Friday, March 10, 2017

The Open Road

  Toad of Toad Hall loved the open road. He described it thus: "Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing! But Toad wanted to travel in a gigantic horse drawn gypsy cart. I prefer to travel with a toothbrush and a change of underwear, relying on public transit and the kindness of strangers. The idea of life in an RV gives me the fantods. A ride in a semi-trailer truck from point A to B with no strings attached would be a different matter. My mother told me my first sentence was "Big, big truck," and I've been fascinated with the big rigs ever since, with no desire to get behind the wheel. I've watched the trucks pass a half mile to the east of our place for over forty years. I can tell which are loaded by the vibrations passing from the cracked highway, through the open field, and into my couch.
  Last winter I convinced my editor to join me in a truck count in Roseau. For several hours we sat just south of town counting the trucks that came and went, following the occasional one to see where in town it went. If you know my editor, Mr. Steve Reynolds, you know this was more interesting than it sounds. But it was a bust because Polaris, the town's largest employer, was closed just then for its winter lay-off, so truck traffic was way off. Nevertheless, I published my findings in The Raven.
  Soon after, my friend Bob Aronson called. Bob drives for Byfuglien Trucking. He had seen my story and wondered if I'd like to ride along on his daily run. Bob picks up parts for Polaris in Bagley 100 miles to the south, and is back home by mid-afternoon. "Of course!" I replied. As life whirls towards its end. it's good to be checking things off your bucket list. I imagine this list as slips of paper in an actual bucket. Mine is full to overflowing.
  Bob picked me up in Wannaska on a cool and sunny March morning not long ago. I was wearing my work boots rather than my usual sneakers. I had my mug of coffee and a couple of muffins. You never know what can happen when you leave home. Do you know why they call the big trucks semis? I looked this up. It's because the trailer has wheels only at the rear. If it had wheels at the front end too, it would be a trailer, but it doesn't, so it's a semi-trailer, pulled by a tractor. But not a farm tractor, though it will have the same engine used in farm tractors. Whew! I'll call the tractor the truck from now on.
  Bob's International truck looked brand new to me, but he said it was a 2011 model with over 700,000 miles on it. He keeps the truck at his home just east of Roseau. Every morning, Monday through Friday, he runs over to Polaris and picks up his empty trailer then heads for Team Industries in Bagley to pick up transmissions and differentials for Polaris's ATV products. "People ask if I don't get bored driving the same route," Bob says, "but I don't. I see something different every day." Driving semi is Bob's retirement job. After 33 years in Polaris's engineering department, Bob felt the need to keep doing something useful. Byfuglien Trucking had him shuttle trucks around Roseau for awhile before putting him on a day route, first to Detroit Lakes and now to Bagley.
  I had always wondered how smooth the ride would be, after all you're sitting directly above the engine. My seat was comfortable and the cab seemed well insulated, but I did feel every bump. Bob knew all the bad bumps and slowed before we reached them. I was also aware of the powerful engine beneath my feet and was glad I had my hearing aids cranked up to catch Bob's conversation. He had grown up in my neighborhood and I learned much interesting area history. Twenty years ago we bought a piece of land that Bob's father had once owned. There was a rusty old truck body on the land and Bob told me who put it there. Bob also told me of two old bachelors who had lived one after the other in flimsy shacks on this piece of land. I did not know that. There is no trace whatsoever of those shacks.
  It's a clich√© that you see more from the cab of a truck. I have driven this road to Bagley many dozens of times, but today I could see the hills beyond the hills. What a pleasant way to see the world. We arrived at the loading dock before eleven. Bob opened the trailer doors and pulled a lock pin that held the gang of rear axles in place. From the cab, he was able to move the rear axles to the very back of the trailer. This made the trailer more stable for the fork lift loading the heavy pallets of transmissions onto the trailer. Twenty minutes later, Bob pulled away from the dock, closed the doors and moved the axles forward. The further forward the axles, the tighter the turning radius for the whole rig. I never thought of that before.
  We drove over to the new Cenex truck stop and had lunch. Warm sunshine poured through the big south windows. On Thursdays Bob picks up print jobs for Polaris at Richards Printing in Gonvick. Today was a Thursday so Bob asked the foreman to give us a tour of the shop. They had printing machines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I was intrigued by the obsolete machines here and there that they keep running for the odd customer who still wants things done the old way. That is so sympatico.
  Bob had me back to my car by 2:15. Yes, I do love the open road. I'm willing to sleep in a hostel or even a frightening bus station if necessary, but there's nothing like my own couch when the approaching nap alert begins its gentle dinging.

Rush hour on the Gully Road



Joe said...

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

Your name may be Reynolds or Solom or Palm
or Mordecai Lalyn Sven Gordon Ol'Son,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So get on your way!

Oh the places you'll go!
There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored.
There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do in that long-hauler
will make you the winning-est Palmviller of aller.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction Bob chooses.
You're on your own (with Bob). And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who'll accept where to go.

You'll get mixed up, of course, as you already know.
You'll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And when you're alone there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. but mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

But you won't lag behind, because you still haven't peed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
To the restroom you fly, you'll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your roundabout is waiting,
So get on your way!

Catherine Stenzel said...

Wow! This is a great blog, and sets the Arab sand in my shoes too itchin' I so enjoy the way you grab life's opportunities wherever and whenever they arise. Oh, and as for my Beloved's poetry post, I'm so happy to know he shares my poet's spirit. Not bad, eh? Keep on, 'er, truckin'! CS

Chairman Joe said...

Thank you. Yes Joe's poem was brilliant!

Heidi Sutton said...

I used to ride with my husband in the cab of his tractor trailer. His semi included a sleeper cab, and sometimes I'd take naps back there while he was driving. Some of the truck stops had showers and laundry services available for a few dollars. Traveling as a passenger in a tractor trailer is a rather inexpensive and easy way to see the country.