By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/24/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver Page Views: 817
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Saturday, November 30, 2002

"Nice eagle," said the man who looked like Karl Malden.

I was in the Fontana OC, waiting to give my lunch order to the cashier. The man who looked like Karl Malden nodded at my shirt. "That's a great painting. Is it custom made, or an off-the-shelf job?"

"I got it at Yosemite a few years back," I explained. "The eagle is one of my totem animals."

"There were a lot of eagles at my uncle's ranch," the man remarked, apropos of nothing.

"That's nice," I said, tearing my eyes away from the severely limited OC cafeteria menu to take in his shock of thick, gray hair; his bright blue eyes, and, of course, that nose that couldn't be missed from the other side of the freeway. He had a friendly expression that bore a touch of loneliness, so I smiled. "Whattya think, the turkey club or a burger?"

"You ever seen eagles mate?" he asked, ignoring my offer to join the matter at hand.

"Naw," I replied. "Whatever eagles choose to do in the privacy of their bedrooms is all right with me."

It was as if I wasn't really there. He continued on, his expression distant, as if he were watching the spectacle right in the cafeteria. "They fly up really high," he said. "Then they grasp each other's talons and plunge towards the ground. Then they pull up at the last possible moment." He shrugged. "Or sometimes, they don't. Sometimes, they die."

Another man came up and stood behind me in the order line. The Malden look-alike didn't acknowledge him, but he was interested, anyway. "Wow," the newcomer said. "That must be something to see."

"My uncle was watching a pair of them go at it one time," the Malden clone continued. "Up and down, up and down. Suddenly there was a shot, or a couple of them, and the eagles dropped like rocks."

He had our full attention now.

"He ran to the top of the ridge, and there were these three men, hunters. My uncle pointed his shotgun at them and said, 'First thing you're gonna do is put down them rifles. Next, your gonna help me find where them birds landed, in case I can get 'em to the vet and save 'em. Finally, you're gonna march yourselves down to the ranger's office a mile from here and turn yourselves in. In case you didn't know it, eagles are our national bird. It's against the law to kill 'em. And I don't mean fine against the law; I mean jail time against the law.'"

"Number 49," the cashier called. The man who looked like Karl Malden abruptly turned away from the guy behind me and me, grabbed his food from the cashier, and walked away without another glance in our direction. The man behind me and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"Guess the story was over," I said.

"No!" he cried in frustration. "Did the men do as the uncle demanded? Did they really put down their guns and turn themselves in?"

"An unfinished story," I said. "You can go ask him, or you can supply your own ending." But that first option no longer applied, as the man who looked like Karl Malden left the OC, presumably to get in his truck and make a pick up or a delivery.

Sunday, December 1, 2002

My own load was going to Salt Lake City. The route would take me northward on I-15 through California, a small part of Arizona, Nevada, and much of Utah. I left early Sunday morning so I could drive as much during the shrunken winter daylight hours as possible. This time there were clouds in the sky, heavy with pending precipitation and dramatically lit, showing shades ranging from dark blue-gray to innocent white. When I finally got into Utah, they were so heavy they hugged the mountain tops, leaving a trace of snow as they drifted on to the next range.

I had finally gotten a CD radio, thanks to my friend, Peter, who gave me the money for it a couple of weeks earlier. "I would like to deputize you," he said, handing me $40, "to stop by Wal-Mart and get that CB radio you've been talking about, for a Christmas gift." I agreed, but it took me the intervening time to get to a Wal-Mart.

So, now I had one, but I wasn't sure if it was working. With the squelch control set just high enough to filter the static, there wasn't anything else coming through. But was it because the radio was defective, because my truck didn't have a working antenna, or because no one had anything worth saying?

I kept it on, and finally was rewarded by a voice so clear I jumped. "I would never have let my kids talk to me like that," a woman's voice stated.

"How do you stop 'em?" a man's voice asked.

"I smacked 'em from one end of the house to the other," the woman's voice explained. "It only took one time. They never spoke to me like that again."

"But did they keep the lesson?" the man asked. "Do they still speak considerately to you?"

"I haven't talked to them brats for over fifteen years," the woman's voice returned. There was a burst of static, then nothing. I had lost the signal.

CB is intended to be for short-range communication. I hear there are some folks who have illegally boosted their broadcast range, but there really isn't much point. After all, if the person you want to speak to isn't similarly amplified, you still won't be able to hear them. So, CB conversations seem to be mostly limited to "bear" reports (alerts that a highway patrol car is stationed along the road) or explanations as to why the traffic is jammed in the middle of nowhere.

The trip from Rancho Dominguez to Salt Lake City was just a tad over the legal driving limit of ten hours. I went as far as I could, pulling into a Flying J truck stop in Salt Lake City for the night. Coincidentally, it was the very same Flying J I had met Peter in, one day, when we both happened to be in Salt Lake.

Monday, December 2, 2002

I appeared at the consignee's a little before the appointed time in the morning. "It's going to be awhile," the dock manager said with a doubtful expression. "At least an hour before we can start. You'd better plan on being here all day."

I lay down in my bunk for a nap while waiting. After awhile, there was a tap on my door. It was the dock manager again. "We won't be able to unload you until tonight," he said, apologetically. "And they won't be finished until morning. If then. Sorry."

I called my STL and explained the situation to him. He put me on hold, and after a few minutes, he told me I could drop the trailer there and he would find me another load. That was definitely all right with me; I needed to get some miles so I could buy my own things like CB radios.

After another hour or so, an assignment beeped into my Qualcomm. The good news: It was another 700-mile trip. The bad: I couldn't pick up until 11:00 pm.

But I decided to take a chance. I called the shipper myself; and, sure enough, the woman who answered expected the load to be ready as early as 3 pm.

I would have been there at 3, too; except that I was supposed to go there with an empty trailer. I was told where to go to get one, but there were no trailers there. At all. I sent the required message to say that; a half hour later, I received another empty trailer location. I went there. The trailer I was supposed to get was still loaded, according to the guard. So I sent another message. Finally, the third try was the charm. It was after 5 pm when I got to the shipper's.

It took forever to couple the loaded trailer, until I realized that this was one of those rare trailers whose crank turns the opposite direction. Finally, I headed south; this load was going back to the Fontana area. I would be retracing my steps (or, at least, my wheel tracks). I spent the night at a rest area in southern Utah.

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

It was bright morning when I entered the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona, between Utah and Nevada. Huge slabs of serrated rock towered on both sides of the road, the layers of sediment resting at crazy angles. All land, except for volcanic rock, is laid down in the form of undersea sediment. When that land later rises above the sea, the wind erodes it away. Undersea, it thickens; exposed, it wears away. When it rises, it often does so at an angle. And when it sinks, that angle may be retained. So new layers of sediment settle on the old, angled and partially worn away, layers.

The story of the oldest layers, therefore, is usually incomplete at any given location. It has to be pieced together by finding layers that have moved to different locations, and matching them up by identifying the individual layers, like locating tree rings and using the rings from different trees to piece together a weather history longer than any one tree can live.

In Grand Canyon, I have put my finger in a gap of 1.3 billion years. This gap occurs at an ancient layer that must have been exposed a long, long time; 1.3 billion years of sediment were worn away before it sank again and new layers began to be added.

What's the story of that 1.3 billion years? It's anybody's guess. The details are lost in the CB static of time, another story with a crucial part missing.

In Las Vegas, I pulled into the TA at exit 33 to refuel. I took a shower, and afterwards discovered a barber shop there, run by a woman named Drema (pronounced "Dream-a"). My hair was getting really long, and on a whim I decided to have her clip it.

There was one guy ahead of me. As I waited for Drema to finish with him, I noticed a pencil-drawn portrait of her in a frame, resting on a table. "Nice drawing," I said. "Of you?"

"Yes," Drema said, carefully snipping away at errant hairs on her customer's head. "Actually there's an interesting story behind it," she added.

"Really?" I said.

"Yes," she asserted. "There was this homeless guy who had hung around the truck stop for a couple of days. He wasn't your typical homeless guy; he had nice slacks and shirt, but his hair was a mess and he didn't have any shoes." She clipped a last hair and rotated the customer so he could see himself in the mirror. He approved the job, paid her, and left.

"Your turn," she said. "Get in the royal seat." I explained how I wanted my hair cut. She began, and I urged her to continue with her story. I wanted to hear the end of one!

"Well," she continued as she clipped, "He came into my shop, here, and told me he was an artist; and if I would give him a haircut, he would pay me with a portrait. I said, 'You do the portrait first; and, if I like it, I'll cut your hair.' So he did, and I did like it, so I cut his hair."

She snipped at mine, gathering her thoughts. "Of course, I asked how he came to be homeless. It seemed he had come to Las Vegas with his daughter and $5000. The first day he was here, his daughter, who was in her twenties, met some guy she liked and she ran off with him. Then the guy lost all $5000 at the craps tables. When he went to get his car, it was missing. Seems he had parked illegally, just partly over the red line, but they towed it away. They wanted $250 to get it out of the yard, but he didn't have it because he'd lost all his money at the craps tables. So he hitchhiked to the truck stop, because everyone knows truck drivers will help anyone out."

"We will?" I asked. They hadn't mentioned that in truck driving school.

"Oh, sure," she said. "Anyway, when I was done with him, I gave him a tip. I gave him $5 and told him to get something to eat, and I told him he could make one long distance call from my phone, if it would help him."

"And did he?"

"Yes. He called his ex-wife, and I guess she either came to get him or sent him money to come home, because the next day he was gone."

She spun me around, and, to my amazement, she had done an excellent job on my hair. Not that I doubted she could, but I never like my haircuts; and I liked this one.

"Great," I said. "Thanks."

"The only bad thing," Drema continued, "is that he never contacted me. I'd have liked to know the rest of the story. Did he get home? Did he get his car? Did his daughter ever show up? But he never called me."

"Did you give him your number?" I asked as I paid her.

"No," Drema admitted ruefully. "I guess I should have, shouldn't I? Now, I'll never know the rest of the story."

I paid her and returned to my truck. Minutes later I was headed into the last rays of the Western sun, heading back up another mountain pass or two on my way to California.


We humans like our stories to be neatly tied and wrapped all up. Reality is messy; it comes in dribbles and drabs and sometimes we are dozing when an important piece is added. Worse, just because a piece of the story is missing, doesn't mean it isn't important. That's why we are inclined to supply the missing pieces by guesswork if necessary. The artist who lost his money at the craps tables probably made out all right. The guy who looked like Karl Malden's uncle probably didn't get shot by the eagle hunters. The kids who were beaten by the woman on the CB are probably just now completing therapy and maybe a tell-all bestseller. Even the fill-ins for the missing 1.3 billion years of geology can be explained away by anything from more of the same to a collision with a meteor or a moon that inundated the Earth in the early years of the Solar System.

The problem comes when we forget that we filled in the gaps, confusing the original story with our own fabrications. Because then, when the missing pieces finally come along, as they usually do, there's no room for them.

In 1947, a Joint Congressional Committee came to the conclusion that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had known about the impending Pearl Harbor attack in time to avoid it, but he intentionally had prevented that information from reaching Pearl Harbor itself. He wanted to go to war, which was contrary to the platform on which he'd been elected, and needed an attack on American soil to get the American people to rally behind him. Among historians, this is not a matter of controversy; yet the American people, as a whole, are still unaware of this dirty little secret.. They had long since filled the missing pieces of the story with the fabrication. There's no room for additional information. "My mind's made up," as the saying goes. "Don't confuse me with facts."