By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 8/21/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 851
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Saturday, April 26, 2003

With a very heavy load of cardboard from Port Townsend, Washington, I headed back to the L.A. area. Another moderately long run, which is a good thing. The loading hadn't taken very long, and the trip down the I-5 corridor is uneventful. I filled the time with an audio book version of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tim Robbins. This is a terrific tale of a young woman who is the world's greatest hitchhiker. For her, it becomes an art form and a reason for being. She hitchhikes for the pure joy of it, not particularly to get anywhere. She simply enjoys the motion.

Or, as it occurs to me to put it, "I think, therefore I amble."

I know people like that. They must be distinguished from other people, similar on the surface, who keep moving to avoid facing themselves or their issues. Amblers have faced themselves, and found that their selves simply enjoy constant motion.

Many truck drivers are amblers.

I don't think I am. I am happy moving, but also happy being still. For me, happiness comes from within and I make it a point to bring my insides with me wherever I go.

Oh-oh. Tim Robbins' distinctive writing style has rubbed off on me. He's very literary. He, the author, is so present in his fiction that he must be counted as one of the characters. In fact, later in the book, he actually becomes one of the main characters. My point, though, is that he uses literary devices to tell the story. He jumps out of sequence, throws in unrelated jokes, relies on metaphor and analogy as if he were a crippled story and metaphor his crutches. That, as he might add, is the crutch of the matter.

Don't get the idea that this style is off-putting. It might be for some people; and, in fact, when I opened the audio book, I found that the previous borrower had left the first tape wound to the middle—never a good sign. Still, once I got used to it, I found it very enjoyable and the story unexpectedly compelling in spite of the lesbian love scenes. As a gay man, I've never understood why straight men get excited at the idea of women making love. On the other hand, I'm always happy for anyone who manages to find a little love in today's lovelorn world. And that happens frequently throughout Robbins' book. Not only do most of the characters couple, they triple and even quadruple, despite the international situation (which is desperate, as usual).

And it was very cool to be driving in the vicinity of Mount Shasta just as the book described a hidden tribe of Native Americans who, the story maintains, lives in a series of caverns in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

And very odd to be passing by the big cattle ranch in north central California just as Robbins described the cowgirls destroying the herd of diseased cows on their ranch.

That big cattle ranch is something. I don't know how many acres it is, but it is always crowded with cattle, literally millions of them, as if they had come for a convention. There's no grass there. I enjoy watching cows eat, probably more than cows would enjoy watching me eat, considering that I often eat cows. But I enjoy watching them eat grass a lot more than I enjoy watching them eat grain, and grain is all there is in this acreage of the cow convention. They stand in mud and their own dung, chewing the cud and, undoubtedly, wondering who called this meeting, anyway, and when it was going to start. I don't know why they're all there, either; but I suspect they wouldn't be happy about it if they did know. That is, I don't know where that cow convention stands in relationship to the cow lifespan, but I suspect better days do not lie ahead.

Cows don't usually travel much. They do not seem to be concerned with motion. Even in Snowflake, Arizona, where Michael and I used to live, Mormon country where Free Range is in effect and Free Love is not, the cows used to wander our property looking for a blade of grass to chew but they never seemed to be in a hurry even though there was precious little grass of the cow-nibbling variety. Ironically, there was plenty of grass of the jazz musician variety; our neighbors grew it when they weren't aiming shotguns in the direction of unwary travelers. But the cows didn't get much of that, either. Though you could tell the ones that did; they were the ones with smiles on their large faces as they headed for the local Circle K. "To hell with grass," they seemed to say. "We want chocolate!"

This lack of ambulation on the part of cows certainly does not come from their ancestors, the buffalo. Buffalo were definitely into movement. At one time, as everyone knows, a single herd of them might cover hundreds of square miles, running all the while. Or galloping. I'm not sure what the special word for the movement of a buffalo, or a cow for that matter, is. I'm sure there is one. The guy who, centuries ago, decided on "a murder of crows" and "an exaltation of larks" would not have missed the opportunity to coin specific words for the various forms of ambulation employed by various species. There is, for example, the galloping of horses, the scampering of kittens, the oozing of lawyers, and the scuttling of Republicans. So I'm sure there is a special word for whatever buffalo do when they are moving. I just don't know what it is.

Actually, considering what it must be like on the ground in any row of buffalo behind the first, slipping is probably the most accurate term.

My point is, whatever it is, buffalo did a lot of it, and seemed to enjoy it. And when our ancestors domesticated the buffalo, the main ingredient they removed to make the cow seems to have been the desire to slip over thousands of square buffalo-pie-covered miles in joy and abandon.

Of course, we have added a few ingredients, like excess body fat, antibiotics, and inevitable death by bludgeon.

Which is not to say cows never travel. Anyone who's seen City Slickers knows that cows are periodically driven over the range from New Mexico to Colorado by dude ranch visitors who've run off the regular cowhands after the death of the foreman. But I don't think that's their primary form of travel. They often ride in style, in a special type of trailer called a "bullhauler" (though I assume most of the occupants are female, rather than male, bovines). Bullhaulers are crammed with cows to whom the purpose of the trip, much less its details, has not been explained. Consequently, they tend to develop travel sickness which, of course, does not make their sheer terror any more tolerable. It also doesn't make the trailer smell any sweeter. Cow vomit is one of the few substances that smell worse than cow poop. When I am driving behind a bullhauler, I always close the exterior air vent. Fortunately, I am never behind one for long, as bullhauler drivers generally run pretty fast. It's as if the collective desire for motion, long bred out of the cows themselves, has somehow been transmuted into the men and women who drive them to McDonald's, leaving the cows with a terrifying last ride that must make them wish they were back, slip-sliding on the slick brown plains beloved by their ancestors. And not even the international situation (which is desperate, as usual) can bring them solace or distraction.

Sometimes, even cows get the blues.