make me realize my talents should be used for greater things. And…I guess it brought me to this conversation." She smiled. "I am going to quit, as soon as I get home," she said. "Even if I don't start my own organization, there may be one I can get a job at. But I do need to get off my butt and do the work I was born to do."

"And how about the video games?"

"Video games?"

"If I hadn't overheard you arguing with the clerk about the video games making too much noise, I would never have initiated this conversation with you. So, they are part of the gift. In fact, so is the time that you've spent here waiting, getting frustrated enough to take it out on a cashier. That all led to this conversation, which you say has motivated you to chuck a job you don't like and start doing your life's work."

"Thank the Goddess for the video games," she grinned.

"A gift in everything," I repeated.

"So, what was the gift for you in all this?" she asked.

"It gave me something to write about," I said. "And it helped me be more certain that I am right where I need to be, right now. I needed that reminder."

"We all need reminders," she said. "Thanks for being mine."