By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 8/21/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 1004
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Friday, March 7, 2003

A couple of days ago, I passed my six-month marker as a driver for Schneider. The only benefit that gives me, that I know of, is that I can now take passengers.

In preparation for this, I had obtained from Debbie, my STR (assistant dispatcher) copies of the form that must be signed and faxed in, one for each passenger. Each copy is good for one person, for a maximum of one month—and there is a $15 fee for each person, each month. This fee is supposed to go to "insurance" for the passenger, although when he or she signs the form they swear not to hold Schneider responsible for anything whatsoever that may occur to them during their adventure as a truck drivin' passenger. So I am inclined to think the $15 actually goes for legal fees.

Last New Year's Eve, one of the guys in the gay men's club that Michael and I are in, mentioned that he would really like to be a passenger in a truck. He didn't say he wanted to be a passenger in my truck; he didn't know that was possible. He just said that it was a lifelong dream of his.

The man, Lloyd, is 25; so at first glance it would seem that he had plenty of time to make his dream come true, on his own. However, he has HIV and, on that date, his viral load had spiked and no one knew if he'd still be with us next New Year's Eve. So I told him he could ride with me when I was allowed to take passengers.

And now that day has arrived. I called Lloyd two days ago and gave him the news; he was very excited and agreed. I, at the same time, had second thoughts. What if he became deathly ill during his two weeks on the road? What if he died, or needed hospitalization? I knew he had no money, even less than me. I would be his only way back home.

Moreover, some of his closer friends had explained to me that he was, to some degree, mentally and emotionally challenged. His high school had told his parents he was emotionally frozen at the level of a fifteen-year-old. That didn't bother me much, since my own kids at fifteen seemed pretty mature to me. Lloyd, on the other hand, at 25 wasn't currently employed and had moved out of his parents' home just the previous August. So I might have my hands full.

"If you find you have to discipline him," one of his friends advised, "don't raise your voice. That seems to remind him of his father. Keep your voice down, and you may get better results."

Discipline? I had no intention of disciplining anyone. For heaven's sakes, what could he possibly do in two weeks that would require discipline? All we were going to do was ride around pulling trailers.

Michael and I picked him up on our way to the truck this morning.

I had warned him that there wasn't much room on the truck, so not to bring much. When Michael and I stepped into his apartment, my heart sank. He had three large plastic bags of clothing, a huge mound of bedding, and some twenty plastic bags of groceries. He had explained that, since he has food stamps but no money, he would be eating groceries heated in truck stop microwaves. Most of this stuff, however, did not need heating: bag after bag of Oreos, M & Ms, and vanilla wafers. There was enough sugar in this pile to throw Rosie O'Donnell into insulin shock.

And the bedding smelled to high heavens. I was pretty sure it had never been cleaned. However, when I light-heartedly mentioned this, Lloyd assured me he had cleaned it "recently." Just last December, in fact.

Michael took it home with him to wash; we arranged to meet before I actually left town, to pick it up. (He told me later the wash water had turned black when the sheets and pillows were added.)

We picked up our load at a warehouse supply house in Phoenix, then drove to the new Wal-Mart in our neighborhood (which was also along our route to Salt Lake City) to meet Michael, who handed over the newly cleaned linens. Lloyd and I had crushed most of his food and clothing into the storage space beneath the lower bunk, leaving out just enough for the next three days. However, he then ran into Wal-Mart and came out with four gallon-and-a-half jugs of water. I could hardly complain; it would be a lot better for him than the soda pop he'd also brought; and probably essential for processing all that sugar.

I'd been told that Lloyd was a talker; but in fact, we rode in silence except for the stereo. Lloyd would answer any question I asked him; but he volunteered no information and didn't embellish his answers in any way that led to another question. I began to feel I was prying and concentrated on the music.

To go from Phoenix to Salt Lake City meant we got to travel US 89 through Page, Arizona. This is an incredibly beautiful road I had never driven in the truck, so Lloyd, who wanted to "see the country", was excited. Unfortunately, it was dark by the time we got through Flagstaff. I pulled off the road near Antelope Pass, on the Navajo reservation, and informed Lloyd it was time to go to sleep.

"I'm not really tired," he said. "In fact, I'm wide awake."

I shrugged. "Did you bring a book or anything?"

"I brought a couple of books," he replied. I was actually surprised and couldn't wait to find out what they were. However, when I shut off the light in my bunk, he shut his off, too. "Good night," he said. "I'm really happy you could take me," he added.

"Me, too," I mumbled. "G'night." I snuggled into my blankets and was asleep in moments. However, I was awakened suddenly by the cab light and the sound of the door closing.

"Sorry," he said from the front of the cab. "I had to pee."

"No problem," I said. It's unfortunate that there's no way to prevent the cabin light from coming on when the door opens, other than removing the bulb. He got back in his bunk as I rolled over; and I was just about asleep again when I heard a moan coming from above. I strained to listen. Another moan. Oh, no, I thought. He's come down with a fever or dementia or something. "Are you all right?" I called, but there was no answer.

There was another moan, and Lloyd tossed restlessly in the bunk. I got up and stood, my face at the level of his. "Are you all right, Lloyd?" I asked.

"Sure," he replied.

"You were moaning. I thought you were having a bad dream."

"No, just a good time," he giggled.

It took me a moment to process this. "Ah," I said, finally. "Well. As long as you aren't sick or anything." I got back into bed and closed my eyes. Unfortunately, I couldn't close my ears; and it was entirely too long before the moaning finally ceased for the night.

Saturday, March 8, 2003

When I awoke, I found we had parked at a fantastic viewpoint. In the distance were the Vermillion Cliffs; across a broad expanse of brush was an upthrust granite mountain. The sky was bright blue and the morning, while chilly, was warming fast. I ate a banana and an orange and a Danish, and had filled out my log and started the truck, before Lloyd awoke. I gave him time to pee and take a picture of the cliffs; once he got back in the truck, I put it in gear and off we went.

The load was heavy and we had to take the increasingly steep grades slowly. "See that gouge in the Earth?" I said at one point, pointing to our left. "That's the Little Colorado River. It's a tributary of the big Colorado, the river that made Grand Canyon."

He nodded. "Can I use your phone?" he asked. I explained that Verizon, my cell phone provider, didn't cover the area where we were. "You may be able to get through when we get to Page," I suggested.

In Page, he asked again and, sure enough, the phone's display indicated that Verizon was available. Lloyd called his boyfriend and told him where we were, where we had spent the night, and so on. I then heard him offer to call his boyfriend "five or six times more" that day to keep him posted.

"Uh, I can't really afford to use the phone that much," I objected. "I only get 400 minutes a month." True, those were weekday minutes and I also got a thousand weekend minutes; but a thousand sounds like a lot and it felt more to my advantage to accentuate the negative in this instance.

"I've gotta go," Lloyd told the phone, abruptly, and handed it back to me.

The scenery, which Lloyd had wanted to see, continued to awe me with its spectacle and majesty. Lloyd, however, got sleepy and took a four-hour nap, thus missing most of it. I had hoped he would spend that time straightening out his belongings, especially his canned goods, which were rolling around the floor and which I kept stepping on. I had cleared a shelf out for them and everything, but so far he hadn't made a move in that direction.

In the afternoon he asked if he could watch a DVD. "I brought lots of 'em," he said, which I didn't doubt. I granted permission and he put a disk into the laptop, with the soundtrack pouring out of the truck speakers. It was a truck driving movie starring Patrick Swayze and Meat Loaf. The irony of watching a truck driving fantasy while actually riding in a real truck was apparently lost on Lloyd.

When he found out we were going to Salt Lake City, he had said excitedly, "I've got a cousin there!"

"Well," I suggested generously, "our delivery isn't scheduled until Sunday morning; so if you want to visit your cousin, or even stay over with him, I see no problem with that. We'll be there in four hours," I added, so that he and his cousin could make plans. Of course, to do that he had to use my phone: First to call his mother to get the cousin's phone number; then to call his grandmother when his mother didn't answer; then back to his mother when the grandmother said she didn't have the number but his mother surely did and was certainly home. Finally, he called the cousin, whose wife answered.

"I'm going to be in Salt Lake City tonight!" he told her. "I thought maybe we could visit, and I could spend the night."

There seemed to be a pause, and then the wife said she'd have to check with her husband, who wasn't home then but would be soon and would call back. Lloyd gave her my number, which he had memorized. I envisioned dozens of Lloyd's friends calling on my cell phone, using up my minutes.

After awhile, the cousin did call…and told Lloyd that, unfortunately, he and his wife had made other plans for the evening which couldn't be broken. He looked forward to getting together with Lloyd at some vague time in the future.

Lloyd looked disappointed, yet forced a smile. "Too bad," he said.

"How long since you've last seen your cousin?" I asked.

"One of them I saw last month, and the other I haven't seen in years." I didn't realize there was more than one cousin.

"And which one is this?"

"This is the one I haven't seen in years."

"Does the other one live here, too?"

"No."

I tried not to feel impatience at dragging the information out. "Where does that cousin live?"

"Los Angeles."

Since there was now no reason to stay in Salt Lake City overnight, I took a chance and went to the consignee, who agreed to take early delivery. That left us bobtailed, and with two legal hours left to head for southern Utah, where I was supposed to pick up an empty trailer. Finally, out of time, we parked at a Flying J truck stop in Payson.

Lloyd was happy to discover that they had a TV lounge in which drivers could relax and watch the tube. Although he hadn't done any driving, Lloyd was ready to relax. As we entered, TBS was just ending Sleepless in Seattle. A big, burly driver was the only one there; he hastily wiped his eyes on his sleeve and sniffled. "Hell of a movie," he said. An announcer informed us that the next film, starting after a few commercials, would be Philadelphia.

Oh, great, I thought. When collecting DVDs to bring on this trip, I had actually considered Philadelphia briefly, then decided it was too grim. After all, the hero, Tom Hanks, dies at the end—of AIDS, the disease HIV causes, and which Lloyd has. I just couldn't see any benefit to rubbing his nose in it. And now, here it was anyway.

"That's a terrific movie," the burly driver said, showing no sign of leaving. "Hanks is incredible in it."

"Isn't he?" Lloyd agreed. "And Antonio Banderas does such a great job, too."

I left the two of them critiquing the film and returned to the truck. I'd given Lloyd a key, so I didn't need to wait for the end of the three-hour movie to get some sleep.

As I dozed off, I wondered what Lloyd would be like on his return. Slapped with this vision of his own future, would he be depressed? Dismal? Suicidal? Would I have to spend the rest of the night comforting him, or worse, trying to keep him from killing himself before he had gotten his canned goods off the floor of my truck?

I was awakened from a deep sleep with the slamming of the cab door, but I didn't move. I would be there for Lloyd if he really needed me, but otherwise I was just going to pretend to be asleep and return to the real thing as soon as possible. Lloyd undressed and climbed into his bunk without saying a word. I was just congratulating myself that he wasn't crying himself to sleep when the truck started shaking. It was Lloyd, in the bunk above me, again "having a good time."

Didn't he even have the good grace to be miserable? After all, he'd just seen the seminal AIDS movie. Lloyd was going to die! Of AIDS—and probably sooner than later. He ought to at least spend his remaining years bemoaning his fate.

Sunday, March 9, 2003

We drove to southern Utah to pick up an empty trailer, then an hour northward to drop it off. We were supposed to pick up a loaded trailer from the same place Monday morning and I was hoping that maybe the load would be ready early.

I played music over the truck loudspeakers from my laptop. It was a wide range of material, from CDs I had ripped at home and also MP3s I downloaded from the Internet. I had feared that Lloyd wouldn't like most of it, since, after all, he is only 25. When a string of hits by the same artist began to play, I apologized. "It's Barry Manilow," I explained dismissively. "I guess I downloaded more of his stuff than I realized."

"That's okay," Lloyd said. "He has a good voice."

It also turned out Lloyd liked show tunes (of course he did; he's gay) and seemed to appreciate the rest of my eclectic tastes. I decided to really test him on a marathon of Hooked On Classics…and, to my astonishment, saw him tapping his foot to the rhythm. "What's this?" he asked, in a rare question.

"This piece is Hooked on Mozart," I said. "It's a medley of Mozart tunes, with that drum-and-hand-clap rhythm."

"So that's Mozart," he said. "I've heard of him."

"He died young," I remarked, then realized, too late, that it wasn't very sensitive of me to bring that up. I decided to throw in a Tom Lehrer joke to lighten it. "It's always a bit depressing to realize," I said, "that when Mozart was my age, he'd been dead 17 years."

Lloyd seemed neither to have understood my thoughtless remark nor the joke.

"It's depressing," I continued hopelessly, "because he wrote so many, many beautiful pieces—operas, symphonies, concertos, songs, piano works—in such a short time."

"Maybe he was in a hurry," Lloyd said, "because he knew he didn't have much time."

I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut. Lloyd showed no indication that he saw a parallel between himself and the dead-too-soon Mozart, but I did. Mozart had tremendous talent; Lloyd, poor soul, seemed to have none in any field. His friends disparaged the fact that Lloyd had no job, no ambition. His parents had finally kicked him out of the house because he just wouldn't get a job; he was now living off disability and food stamps.

If the mayfly, a creature that lives and dies in just seven days, had the option—would it get a job so it could spend its few days enriching some corporation? Or would it prefer to travel, to experience, and to mate as much as it could in the little time it had?

I don't know if there are mayfly Mozarts. I do know that there are very few human ones. If I had just one or two years left to me, I don't know that I would spend it trying to create masterpieces. Maybe I, too, would try, desperately, to pack as much pleasure into that limited time as I could.

The odds are I will outlive Lloyd by many years…but those are only odds. I could die tomorrow and he may last additional decades. There are no guarantees. I can very possibly learn a lot from Lloyd during his time with me about living moment by moment, any one of which could be my last.

And, on the other hand, if these canned goods don't get put away, he could be killed tomorrow by an angry truck driver.