By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/24/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver Page Views: 834
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Monday, March 10, 2003

We were on our way to Wal-Mart in Buckeye (just outside of Phoenix) when a bobtailed, Schneider, owner-operator truck passed us. You can recognize owner-operator trucks because they are usually some color other than orange; also, while they say "Schneider" on the sides, they usually don't have the official Schneider logo. Now, granted, my truck, the "Eric Idle", is white; but it does have the Schneider logo. Anyway, when I saw this truck, I just had the feeling it was also going to Wal-Mart. And, since I was going there to get an empty trailer, and empty trailers are often hard to find, it was annoying that he was going to be there ahead of me. There was nothing I could do about it; I was going as fast as my governed engine would go, and owner-operator trucks don't have governors at all. So I shrugged and resigned myself to another Quest for Empties that would take God knew how long.

Sure enough, when my passenger, Lloyd, and I rolled up to the Wal-Mart distribution center security gate, Mr. Owner-Operator was just ahead of us. He pulled up and in the direction of the yard where Wal-Mart keeps its empties as we stopped and I said "Hi!" to the guard.

He looked at "Eric Idle", noted we were bobtailed, and sighed, "I suppose you're here for an empty trailer, too."

"Yeah," I replied. "Got any?"

He shrugged miserably, as if he'd been hoping to take one home, himself. "Go, check," he said. So I put "Eric" back into gear and followed the owner-operator.

It wasn't as bad as I'd feared. There were quite a few Schneider trailers in the yard. However, as I inspected one after the other I found something wrong with each one. A bald tire here, missing tag and side lights on this other one, a missing registration on yet another. The competition was busily hooking up to a trailer; I hoped he hadn't found the last good trailer on the lot.

Then, I had a brainstorm. I was, after all, simply going to drive with it a few miles and then exchange it for a loaded trailer. Why not bring a trailer that needed repair? After all, that's what other drivers had done with these. And, out of thousands and thousands of Schneider drivers not reporting bad trailers, what good would it do if I were the only one who did? I'd been reporting bad trailers all along; and the only thing it seemed to do for me was add delays for repairs that meant fewer miles driven and therefore, less money. If Schneider was serious about keeping their equipment in good repair, they'd pay drivers for the delays induced by getting repairs; but, in fact, they'd recently cancelled an incentive program that gave a trip or something to drivers who reported the most problems.

I took the trailer with the missing lights.

We were about to leave, when the owner operator pulled in front of us, stopped his truck, and got out. A yapping dog remained on the dashboard as guard. The driver, a good-looking thirtysomething fellow with spike hair and blue-green eyes waved and I rolled down my window.

"Have you got your next assignment, yet?" he asked.

"Yeah," I responded. "That's what the empty's for."

He frowned and made a grunting sound. "I got a message saying to pick up this empty, but nothing on what to do with it afterwards." He shrugged. "Guess I'll just hang out at the truck stop on the corner until they tell me what to do next."

I wondered why he was telling me this. Had he seen the rainbow sticker? Maybe he was gay, too, and was trying to arrange a little daytime assignation. But Lloyd was sitting in the passenger seat, plainly visible. While we are not partners or anything remotely like it, the owner-operator couldn't know that. Hey, I'm not that old. I could have a 25-year-old boyfriend.

Actually, I had worried about that. Knowing that Lloyd wasn't that fussy about his partners (presumably how he'd contracted HIV in the first place), and that we'd be stuck in the truck together nearly 24 hours a day, I had practiced a little speech about how I already had a partner I loved; that Lloyd wasn't really my type, anyway; that I have four children all of whom are older than him; that I'm exhausted after a day's driving and just want to sleep. I didn't want to say that I wasn't comfortable having sex with someone who was HIV positive, even though we could play safe and all that. But even that was not the real reason.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but the fact is, I perceived Lloyd to be so much my intellectual inferior, that I found him unappealing, despite his good (if vacant) looks and lanky, well-built body. And I could never actually tell him that. So I prepared the all-the-other-reasons speech.

The annoying thing is that I never had a chance to use my speech. Lloyd, it seemed, wasn't interested in me, sexually, either.

But he certainly lit up when he looked at the owner-operator. While certainly older than Lloyd, he wasn't that much older.

And he still had most of his hair.

He ignored Lloyd, though, and stuck his hand up at me. "Name's Rip," he said.

"I'm Paul," I said, shaking hands. "And this is Lloyd," I added graciously. Lloyd was all but drooling. I noted that Rip did not wear a wedding ring. Of course, I do. Still…

We weren't in a hurry, so Rip and I spent a few minutes bitching about the difficulty in finding empty trailers in good repair. "I had to take one with a blown tire," he said. "I figure I'll get it fixed on the way to where they decide to send me."

I nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, mine's missing two lights. The whole assembly is off! Can you imagine?"

"I saw that one," he said. "Couldn't take it. Schneider doesn't give us owner-ops replacement lights or any of that shit you company drivers get. But, at least, they'll pay to replace the bad tire."

"So, you are an owner operator?" I had already surmised that, for the reasons given earlier; but this is how one keeps a conversation going. I hoped Lloyd would learn this bit of conversational skill from me. So far, on this trip, having him with me had been more like bringing a puppy than a human, except with a puppy there'd have been more talk.

"Yeah," Rip said. "Hey, you know there's a special word for men who like sex with men and women who like sex with women. But do you know the special word for people who prefer sex with themselves?"

This seemed like an extreme change of subject but Rip's eyes were twinkling and I shrugged helplessly. "Beats me," I said, wondering if he'd get the pun; but he chose not to lose the momentum of his joke. "Owner-operators," he said.

We both laughed. Lloyd retained his expression of vacant lust.

"So, how is it, being an owner-operator?" I asked. "Have you been doing it for long?"

"I've had my own truck—not this one, but different trucks—for about five years," he replied. "But I've had this one for two, and I've been driving for Schneider just about one year."

"How do you like it?"

His head nodded back and forth as if he were weighing every single factor before answering. "Overall, okay, I guess. They keep me driving. Not as much as they would if I had leased the truck from them, of course. Those drivers get all the miles they can handle. But that's okay. I'm not really after miles, any more."

"You used to be?" I prompted, wondering if Lloyd even grasped that conversational skills are something one can learn.

"Oh, yeah," he grinned. "I used to run from West Virginia to California in three days, no sleeping. And then turn around and go right back."

"Good lord," I said in amazement. "How could you do that? Didn't you get tired?"

"No," he said ruefully, "thanks to 'high-speed chicken feed'."

"High-speed chicken feed," I repeated. "What is that, exactly?"

"Acid," he said, as if I should know.

I was feeling really stupid. "What kind of acid?" I was thinking, ascorbic acid (also known as vitamin C)?

But he replied, "No, man. LSD! You, know, acid."

"LSD?"

I was almost at a loss for words. But Lloyd, amazingly, had been tracking better than I. "LSD is, like, wild, dude," he said, provocatively.

I was still trying to make sense of this story. "LSD keeps you awake?" The fact is, I've never used LSD; and the two friends of mine who had and told me about it, never mentioned that it would keep a person from getting sleepy.

"Hell, yeah," Rip said. I was now beginning to suspect I knew where his nickname had come from. "I useta didn't know it, though. I was in a truck stop, one I went to a lot. There was this guy who was usually there. One day, he says to me, 'Hey, man, how about some high speed chicken feed?' Just like you, I didn't know what the fuck he was talking about. So he says, 'I'll give you some for free. See if you like it.' And he gave me these little white tabs of paper."

"Ah," I interjected sagely. "Freebies. The time-honored method of creating a clientele for illegal drugs. And cigarettes."

"Well, next time I got sleepy, I figured I'd give it a shot. I was in West Virginia, heading for L.A. I popped one of the tabs in my mouth, and swallowed it, just like the guy said. Next thing I knew, whoosh! It was like I was flying down the highway, all these cars to the left and right of me flashing past like the stars on Star Trek. It was wild! After awhile, I looked at the speedometer and discovered I was doing 110 mph. It wasn't an illusion; I really was passing cars like they was standing still. So I slowed down, but it still seemed the same way. I really got into it. And, then, suddenly, I was in California. I hadn't even noticed the days going by. I hadn't eaten or even gone to the bathroom. I don't think." He shrugged. "I didn't really remember making the trip at all; so, who knows what I did!"

"It's really amazing, isn't it?" Lloyd enthused. I prayed he hadn't brought any illegal drugs with him. "I've been with people who did things they would never usually do on LSD." This was the first time I'd ever heard him speak in anything other than a monotone.

"But you can't keep it up indefinitely," I protested. "Eventually, your body will shut down."

"And it did," he agreed. "I pulled over into a rest stop and dozed off. I woke up fifteen hours later. And I was still tired," he added. "I managed to get the load delivered, a little late; but I had to take time off and I went home and slept, mostly, for a week."

"At least you didn't have anyone to wonder if you were seriously ill," I said.

"But I did," Rip said. "My wife wondered what the hell was wrong with me."

"Your wife?" I said, as Lloyd chimed in, "But you're not wearing a ring."

"I am married," he stated. "And my wife says, 'What's wrong with you? You using drugs?' And I says, jumping around all nervous-like, 'No! Of course not! How could you think such a thing! Drugs! Really!'" And he jumped around while he said it, with a slightly manic look that must have sent his spouse running for a drug-prevention hotline.

"I was definitely addicted," he admitted. "It's not like alcohol or cocaine or smoking, where you got to have another fix. I wasn't addicted to the LSD." His eyes narrowed. "I was addicted to the money, man. I was making a fucking fortune and I wasn't about to let that go." His shoulders drooped slightly. "Of course, my body couldn't take it. I started losing my hair," and he showed where the spikes were hiding a thin spot, "and getting these bags under my eyes. And, of course, my wife knew something was up. Eventually I realized that the money wasn't going to do me any good if I was dead." He shrugged again. "So I quit. Just like that. My dealer at the truck stop wasn't very happy about it; but I pointed out that he didn't use that shit, either. So…now I just drive normal hours, legal, and I still make a reasonable living. Enough." A wistful look passed over his face. "Gotta tell you, though…the sensation of flying through all those cars in an 80-thousand pound rig was something."

What would really be something, of course, would be a trucking industry that paid drivers enough to cover their bills without resorting to drugs.

I made a final inspection of the trailer and my coupling to it. When I got back into the cab, Lloyd was stuffing a sheet of paper into his pocket. "What's that?" I asked, curiously.

"Rip's phone number," he replied.

"You got Rip's phone number? Why?" I asked, not that it was any of my business.

"He said he might like to fool around sometime."

I couldn't believe it. "But…he has a wife."

Lloyd just nodded. Since he doesn't volunteer information, I had a choice: either drag the whole story out of him, like Hamilton Burger on Perry Mason with a hostile witness; or just live without knowing it.

He certainly didn't have any time to speak of to talk to Rip. And there was virtually no chance Lloyd and he would ever be in the same town at the same time again. Besides, it couldn't be that easy, could it? That would really be something.